Sleeping Beauties, by Stephen King and Owen King

Eight stars

Having long been a fan of Stephen King, I was curious to tackle this novel, which pairs the King of Horror with his Prince of Thrills (?), Owen. Working together on this massive piece, the reader is able to see the Kings’ respective writing styles and notice how well they mesh together. In the town of Dooling, the discovery of two meth cooks are found murdered seems to be a day like any other, though a stranger may be behind this bloody mess. Normalcy ends in this community when women around the world are going to sleep and not waking up. While in these comatose states, they are discovered with an odd growth on their faces, spindly white thread that soon becomes a cocoon that surrounds their bodies. Panic ensues and those who seek to remove this cocoon from family and friends are met with a rabid response, sated only by the violent murder of anyone who dare disturb the woman’s slumber. This odd occurrence is tied to sleep—but only of women—and is soon labelled Aurora Sickness. As the folks of Dooling do all they can to understand this phenom, the women are taking matters into their own hands to stay awake. Chaos reigns as caffeine and other stimulants—both legal and illegal—are sought by anyone possessing the XX chromosome, in an effort to remain awake. When rumours hit the internet about a scheme to ‘torch’ the cocoon-bearers, this only adds a new layer of concern in Dooling, where riots and vandalism have changed things for the worse. Tucked away in the prison is that aforementioned stranger, Eve Black, who appears to be immune to the cocooning and enjoys restful sleep without consequence. Does Eve have something to share with those left awake in Dooling that might bring an end to the madness? What happens to those who remain asleep in their cocoons? These answers and more await the reader as they flit through this massive novel—like moths on a summer night—and are enveloped in a story that has all the markings of a King classic. This joint effort should leave fans of the elder King quite pleased and raise interest in Owen’s own writing.

Having never read Owen King before, I must use my knowledge of his father’s writing to provide comparative analysis for this review. I will be the first to admit that reading Stephen King is not for everyone, though his novels as not as horror-based as they might once have been. Their uniqueness lies not only in the number of pages used to transmit a story, but also the numerous tangents taken to get from A to B. While that might annoy me with some authors, I find solace in the detail provided on the journey when King is at the helm. As King is wont to do, he supersaturates the story with scores of characters, all of whom play their own part in the larger narrative. While this may annoy some readers, I find it—bafflingly—exciting as I keep track of all the mini-stories that develop throughout. That being said, a few characters rise to the forefront in this piece and help bridge the story together. Lila Norcross proves to be a pivotal character, both in her role as sheriff and a level-headed player in town when chaos begins to rear its head. Lila has much going on and her character must face many struggles throughout the story, but she never backs down from what stands before her. Clint Norcross, Lila’s husband and prison psychiatrist at the women’s facility in town also plays an interesting role, in that he seeks to explore the lives and thoughts of those incarcerated, as well as serving as an important liaison for Eve Black, currently being detained in the ‘soft room’. Eve Black remains that character that King uses in most of his novels, the unknown individuals who brings chaos to the forefront while remaining calm and even endearing. No one knows anything of Eve, though her character becomes significant as the story progresses. Turning to the story at hand, it is both complex and simplistic, allowing the reader to pull something from it that might appeal to them. The curiosity surrounding the cocoon remains at the forefront of the plot throughout and why women are the only one’s being saddled with this remains a mystery. Both Kings seek to have the characters explore this anomaly throughout the novel, while also facing some of the concerns of a town disintegrating at the hands of its female population falling by the wayside, particularly when Eve’s immunity becomes common knowledge. There are many wonderful plots to follow within the story, which develop throughout the detailed chapters. The reader will likely have to use the character list at the beginning of the piece to keep everyone clear, though the detail offered allows a quick refresher for the attentive reader. The writing style is clearly elder King, with its meandering way and a narrative peppered with commentaries. It is for the reader to sift through it all and find the gems that will help them better appreciate the story. Chapters are broken up into numbered breaks, assisting with the literary digestion process, which allows the reader to better appreciate the magnitude of the story before them. I enjoy this style of writing, though am not entirely clear what flavour the younger King added to the story, as I am ignorant to any of his past published works. That being said, the collaborative King experience was one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Kudos, Messrs. King, for this excellent collaborative effort. I found myself enthralled until the very end and hope you’ll consider working together again.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:


