In Her Tracks (Tracy Crosswhite #8), by Robert Dugoni

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Dugoni, and Thomas & Mercer for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Robert Dugoni is back with another Tracy Crosswhite police procedural procedural, but adds a certain twist to keep the reader guessing. It’s been a tough go for Seattle PD Homicide Detective Crosswhite, but she is not one to let bumps in the road derail her work. Returning from maternity leave, Crosswhite is forced to take a position she does not want, but tosses herself into the work. She discovers an intriguing case that appears to be without strong leads. When Crosswhite is pulled into an active case, she finds her spark again, much to the chagrin of a captain who wants her under his foot. The missing and presumed dead have a voice in Detective Tracy Crosswhite, but she will have to breathe life into their cases before they go cold.

While she loves motherhood, Tracy Crosswhite cannot wait to get back to work. Returning to the Seattle PD’s Homicide Team, Crosswhite hopes to have her position back. However, her wily captain has other ideas, citing that they need to fill the spot while she was on maternity leave. Offering her a position as the cold case detective—one that everyone is sure Crosswhite will decline—it’s a chance for Tracy to decide what she wants next. A pep talk with the retiring detective leaves her willing to give it a shot, if only to scuttle the plans of her nemesis for a while longer.

Crosswhite scours the list of cases and finds one that piques her interest. A little girl went missing when her father took her to a corn maze and was never seen again. Part of a bitter custody battle, the little girl made numerous comments about how her parents fought before the separation. As a beat cop at the time of the disappearance, the father pulls on the heartstrings of Crosswhite, but she must remain objective.

Working on a few of the leads that go nowhere, Crosswhite is pulled into the middle of a fresh investigation with her former partner. A young jogger has gone missing in a local park and no one saw anything. Canvassing the neighbourhood, Crosswhite comes across three brothers who live together but seem to be hiding something. With nothing concrete to assert her claims of guilt, Crosswhite will have to pursue a few options on the sly.

While her missing girl case is going nowhere fast, Detective Crosswhite finds herself fixated on this jogger and how she could have disappeared into thin air. There’s something that is not adding up and those who know Tracy Crosswhite understand that she is not one to let opportunity slip through her fingers. She’ll use all her resources to get to the bottom of it, even if it means putting her future in jeopardy with a captain who wants her head on a platter.

There’s something about this series that has always kept me fully engaged and wondering. Robert Dugoni has crafted a stellar cast and writes so fluidly as to keep the reader on their toes. New ideas emerge with each novel and the series gets better the deeper into the characters Dugoni pulls the reader. I can see this being one series that will not get old any time soon.

Tracy Crosswhite is a stellar detective in her own right, having grown effectively over the last number of novels. Her grit and determination are like no other and she keeps her eye on the prize throughout, hoping to make the most of what is offered to her. Balancing work with motherhood has been tough, but Crosswhite has found a balance, even though it has come at the cost of her preferred job. It will take all she has inside her to solve the cases placed at her feet, while dodging the obstacles of suspects and a captain with an ax to grind. There is mention throughout her cold case investigation about how a missing child can tear a family apart, something Crosswhite knows all too well from her sister’s disappearance. Guilt is nothing new for Detective Tracy Crosswhite, which makes her all the more intriguing as she strives for truth.

Dugoni creates a string of strong secondary characters in this piece that complement Crosswhite when the need arises. Pulled from a variety of sources, those who fill the gaps and keep the reader intrigued offer their own spin on these missing persons cases. Some are straightforward while others prefer to present deceptive fronts, all of whom work well to keep the reader wondering what’s to come. The recurring cast is always welcome, but I also enjoy how Dugoni has created new and one-off characters that keep things exciting for all readers.

There’s something to be said for the novels in this series, as they take police procedurals to a new level. While there are the essential elements found throughout, Robert Dugoni uses his strong writing abilities to create a certain magnetism that pulls the reader into the middle of the case and won’t let go. The narrative pushes along effectively and keeps the reader on their toes until the very end, when the pieces finally come together. It’s a piece that may reveal itself slowly, but once the momentum is started, there’s not tapping on the brakes. Short to mid-length chapters propel the reader forward and keep the story on track, as much is revealed with each page turn. I can only wonder what’s to come and how Dugoni will continue to shape his core set of characters with new and exciting hurdles.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, for another winner. Your work is some of the best in the genre and I can only hope you have many more ideas to share soon.

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

Breakthrough (Breakthrough #1), by Michael C. Grumley

Eight stars

Working off a strong recommendation by a dear friend, I chose to venture into the world of Michael C. Grumley and this series. Having sped through the prequel short story, I was intrigued to see how it would all come together. It’s hard to slot this book into a specific genre, as it is part science fiction, part action, and even part biological. However one might label it, Grumley did well in its delivery and has me wanting to know a little more. Alison Shaw has been working at an aquarium for the past five years, focussing on two dolphins. Slowly, but surely, a scientific breakthrough is made that could change the way humans see the dolphin world, but it is still too soon to reveal it all. Meanwhile, a nuclear submarine goes missing and the US Government is keen to learn more. Might the technology that Shaw and her team possess be essential to finding the sub and learning what happened? Grumley certainly piques the interest of the attentive reader with this first novel in a jam-packed series.

