Whipped (Arthur Beauchamp #7), by William Deverell

Nine stars

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

Having finally caught up in the Arthur Beauchamp series, I can bask in the superior writing style that William Deverell brings to Canadian legal thrillers, peppered with some tongue-in-cheek commentary on current events. Lou Sabatino and his family were forced into Witness Protection after an explosive four-part series hit the newswires. Now forced to hole-up in a dingy triplex, Sabatino hides from the Mob and must make the most of his new life. Sabatino is shocked when his neighbour, a Russian dominatrix, shows him a secretly-filmed session with Alberta Member of Parliament and federal Minister of the Environment, Emil Farquist. Minister Farquist shows himself in full BDSM glory and Sabatino knows a scoop when he sees one. Copying the video when no one is looking, he must now find a way to release it to the public. Meanwhile, eminent lawyer Arthur Beauchamp is still rattled upon learning of his wife’s brief affair. It plagues him as he remains firmly rooted on Garibaldi Island, along Canada’s West Coast, as Margaret Blake spends much of her time in Ottawa, Member of Parliament and Leader of the Green Party of Canada. Blake focusses her ire on Minister Farquist and his environmentally disastrous plans for the country. Sabatino knows of this and seeks a secret meeting with Blake, where he plays her a copy of the video. Blake and her assistant are caught discussing the matter on an hot microphone days later, which is recorded by a conniving journalist, who seeks to track down the validity of the claim. Somehow, the recorded conversation leaks through Twitter and Blake is hit with a massive defamation lawsuit by Minister Farquist. Using his hometown of Calgary as the central point for the legal action, Farquist denounces the apparent smear campaign by Blake and promises to end her political career. With no one else to help her, Blake turns to her husband. Beauchamp has never fought a defamation suit, but trusts his wife when she says she saw the video. Trouble is, no one can find either Sabatino or the dominatrix, leaving the defence without a copy of the alleged video and seriously hampering their argument. With the trial in March, depositions are set for just after Christmas, forcing both sides to make their star witnesses available for preliminary questioning. Beauchamp has moved mountains before in his legal career, but he may have bitten off more than he can chew here, as he fights to save his wife’s reputation. Deverell remains on his game with this novel and pulls series fans deep into the legal, political, and humerous aspects of his storytelling. Rich with its numerous plots, Deverell remains one of the premier writers of this genre that I have had to pleasure to discover. Perfect for series fans and those who want a uniquely Canadian legal thriller.

While I was eager to read this novel, I am happy that I located and read the previous six books before delving in. Save for the opening novel of the series (which earned numerously ill-deserved awards, in my opinion), the entire collection of Arthur Beauchamp books have taken readers on a wonderful series through his legal career and paved the way for this hands-on piece. Deverell introduces so many characters to his stories, but is able to juggle them effectively, plotting their development throughout the entire series. Arthur Beauchamp and Margaret Blake have made significant progress in six previous books and this novel is no exception. Playing on their personal and relationship foibles, Deverell sketches out a wonderfully complex banter between the couple, both as a unit and individuals pushed together by this legal matter. The premise of the novel is highly entertaining and educational on many levels, pulling on some of the lower-brow commentary one might expect when BDSM graces the pages, but also injecting a degree of justification and, at times, all-out exploration of it being a mainstream activity. Deverell never shies away from his direct approach in the narrative, which might offend the prudish reader, but goes to show that he makes no qualms of telling things as they are. I found the addition of the political (read: parliamentary) angle to be exactly what I have been looking for in a novel for many years. Deverell speaks with (mostly) error-free confidence about life in Ottawa and within the hallowed walls of Parliament. Any reader who enjoys this most unique aspect of the Canadian experience will revel in all that is revealed in this novel. Brilliant in its balance between series legal matters and off-the-cuff humour, Deverell’s latest is not to be missed by those who seek literary entertainment.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell for such an enthralling piece that does not let-up until the final paragraph. Now that I have finished the binge, I wait patiently to see what else you have in store for readers.