The Bishop’s Pawn (Cotton Malone #13), by Steve Berry

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Steve Berry, Minotaur Books and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Steve Berry is back to provide readers with another instalment of the Cotton Malone series. In this piece, things go back to the beginning, before Magellan Billet, when Malone was still a lieutenant in the Navy and working for the JAG. After a failed attempt to help a friend finds Malone tossed in a Florida jail, he’s approached by one Stephanie Nelle from the Justice Department. She can make the arrest and any charges disappear if he will help her with a secretive and very important mission. He must retrieve a rare gold coin and ensure it is returned to her as soon as possible. Having nothing to lose, Malone ambles down to the waterfront, where he finds the item, alongside a number of documents that appear to be highly classified. Etched with ‘Bishop’s Pawn’ on the cover, Malone is curious and soon discovers that these files are highly sought, when an agent of the Cuban Secret Police comes to fetch them in a less than courteous manner. From that point, Malone learns that there are many seeking the documents, including the FBI, who will stop at nothing to ensure they are not seen by anyone else. Malone soon realises that he’s stumbled into the middle of the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination conspiracy and that these documents may reveal a narrative no one expected. Could there be more to the assassination than first thought? Might this ‘Pawn’ document prove that J. Edgar Hoover was behind the entire operation to exterminate King while the race riots and civil rights movement was heating up? As Malone dodges blood-thirsty people on both sides of the equation, he must decide if working for Justice and retuning the documents to Stephanie Nelle is the right move, or whether burying the narrative from the public is the best choice of all. Another brilliant piece by Berry, who digs up loose threads in history and weaves his own narrative in a magical way. A wonderful addition to the Cotton Malone series, it will keep series fans quite content. Those new to Berry and the series need not shy away, as it builds the foundation of a wonderful set of novels and may whet the appetite of those looking to explore this phenomenal collection.

I have read and enjoyed Berry’s work for as long as I can remember, having enveloped myself in the nuances of the Cotton Malone series and the tweaks to history for the entire journey. What sets Berry apart is that his writing and storytelling pits fact against fiction in such a way that it is sometimes indiscernible to the reader, forcing them to refer to the ever-present piece at the end it find out what was based in reality and where Berry sought to bridge things with some of his own creative writing. With this being the dawn of Malone’s appearance with Justice, there are none of the other characters that series fans know so well, allowing a stronger focus on the protagonist. Malone is given some brief backstory at the beginning and it builds throughout. His reckless ways are still fairly new, though his intuition is strong and the reader can see some of the early crumbs of what will become his unique personality in the novels to come. Malone is determined to do what he feels is right, though admits that he does try to follow orders, when they suit him. The narrative hints repeatedly at the issues in his marriage, something that develops in the series. This introduction to such a wonderful character paves the way for some wonderful future revelations by the reader, should they take the time to enjoy the entire collection of novels. Some of the other characters work well to build the dramatic effect within the story, serving as high-ranking members of the government or agencies central to the King assassination at the time. Shedding light on those tumultuous times, Berry utilises these people to expound on an America at the crossroads of internal disaster and race disintegration, with the apparent stop-gap measure before them. Turning to the story itself, Berry imbeds so many interesting pieces as they relate to the King assassination, as well as providing the reader with some interesting insight into what might have happened. While the entire event was seemingly an open and shut case, there were many whispers over the past fifty years that receive their due mention in the narrative. At a time when race relations are again teetering, Berry’s novel opens up the discussion and explores how those days in the 1960s changed the way the world looked at civil rights in America. And with the fiftieth anniversary of the King assassination on the horizon, Berry fuels the fires of discussion and analysis once again. Written from a first-person narrative, Malone’s story receives a much more personal touch, allowing Berry to introduce the man who has been so important over the years. The narrative, mixed with documents and references to flashback moments in King’s life, proves a rich story on which to build this modern piece. Additionally, placing the story in and around 2000 permits both Berry and the reader to look both back and ahead, straddling history and using that unique perspective of hindsight and forethought. I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of this piece and can only hope that others will also find something worthwhile.