Deep in the ocean, a US submarine goes well off course and no one aboard can tell what’s happened. It’s panic all over the place and there is nothing that can be done. Radar shows the anomaly and yet no one can properly explain the phenomena. It is only later, when two Navy Seals find an odd ring on the ocean floor that possible theories begin to emerge.

Alison Shaw has been working at a Miami aquarium for the past five years, hoping to make something of herself. Her work with two dolphins looks promising, so much so that the latest project has her highly excited about what is to come. By recording and synthesising much of the communicative speech patterns, Shaw and her team have been able to effectively engage in two-way dialogue with the dolphins. Through a high-tech computer, basic interaction between humans and dolphins seems possible, which will surely create a stir in the scientific community, as well as with the general public.

When members of the US Government learn of the dolphins’ abilities, they come knocking, if only to tap into this new resource. Using the dolphins to probe what might be taking place deep on the ocean floor could have a numerous benefits, particularly as there is now a means by which communication is possible. However, Shaw and her team are not ready to rent out the dolphins to the highest bidder, making them more of a circus act than they appear to be to attendees of the aquarium.

On the other side of the world, a massive ice quake rocks Antarctica. A number of scientists are killed and early detection explores the possibility of a major tsunami that could rock both sides of the Atlantic, should something not be done. Early signs point to a phenomena that is not quite understood, though it might all relate to that ring on the bottom of the ocean. Who is behind the ring and what will it mean for those in military and political power? Is there a new enemy emerging, one the Americans have yet to fully respect? Grumley poses this and many other questions in this thriller that pulls on many interesting threads while keeping the reader engaged throughout.

I am the first to admit that science fiction is not usually my cup of tea, but this piece had something that pulled me in from the get-go. It might have been the realism that Michael C. Grumley presents, or even that there was a grounded science and even loose political aspect to the piece, but I am happy to have accepted the recommendation to read this book and want to know more. Grumley pushes reality up against the supernatural and presses a case for what might be out there and how current technology may be on the cusp of greatness, which boggles the mind and makes it all the more exciting.

Alison Shaw serves as the likely protagonist in this piece, pulling on much of her work to guide the book’s plot. While she has been snubbed by the US Navy before, stymying her research, she tries to keep an open mind when it comes to using this linguistic technology. She is adamant that her dolphins are not playthings for use by the highest bidder, but she is also keen to help where she can. Her drive for success can be seen throughout the piece, never overshadowed by stardom. It is a push for the truth over all else that keeps her in the middle of the story and I am eager to see what comes of her character in subsequent novels.

Grumley certainly develops a strong supporting cast in this piece to keep the reader on their toes throughout. There is so much going on throughout the various subplots that the reader is forced to entertain many names and characters whose roles play a vital part of the overall story. Grumley does well to differentiate them one from the other and never loses the momentum needed to keep everyone of interest to the reader. There are hints that some may appear throughout the series while others are surely one-offs, used to propel the plot forward.

The story was great and kept my attention throughout. While I am not fully engaged with writing that pushes things too far out of the realm of reality, I allowed myself a little reprieve in order to entertain what Grumley wanted to pass along to his readers. There is much to learn from the story and the themes emerge throughout. A strong narrative guides the story along, layered with strong characters and realistic dialogue. Grumley uses a variety of chapter lengths to keep the reader engaged, filling them with knowledge at some points and rushing them from point to point on other occasions as well. I am intrigued with where things are headed and can only hope that Grumley has something equally as exciting to come in the next novel, for which I am reaching as I finalise this review.

Kudos, Mr. Grumley, for this intriguing perspective that gets the story going. I have many questions that I hope begin to receive answers as I push forward.

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

Genesis (Breakthrough #0.5), by Michael C. Grumley

Eight stars

After receiving a strong recommendation to try this series “for something completely different”, I eagerly sought out this prequel piece by Michael C. Grumley. Never one to turn down a challenge or something different, I dug in to see if it would grab me. While marine biology and ocean life has never been something for which this Prairie boy has had much affinity, I was intrigued by Grumley’s teaser piece and have decided to give it a plunge, if you will.

Alison Shaw loves her research in Costa Rica, working with sea turtles. When she receives word that her funding and research are being terminated by the Office of Naval Research, she’s at a loss for what to do. A friend reaches out and offers her a chance to come see what’s being done with marine life in Florida. Alison packs up and hopes for the best, with nothing to lose.

While helping some of the marine life after a boating incident, she realises that she has a connection with many species and finds her apparent niche. A tall and mysterious gentleman notices her work and approaches Alison with an idea, one that he hopes will not only change the world, but shine a needed light on one particular member of marine life, dolphins!

As I said before, I am no marine expert, nor can I say that I have a passion for that which lives in the water. That being said, the series comes highly recommended and I was impressed with Michael C. Grumley’s writing in this prequel piece. If this is anything like what is to come, I can tell that I will be in for a treat. Great writing, strong dialogue, and something that piqued my interest. I’m in for the time being… so let’s see what Grumley has to offer!

Kudos, Mr. Grumley, for this intriguing start to your series. I’ll see if Book One keeps my attention and make a better decision thereafter.