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Cold Blood (DCI Erika Foster #5), by Robert Bryndza

Nine stars

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

DCI Erika Foster is back, and none too soon for series fans. As Robert Bryndza continues to impress with his dark police procedurals, his fan base grows exponentially as chatter of the series calibre. When Foster and her team discover a suitcase submerged in the water, no one could have predicted what might await them. The dismembered body of an unidentified male sets the stage for the latest macabre case that Foster will head up, though there are nothing but questions surrounding it. Turning up blanks, Foster eventually discovers that a woman’s body was found stuffed in a suitcase a few weeks before. Could there be a serial killer on the loose? When the team learns that the male victim was carrying drugs in his stomach, the narcotics mule angle seems the most likely, though there is still nothing to point towards a killer or whether they will come looking for their stash in the coming days. As the story progresses, the narrative explores the personal struggles of one team member, where the seedy underbelly of London comes to light. The blowback from these struggles put Foster inadvertently in the crosshairs and leads to a brutal assault. Forced off the case, Foster returns to her native Slovakia to reassess her work and personal life, but there is a burning in her belly to remain in her job, protecting others from the world of killers out there. Once Foster is back, more bodies turn up and a clue turns the investigation on its head. Meanwhile, in a parallel narrative, the reader learns of the development and grooming of a pair of young people, whose down and out lives take a spin the closer they become. Their dislike of society spirals out of control and soon they have committed numerous crimes, with no end in sight. The kidnapping of twin girls proves to be the climactic event that pushes the case to the edge and a collective breath is held. Will Foster and her team stop the killings before top brass turn it into a cataclysmic event? Only time will tell in this gripping, dark thriller that will keep readers flipping pages well into the night. Series fans can rest assured the calibre of the writing is high and Bryndza’s genius remains firmly rooted.

I have long been a fan of Bryndza’s work and find myself rushing to get hold of any books he releases, which seems to occur with some regularity. Some have vocalised a concern that the stories are too closely tied to a ‘traditional cookie-cutter English police procedural’, but I would deflect that by saying that the caliber remains high and the stories thoroughly interesting as to distract from what might seem repetitive. Character development is high on Bryndza’s list of essentials for each novel, offering newness to most who grace the page. Erika Foster receives particular development, as her proverbial plate has been heaped high over the past four novels. There are many threads left bowing in the wind, some of which Bryndza ties off while others are tugged and lengthened a little more. I enjoy the balance between the professional and personal struggles that Bryndza presents in his novels, as well as the ever-evolving narrative that involves the eventual killer, another form of character development. Paralleling these storylines creates more of a cat and mouse game, leaving the reader to wonder when and how forcefully the two will collide. Bryndza may publish a new novel regularly, but he does not skimp on quality. The novels are always fresh and give the reader a sense of ongoing continuity, if that makes any sense. Always a treat when a new DCI Erika Foster novel hits the literary radar and I seek to dodge the numerous books that haunt my ‘to be read’ pile to get my hands on it. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys police procedurals, but one ought to begin at the series start, to get all the nuances delivered throughout the narrative.

Kudos, Mr. Bryndza for another stellar piece. I love the rush I get reading one, though will have to get ahold of my emotions as I wait for more news.