Kudos, Mr. Berry, for another winner. I cannot wait to see what you have in mind as you keep Cotton interesting and ever-evolving, even in his rookie days.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

A Murder of Crows: A Short Sequel to The Magpies, by Mark Edwards

Nine stars

Mark Edwards made his fans wait for a time, but the delay only churned up excitement for the formal sequel to his debut novel. After the horrors that befell him in his London flat, Jamie Knight fled the country and the long-reaching grasp of Lucy Newton. Now in Australia, Jamie is trying to piece his life back together. After running into an acquaintance and sparking a renewed interest in all things Lucy Newton, Jamie receives a message on a fan page from a distressed woman, someone who seems to be suffering the same plight as he did. Might Lucy be back at it, now that her charges have been dismissed? Jamie takes the plunge and travels back to the UK, seeking to help Anita with her neighbour issue, while also trying to reconnect with his former partner, Kirsty. Jamie can only hope that Kirsty has forgiven him for all the horrors they went through at the hands of that wretch, Lucy. After arriving and trying to help Anita coax Lucy out of her safe cocoon, Jamie realises that this will be just as difficult the second time around. Armed with new ideas and a stronger intuition, Jamie forges ahead, but Lucy Newton is not one to be messed with lightly. She is hungry for revenge, and Jamie is the ideal target. Edwards jams so much into this short story that the reader will barely have time to breathe. A sensational piece that will sate fans of The Magpies, while leaving them wondering.

Edwards has done it again, piquing the interest of his readers with this stellar piece of writing. I flipped back and confirmed that the first in this series (if one can call it that) was my first attempt at reading Mark Edwards. I loved it then and continue to enjoy the intricacies that are found within the story and narrative. While a shorter piece, Edwards is still able to imbue his characters with some wonderful attributes, especially as Jamie is saddled by the guilt of the original Lucy Newton debacle. Jamie is also seen to be that eternal superhero, helping both Anita and working to build on his past relationship with Kirsty, for what it’s worth. Lucy is, as many Edwards fans remember her, a wicked woman whose constant plotting and conniving had be seen with everything she does. The story earns some of its eerie nature as the renewed Jamie-Lucy clash is presented, though adding the likes of Anita into the mix only thickens the plot more. The story might be brief, but there is much to enjoy within the fourteen chapters, as the narrative forges onward through to a climactic ending. In true Edwards fashion, there is a dangling thread and fans can only hope that it is not forgotten or left blowing around for another five years. Those readers interested in this piece are encouraged to try The Magpies for the full effect. I became a quick fan of Mark Edwards by doing so and am sure many readers will follow in my footsteps.

Kudos, Mr. Edwards, for another brilliant piece. I cannot wait for your next novel and anything else you may have in the works!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Store, by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo

Seven stars

James Patterson and Richard DiLallo have collaborated on another piece that shines a light on the potential monopoly that could become the world with a turn towards mega-stores in the coming years. Jacob Brandeis and his family live in the ever-moving world of New York City. He’s a struggling writer, seeking to bring home the bacon with whatever small job he can score, but Jacob wants more. He has seen much of his life changed by The Store, a mega-facility that sells anything from fertiliser to chocolate, books to motor oil, and everything in between. With brick and mortar shops unable to compete, they struggle to stay afloat, as America has taken to turning to the mega-store and away from personal shopping. As The Store makes its presence stronger, Jacob and his wife decide to take the plunge and get inside the machine, if only to better understand what it’s all about. Accepting work with The Store in New Burg, Nebraska, Jacob takes his family and is soon witness to just how far-reaching his new employer can be. New Burg is a mix of Orwell’s 1984–complete with surveillance cameras and listening devices—and some Stepford community, where neighbours are devoid of emotion and want to help with everything. Jacob has come to see that The Store seeks to control all aspects and become the solution for the entire population. Not buying into the hype, Jacob begins to pen his own book about the truth behind the curtain, but is fully aware that getting the message out will be difficult, since The Store handles all book publishing too. Sacrificing his personal safety and that of his family, Jacob tries to make his way back to NYC, where an editor friend of his might be able to get the message out. Trouble is, even with a manuscript, how receptive with the public be to something Anti-Store? Patterson and DiLallo keep the reader thinking in this mid-length novel that keeps the questions piling up and forces a degree of self-reflection. Those who enjoy Patterson’s work may like this one, though it does not have the thrill or mystery aspect that I find suits him so well.