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

Blood Kills (Angelina Bonaparte #4), by Nanci Rathbun

Eight stars

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

Having devoured the three previous novels in this series in order to reach this ARC, I was pleased to get my hands on the latest instalment of the Angelina Bonaparte mysteries. Nanci Rathbun continues to develop a great collection of novels built on the tenacious PI Angelina Bonaparte, working around Milwaukee and helping those in need. Counting down the last days of her forced separation from a lover, Angie has ordered a special piece of art to commemorate their reunification. When she arrives to collect it, she discovers the artist’s body in his shop. One thing leads to another and his seedy past comes to light. Hired by a fellow business owner to get to the bottom of things, Angie has an eye on the likely murderer, but needs to connect the dots, as more bodies pile up. This will be one case that requires additional caution to keep her alive! A great addition to the series for fans of Rathbun’s work.

Angelina Bonaparte (add the ‘tay’ on the last syllable if you want to save a punch to the mouth) has been in agony since she and her lover, Detective W. T. “Ted” Wukowski, have been forced apart by Milwaukee PD brass. However, the days are dwindling down and she has a special treat in store for him, aside from the usually flirtatious lingerie she flaunts. While visiting a local metalsmith to collect a piece, she discovers Mick Swanson’s body. Some preliminary sleuthing provides some insight in the form of a letter from Swanson himself, pointing the finger at his own cousin.

While the murder has rattled Angie, the local business owners in the cooperative are equally jarred, worried that the recent violence will cause sales to plummet. One such owner, Debby Hill, admits that she is also Swanson’s executor and worries that she will be targeted. Angie agrees to take her on as a client and they begin to unravel the darker side to Michael (Mick) Lebedev Swanson, whose service in the Russian military opens up new and troubling facets to the investigation.

When Angie and Wukowski get an MPD reprieve on their complete separation, they are able to work together, albeit in a strained fashion, on the case. Detective Wukowski provides some added insight that Mick’s DNA was found at the scene of an Illinois politician’s murder, citing that the metalsmith was actually involved in the Bratva, the Russian Mob. Realising that she will make no headway with her paramour, Angie is forced to take matters into her own hands.

More bodies pile up and Swanson’s own attorney is attacked, with the probate documents stolen. Whatever Swanson has on his cousin must be significant and rests primarily on their time in the Russian Army during the invasion of Chechnya. Angie discovers that there is some family history here that could be playing into the larger motive for murder, but worries that it will all be erased before she can get to the bottom of things. Racing against time and tossing caution into the wind, PI Bonaparte will have to take some risks to bring the truth out, much to the chagrin of hard-headed Detective Wukowski. Will there be a romantic reconnection after all?

I enjoy binge-reading a series, as it permits me to explore the plots and character development on a deeper level. When handed this ARC, I chose not to dive right in, but rather get an understanding of the series and all that Rathbun had done to date. I am pleased that I did, as it permitted me to connect better with Angelina Bonaparte, though I admit it took a while. While I was not entirely hooked by the debut novel that Nanci Rathbun offered readers, Angelina Bonaparte‘s unique approach did eventually sink in for me, giving me a deeper appreciation of her style and I was rather excited to get my hands on this novel.

Angelina Bonaparte stays the course as a strong protagonist, forced to take on a great deal yet again. While there are some moments of familial backstory peppered throughout, the main focus appears to be character development, both professional and personal. Bonaparte is a risk taker, but she appears to ground most of her actions on fact-finding and strong sleuthing. Pulled into the case, she uses many of her connections in the field to reveal truths, though her stubbornness does sometimes lead to some hot water moments. Flirty and focussed on rekindling her love affair, she has her moments of cringe-worthy saccharine one-liners, but those are par for the course.

Rathbun continues with a strong collection of secondary characters, many of whom she admits come from people she actually knows. Those who grace the pages of the book help push the story forward and keep the reader entertained throughout. While there are always criminal elements in the novels, much of the plot development comes from understanding various angles these seemingly minor characters provide the story, only adding to the greatness of the overall piece. Rathbun has some recurring characters and a bunch of new faces, keeping the reader intrigued while learning what’s going on as well.

I can finally admit that Nanci Rathbun’s novels are growing on me. While it took me some time to find my niche, trying to wrap my head around this middle-aged PI‘s obsession with undergarments, the fact that there is a strong thriller is not lost on me. The book added some grit and looked again into some recent history to add a depth and flavour to the plot, while keeping the action coming in each chapter. Rathbun’s writing is engaging throughout, usually able to steer away from predictability, though there is an undertone of slight hokines, which works in this regard. There’s a decent balance of short and longer chapters to whet the reader’s appetite throughout, with wondering pacing. I enjoyed the mix of backstory from previous novels and the newness of this mystery, a great balance that is sure to keep the reader wondering what’s to come. While it was an advantage to binge the series, I know I will have to wait for a while now to see if Angelina Bonaparte is back with more Milwaukee fun!

Kudos, Madam Rathbun, for a winner. I am glad I took the gamble on the series and feel you have a fan in me!