The Cuban Affair, by Nelson DeMille

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Nelson DeMille, and Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.
Returning with another novel full of political commentary and a slice of dry wit, Nelson DeMille shows how he has long been a master storyteller with yet another sensational novel. Daniel ‘Mac’ MacCormick enjoys the quiet life in Key West, Florida. Having traded in his military life for that of a charter boat captain, he is able to enjoy the calm breeze and only a few arrogant customers at a time. When he is approached with an offer to sail a group down to Cuba, the idea does not much appeal to him. Up the ante to over a million dollars for his troubles and he is in. With the Cuban Thaw, Americans are slowly becoming accepted in the country, but this mission is anything but an advance team for the party planners during the welcoming fiesta. Instead, Mac will work with Cuban American Sara Ortega to secure a vast sum of cash and valuables left by her banker grandfather before the Cuban Revolution. These vast riches are currently stashed away in a cave well away from Havana’s lights. Posing as members of a Yale Travel Group, Mac and Sara arrive in Havana and begin putting their plan into action. Their cover seems secure and a faked holiday romance soon turns completely genuine. However, their Cuban tour guide may be onto them and tips his hand a little too soon. With a general idea of where the money is located and a plan to get it out of the country in the dead of night, all it will take is a timely execution of the plan. Trouble is, they still need to get back to US soil before they are caught by the Cubans. Might this operation bring a renewed diplomatic chill to a relationship that remains precariously uncertain? Full of one-liners and sarcastic banter, DeMille entertains, educates, and enthrals fans with this novel. Recommended to anyone with a great respect for humour in its driest form paired with a story ripped from the headlines.
Nelson DeMille has a style all his own and exemplifies it yet again here. His use of sarcasm and dry wit passes through all protagonists borne of his pen, but it is the delivery and the ease with which the reader can enjoy its inclusion that makes it so accepted. Mac is another wonderful character cut from the same cloth as John Corey. He seeks the simple life and yet seems to find trouble at every turn. He has just the right amount of machismo to lure in the women and leave the men beating their chests in jealousy. Using a military backstory, DeMille is able to not only pull his protagonist into the current situation at hand, but also pull punches as it relates to the two wars that continue to simmer when US boots need not be. Add in a spicy female to offset Mac’s bravado and you have a wonderful pairing. Ortega is an independent woman who wants to do her family proud, but cannot deny the allure of this scarred ship captain. Turning to the story, DeMille weaves a wonderfully realistic story, using some of his research during a trip to the country in 2015 and shows how the Thaw might be welcomed on one side, but not yet fully celebrated in Cuba. Still, it is apparently the State Department that has turned this police state into the untrusting tiny country that has been a thorn in the American backside. Rich with history and descriptions of the countryside, DeMille takes the reader to the streets of rural Cuba and nighttime Havana with his well-crafted narrative. Injecting just the right amount of political commentary, the reader will surely see the Thaw through the eyes of a patriotic American who has witnessed the sentiments on the other side. Whatever Cuba might be to the reader, this is a wonderful story and keeps the action going until the final pages. Witty yet full of social comparisons between the two nations, DeMille delivers a knockout punch.
Kudos, Mr. DeMille for telling this story at a time when many are surely questioning the need for ongoing embargoes and travel restrictions. They may have once been chummy with the Russians, but Cuba poses much less of a threat than the current American Administration.

Close to Home (Tracy Crosswhite #5), by Robert Dugoni

Nine 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.
Adding another explosive novel to the Tracy Crosswhite series, Robert Dugoni has answered the call of his fans to create another superior story. Pulled from the headlines, Dugoni draws on some heart-wrenching topics to add depth to this fifth novel. After young D’Andre Miller is struck and killed in a hit and run while walking home, Tracy Crosswhite and her partner, Kinsington ‘Kins’ Rowe make their way to the scene and begin an investigation. With no vehicle, it might be like finding a needle in a haystack, with a grieving family breathing down their necks. After someone calls in a vehicle matching the evidence left at the scene, Crosswhite and Kins trace it back to a member of the Navy, one Laszlo Trejo. He denies being in Seattle at the time of the crime, though admits his vehicle was stolen overnight. As things are heating up, Trejo makes a call and JAG lawyer Leah Battles appears to lay the groundwork for whatever defence she can formulate. Trejo continues to claim his innocence, even when evidence points in the direction of his being placed at the intersection where Miller was struck. While juggling this agonising case, Crosswhite has her own issues at home on which to focus. With a biological clock that continues to tick, she has agreed to seek some intervention surrounding not being able to get pregnant. With the support of her husband, Dan, Crosswhite takes her last apparent avenue to bring a life into the world, though the prospects are poor. In other events around the Violent Crimes Squad, Detective Delmo ‘Del’ Castigliano is still reeling at the death of his niece from a heroin overdose. Forced to hold the family together, Del tries to track down the person who derailed his niece’s life after she’d recently completed rehab. When he discovers that she has been sold a highly-potent form of heroin, Del will stop at nothing to run up the supply chain to get to the creep who destroyed his family. Del liaises with Celia McDaniel, working in the D.A.’s office on the rise in drug offences. Del and Celia tackle the legal angles and soon find themselves trying to come to an agreement to remove the dealer from the street before another family is torn apart. When the Article 32 hearing arrives for Trejo, Battles is hoping to score at least a few points before a court-martial. However, a key piece of evidence paralyses the prosecution and all eyes shift to Battles, who was the last person with the box of evidence. A killer going free, a young life taken due to heroin, a budding romance, and the perils of pregnancy. All of these are issues that strike close to home in this latest Dugoni legal thriller that will keep the reader enthralled until the last sentence. Series fans will flock to this and newbies will surely find their curiosity piqued.
I have long been a fan of Dugoni’s work, as I find it flows so easily and keeps the reader’s attention. The growth of Tracy Crosswhite has be prevalent throughout the five novels, allowing the series reader to explore her from various angles. The exploration of her maternal side here is poignant, as her work within Violent Crimes has her consoling witnesses and families on a daily basis. However, she is left to be stoic, even in the face of her own personal tragedies. Dugoni does well to build on this throughout the story, adding aspects of Dan’s interpretation. All this, while Crosswhite keeps her detective skills sharply honed to find a killer. The added storyline involving Del Castigliano pulls on the heartstrings of the reader as the family regresses after the death of a young woman. As Dugoni mentions in his Acknowledgements, he cannot fathom the depths of despair that these people must face, but has tried to put a face on it to allow further character development for Del. Dugoni’s use of other characters pulls the story in many directions, all of which prove useful to the overall story arc. The premise of the novel is timely, even if the drug-related storyline takes second chair to the hit and run. The reader is able to relate to both stories, or at least is given enough to allow them to connect, without dwelling too long and losing the narrative’s momentum. Dugoni’s writing style allows the chapters to flow with ease and the narrative to keep things fresh, which makes digesting the book in short order a real treat for the reader. The only issue with this, is the need to wait for the next instalment, though Dugoni seems to be able to churn them out so easily without losing their quality. I hope many will find Tracy Crosswhite to their liking and add this series to a teetering ‘to be read’ pile. It is well worth the gamble.
Kudos, Mr. Dugoni for impressing yet again with an explosive thriller. You touch the heart while spinning a crime and legal thriller like no other in the genre.