Having recently completed a piece about the importance of physical books, I entered this reading experience ready to see some similar themes. Patterson and DiLallo have worked together before and do some amazing work at not only entertaining the reader, but selling their ideas. While not an attempt to push readers (and the public) away from mega-store shopping, it does poke fun at what might be the over-Amazoning that has begun in the world. What was once a place for books can now provide the best condoms at a cheap price (and with drone shipping *flashing sign*). It keeps the reader thinking, if only for a moment, about how this all came about. Jacob Brandeis is an interesting enough character, though he does seem to have a generic sense to him; that man who is always fighting The Man in order to shed light on some evil. Still, the interactions and dialogue he has with both his family and friends helps pave the way to better understand those who are not entirely sold by point and click shopping. Some of the Stepford characters are just that, mindless drone-like beings who serve their jobs and likely go home for their meal pill before turning in for bed. But I think the authors were not looking for strong character connection, but rather a keen interest in the theme of this story. The book sells the idea of emasculating the shopping and owning experience, almost a communist collective where everything is in one store (and all clothes are beige), without pounding too hard into the psyche of the reader. Subtle approaches prove effective here and the authors do well to make their point, without dragging the reader to the trough. I enjoy this quick read and think it would make for an interesting morning filler, though is by no means one to be placed atop any pedestal.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DiLallo, as you have made a wonderful point here and sold me on the concept. Now then, to do some real-life shopping.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future, by Robert Darnton

Eight stars

Before I commence this review, I’d like it to be clear that I enjoyed this piece in its audio format and tracked progress using the electronic book version. With the content of this book, it is interesting to highlight this fact, for what it’s worth.

Robert Darnton undertakes an interesting argument in this series of essays, at a time when libraries are tightening their belts and digital production of books has become the norm. Darnton seeks to explore books and their publication throughout three generic time periods: future, present, and past (in that order). These thought-provoking pieces do weigh themselves down in academic analysis, but make some excellent points throughout this journey, exploring the greatest means of organised thought, the collection of writings into a single bound (or gathered) volume. While I originally thought this book would be the perfect ‘test review’ for anyone wishing to join Goodreads—what better way to test a person’s prowess about the world of books than to explore this tome all about their historical importance—I have come to see that Darnton’s passion may carve out an island that many may not prefer to visit or turn towards. That said, it is an excellent collection of thoughts in a succinct form.

As one of our strongest connections to the past, Darnton opens his collection by looking ahead to the future of books. Whereas libraries have made books somewhat readily accessible for hundreds of years, the sheer number of published works makes it impossible to find or ascertain specific documents. While this argument could be made of the curious fiction or non-fiction reader, Darnton’s lens of discussion is firmly with the classics and academic works, specifically research materials. Darnton makes some strong arguments about free sharing of scholarly results and outcomes across fields and between academic institutions, as well as Google’s push to digitise a handful of the rare books found on the shelves of many large universities. He does, however, make some interesting arguments about the true ‘pick and choose’ nature of digital creations and how those who rely solely on them can miss out on many interesting pieces that speak to the pulse of the time, citing pre-revolutionary fiction in France. Might the future of books be put through a filter of whatever Google or publishers wish to offer in a digital format, thereby leaving the printed book to wither away? Darnton also speaks of the future of books and the lack of ‘sight, sound, and smell’, something that some find comforting when it comes to reading, though there are others who push more for the text and content, not all that concerned about the aesthetics of the reading experience. While this piece was penned in the early years (months?) of ebook publishing, Darnton sees a great future in the field, mordernising the act of reading and the simplicity of retrieving books across the World Wide Web. For Darnton, the future of books can be promising, but surely full of questions.