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

Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes

Nine stars

This story by Daniel Keyes means a great deal to me, though I have never read it. In fact, my introduction to Charlie Gordon and Algernon came from seeing the stage play of this novel many years ago. It holds a number of personal memories for me that go beyond the story or its characters. To have finally read Daniel Keyes’ piece has brought things full circle and I cannot say enough about the piece. When a man with intellectual disabilities (not the word Keyes uses, but I will keep it politically correct) is experimented upon to increase his IQ, things change drastically for Charlie Gordon, as well as the lab mouse, Algernon. Charlie sees a new self after a major operation, though this new intelligence comes at major costs, to both man and beast. A sentimental journey that is sure to touch the heart of many readers.

Charlie Gordon loves his life, at least what he knows of it. Born with intellectual disabilities, he has been living in a facility, away from his family, for many years, holding down a basic job in a bakery. When he is chosen to take part in a highly experimental surgery to increase his intellectual capacity, Charlie is not sure what to expect. Both Charlie and a lab mouse, Algernon, are set to undergo a procedure and have their intelligence monitored through a series of tests. Charlie will also be journaling his experiences, as best he can.

While there is some confusion on Charlie’s part in the pre-surgery period, he is excited about being able to ‘get smart’ and hopes the process will work. After a gruelling operation, Charlie wonders why he is not instantly different, forced to wait for progress. Using technology of the day, Charlie is able to coax his brain to open like a budding flower, soon beating Algernon in tests that were once seen to be much too difficult.

While Charlie gains intelligence, he realises that those around him no longer see him in the same way. He is no longer treated like the ‘dimwit’, though this has polarising results depending on his social circle. Charlie is soon absorbing topics that were once though impossible and takes a keen understanding in the science behind his own advancements. All the while, he is discovering the world in new and adult ways, from love to sex and even the nuances of daily conversations.

While the intelligence pushes him to genius-levels, Charlie soon has a raging epiphany, both about his past and the future he has forged for himself. Charlie Gordon may be much smarter than he was, but he is also a different man and not one he always enjoys. When changes in Algernon occur, Charlie is left to wonder if this is a harbinger of things to come. Has Charlie Gordon finally become intelligent enough to see how easy life was before, when he did not know any better?

As I said above, there are many emotional ties this story brings to the surface for me. I knew the premise going into this reading journey, though some of the parts of the novel that were not addressed in the stage play kept me riveted to see how things would end. Daniel Keyes writes a poignant novel about a man’s increased self-awareness and how that can be the root of all trouble, loosely paralleling the biblical Garden of Eden. The struggle to become better should not always run parallel with one’s heightened intelligence.

Charlie Gordon is a stunning protagonist throughout this piece. The reader is easily able to see his progression, as much of the book is told through his eyes. Charlie’s simpler beginnings may have been fraught with teasing and suffering, but they were also less complex. The ‘ignorance is bliss’ approach recurs throughout this piece, which helps echo themes for the reader. There is much personal and character growth in this book, sure to touch the reader in some form or another. Charlie’s journey is central to the story and the reader is there for the entire ride.

Keyes uses a strong collection of characters to bridge all of Charlie’s feelings throughout. Filling the narrative with key actors who not only flavour the piece, but help Charlie see who is was/is/will be is key to Keyes’ ongoing plot development. Some characters will anger the reader while others will soon become favourites, but there is a central theme that runs throughout the book; Charlie’s influence on them changes with added intelligence, and not always for the better.

This is a touching story about a man who is both test subject and experimenter, seeing his life literally change before him. The narrative depicts the struggles that are overcome when a man has a life-changing surgery, only to find new ones emerge and added hurdles brought into his way. Raw and honest throughout, the writing is reflective of Charlie’s change from the opening sentences until the final paragraph of this well-crafted book. With a mix of narrative, progress reports, and personal insights by Charlie Gordon, the reader can see the peaks and valleys before the truth comes to pass and everything connects. Daniel Keyes does a masterful job throughout, keeping the reader wondering what will become of Charlie Gordon and how his personal insights will come to shape the man he has become. Stunning and a must-read for anyone seeking something introspective.

Kudos, Mr. Keyes, for a book that will stick with me forever. I wish I had read this sooner, though the personal connection remains strong for me all those years later.

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

Legacy of War (Courtney #19), by Wilbur Smith and David Churchill

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley,Wilbur Smith, David Churchill, and Bonnier Zaffre USA for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having followed the Courtney saga for many years, I was overjoyed at the release of another novel. While Wilbur Smith has been using the assistance of other authors over the past while, the books are usually still of high caliber. With the Second World War ended, the most everyone is breathing a collective sigh of relief. However, it is still a time of and for change. Not everyone in Germany is happy with the new divided country. Additionally, there are rumblings of independence along the African continent. Smith and David Churchill bring readers another great piece in this long saga, providing much for the reader to enjoy throughout.

As the world is still coming to terms with the end of the Second World War, there are a number of truths that cannot be ignored. The largest of which is that German dictator Adolf Hitler is finally dead and Europe can relax, to a degree. While the Nazis are no longer a threat, Europe has been taken over, in a sense, by the conflicting ideologies of American capitalism and Soviet communism. Saffron Courtney surveys things from London and is relatively pleased. Her husband, Gerhard, is free from a concentration camp, and they can focus on their connection once more. However, Konrad von Meerbach, Gerhard’s brother with strong affinity for the Nazis, seeks to regain power and bring a new wave of national socialism to his native land.