Enemy of the State (Mitch Rapp #16)

Eight stars
First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Kyle Mills and Simon and Schuster Canada for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.
Continuing the highly popular Mitch Rapp series, Kyle Mills surely impresses Vince Flynn fans (and the late author’s estate) with another stellar novel. Still healing from his latest mission, Rapp has decided to settle down a little and build a colossal estate just outside the D.C. area. When news from a reconnaissance mission in Morocco reaches him, he is somewhat surprised to learn that Saudi Prince Talal bin Musaid has been caught providing large sums of money to ISIS. However, no one is more surprised and shocked than the current POTUS, who has come to despise his predecessor’s ignoring the proof that the House of Saud was implicit in the September 11th terror attacks. Nonetheless, with an ailing King Faisal, there is a need to cut off this financial pipeline before the country falls into new hands, those who might be more than willing to fuel terror attacks on America and give the new caliphate a crown jewel. When the head of the information directorate appears for a meeting with the president, lines are drawn in the sand. Aali Nassar refuses to be dictated to, though promises to support America, while secretly in charge of the ISIS financing and eyeing the chance to overtake the country’s government once the king is dead. Rapp is summoned and told explicitly that he must handle things, but it is a completely rogue mission against an ally. Rapp chooses to distance himself from the Agency, tendering his resignation and sending shockwaves around the international intelligence community. Rapp collects a band of covert misfits to assist him with the task at hand. What could be a simple mission goes somewhat haywire and Rapp is caught on video. Unable to publicly defend him, POTUS agrees to Nassar’s request to use American support to locate Rapp and force him to answer for his crime. All the while Nassar is happy to hunt down the one man who might foil his plan to fund ISIS and bring about a Middle East superpower to rival the Americans. The question remains, who is the real enemy of the American state? A sensational thriller that will keep Mitch Rapp fans on the edge of their seats. Perfect for them and anyone else who enjoys a little politics with their covert operative novels.
This novel goes to show that there are rare occasions when authors can continue a series effectively and with honour. I have admired Kyle Mills for a long time and this addition to the Mitch Rapp series exemplifies that many times over. Rapp is a complex character and has been since Vince Flynn first had him make his way onto the printed page. Wrestling with demons from his past and seeing those closest to him die has, in some regards, taken the edge of this man. However, even with a softer and more family-oriented side, Rapp remains sharp when called to defend his country. Mills effectively shows these two sides and keeps Rapp as entertaining as he has always been. Other characters help to advance the story and offer something to flavour Rapp as the protagonist, but there is little backstory spun in this piece. Much is a forward thinking approach and, as some readers may posit alongside me, perhaps Mitch Rapp is winding down and hanging things up in the coming years. Far be it from me to say that Mills has any intention of doing so, but there are signs, albeit somewhat subtle. The story remains fresh and can be pulled from the headlines, though it is not a flogging of ISIS in the usually overdone approach. The plot remains complex enough that the reader can find new approaches and something fresh on which to connect themselves without bemoaning the words ‘America’ and ‘ISIS’ in the same paragraph. Kudos to Mills for that, in a genre that seems hung up on pitting the US against this somewhat elusive military band of less-than-merry men. Newcomers to the series might want to begin where it all started to get a good feel for Mitch Rapp and his countless adventures, but I am sure series veterans will bask in all there is within this novel.
Kudos, Mr. Mills for keeping things interesting from beginning right until the last sentence. You have always kept things respectable and full of intrigue and for that I am sure Vince Flynn would be forever grateful.

