A Mortal Likeness (Victorian Mystery #2), by Laura Joh Rowland

Eight stars

Continuing this series, Laura Joh Rowland takes readers back to Victorian England for more mysteries. Sarah Bain and Lord Hugh Staunton made a name for themselves while working on the Jack the Ripper case, though few know of their successes. They’ve chosen to open a private investigation firm, willing to work for anyone who has the means to pay them. While tailing a philanderer, Sarah and Hugh are able to capture a photo to substantiate their investigative claims. Soon thereafter, the subjects of the investigation turn up dead, with Sarah and Hugh the prime suspects. While dodging that bullet for a time, Sarah seeks to become involved in the kidnapping investigation of little Robin Mariner, baby to Sir Gerald and Lady Alexandra. While many others have sought to get in on the action, Sarah and Sir Gerald strike up some professional connection and she’s hired on the spot. Sir Gerald is certain that the kidnapping is tied to someone in his home, but does not want Sarah and Hugh to tip their hands for the time being. While trying to piece together suspects and motives, Sarah reexamines some of her photos from the philandering case, seeing a man who resembles her father. Sarah tracks down some leads and discovers that her father’s disappearance all those years ago is not entirely as straightforward as she might have liked. While stirring up a hornet’s nest in her personal life, Sarah must work alongside and love struck Hugh to learn if Robin Mariner’s kidnapper can be found, discovering that there was a ransom drop/pick-up that may clear her from the aforementioned double murder. The discovery of a body only thickens the plot and begins a series of events that could have dire results for more than the Mariner household. Will Sarah and Hugh find themselves as saviours to Sir Gerald or vilified for their accusations and sent off to jail? Rowland does well to continue this series, full of great plots and interesting characters. Recommended for those who love mysteries set in Victorian England that have unique twists.

I received an advance copy of the third book in this series, but wanted to get the proper context before delving in too deep. Rowland sets the scene well and pulls the reader in from the opening pages of the first novel, keeping the setting and plot developing throughout. This second novel is just as exciting, set a year or so after the Jack the Ripper goings-on. Sarah Bain remains an interesting character, sure to interest most readers. A photographer by trade, Sarah uses her amateur sleuthing capabilities in this novel, accentuated by grit and determination to get to the answer, no matter what hurdles stand before her. Lord Hugh Staunton, who made his mark in the opening novel, returns and has been dealing with some of the character revelations from the series debut. Hugh has been disowned by his family for his homosexuality and this is a thread that continues in this piece, though his presence is somewhat subdued after a fallout with Sarah over some potential suspects. Some of the secondary characters shape the story effectively, particularly as they propel the mystery of the kidnapped child to its climax. There are many interesting developments that occur using these minor characters, sure to keep the attentive reader enthralled. As in the opening novel, I liked the banter between the authorities and the amateur sleuths, which turns into a competition for Sarah throughout. Overall, the story worked well and kept my attention through to the final sentence. Rowland has created an interesting series that mixes history with key elements of a decent mystery. I will keep reading and hope to add Laura Joh Rowland to my list of authors to follow.

Kudos, Madam Rowland, for an interesting series continuation. I can see much coming from this series as the characters come into their own.

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 Other Einstein, by Marie Benedict

Eight stars

After being asked by a friend to read Marie Benedict’s novel about the wife of Albert Einstein, I was eager to give it a try. While no Einstein expert, having read only a few pieces about the scientist, I am always up to learn a little something. Benedict offers an interesting mix of fact and fiction in this succinct piece, which is sure to entertain and educate the reader in equal measure. Mileva “Mitza” Marić made a name for herself, relying on some less stringent admission rules to secure a spot into a Swiss university, where she studied and excelled in Mathematics and Physics. While other men in her class scoffed at her presence, one Albert Einstein took a shining to her. Marić willingly spent time with Einstein, happy to help anyone who would treat her as an equal. A Serbian by birth, Marić found herself stuck in an interesting family dynamic; a mother who wanted her to accept her role as a woman and a father who, aware of a physical anomaly, wanted her to succeed in academics. Marić refused to accept that she would forever be a spinster and welcomed Einstein’s romantic interest, as long as it did not impede her academic pursuits. Einstein and Marić continued to work together, building their passion for science and one another through the years. The tides seemed to change when Marić bore their first child, Lieserl. While Marić was hidden away for the birth and a few months afterwards, Einstein pursued gainful employment, all but ignoring his family. Benedict depicts this strain in the relationship throughout, never more poignantly than explaining how Einstein worked and his wife tended to their daughter, while still holding onto a passion for the world of physics. Tragedy befell the family such that the shattered pieces of their foundation could not be properly assembled again, which proved to be a significant strain on them, though Albert and Mitza continued to work through problems of relativity and other topics of theoretical physics. Expanding on their family, the Einsteins found themselves loving their burgeoning brood, though their true passion remained physics. That said, Albert always stood in the limelight, while Mitza slaved away and presented key theories for discussion, only later expounded upon by Albert when he had already made a name for himself. In a story so poignantly titled, Benedict argues effectively that Mileva Marić Einstein may have been the brains behind her husband’s numerous discoveries, in an era where women were seen as less apt and capable. Recommended for those who enjoy learning a great deal during their fiction reading, I can see Benedict has a great handle on the topic and how to present it effectively to readers.