While all this envelops Europe, the African continent is becoming more boisterous. The colonial empire has developed cracks, particularly in Kenya. There, the locals have begun trying to drum up support for a complete overthrow. Their current target are those who are sympathetic to the British. Blood will flow and that is sure to cause issues for the Courtney family, all the way up to the patriarch, Leon. As Kenya balances on the precipice, the Courtneys must wonder what the future holds for them in the country of their forbearers.

When Konrad arrives in Kenya to pay a visit to Gerhard and Saffron, it is anything but cordial. He has a plan and wants nothing other than to instil fear. Could a simple visit begin a chain of events that leads to Gerhard’s demise once again? With Kenya less than stable, there are many factors that could easily cause issues for all involved. The Courtney family is in serious trouble and Saffron may be the only means by which things do not completely unravel. A nice addition to the series that proves there is still something left to explore in this series, which has entertained for over a generation.

While I was quite late to the party when it came to the Courtney series, I loved the early novels that spun wonderful tales of mystery across the African continent. However, as Wilbur Smith aged, he chose to partner up with others, sometimes lessening the impact of the novels and diluting what has been a strong Courtney saga. David Churchill appears to do well in complementing Smith’s work, keeping the 20th century series alive and well. At least that’s something series fan can look forward to with this piece.

Saffron Courtney does well as a protagonist in this piece, offering the reader some great insights into how to handle living in both Europe and Africa. The story uses her experiences on both continents, as well as some historical events that developed in the background. Saffron reminds readers of the richness of the Courtney family over the decades, as well as her own personal growth. There is some wonderful character development to be had and series fans will likely enjoy how all the pieces have come together.

Smith and Churchill have used a strong collection of supporting characters as well, all of whom enrich the story in their own way. Be it the rise of independence in Kenya or the residue of Nazi support in Germany, those who grace the pages of the book prove highly entertaining for the reader. There is a lot to cover in the book and these secondary characters do well to keep the reader on point throughout.

As it relates to the overall story, I found myself enjoying parts of the book and seeking to skip over others. There is a definite richness in the narrative, particularly as it relates to historical events, pulling the reader in and keeping the story on a strong pathway. However, there are other times when things appear to drag and left me wanting to hit the ‘turbo’ button to get back to the action. The character development and richness of the Courtney saga cannot be ignored here, as those who have followed the collection have come to know. All that being said, this is not a book (or a series) that can be started at any point. There is too much backstory that emerges to ‘catch up’ in a single book. With short to mid-length chapters, the authors keep the book moving and the action growing. There’s much to discover for the curious reader, even if the writing style and delivery can sometimes not match the traditional Wilbur Smith approach.

Kudos, Messrs. Smith and Churchill, for another instalment of this strong series. While I may not like all of them, I have come to enjoy the ongoing drama!

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

Dark Pattern (The Naturalist #4), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

Andrew Mayne proves yet again to be one of the most captivating thriller writers that I have had the pleasure to read. His novels are easy to comprehend while tying the reader up in knots with complex plots that are quite unique. The versatility he exemplifies creates a reading experience where one can never be sure what awaits them around the bend. This series, my third, utilises some of the most thought-provoking stories that I can recollect ever encountering, mixing thrills with science and peppering in some humour when time permits. Mayne’s protagonist, Theo Cray, is highly unique himself and never shies away from controversy, which only adds to the experience. After being sprayed with an unknown toxin at the end of the last novel, Cray is off his game and wondering if he is infected with Hyde virus. He is handed another unique serial killer case and heads to Louisiana to see if a nurse is responsible for a series of deaths across a number of hospitals. What looks like a simple case grows exponentially more complex, leaving Cray on the wrong end of the authorities and a jail cell! Mayne dazzles yet again in this thriller.

Theo Cray may be a talented computational biologist, but he cannot shake the feeling that something is very wrong. After being sprayed with an unknown toxin a while back, he cannot help but wonder if it was Hyde virus. The virus is said to turn the rational brain into that of a killer for no apparent reason. While he is not showing any outward symptoms, Cray is not taking any chances and has been receiving brain scans to check for any anomalies.

While he feels less than ready to tackle another case, one falls into his lap down in Louisiana. Cray is sent to look for a nurse who appears to have been killing people, children included, and leaving a wake of disaster. Always able to sneak off before he’s been discovered, this nurse is out to kill, likely hundreds, without justice being served. Cray is on it, sure that he can find the pattern.

When he arrives in Baton Rouge, Cray receives some confidential material to which he is not legal entitled. Using it, Cray is able to create a graph that shows the killer’s progress through a number of facilities. While Cray is eager to offer up some answers, he must tread carefully. Inching towards an answer, Cray does all in his power to name the killer, sure that this will impress everyone and return him to hero status once and for all.