Snap Judgment (Samantha Brinkman #3), by Marcia Clark

Eight stars

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

Marcia Clark is back with the third instalment of the Samantha Brinkman series, perhaps the best novel yet. After Alicia Hutchins is tired of her controlling boyfriend, Roan Sutton, she chooses to dump him to relieve herself of the burden. In an act of apparent retribution, naked selfies of Alicia appear online for all to see. This ‘revenge porn’ puts Alicia in a tailspin and her body is found a short time later. Might Roan have taken the next step and killed the young woman who sought to defy him? It would appear so, though the ante is raised yet again, after Roan’s body is discovered a short time later, hanging from the ceiling. Early conclusions point to suicide, but Alicia’s father, Graham, is being eyed by the police as the case could have a homicidal element. Enter Samantha Brinkman, whose criminal work has earned her quite the reputation. Brinkman agrees to take on the case, loving the price tag that goes along with it, and tries to delve even deeper into the investigation. Working alongside her investigator, Alex Medrano, Brinkman begins to peel back the layers of the case, unsure what they will find. Alicia seemed to have been a sheltered young woman who was finally coming out of her shell while interacting with other college students. Could Roan and his controlling ways have been used on other women before Alicia? Might the revenge porn angle be one that he has used before? As questions about the case continue to emerge, Brinkman is visited one night by a man with deep roots in the cartel community. He’s come to call in on a favour that Brinkman has promised him after she was caught breaking the law for another client. Brinkman has been ordered to find a witness who is in protective custody, ready to finger a member of this elusive man’s family. Unable to turn to Alex, who is unaware of Brinkman’s law breaking, she turns to her father, Dale Pearson. Together, they must grease the wheels to find this young woman, whose life story brings up more dirt than either could have imagined. Tales of abuse and molestation, with a handful of younger sisters still at home, Brinkman finds pity for the woman in custody and will do whatever she can to protect her from the death that awaits her once she has been outed by the cartel. Working these two major cases and a slew of other meat and potatoes, Brinkman has little time for herself. Trouble is, there is a time limit on both and patience is not a virtue anyone seems to have for the time being. A wonderfully crafted piece of work that will keep the reader guessing until the very end. Highly recommended for legal thriller fans and those who enjoy the fast-paced writing that makes Clark a master of the genre.

Whatever people seem to feel about Clark in her past life, she has shown that she has the ability to craft excellent legal thrillers that do not miss a beat. Filled with relatable storylines and themes that could easier pulled from the headlines, Clark pulls the reader in from the opening paragraphs and provides enough drama to keep them hooked until the very end. Samantha Brinkman is both a complex and easily relatable character. Not only is she a lawyer with a solid reputation, but she is keen on fighting for her clients and will leave no stone unturned. Her jaded past has not left her defeated, but fuels her to find the best in everyone, or at least to see past their outer layers. She remains determined to discover the whole story, even if it places her clients in an uncomfortable position. Surrounding herself with the likes of Alex and Michy, her office runs effectively and her caseload is anything but boring. A recently discovered father in Dale Pearson has helped her find someone in whom she can feel familial pride, though their relationship is anything but traditional parent-child. Clark injects secondary characters who keep the story moving forward and fuel interesting twists to keep the reader curious throughout. The story takes legal and personal turns that no only make for a great story but are plausible, permitting the reader to feel at home as they lose themselves in the book. Clark’s legal past and blunt delivery help create a story that has everything needed for a superior legal thriller. I cannot wait to see what else Clark has is store for her readers and where she will take Brinkman in the years to come. And the question that I have been asking for a while now, when will Rachel Knight ever make an appearance in Samantha’s life?