Books at present (read: 2009 or so) are in a significantly precarious position. Looking at their development and transformation over time, books are still relevant. Libraries have not turned to burning the paper and sought to fill shelves with other things, nor are rare book rooms, for fear of a bad pun, a rarity. Books still exist because people have things that they want to say and publishers have a market to sell them. Again, through an academic lens, Darnton explores how some university presses that could once guarantee sales of 500-1000 books to cover all costs and scratch the itch in the specific niche are now barely able to break even. The cost of books has become lucrative for some and the justification to purchase them is surely a great factor. Taking my own lens here, I must ask myself, ‘do I really want that book for my own, or will I shelve it afterwards and likely not return for many years?’. While some are purists and mock the idea of empty bookshelves, I think the economic aspect of book acquisition is surely part of the drive to move away from the weighted item that binds paper together. Space and convenience are surely strong factors in this regard, as people no longer have personal libraries to dedicate to their collections. In reading this section, I came to see the warring factions that are emerging, purists versus convenience readers, both of whom have members who hold strong and grounded beliefs, though there are others whose ignorance runs more freely than ink on a wet page (and I have met some in recent years). The present place of books is surely uncertain, though Darnton makes a strong case that books are essential and cannot be entirely “Fahrenheit 451’ed”.

Books represent a documented pathway to where we have come as humans. Early thought went from public discourse into a bound version that people could collect and make reference to when it suited them. Surely, the printed text and creation of the formal book helped bring societies together and served to represent them to future generations. In this portion of the book, Darnton looks not only at how society was shaped by the book, but how the process of publishing books shaped their interpretation in comparison to the original text. Darnton uses some Shakespeare in his tome to explore what the earliest known publications of The Bard’s work presented and how, in a mere 10-20 years, a publisher might have ‘reworked’ the wording to clarify meanings or added some of his own frilly pieces to the prose, thereby altering it. Without the original, societies and generations must rely on the printed text to be as gospel as it came. The past cannot always be brought into the present, as books deteriorate rapidly if not stored properly, thereby destroying the connection to the past that Darnton feels is so essential to understanding past societies. Treaties and analyses of these writings helped to shape so much and the past is full of such strong arguments, from countries all over the world, which helped to influence major movements at different points in time. To look back is to learn, just as much as forging ahead can take a person to new levels of understanding.

While the topic under discussion can be thoroughly intriguing, Darnton’s academic position fuels this book’s perspective. I am one who enjoys digesting such arguments to better understand the world around me, but there will be many who might shy away from this, seeking more to grasp and understand of whether Bryce Courtenay’s massive novels are better read in book or digital form. Alas, the arguments cannot always translate from the academic ivory tower to mainstream with ease, though some of the points can be used, embedded deeply in scholarly discussions as they might be. Still, Darnton’s delivery is sound and his arguments are clear, if perhaps sometimes long winded. I would love to see if a newer edition with updated commentary might be available, as even now, nine years after publication, some of the ideas posited have collected dust and some discussions about this ‘new’ ebook format are so completely ensconced in the psyche of the reader that they no longer think it an innovative thing. As I look back at this, I think of my son and the world he is entering as a new reader. He has made the leap from paper to digital, though still loves that flipping feeling between his fingers. When speaking of books and the monumental growth that’s taken place, it is no longer Gutenberg that is the great accomplishment, but one of many in this ever-changing world of collective thought presentation.

Kudos, Mr. Darnton, for you have inspired me to explore the larger arguments in favour and against physical books. I can see how I might open a can of worms on Goodreads, which is never a bad thing.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Dark Territory (Dan Morgan # 6.5), by Leo J. Maloney