Bendict does well to capture the reader’s attention throughout this book, straddling the line between telling a story and recounting the life of a lesser-known historical figure. While it is impossible to deny that Mileva Marić Einstein remained hidden behind her husband’s shadow, one can hope that this book will help dispel the idea that she was solely a supportive spouse. Benedict depicts Madam Einstein as being dedicated to her interests, particularly physics, letting no one and nothing stand in her way. While she may have been raised at a time when she was seen as a second-class citizen, she never let her passion die out, no matter who stood in her way, Benedict portrays this effectively throughout the piece, tossing in some interesting hurdles outside her being a woman. The courting time between the two protagonists is quite heartfelt and Madam Einstein seems not only shocked that a man might love her, but also leery about giving up all her academic opportunities for a man. When women did not usually stand on their own, Mileva Marić broke the mold and strived to be all she could. Strains in the relationship appear throughout the latter portion of the book, particularly as Benedict portrays Albert as too focussed on his work. Can he be faulted for this? In one sense, surely, for he chooses not to spend it with his family and keeps himself occupied with his work and friendships with other men. While no excuse, one must consider that this was a time when ‘hands-on’ fatherhood would not have been common, so Einstein might not have thought to spend time at home or with his family. Still, Benedict depicts him, as well as some of the other male characters found throughout the narrative, to be aloof and disinterested in life before them. The story worked very well, picking up on key elements of Marić’s life before she married Einstein, with the ongoing thread that she did not want her life’s work to be forgotten or attributed solely to her husband. Benedict using powerful descriptions to portray this, leaving the reader to decide for themselves how to synthesise this information. It not only tells a story of the woman behind her husband, but also seeks to develop the argument that Albert Einstein may not have been the sole thinker in that household to churn out groundbreaking ideas. A wonderfully educational piece that offers a punch for the attentive reader. Easy to digest and comprehend without being flighty or flowery.

Kudos, Madam Benedict, for a great piece of fiction. I’ll have to keep my eyes open to see what else you have that might be of interest.

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

Laurie: A Short Story, by Stephen King

Eight stars

An unexpected added short story to a recently released novella by Stephen King. Quite an interesting tale that mixes some unique character development with King’s trademark gory depictions at some points. A recent widower, Lloyd welcomes his sister’s visit to Florida. However, it would seem that this is more than a simple visit, but a family attempt to help a depressed older man. Lloyd is introduced to a puppy that is being left for him, something that might help distract from his recently departed wife. Lloyd hesitates and struggles to housetrain the little ball of fur, but Laurie soon creates a canine bond with her master. They find their niche and undertake a basic routine, including walks around the neighbourhood. When their walk takes them by a body of water, things go sour, forcing Lloyd and Laurie to take matters into their own hands. What might have started out as an awkward relationship soon develops into something that warms the heart. A nice filler that fans of Stephen King will likely find just up their alley.

While not everyone can admit to liking Stephen King or his work, I have come to find much of his work quite entertaining for its unique approach to the every day. In this short piece, King has little time to develop his characters, though does well with painting Lloyd as a man who pines for his departed wife but who does not want help with his sorrow. He has been losing weight and surely could use some companionship, but refuses to admit it to a doting sister. When introduced to Laurie, Lloyd pushes back, but soon has little choice but to act as master, sucking up all his resentments. From there, it’s all about the slow and ongoing connection between man and his dog. They come together with ease, even if it is somewhat jagged at the start. Lloyd comes to accept his fate and seems to embrace it, given time and his set of rules. The story was well written and kept my interest for the brief time it took to complete. King never ceases to amaze me, as he can grip my attention with long, drawn-out novels just as much as short stories that take only a cup of coffee to complete.

Kudos, Mr. King, for another great story that held my attention throughout. Even with a little gore, I can see many readers finding it to their liking.

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

Elevation, by Stephen King

Seven stars

It is always nice to turn one’s attention to a piece by Stephen King, where reality can sometimes take a backseat to entertainment. Some bemoan this, though is fiction not supposed to be a chance to suspend beliefs, if only for a short time? Scott Carey appears to be a robust man. When he calls upon an old friend whose medical practice closed a number of years before, Scott admits that he has quite the problem. While his appetite is voracious, he keeps losing weight. An additional concern is that he weighs the same fully dressed as he does in his skivvies. Astonished, this friend seeks to do some research and asks Scott to keep an eye on things. Going about his business, Scott learn that his neighbours, Deirdre and Missy, are being ostracised by the townsfolk of Castle Rock. A married, lesbian couple, Deirdre and Missy have faced ridicule and their local restaurant is on its last legs. When Scott seeks to speak out against the bigotry, he is silenced not only by those who toss epithets, but also by Deirdre herself, who wants to handle her own battles. While he continues to lose weight for some unknown reason, Scott enters the Castle Rock Turkey Trot, in hopes of staying in shape, for what it’s worth. Deirdre, a competitive runner in her younger days, is right there beside him. When something goes awry during the race, Scott and Deirdre are forced to come together, working as a team. This connection could serve to help others see a different side to them both. All the while, the scale is a slow reminder that Scott’s days are numbered, as his weight dwindles. Fairly soon, there will be nothing left but the indelible mark of his friendship on a few souls. An interesting piece, better labelled a novella, by King. One never knows what to expect when the King of Horror (pun intended) releases a new bit of writing.

Some see ‘Stephen King’ and run the other way, either because of his macabre offerings from decades past or that he is simply too ‘off the wall’. I tend to turn towards him for these reasons, as the reader can never be entirely sure what to expect. King shapes the Scott Carey plight in such a way that it is less horrific and more a medical anomaly. It is a hurdle that Scott must overcome or at least face to the best of his abilities. While there is little backstory offered here, the reader learns some of the lead-up to Scott’s visit to a medical professional before exploring the character development throughout this ‘illness’. I can only guess some of the inner turmoil such a confusion prognosis would create, though King does a nice job of exploring this throughout the piece. As time progresses, Scott must come to terms with whatever is going on, forcing those around him to swallow the same pill. There is little that can be done, though no one is as accepting of it as Scott himself. The other characters in the piece, particularly Missy and Deirdre, offer some interesting insight into 21st century tolerance, particularly in small towns, when it comes to bigotry. While King does not bemoan the point, there will be some who cannot see anything wrong with ostracising others for their personal choices, which speaks of a larger issue best left dormant here. The story was decent and the narrative flowed well, though I would not call this a stellar piece. King certainly offers up some inspiration where it is due, though I am not going to pound my drum and recommend that every reader rush to purchase the piece. It’s a nice bridge between two books for those who want something a little different.

Kudos, Mr. King, for a unique story that keeps the reader involved throughout. Well done and I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for your fans in the coming year!

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

Glass Houses (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #13), Louise Penny

Nine stars

Louise Penny continues to impress with new and exciting story angles to enrich this already alluring series. Fans of these novels will surely find something here to whet their appetites or at least provide something with which they can relate. On the night of the Three Pines Hallowe’en celebration, many of the townsfolk notice a mysterious figure dressed in black. He stands in the town square, not speaking, but his menacing glare cannot be missed. Soon identified as a cobrador del frac, this man serves as a debt collector, though he does not speak, which only adds to the mystery. Which townsperson might he be here to see and what have they done? Cobradors are common in Spain as a last ditch effort to shame a person into settling their debts, but their more historic service has been as a conscience to push a person to see their error and do right, all without uttering a word. When Katie Evans is found murdered in the church basement, dressed in the cobrador outfit, many wonder who might have done this and whether the mysterious man could be responsible and have fled the scene. Newly promoted Chief Superintendent Armand Gamache seeks to better understand the entire situation, particularly since he now resides in Three Pines. However, his attention is divided between this and a major covert operation being undertaken by senior members of the Sûreté du Québec, seeking to bring down a major drug cartel. This will be extremely delicate and require much patience, with each decision potentially blowing their cover. In an odd turn of events, the narrative splits between these storylines in the past and a trial for the murder of Katie Evans, with Gamache on the stand and seeming to work with the Crown to bring down an unknown defendant. As the story unfolds, the Three Pines residents learn more about what Evans might have done to require such a mysterious guest. It also permits each resident to look inside themselves to explore their own faults and what they might be able to do differently; almost as if they were peering into their own glass house. Definitely a unique reading experience as I see things from a variety of perspectives, which only goes to show that Penny does not want her readers resting on their laurels. I would highly recommend this book to series fans who have a great handle on the characters and writing style. Readers new to Penny’s series ought to begin where the stories began and progress accordingly.

I have finally completed this major Louise Penny binge, reading her entire collection of Gamache novels that have been released, with one more set to land on my iPod in the coming weeks. I have come to see a great deal of development in the series, both in the settings—particularly Three Pines—and the characters, especially Armand Gamache, the constant protagonist. Some readers have been critical of such a major undertaking, reading/breathing nothing but Armand Gamache for an extended period. They comment that it only serves to supersaturate me with his quirks, though I found the undertaking quite sobering. I noticed a few of the series nuances lost to the reader who relies on annual instalments of the progress all characters make. While Gamache spent much of his time in this series as the Chief Inspector of Homicide, where he led one of the most prestigious teams in the country, his personal growth emanates from the pages of each novel. Through some significant turmoil, he left the Sûreté du Québec, as series readers will know well, an inner fight between professional decisions and personal sentiment. Returning to the fold in the last two novels, Gamache has shown that he is a quintessential part of the police force and, while some still see him as a major disturbance, he is the one needed to steer it back into calm waters. Gamache proves to be a leader who may not be sullied with corruption, but whose record remains somewhat unimpressive. He seeks not only to continue delivering sage advice, but also use stern leadership skills to keep his subordinates in line. He has grown significantly throughout the series and this novel is no exception. Gamache connects well with the reader, though there is always some degree of distance the protagonist demands with each developing narrative. Other characters of note include the recurring townsfolk of Three Pines, each with their quirks and hilarious banter. I have come to love some of them and await the disappearance of others. One cannot make it through a book in the series without at least one squabble between two of these unique characters, though it lightens the mood as the reader is usually ensconced in some deeper mystery at the time. Jean Guy Beauvoir is back, working alongside Gamache, while continuing to grow as a worthwhile son-in-law and battling his own recovery from significant addiction. I have come to see much growth in him as well, though I sense that he petered out a few novels ago, perhaps Penny’s way of punishing him for being so judgmental. The story here was quite unique and held my attention throughout. The title perfectly parallels some of the themes within the book and keeps the reader wanting to know a little more before reaching the climax and complete reveal. While I have come to the end of the binge, I can see great things for Penny, should she continue the series well into the future. It is a stunning Canadian police procedural that mixes great writing with poignant Canadian references, which warms the soul. I am so pleased I undertook the journey and am eager to continue later this month with the latest instalment. While I said it before, highest recommendations for anyone seeking to delve into a well-crafted series that does not disappoint most readers.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for allowing me to be fully committed throughout the series. This is a binge I will not soon forget or regret!

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

The Ripper’s Shadow (Victorian Mystery #1), by Laura Joh Rowland

Eight stars

In this series debut, Laura Joh Rowland takes readers back to the some of the eerie events from late 19th century London, when a killer lurked in the shadows, eviscerating their victims. It’s 1888 in London’s Whitechapel District and business is booming for photographer Sarah Bain. Having taken over her father’s business, Sarah has cornered the market on capturing people in their daily lives. To make a few extra quid, she’s taken on the lucrative—and illegal—trade of boudoir photos, early pornography to some. Many men will pay a high price to see these photos and Sarah’s been able to stay off the radar all the while. Many of her ‘models’ are prostitutes, making the business even more lucrative, though Sarah does not regret it whatsoever. When a prostitute is found murdered early one morning on the streets, Sarah stumbles upon the crime scene, aghast that she knows the victim. The authorities question her, though Sarah remains mum for the time being. When a second prostitute is found murdered, Sarah discovers that she is another ‘model’, forcing the young photographer to wonder if the killer is sending her a message. As more victims emerged on London streets, Sarah tries to track down who might be behind all these killings, learning some interesting things about key members of the community, from doctors to the Police Constable investigating the slaying. When notes from ‘Jack the Ripper’ begin appearing in writing and print, Sarah and her collection of amateur sleuths can only surmise that the killer is seeking to taunt the authorities, making a mockery of the entire Metropolitan Police Force. As she hones in on a likely suspect, Sarah will need to convince more than her friends that the killer is in their sights. Each day brings a fear that they are one day closer to another killing, another victim known to Sarah Bain. Rowland does well launching this series and keeps the reader guessing throughout. Recommended for those who love Jack the Ripper stories, as well as the reader who has an interest in mysteries set in Victorian England.