However, things go awry and Cray finds himself on the wrong end of a legal probe into his actions. He is able to escape, barely, but a hefty fine lingers over him. During a visit by one of his former professors, Amanda Paulson, Cray realises that he has been looking at the case through too narrow a scope. This new insight opens the door to new data plotting and reveals that the killer may be using additional resources to cover their tracks.

On a whim, Cray travel outside of the continental United States and makes his way to an old facility in the Caribbean, only to realise that American justice is a tad more patient than here. Cray finds himself awaiting for the wheels of justice to turn, as a killer continues to lurk in the shadows. It is sure to take Cray more than a little luck to finally solve this case and ensure his safety.

Andrew Mayne seems to keep getting better the more he writes, particularly in this series, With the less than ‘normal’ The Cray, Mayne has developed quite the series, leaving no rock unturned and helping to educate the reader on the nuances of the lesser known sciences that can help in the forensic battle. It is hard to believe this is the final in the Theo Cray series to date, though there is a treat that awaits Mayne fans later in 2021, where two stellar protagonists will come together.

Theo Cray may be off his game, but he remains as sharp as ever throughout this piece. His scientific mind is like no other and appears to spin in some really interesting directions. Cray is keen to impress, while also worrying that he may be infected with a horrible disease that could turn him rogue. Balancing that with a burgeoning personal life, The Cray has little time to rest on his laurels. This may not be one of his most harrowing cases ever, but he certainly has the most riding on it.

Mayne does a masterful job with his supporting cast yet again, coaxing out some great banter that fuels an already strong narrative. As the book moves through various parts of the United States and into the Caribbean, those who encounter Theo Cray add a wonderful depth to the experience. There is a great deal going on and Cray sees many faces, each a little more daunting than the last. There is little time to stop in the book and these characters enrich the story perfectly, flavouring things effectively throughout the journey.

As always, the stories are on point and perfectly paced. Mayne has a wonderful way of getting to the root of the matter and impacts things with his strong writing. The narrative pace keeps the reader wanting to learn a little more and the dialogue banter provides some needed entertainment between the serious portions. Mayne has always made a point of showing his reader more of the protagonist as the story advances and this was no exception. Short chapters keep the reader moving forward and wondering what awaits them. While Mayne likely has some other plans for Cray in the coming months, I cannot wait to see him evolve and become an even more endearing, if not awkward, character for the masses to enjoy.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for another piece that connects things just enough for the reader to want more. I am glad to have had this series recommended and can only hope there is lots more 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

Murder Theory (The Naturalist #3), by Andrew Mayne

Nine stars

To call Andrew Mayne one of the most engrossing thriller writers that I have read would not be a leap. He is not only easy to comprehend, but his versatility makes for an exciting adventure each time I get my hands on another of his publications. This series, in particular, has come up with some of the most thought-provoking thriller reads that I have found in longer than I can remember. Mayne’s unique situations and captivating protagonist, Theo Cray, create a new layer of intrigue that keeps getting better the more I read. Cray has settled down a little, working in a lab. He’s been contracted by the Department of Defence to handle some analytics and seems in his element. However, something’s going on at the scene of the Toy Man’s burial ground, a serial killer Cray helped uncover. While some feel that it is just an anomaly, the FBI calls on Cray to investigate. He finds a chilling pattern and soon realises that someone is out there, not a serial killer in the traditional sense, but rather someone who is creating them before they are unleashed on the world. A stunning piece that leaves the reader gasping for breath by the end, with a cliffhanger like no other. This is Mayne at his best, full stop!

Theo Cray is a talented computational biologist, studying the systems in which things live and finding patterns to describe actions. He’s also been able to use this background to bring down two stunning serial killers, both of whom eluded the authorities with their conniving ways. After having set up a lab in Austin, Texas, Cray has a team and they are synthesising data, including a fairly hefty program for the Department of Defence (DoD). It’s a great deal of work, but Cray has the support he needs and even a lab manager who seems capable.

When news comes to him that there is something taking place at the burial site of the Toy Man, the second of the aforementioned killers, Cray is intrigued. A forensic technician was collecting samples and seemingly had a psychotic break, killing those around him. While he is in custody, the oddity of the action baffles everyone, as the technician was known to be docile. Cray is called in by the FBI to have a look, as nothing is adding up. While it baffles Cray as well, there’s surely something there to be found, given a little time and some analysis.

Cray digs deeper, only to discover that there is something on the medical scans that appears troubling. Could those who killed have been infected with something that pushed them in that direction? While Cray has seen it in the insect world, there’s nothing documented about a neurological toxin that turns a human into a killing machine, or is there?

Someone is out there and it is up to Cray to coax them out of the shadows, if only to determine who they could be. Coining the term ‘Hyde virus’ to denote the flip side personality that emerges, Cray seeks to determine its origin. Cray decides to take the giant leap and create his own murder scene to lure the ‘killer’ out to see what happens. All the while, he is bound and determined to see what is being used to infect the brain. It’s a risky move, as the authorities are sure that there is a new killer on the loose, with a pile of bodies that Cray has left out. Shoddy prep work points to someone having provided Cray with the materials, leaving him in trouble with the law and facing potential jail time. Still, he must get to the bottom of this before it’s too late.

Working every angle he can, Cray finds something in the DoD files that could help him better understand the Hyde virus, but it will take more than dusty reports on yellowing pages to catch this serial killer creator, negating the neurological blowback and the additional fallout. This may be the largest case ever for Cray, who once considered himself a humble introvert with a side of arrogance. This is a chilling novel, though even that seems to be an understatement, particularly when referring to the final few paragraphs of this book, which offer up a cliffhanger like no other.

I have never read an Andrew Mayne novel and felt underwhelmed or anything bordering on indifferent. There is so much to absorb in each book that the reader takes something away. Add to that, the completely different path each series follows and the reader is treated to something even more stunning. I kick myself for having waited this long to discover Mayne’s work, after a few great friends have been hinting that I need to give his books a chance. The Theo Cray series alone has pushed me to my limits and keeps me enthralled throughout each piece. I can only wonder what the next book will bring.

Theo Cray remains unique while also growing on the reader in this series. Having almost fallen in to the world of serial killer hunter, Cray uses his academic background to find things that are elusive to many others. His work in Montana and Atlanta returns throughout this book, at least in passing mention, while he discovers nuances and clues that point in a particular direction. Mayne has not only honed his protagonist’s skills, but also given him a complex personality, which is on offer throughout. Building his professional and personal lives in tandem, the reader is able to see a fully three dimensional character who springs from the page with ease, something that few series can do so readily in a supersaturated genre.

The secondary characters in Andrew Mayne’s novels are not simply window dressing, as this series proves repeatedly. Like an errant fibre or piece of blood spatter in most novels, everything (and everyone) serves a purpose. The larger narrative is enriched and flavoured by those who grace the pages of this book, some complementing the protagonist, while others seek to impede progress. Either way, it is a wonderful experience and adds significantly to the novel’s connectivity. There is so much going on, but it never feels tangential and useless, as Mayne spins a web that is only later fully revealed and understood. I cannot wait to see what awaits the series, as there is something brewing, even amongst the secondary cast of characters.

Andrew Mayne is one of the great crime thriller storytellers, hands down. While he may not create eerie killers who sit in their homes plotting and using their own narrative perspective to add chills, there is definitively something to be said about how he constructs his novels. The stories build off one another (so I will bluntly say, ‘yes, you have to read the novels in order and from the beginning in this series’) and the action ramps up with each chapter. Theo Cray gets better the more the reader discovers and the narrative pushes him to the limits throughout. All that being said, there is a sense of realism throughout that keeps the reader from feeling things are getting too far off track. All this could happen and yet it is also so mind boggling. Crisp writing in short chapters keeps the reader forging ahead and the twists begin to pile up. The story has layers like no other and I cannot say enough about the momentum the plot injects into each page. This is surely not a book for those seeking a quick read that will soon be forgotten. Mayne’s pieces are like ear wigs that stick with you, but that’s a good thing, as you need to remember what’s happened to see where the path leads next.

With one more novel in this series (to date) and an upcoming publication including Cray and Jessica Blackwood together, fans of Mayne’s work have much in which to revel. Stellar writing has never been so addictive and I can only hope others discover Mayne soon, as I would love to dissect his work with other newbies and long-time fans!

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for another wonderful piece. You never cease to amaze me with what you have to say about the world through your writing. I can definitely see a fan base growing exponentially if your writing continues to be as strong.

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

Instinct, by Jason M. Hough

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley,Jason M. Hough, Gallery Books, and Skybound Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always one to try something a little different, I excitedly grabbed for this novel by Jason M. Hough, which mixes the intensity of a thriller with the mystery of small-town America. When a police officer in a small Washington community is thrust into a leadership role, she begins to notice that the locals are not acting as they should, or at least how she expects they would. Is there a reason or is this all something wonky about small town life? Hough keeps the reader guessing throughout and makes quite the impact in doing so.

After leaving Oakland PD, Mary Whittaker is still trying to acclimate to life in Silvertown, Washington. It’s small—population 602, small—and the locals seem happy to keep to themselves, but also come up with some typical issues. Learning all she can from the local chief, Whittaker is determined to make her impression on the town and its citizenry. It won’t be easy, but it’s one challenge that Whittaker is bound and determined to overcome.

When the chief takes an unexpected leave of absence, Whittaker is left to run things on her own. She takes a call out of town when a hiker is attacked by a bear, unable to understand why he did not react. After interviewing his companion, it would seem that the man who had little love of nature simply gave up and waited for fate to take its course.

There are other oddities around town, like the introverted teenager who loves gaming but chose to wander out into the woods and died. Or the woman who loves her twins and yet left them at home while frolicking in town. Some call it a reaction to the new cell tower that was erected, but Whittaker thinks that there is more to it. This is one mystery for which she’ll not let the gossips create a narrative.

As she tries to piece things together, Whittaker discovers what might be involved in all the shenanigans, but she is not yet ready to commit to that response. She probes a little deeper, only to see that losing one’s instinct is the least of the town’s concerns, though she might not live long enough to report it to others. A chilling piece that keeps the reader thinking until the very last page flip.

I have never read anything by Jason M. Hough and I am kicking myself for that. In a piece that is full of action and intrigue, I found myself fully committed throughout the process and could not wait to see what was coming next. Hough keeps things on the mysterious side, without venturing too far out of reality. Still, there’s something a little eerie in the story and how things play out.