Eight stars

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

Leo J. Maloney has made a name for himself with his Dan Morgan thrillers, keeping readers enthralled and flipping pages well into the night. While Morgan may be a thrill seeker, he’s passed the passion along to his daughter, Alex, who plays a central role in this short story. Alex Morgan is a well-trained sniper and is sent to Russia to take care of a North Korean nuisance. After her mission, she needs to reach her exfil site, on the other side of the country, without being noticed. The most discreet way to make it there is a three day trip aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway. Unbeknownst to Alex, a few interesting characters are also aboard, each with their own agendas. Former Serbian mercenary, Maxim Kreesat has taken it upon himself to take possession of a Russian satellite, armed with nuclear warheads, ready to deploy at the push of a button. Kreesat is prepared to stand down for a massive sum of money, letting both the Americans and Russians know the timeline before he will obliterate their capitals. As the train continues its uneventful trip, Alex discovers the plan and that Kreesat has a hostage to ensure his play cannot go wrong. After being tipped off by American officials, Dan Morgan rushes to save his daughter and neutralise the threat, though must be covert and sneak onto the train at one of the scheduled stops. However, as soon becomes apparent, the Russians are not ready to roll over with a terrorist making threats in their own country. While locked on the train, Kreesat is surely a sitting duck for Special Forces… or is he? Maloney does well to ramp up the action in short order as he keeps series fans sated until the next full-length novel, though the protagonist remains in doubt, based on events above. Those who have followed Dan Morgan throughout the series will surely enjoy this piece, as well anyone with a passion for military thrillers.

Maloney is always a wonderfully refreshing writer who has a firm handle on the thriller genre. Always finding a unique angle to his stories, Maloney utilises some interesting characters and locales to develop the series in remarkable ways. Handing the protagonist role to Alex Morgan, the story explores life through her eyes. Surely left to mature in her father’s shadow, Alex has much to offer and seems to be an entertaining character. Her determination and coolness under pressure have been seen before, but she has never been able to grow and learn on her own, until now. With Dan Morgan half a world away, the reader can see another side of him, panicked father, who chooses to rush to help Alex. While this does pose a slight ‘damsel in distress’ situation, I think Maloney was trying to exhibit a father who will move mountains rather than a means to save the lowly girl. Many of the other minor characters work well in this piece, though there is little room to develop effectively. The story is a wonderful mix of thrills and chills, as the setting is primarily aboard this massive train, waiting for it to cross the Siberian wasteland. Maloney does a wonderful job of pulling the reader into the setting and leaving them to feel as though they, too, are aboard and trying to stay one step ahead of the danger. This is a great series that is always entertaining and challenging in equal measure. Those with an interest should dive in at the start and see just how strong a writer Leo J. Maloney has become over time.

Kudos, Mr. Maloney, for this wonderful piece. I loved the teaser to keep series fans excited and hope your next novel is on its way down the pipeline soon.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Murder Beyond the Grave (Murder is Forever, Volume #3), by James Patterson, Aaron Bourelle, and Christopher Charles

Seven stars

During a recent binge of James Patterson’s BookShots, I came across his newest series of short stories, non-fiction with a criminal twist. Murder is Forever—now apparently a television program—shows off some real-life crimes that have been committed by dumb criminals and rolls them into bite-sized reads. In this third volume, Patterson teams up with Aaron Bourelle and Christopher Charles to bring two more tales where murder plays a central role in the final outcome of the criminal experience. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Murder Beyond the Grave (with Aaron Bourelle)

Danny Edwards is a low-level drug dealer who cannot do much of anything right. After being busted for large quantity possession, he turned on his supplier in a sting operation, but even then could not wait for the cocaine to appear before uttering the code word. Down on his luck and money, Danny has a plan; kidnap the local millionaire and keep him for ransom. In order to ensure that Stephen Small does not foil his own kidnaping, Edwards constructs a coffin of sorts to bury him, but provides an oxygen source to ensure that no one will find Small until the money’s been provided, but he is sure to stay alive. Using his unknowing girlfriend—Nancy Rish—to take him to and from the scene of the burial, Edwards places phone calls from pay phones that summer of 1987, hoping to get the Small family to pay up. Edwards thinks he is so smart, alternating pay phones, but does not realise that they can be traced. Soon Edwards and Rish are both apprehended and the police use some tactics to strong-arm Danny into admitting what he’s done and where to find Stephen Small. It is only then that things take a terrible turn for the worse.