I received an advance copy of the third book in this series, but wanted to get the proper context before delving in too deep. Rowland sets the scene well and pulls the reader in from the opening pages, keeping the setting and plot developing throughout. Sarah Bain is an interesting character, taking a somewhat unique perspective in the entire Jack the Ripper themed mystery. A photographer by trade, she is able to capture people in various states, interesting in a time when photographs were still fairly new and the entire process somewhat cumbersome. Rowland’s tying her to the victims through her boudoir work was quite smart, as it creates that connection to the story and those slain with ease. Bain’s past, including a father whose death over two decades ago still haunts her, proves to help shape the woman she has become. Her grit and determination make her the ideal amateur sleuth and helps to propel the narrative forward, through many of the seedier streets and during encounters with some of the less desirable characters. Some of the secondary characters help shape the story more than being simple vessels to push things from one point to another. With this being a series, one can surmise that the reader will encounter a few of them in subsequent novels, particularly if there are more mysteries to be had. I liked the banter between the authorities and the amateur sleuths, one trying to outdo the other while never losing track of the ultimate goal. It will surely permit some new faces to rise up and make an indelible mark on the attentive reader, given time and the length of the series. Overall, the story worked well and kept my attention. Rowland has a significant piece of London lore as a backdrop and I was impressed with how she personalised it, without jumbling up too many facts. There is much to be said about her approach, which mixes what is known in the history texts and a unique perspective that allows a fresh approach to a much discussed topic. I’ll be sure to check out the second book soon, before tackling the ARC that awaits.

Kudos, Madam Rowland, for an interesting spin on an old mystery. I cannot wait to read more in the series and am considering some of your other work as well.

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

Slander, by William Deverell

Eight stars

William Deverell is one author whose work is not for the reader interested in superficial legal dramas. He sinks his teeth into an issue and explores it in depth, providing the reader with a thorough exploration of its foundations, as well that the characters involved. In this piece, Deverell takes the reader into Seattle, where Elizabeth Finnegan has been honing her legal skills. Her passion is women’s rights, particularly the right to choose, which has brought her much work, even in the late 1990s. When Judge Hugh Vandergraaf issues a slap on the wrist sentence to someone before him for rape, Finnegan cannot help but cry ‘old boys club’. This earns her much ire from Vandergraaf and fifteen minutes of media attention. While she is not one to reject some free publicity, she does not want to be chastised by any judge with whom she may have to work later in her career. When Elizabeth is approached by a woman who accuses Vandergraaf of rape, she cannot help but jump to offer her services. Might this judge be as horrid as the men he lets off with tepid punishment? The greatest issue is that the assault was twenty-seven years ago, meaning the statute of limitations has long since expired. This shoes not stop Elizabeth from piecing together a case and a handful of others who speak to Vandergraaf’s sexual proclivities while a university student. In what might be a saving grace, the assault happened in Canada, so the rape change could see a courtroom. As the novel progresses, Vandergraaf has chosen to take Elizabeth to court for slandering him about these rape allegations. It is here that the crux of the novel develops. While Elizabeth is on the hot seat, she chooses to defend herself and brings up much of the evidence that may be used in her Canadian trial, trying to pin Vandergraaf down as a sexual predator and someone who not only did rape her client, but should be held accountable. The further things go, the more trapdoors emerge, pitting Elizabeth Finnegan and Hugh Vandergraaf in one final stand-off that could ruin them both. Deverell shows why he is the master with this novel, pulling the reader in and holding their attention until the final sentence. Highly recommend for those readers who love the law but are not looking for something light and airy!

I stumbled onto Deverell’s writing last spring when I was reading his stellar Arthur Beauchamp series. While it took a while to get acclimated, the series grew on me and by the end I know I would have to try some of the author’s one-off work, which has been a sensational adventure all on its own. Deverell paints his characters so vividly and keeps them developing throughout. Elizabeth Finnegan has a lot going for her as she seeks to keep women from being downtrodden in her own way. While she may have a passion for the law, she surrounds herself in a law firm with a number of men who seem not to fully comprehend equality or be in touch with empathy. With a few scandalous issues outside of work to contend with as well, Elizabeth is forced to juggle quite a bit as she seeks to keep from scorching herself while pushing back against her legal opponent, the great Judge Vandergraaf. On the other side, Vandergraaf has quite the reputation that he has kept under wraps. Said to be on a shortlist for a prominent federal court position, Vandergraaf must face his dalliances head-on as he brings suit against young Finnegan. Refusing to let his pride stand in the way, Vandergraaf issues blunt admissions, as the reader sees that he is sure he can bury this young lawyer simply because he is in a position of authority. Deverell adds an interesting diary of sorts to the end of certain chapters, where the reader sees some of the judge’s insights, which reach their climax in the closing pages of the book and provide some strong aspects to his ongoing character development. The handful of other characters offer some added flavour and help pace the story and the legal action throughout, keeping things interesting without getting too bogged down in legal minutiae. The story flows really well and keeps the reader hooked, bouncing from the legal matter at hand to some of the more vapid aspects of Finnegan’s life. Told in chapters that encapsulate an entire day, Deverell offer an interesting build-up throughout each day and the slow—or sometimes jagged—ending before hitting that reset button. This is an effective measure, as the reader is kept wondering what is to come without too many drastic cliffhangers, at least until the ending, and what a culmination it is! I am impressed yet again with William Deverell and his writing. He mixes an interesting legal matter with highly complex characters, creating a winning formula.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for another great novel. I have a pile of your work still to read and I am even more excited to get to them now!

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

A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #12), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

Louise Penny shows her creative side in reimagining the central characters in her well-established Canadian police procedural series, taking the reader on a mysterious journey in which only Armand Gamache could find himself. Gamache has decided that a life of retirement might not yet be for him. While huddled around a pile of paperwork, the former Chief Inspector has to make the final decisions on new admission to the Sûreté du Québec Police Academy. Having accepted the role of the academy’s commander, there is little time to waste in order to get the new semester started. This will also be a time for Gamache to make his mark and reshape those cadets who graduate in the years to come. One can only wonder if this might be his reaction after such poor treatment by new Sûreté officers in the last novel. While Armand works, Reine-Marie and others are gathered in another of the village’s homes, where an old map has been found, one that lists Three Pines clearly, a sure anomaly. What could it all mean? As Commander Gamache makes his mark at the Academy, he hires a few former colleagues to work alongside him, many of whom have a great deal of experience in the world of policing. After Gamache takes a number of the new cadets under his wing, having them open their own investigation into this mysterious map, they come to find themselves in Three Pines, where they discover the wonders of this community in the Eastern Townships, while also connecting with some of its unique inhabitants. Back at the Academy, one of the professors, Serge Leduc, is found murdered, shot in the head. Who could have killed this man, whose list of enemies is quite long? While Commander Gamache is present and happy to use the intelligence that he has at his disposal, he must cede some control to Chief Inspector Isabelle Lacoste and her team, as well as an independent outsider in the form of a senior official of the RCMP. The more the map is discussed, the greater the mystery. Could the symbols found on its page be tied to similar images seen in stained glass at the local church? Might this map be a motive to kill Leduc, who had a copy in his room? While the killer lurks in plain sight, Gamache will stop at nothing to solve this case and clean-up the Sûreté, if it’s the last thing he ever does! Penny keeps the story fresh and pulls the curious reader in with a new angle. After a little growing pains with trying to reshape Armand Gamache, I can highly recommend this book to series fans who have a great handle on the characters and writing style. Readers new to Penny’s series ought to begin where the stories began and progress accordingly.

It is always difficult to write long fiction series, I would surmise. With characters advancing throughout the narratives, they can either age out of their profession or become stale doing the same job each time. Penny has tackled this after a tumultuous end to Chief Inspector Armand Gamache’s career as Head of Homicide within the Sûreté. Penny dabbled around with putting her protagonist into a state of retirement, bringing Reine-Marie along for the ride. There is just too much spunk in the man to keep him idle, as Penny soon came to discover with complex narratives evolving around him. Having been put in charge of the Sûreté Academy, Gamache has new life, as Penny shows throughout the piece. She breathes passion into his actions and vigour into all he does, while not shelving him from being a key player in investigations. It would seem ideal for Gamache to pass along his passion for policing to the next generation, while still carrying that large broom as he cleans-up the Sûreté from within its hallowed halls. Gamache continues to grow on me and I can see a great deal of success coming from this new posting, though I await Penny’s masterful style of how to keep his involved in both investigations and balancing out a zany collection of residents inside Three Pines. Other characters make appearances throughout, including the aforementioned Three Pines folk. One cannot miss that Penny has given a new set of characters the potential for being included in future stories, as she pushes a handful of cadets into the limelight of this piece, particularly Amelia Choquet. I have a few that I think would work well, particularly if the bantering continues. The story stays fresh and exciting in this piece, pulling Three Pines into the middle of discussions, while also looking for a killer at the Sûreté Academy. Penny uses her trademark description to bring the story alive and keeps the reader from getting too bogged down with some sharp wit and wonderful dialogue, sure to bring forth laughter from the reader on many occasions. I especially found the extensive building of a backstory surrounding this town that does not appear on any maps to be brilliantly woven into the larger narrative. It is surely a gift for series fans, who have been amassing information for so long and wondering why there is no topographical imprint. I cannot say enough about this series, as I continue bingeing. I need to get my hands on the last few novels—one of which is out soon—to complete the collection. Bring them on!

Kudos, Madam Penny, for never letting me feel cheated by your novels. Some may have left, but I am firmly committed to this series and all its nuances.

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

The Nature of the Beast (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #11), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

Louise Penny carves new pathways towards success in her well-established Canadian police procedural series, taking the reader in directions previously unimagined. The town of Three Pines is gearing up for its next theatrical production, set to open in a few short weeks. Armand Gamache is interested in seeing the production, but all that sours when he learns who’s penned this play, discovering a truth its director had hoped to keep under wraps. When a young boy rushes into the Bistro to tell of a ‘monster gun’ in the woods, he’s dismissed for his verbal flights of fancy. However, all this changes when the boy is discovered days later, dead after an apparent bicycle accident that does not add up. Gamache leads the townsfolk on a search of the area for a key piece of evidence that he is sure will point towards foul play. What he finds, hidden under some camouflage netting is much more confusing, a massive gun that could only have been used to launch some form of missile. After some poor treatment at the hands of new Sûreté du Québec graduates, Gamache seeks to have members of his former Homicide team take over the investigation. With Interim Chief Inspector Isabelle Lacoste taking the lead, she and Inspector Beauvoir begin to untangle some of the keys related to this mysterious gun. It would seem that a retired professor has at least some of the answers, though he remains somewhat coy about the specifics. He speaks of an arms dealer, Gerald Bull, who sought to peddle his wares to anyone with enough money, making this ancient looking machine a weapon of the future. Before long, two bumbling members of CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, are crawling around Three Pines, trying to learn a little more about the recent find. While Gamache is keen to learn all there is to know about this weapon, he is completely baffled as to why someone chose rural Quebec to develop and hide it. When a second body is found, all eyes turn to someone wanting to keep the weapon a secret, but whom. It is then that talk of ‘Project Babylon’ enters the discussion, an End of Days idea based on use of this weapon to bring the world to the brink. Gamache cannot help but wonder how high the secrets go and if Three Pines might be forever transformed by all that is revealed. With a murdering somewhere in Three Pines and the plans to bring this gun to life out there, all eyes turn to a serial killer who has been isolated for years. Might he hold the answers everyone needs? Penny does a great job adding new angles and perspectives to her series with this novel, which takes readers well outside the box. Highly recommended to series fans who have a great handle on the characters and writing style. I hold firm in my suggestion that new readers begin where the series began and progress accordingly.