Kudos, Madam Clark for another wonderful novel. I am amazed at how thoroughly captivated I am by everything you write. I know you have a large following, and for good reason! 

Grace to the Finish (A Manor House Mystery #8), by Julie Hyzy

Eight stars

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

Julie Hyzy is back for another annual instalment in the Grace Wheaton series. This novel packs a punch and offers some insight into numerous threads that have been left dangling from previous series novels. Celebrating their recent purchase of a run-down building in town, Grace and her roommates-cum-business partners are eager to get a start on the renovations. However, after opening things up, they discover a woman’s body laying at the base of the stairs. Virginia Frisbie is not a random victim, having served as the local bank’s vice-president and the institution’s representative in the sale of the property. Could she have fallen, or is there something more nefarious at play? Grace finds herself in the middle of yet another mystery that could have a definitely murderous odour. As the investigation progresses, a squatter is discovered and his account could play a key role in given better context as it relates to Virginia’s presence on-site, as well as a mysterious man with whom she would rendezvous on a regular basis within the building. If that were not enough, Grace’s sister, Liza, is set to be released from prison and is itching to get her hands on the lion’s share of the Marshfield Estate, something that Grace has been lucky enough to have been promised when her boss (and recently discovered uncle) Bennett Marshfield passed on. Armed with a nosy aunt in town from Florida, Liza seeks to cash-in on the millions (or billions) to which she feels she is entitled because of her bloodline. However, as Grace frets about this, she learns a secret about Liza that could pose an even larger problem, once it comes to the surface. Grace may have a great deal on her plate, but there are suitors all around her, some of whom she has been trying to encounter romantically for quite some time. They, too, have skeletons in their closets, forcing Grace to make some major life decisions. A wonderful addition to the Marshfield Manor series, showing how entertaining Hyzy’s writing can be, in that quaint manner reserved for clean-fun reading. Highly recommend the entire series for a beach-binge, should time permit.

I have heard rumours that Hyzy decided to end the series with this novel, which would be somewhat disheartening. If it is true, she ends things on a high note, closing the proverbial book on the series before it loses its lustre. Grace Wheaton has seen much transformation in the series and this novel allows the reader to learn a touch more about her. Her sleuthing ways are front and centre in this piece, while the interesting balance of her work seems to have taken a back burner. I always enjoyed the balance, though I suspect Hyzy had too many Grace balls in the air to inject mention of art in more than passing. The secondary characters remain strong, with Frances adding her two cents whenever and wherever possible. The rest of the crew keep the story flowing well, though they do not play a crucial role. Even Liza and Aunt Belinda seem to be muted in the storyline that utilizes them. The overall mystery is strong and keeps the reader guessing. The entire series has relied on a quaint nature and so there is a strong sense of lightheartedness, even when cracking the mystery wide-open. Some key aspects of the story are resolved herein, which fuels the aforementioned rumours a little. However, there is much that could be developed yet, so Hyzy has not entirely closed the door on another book. Either way, I enjoy these novels, as they are quick-reads and highly entertaining for the time they take to finish.

Kudos, Madam Hyzy, for another wonderful novel. I am eager to see what else you have going on, being it Grace, Olivia, or someone new. 

Portrait of Vengeance (Gwen Marcey #4), by Carrie Stuart Parks

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Carrie Stuart Parks and Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Returning with her much anticipated fourth novel, Carrie Stuart Parks takes readers on an emotional rollercoaster. After recently being hired to work on the Interagency Major Crime Unit (IMCU), Gwen Marcey attempts to curry favour with the team and her current beau by taking a case in Alaska. However, when another case is being described at the Unit briefing, Gwen cannot shake the intense flashback she has, directly tied to a traumatic event from her youth. Leaving little room for negotiation, Gwen swaps cases and heads to Idaho, where she will liaise alongside the Nez Perce Tribal Police in Lapwai. There, a couple has been murdered and their four year-old daughter is missing. When her reception is met with less than open arms, Gwen must begin her work as best she can, interviewing witnesses and providing any composite sketches that arise. When her vehicle is stolen, Gwen enlists the assistance of her best friend, Beth Noble, whose online prowess will surely come in handy. In a moment of emotional vulnerability, Gwen admits to discovering a murder scene of her ‘sorta-mom’ at fourteen, which led her out to Montana. This revelation, tied to the added admission that her parents were murdered when she was four, fuels Gwen as she tries to locate this little girl and ensure the killer is found. However, all that is easier said than done. Much of what Gwen grew up knowing changes the deeper Beth is able to dig around through old records. Gwen is distracted and she misses major elements of the crime at hand, which leads to her dismissal from the IMCU. There is surely an element that connects these past crimes to the current abduction, but the clues that tie it all together are slow to emerge. As Gwen and Beth continue to dig, key pieces of evidence fall into place, but that only pushes them into more danger. A killer lurks and Gwen appears to be their target. Her past and present collide, but someone wants to keep what is not yet known firmly veiled in mystery. Parks has spun a powerful story in this novel that will appeal greatly to the series fan and is sure to hook newbies who are just now learning about the wonders of this talented crime writer. 

I have been a fan of Carrie Stuart Parks and her work for a number of years. She offers a wonderful crime thriller, but tackles her stories from a unique angle. With Gwen Marcey as a forensic artist, this individualizes the protagonist and allows the reader to approach the crime fighting from a perspective that might not receive much merit. Basing Marcey on a number of her own experiences, Parks is able to speak with confidence as she weaves an intricate backstory. This novel is saturated with Gwen Marcey’s backstory and fills in many of the gaps left from the previous three books. Additionally, Gwen’s internalized arguments with others (both her ex-husband and Beth) show a struggle the character faces on a number of topics. Rather than simply loading the narrative with these breadcrumbs, the entire story takes on a Gwen Marcey flavour, permitting exploration and growth. Other than Beth and some minor mentions of others back in Missoula, Montana, the entire cast of characters is new and exciting, with a strong Indian (aboriginal) flavour. Politics surrounding the American treatment of this part of the population is woven throughout the story, allowing the reader to learn a great deal as the story progresses. The narrative is crisp and moves forward with an intense story told in short chapters. Parks keeps the reader wondering until the very end and offers up some hints and what might be to come in the ever-evolving battle between Gwen and her ex-husband. Parks has written another winner here and is sure to garner many more accolades for this work.

Kudos, Madam Parks for another wonderful novel. You never fail to impress me as I learn much about forensics from your unique experiences. 

Heart of the City (Ari Greene #5), by Robert Rotenberg

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Rotenberg, and Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After much anticipation, Robert Rotenberg is back with his fifth novel in the Ari Greene series. Jam-packed with action, this crime thriller will have the reader flying through the pages with ease as the search for another killer commences. Forced to reinvent himself, Ari Greene is back in Toronto and working on a construction site. When he discovers the body of real estate magnate, Livingston Fox, Greene’s former detective senses kick into high gear. Detective Daniel Kennicott now heads up the Homicide team investigating the case and is the first to acknowledge that his former mentor seems unable to shake the skill of discovering dead bodies. As Kennicott begins his investigation, it becomes apparent that Fox was anything but much-loved in the community. Numerous people had motives to see him taken out, including a community activist who had butted heads with the man over many of his recent projects. Lurking behind the scenes is Alison Gilroy, a anonymous blogger and British transplant who is the child that Green never knew he had until his recent trip across the Pond. Alison’s work and sleuthing has put her in a precarious position, one that she is even hiding from her father. While Kennicott peels back the onion to discover the contrasting life Fox had in comparison to the rest of his family, the detective discovers that there might have been a secret in the works for an upcoming low-income housing complex. Could Fox have been turning over a new leaf in order to give back? Might Alison know more than she is telling everyone? Will Ari Greene be able to shed the past skirmishes he had with Kennicott and the Homicide Division too bring a killer to justice? All is revealed in this stunning piece that Rotenberg crafts with precision. Perfect for those who love a good Canadian crime drama set in the heart of the country’s largest metropolis.