Mary Whittaker is a strong protagonist in this piece, keeping the reader informed of both her back story and how she develops throughout. Still trying to get used to country or small town life, Whittaker must tackle policing on an entirely new level. While she struggles at times, the reader can see some wonderful development throughout, which enriches the story as well as advancing the narrative.

Hough offers up some wonderful supporting characters in this piece, all of whom do their own thing to make the story all the better. While small town life is not always full of excitement, there is something about the various characters in this piece that flavour the narrative effectively and keep the story moving. Those the reader thinks they know are soon showing another side, which only adds depth to the piece and keeps the reader wanting to discover a little more.

The story itself sounds typical small town, something is going on and the townsfolk are acting oddly. However, Jason M. Hough takes it a step further and delves into some interesting discussions, both on a character level and with the psychology of a person. What makes someone do something and can override those instincts or inhibitions? He tackles this with a strong narrative that progresses throughout, easily taking the reader on many a journey. Additionally, there are some wonderful ‘aha’ moments, as the reader tries to make sense of things with the numerous reveals throughout. The plot stays intense and there are no lack of twists as the piece progresses. A mix of chapter lengths has the reader begging for more, as they read well into the night. I cannot wait to see what else Hough has penned, so that I can compare and enjoy things in the future.

Kudos, Mr. Hough, for a great piece that has me curious. You are definitely on my radar.

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

Looking Glass (The Naturalist #2), by Andrew Mayne

Nine stars

Andrew Mayne is more versatile than many other authors I have read over the last few years. While he remains within the crime thriller genre, Mayne uses unique situations and protagonists that keep the reader on their toes and wondering. While I devoured two of his other series already, I was eager to get my hands on his Theo Cray novels, as I hear they are quite different, even by Mayne standards. Professor Theo Cray is still buzzing from his discovery of a serial killer in rural Montana, but is not all that keen about people using him for his skills alone. When Cray is asked to help locate a missing boy in Los Angeles, he reluctantly agrees, which only opens a complex web that he could not have predicted. One of the better crime thrillers I have read over the last number of years, Mayne proves that he is miles apart from others in the genre. Perfect for the lover of unique novels in the genre, as well as Mayne fans alike!

Theo Cray prides himself on being a computational biologist, one who studies the systems in which things live, but his past discovery of a serial killer in rural Montana is what everyone remembers. After leaving academia because of a somewhat problematic set of decisions, Cray finds himself working for a company that seeks to predict terrorist activities. However, Cray soon sees that he is being used for what he knows and his sentiments are not taken into account. It’s surely not the life for him, though he needs something to occupy his time.

Cray’s notoriety has left him having to dodge many people who want his help locating their loved ones, using his unique tracking measures. When a man approaches Cray for help locating his son, the biologist-cum-crime solver wonders if this might be a sign. There is no trace of the boy and the authorities have decided that it is not worth their time. The poor Los Angeles community has also given up hope that there will be anything they can do. All that’s left are some drawings that might mean nothing.

As Cray begins to look into things, he makes a valiant effort not to offend anyone, though his style of investigating is unique and not always pleasant. He is abrupt and direct, while also bending the rules as he sees fit. When Cray uncovers that there are other young boys that have gone missing, it all comes back to the drawings they made of a Toy Man, someone who gives presents to young children, but is said to punish the bad.

When Cray uncovers another interesting trait about the children, he is on a mission to solve the crime. The case takes on new meaning and gains momentum as Cray travels across the country to follow traces of the Toy Man and what might be really going on. It’s a race to uncover the truth, even if everyone else has given up on what matters most, the life of a little boy!

Since discovering the world of Andrew Mayne, I cannot say that I have been disappointed in the least. His unique take on forensics and crime detecting leaves the reader with something exciting as they delve deeper into the novels. This third series of his has proven to be anything by usual, offering up some wonderful spins on the traditional approaches, helping him to stay apart and be noticed.

Theo Cray is definitely unique as he tackles life and the criminal element. He is happy to pursue what makes him happy, using a unique skill set to find answers where others cannot. While he refuses to ‘colour in the lines’, Cray gets results and so many have come to accept his ways, if only for the time being. His grit and determination have shone through in this novel again, as he chases after clues that appear to take him further into danger. It’s a chilling story that leaves the reader wondering what else they can learn about him.

Andrew Mayne does a masterful job once again developing a supporting cast. There is so much to learn about Cray’s interaction with others, as well as how these characters present themselves. The story comes to life repeatedly and the reader is able to use these strong secondary characters to see where things are headed. The action is non-stop and it is those who grace the pages of the book that make them all the more exciting for sure.

Andrew Mayne never ceases to amaze me with his approach to storytelling. A strong narrative that pushes along throughout the story, there is something for everyone. Many will like the uniqueness that Mayne offers, particularly the momentum seen throughout the narrative. Short chapters leave the reader pushing further and wanting more, if only to see the next twist on the horizon. I devoured this piece and cannot wait to see what’s next in the Theo Cray series.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for a brilliant novel that will have me telling anyone who will listen about all you have done in 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