On this major Louise Penny binge, I have come to see a great deal of development in the series. Some are critical of such a major undertaking, reading/breathing nothing but Armand Gamache for a long time, but I prefer it. I can see some of the nuances in the series that are lost when a reader only gets annual instalments of the progress all characters make. Armand Gamache has surely grown throughout the series, as the attentive reader will see. Gamache has changed significantly over the past few novels, having taken a step back into private life, through there are remnants of his masterful sleuthing seen throughout the pages of this book. Penny has surely helped create a great contrast from much of the earlier books when it comes to the retired Chief Inspector’s character, which attentive (and binge) readers will notice as the series progresses. I am still trying to get a feel for post-Gamache character development when it comes to Jean Guy Beauvoir and Isabelle Lacoste, both of whom have been present, but not as ‘present’ in the past few novels. One can hope that these two will appear and offer more of themselves, though I cannot help but wonder if Beauvoir’s spiral in the middle of the series might have been Penny’s way of pushing him out of the limelight. There are a number of interesting secondary characters introduced for this novel and while they won’t stick around long-term, their presence enriched the story and left me quite curious. Penny has pulled some interesting angles of the Canadian legal/political system in with this novel, something that adds to the story rather than detracting. She does so in her own way, so as not to make it look like a carbon copy of the US or UK systems, thereby further individualising her work. The story was intriguing and went in some especially interesting directions, particularly looking at when it was written. It leaves me to wonder a little more about Canadian and international military projects, as well as the future of armed conflict. I can see where some might be turned off by the series as it looks deeper than trying to solve a murder, but I found this piece to be quite interesting, looking at things from within the Canadian perspective.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for always keeping me entertained, no matter the mystery. I will push through these next few novels before queuing up alongside your other fans for the next novel’s release.

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

Threat Level Alpha (Dan Morgan #7), by Leo J. Maloney

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Leo J. Maloney, and Lyrical Underground for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Leo Maloney is back with another novel in the Dan Morgan series, pushing the limits while enthralling the reader with this high-impact story. The Zeta Division has changed significantly over the last number of years, particularly with some of the hard work that Dan Morgan has put in to make this elite organisation extremely effective while remaining covert. Choosing to take a well-deserved holiday with his patient wife, Morgan counsels Alex, his daughter and one of Zeta’s newest operatives, to watch herself over the next little while. Alex Morgan may be young but she is prepared to handle any situation tossed at her. When Zeta learns that a biochemistry professor, nicknamed Dr. Armageddon, has been espousing a virus that kills the entire human population to create a ‘reset’, Alex is sent to infiltrate the group and learn all she can about any future plans. While she soaks up the college life, her parents are chased down by a group of Russian operatives, whose target is surely Dan Morgan. While he expects trouble, this is an old friend/foe seeking Morgan’s help with a piece of highly delicate intel. It would appear a Chechen terrorist group has gathered old Soviet documentation on a biological weapon that could wreak havoc on large portions of the population. These terrorists must be stopped at any cost or things could go sour quickly. Just as Alex seems to be making headway posing as a college student, the Chechens arrive on campus to force Dr. Armageddon and a group of students to work on the Soviet weapon or die trying. Morgan must keep his cool while waiting to hear what is going on, knowing that Alex’s life could be in extreme danger. If this were not enough, a terror group in the Philippines has stormed into an international gathering, seeking to maximise the body count to make a point. Maloney has done it again with this stellar read that pulls the reader into the middle of this entertaining piece. Those who enjoy the Dan Morgan series will surely want to get their hands on this novel, as will readers who enjoy stories that mix espionage and political intrigue.

I am always in the mood for Leo J. Maloney’s work, as it weaves an exciting story and does not let the reader breathe until the final sentence. Maloney has a way not only with words, but is also able to engage the reader with strong writing and believable dialogue. Dan Morgan takes a backseat in this novel, forced to wait as his daughter tries to extricate herself out of one of the most harrowing experiences in her young life. Alex proves to be not only an endearing character, but also has the grit needed to make it in the Zeta Division. Her passion for the work and ability to blend in proves to be the perfect mix. Alex comes out of her shell and proves that she can emerge from the shadow cast by her father, surely a formative point in the series. There are other strong characters whose secondary role help push the story forward while ramping up the action as well. Working two key plots in tandem, Maloney forces the reader to pay close attention, as each storyline has its own importance to the overall advancement of the series. The novel moves away from some of the traditional ‘terrorist’ pieces, turning not only to a Russian enemy, but also new forms of weapons. Looking towards biological warfare, Maloney hints at what might be to come, if not in reality, then at least in this genre that is jam-packed with authors striving to ascend to the top of the pack. Maloney is there and with more stories of this nature, he is sure to remain there for the foreseeable future.

Kudos, Mr. Maloney, for another great novel. I cannot say enough about your writing and hope others will discover you soon!

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