I have long been a fan of Rotenberg and his work, so it pained me to wait so long between novels. However, the wait was worth it, as I found myself fully committed to the book and all the developments found therein. Rotenberg was faced with some significant decisions after Ari Greene was railroaded in the last novel. Having him return with Alison allowed for significant character growth, as well as tapping into that strong parent-child bond that is sure to develop. This offshoot, as well as Greene’s new post-Homicide life, fuel the narrative throughout and allow Daniel Kennicott to assume a more independent role, where he can lead the case in his own direction. The supporting cast of characters also present strong avenues to propel the narrative in numerous directions and are varied enough to keep the story interesting. The murder plot itself is intriguing, presenting the contrast between lucrative real estate deals and the needed housing complexes that the ‘common person’ can afford. Rotenberg’s development of this premise keeps the reader hooked and forging ahead in a story that offers little time for rest. Short chapters help to keep the pace alongside a wonderfully crafted Canadian feel to the narrative, while not getting too emotional or syrupy. Rotenberg is a master at his craft and while I understand he is otherwise employed during the day, I can only hope he has more story ideas that he can quickly get to paper for his adoring fans.

Kudos, Mr. Rotenberg for another wonderful piece. I have been keeping an eye out for your work and praying that you’ll show that Canada has a place in the crime thriller genre. You have outdone yourself here!

A Deadly Betrothal (Ursula Blanchard Mysteries #15), by Fiona Buckley

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Fiona Buckley, and Severn House for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Fiona Buckley returns with her Elizabethan sleuth, Ursula Blanchard (now Stannard), in another murder mystery. While in the countryside with her manservant and groom, Ursula pays a visit on two close friends. During the visit, a teenage boy goes missing and there are strong suspicions that something nefarious is afoot. Amidst trying to find young Thomas Harrison, Ursula is summoned to Court where she is to meet with Queen Elizabeth to discuss a matter of some importance. At the age of forty-six, the monarch remains unwed and with no children, something that remains the fuel of whispers around the Court and onto the continent. News of a potential suitor has arrived, a French prince who has become enamoured at the sight of Elizabeth’s sketch. However, many are leery of this union, for reasons that include marriage to a Catholic and trying to produce an heir at her late age. With Mary Stuart keeping a close eye from afar, no one wishes to put the monarch in any position that might cost England the Throne or the Protestants control of the country. Returning to the estate, Ursula is forced to weigh her options and devise a way to influence Elizabeth one way or the other. During a trek in the forest, she comes upon the body of Master Harrison in a tree and a clue leases her to suspect someone of the crime, though they have conveniently made themselves scarce. While attending a banquet related to the potential future marriage of Queen ELizabeth, many guests fall ill, Ursula included. Could this be an unlucky bout of food poisoning, or is something try to remove all opposition to an English-French alliance through marriage? An interesting addition to this series that seems to have developed significantly throughout, Fiona Buckley has been able to keep readers hooked with interesting branch-offs that work as effectively today as in the late 16th century. Wonderfully quaint for readers who enjoy a little whodunit with their fish pie and tankard of ale.

I have never read the Ursula Blanchard series or any other Fiona Buckley writing before this book. Parachuting in at the fifteenth instalment might seem a little silly, but galley reviewing can sometimes be a sacrificial experience. Buckley tells the story in an effective manner, keeping the era in check while her story remains sharp enough to pull readers in. The characters seem realistic and could have been pulled from scenes of The Tudors, offering up their own individual flavour alongside a wonderfully regal-driven plot. Ursula Stannard herself (someone I mentioned I knew nothing about) has rich character development up to this point, including an interesting connection to the reigning monarch. Other characters keep things moving along and add just the right amount of intrigue. The story itself is decent, splitting between the counsel Ursula is to give the Court and this mystery that develops in the countryside. I would not call it high-impact mystery storytelling, but the reader can find the clues scattered throughout the narrative and piece things together in n effective manner. With enough drama to lure the the reader to keep pushing forward, the story offers up all it promises, a decent mystery set in Elizabethan times. I would likely poke around to find some early Ursula Blanchard to see how things started, though I am not yet committed to a fourteen-book binge to catch up to this point.

Kudos, Madam Buckley for this curious piece of writing that pulls on history and mystery in equal measure. My interest in piqued, if only to discover some of the revelations that Ursula let slip in the narrative.