Murder in Paradise (with Christopher Charles)

When Jim and Bonnie Hood came upon a potential fixer-upper property in the hills of California, they had differing views. Where Jim saw a cesspool of wasted money, Bonnie saw some potential and set about to make it a wonderful getaway. However, the more time and money she spent there, the more anonymous threats that she received. After a clash with some local loggers at the saloon, Bonnie thought she might have to take some drastic action and made some thinly veiled threats. When, after a tryst with one of her employees, their cabin was attacked by an intruder, Bonnie was left dead, leaving Jim to break the news to his children. After locating a suspect and going to trial, Bruce Beauchamp was found not guilty, forcing the Hoods to fear that he might seek retribution. What came next was truly the twist in the story, which shows that justice does not always follow the most obvious path.

These are two more stories that show the criminal element cannot always get away with a crime that seems almost foolproof at the start. Patterson has a knack for finding some interesting cases and presenting them in an intriguing short story format, which keeps the reader curious and wanted to forge onwards until the end. Using two well-seasoned collaborators, Patterson strengthens the storytelling and keeps the reader wanting more, which is sure to come in the next instalment of the Murder is Forever series. For now, those readers with the option can tune in to see Patterson’s television program on a weekly basis.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, Bourelle, and Charles, as you recount these interesting tales. I like the style and the succinct nature used to present these stories and cannot wait to see what other cases make their way into the print version of this series.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Gallery of the Dead (Robert Hunter #9), by Chris Carter

Nine stars

Chris Carter is back with his ninth instalment of the Robert Hunter series, keeping the story as captivating as ever and the serial killing as gruesome as one might expect. A cell phone call beckons Robert Hunter away at the most inopportune time. A detective within Ultra Violent Crimes (UVC), the most exclusive branch of the LAPD’s Robbery Homicide Division, Hunter and his partner, Carlos Garcia make their way to one of the most gut-churning crime scenes they’ve ever encountered. The victim has had her hands and feet severed and all but a small portion of her skin removed. Upon that untampered piece of flesh, a cryptic message in Latin about beauty. Sure that they are dealing with the most sadistic killer ever to cross the desks of UVC, Hunter and Garcia begin trying to decipher what it all means. Soon, their squad room is filled with three individuals from Washington, as the FBI has a keen interest in the case. Could it be that this killer has more victims outside of Los Angeles. Working for the first time alongside the FBI on a case, Hunter and Garcia learn that the killer—called The Surgeon for the attention he has paid to each victim—has committed at least three murders across the United States, his message only slightly different on each body. While the authorities try to put their heads together, another victim turns up in Arizona, forcing the team to leave the confines of Los Angeles. Hunter has some theories, though every discovery opens new and baffling aspects about this killer. Lurking in the shadows, the man called The Surgeon has more targets in mind, chosen for a specific purpose; to add to his gallery of the dead. Carter offers up one of his most convincing pieces yet with this series that does not stop. Series fans will love this piece and it ought to fuel new readers to begin this collection without delay, especially with the cliffhanger that awaits.

Perhaps one of the greatest psychological thriller writers I have ever discovered, Chris Carter has a masterful way of pulling the reader in during those crucial first chapters and then refuses to let go. How something so disturbing can—like a gruesome car wreck—leave the reader unable to turn away, I will never understand, but Carter does it each time. While the novels no longer focus their attention on protagonist backstory, Robert Hunter continues to thrive with is dry sense of humour and constant delivery of factoids, which enhances the story and educates the reader in equal order. As with each novel, Carter introduces a powerful collection of secondary characters, who not only serve their purpose in the narrative, but also offer a slice of backstory to keep the reader intrigued by them. Some develop in the novel and others remain needed bridges to larger story arcs, all of which tie together by the end. Carter’s utilisation not only of a strong narrative and dialogue, but peppering the story with explanations about serial murder, forensics, and police procedures brings the story to life in a way that few other novels can, placing the reader in the middle of all and on the frontline of any surprises that emerge. These novels, as I have told many people who are seeking something intense, are not cookie-cutter thrillers, in that the serial murderers and the means of killing do not repeat. Each novel provides new and exciting avenues for fans and pulls them in with the simple discovery of a body in some sadistic set-up. It is that addictive factor—that cannot be explained—which serves to turn this series into something so explosive.

Kudos, Mr. Carter, for never letting us down with your writing. I cannot wait to see what Book 10 brings, especially with that ending you provided in this piece.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

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

Eight stars

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

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

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

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

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

Eight stars

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

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

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

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: