Murder in the Manuscript Room (A 42nd Street Library Mystery #2), by Con Lehane

Six stars

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

Returning to the majestic building of the 42 Street Library in New York City, Con Lehane continues the adventures of Crime Fiction librarian Raymond Ambler. In this story, Ambler finds himself in the middle of quite the conundrum. Tasked with preparing a display of crime fiction over the past century and a half, Ambler must come up with a collection that taps into all aspects of crime. In waltzes a former cop and aspiring author, Paul Higgins, who wishes to donate his private papers to the cause, but seeks a promise that they will not be shared with anyone. Ambler holds them in trust, but it is only then that the real trouble starts. Working alongside Adele Morgan has helped foster a close friendship, which may have more to it. However, when a murder occurs within Ambler’s own office, Adele’s closeness to the victim proves more an impediment than help. Leila Stone seems to have been working at the library under an assumed name and on a mission. As NYPD Homicide begin their investigation into the Stone murder, they are shoved aside when the Intelligence Division takes control of the case and quickly snatches up a suspect. Adele’s ongoing interest in this man, an Islamic scholar, leaves Ambler concerned that she might be shielding the truth out of a sense of romantic desire. Meanwhile, Ambler is trying to process having his grandson living with him while in a custody battle with the boy’s maternal grandmother. Seeking to uncover the rationale for this murder and if it might have ties to a case three decades in the past takes a back burner, as Ambler attempts to keep his personal life from falling apart. There seems to be more to every story in his life, but Ambler can find neither index nor cliff notes in an attempt to set it straight. Lehane offers some interesting sleuthing insight in this piece that meanders as much as this summary review. Possibly of interest to those who like a little mystery with the protagonist’s angst-filled journey.

I must congratulate Con Lehane for putting together the foundation of what looks to be a highly intriguing and captivating novel. This is the second in the series and I enjoyed the debut novel, though this piece seemed to lack a strong connection to the core essentials. The characters develop well, for the most part, particularly Raymond Ambler and Adele Morgan, though outside of their emotional tug-of-war, I found a number of the other characters out of sync with the story arc. Their personalities were present, the backstories seemed to fit, but the delivery seemed less than what I might have hoped to see. It was as though Lehane let his characters scurry around like ants and used the narrative to zoom in and offer some commentary before panning out and looking elsewhere. The story had the potential to be strong and well grounded, but meandered too much to really connect for me. Surely the present and past murders that are developed throughout have something that ties them, for that is the flavour that the narrative offers. However, nothing seemed to bring it all together smoothly for me. While some might say it is petty, I felt that Lehane did not use gaps in time effectively. Where some authors might use a set of asterisks or symbols to denote a delay in the narrative or even an empty line or two, Lehane seems to steamroll ahead two days between sentences. Yet, he does use the aforementioned ‘gap symbols’ on other occasions as well. This inconsistency left me wondering if the draft of the book was posted to the galley site before proofreaders or editors had done the job for which they are paid. I cannot be sure whether Lehane should be shamed on those who received payment for shoddy work. Either way, there is a glimmer of possibility here and I may return if a third novel surfaces, though I cannot promise to add it to my watchlist.

Kudos, Mr. Lehane for a valiant effort. The pieces may not have worked too well as a cohesive unit, but they were far from jagged and destructive.

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

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Rogue Commander (Dan Morgan #6), by Leo J. Maloney

Eight stars

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

Returning with another exciting BlackOps adventure, Leo J. Maloney impresses series fans and those new to Dan Morgan in equal measure. In the ever-evolving world of espionage and military antics, Dan Morgan is at the top of his game. Employed by the Zeta Division, this off-the-books BlackOps organisation goes where other agencies cannot. Morgan is contacted by long-time friend, General James Collins, who has been accused of stealing a cache of Tomahawk missiles. Unable to believe that this is possible, Morgan undertakes some initial intel, though is pulled off the case in short order, as Collins is being sought for the crime. Morgan has a harder time letting go and defies orders, trying to clear his friend’s name by any means necessary. Morgan is now a wanted man and Zeta is on his tail. Discontent with being left in the dark, newest Zeta member Alex Morgan seeks to work in parallel with her father, doing her own covert work in an attempt to discover the truth. Meanwhile, as they attempt to track down another player in the black-market, a member of Zeta is taken and shipped off to the North Koreans. With little time and limited resources, the hunt is on for both agents, though for different reasons. When Morgan discovers just who wants these missiles and for what purpose, he will stop at nothing to block the end result, even if it costs him everything he has. This entertaining piece pulls the reader into the height of an international crisis where the enemy reads from a completely different playbook. Maloney has outdone himself with this book and is sure to impress Dan Morgan fans.

I have long enjoyed Maloney’s work and find it not only to be poignant, but also very believable. The characters vary in each novel, but the impact of the story remains high. Pulling Alex Morgan into the middle of the stories has added a new level of excitement, as Dan Morgan is forced not only to make decisions for himself, but to protect his daughter. This struggle comes up throughout the novel and is furthered as his wife, Jenny, begins to push for more information about the overall mission. The story is strong and keeps the reader wondering until the very end, pushing the limits and using some new-age villains in the North Koreans, thankfully leaving anything Muslim far in the rearview mirror. Peppered with military jargon and emerging defence technology, this novel effectively bridges to the rest of the series as it advances storylines and backstories to the point that the reader is always sure to learn something. The only downside would be the need to wait for the next novel, though a teaser embedded into the last pages of this book should sate series fans enough until the next publication.

Kudos, Mr. Maloney, for another piece that individualises itself in the genre. I always know that I will find a well-paced novel when your name is affixed to it.

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

Fear, by Dirk Kurbjuweit

Six stars

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

Having never read Kurbjuweit’s work, I was curious to see how I might enjoy something a little different. Spurred on by having it fit into a current book challenge topic (a book translated from its original language), I thought it could serve a double purpose, as I toil through the dark and anger-filled German narrative. Randolph Tiefenthaler is a man who has lived in the shadow of fear for his entire life, beginning with the terror his mother felt while he was still in utero during the Cuban Missile Crisis and continued on while living in Cold War West Germany. Offsetting the political fear was the emotional instability at home, where a domineering father ran the house as he saw fit. Tiefenthaler, who takes the role of narrator through this piece, explores the fear of his marriage to Rebecca, as they grow further apart and appear to remain together solely for their children. However, it is the introduction of the downstairs neighbour, Dieter Tiberius, that evokes the most fear and anger in the story. In a narrative that constantly oscillates between the aforementioned past revelations and a current situation, Herr Tiberius begins a peaceable coexistence with the Tiefenthaler family, but things soon take a turn when handwritten love notes turn sour and allegations of child abuse are lobbed at Randolph and Rebecca. As Randolph seeks to quell the fires, his anger pushes him to the brink, particularly when he feels the law offers Tiberius carte blanche to continue his conniving ways. With hatred in his heart and a father who is a known marksman, Tiefenthaler must decide how to neutralise his fear once and for all. The narrative points to an end-game that was adjudicated by the courts, but a twist in the story leaves the reader somewhat shocked. An interesting exploration of German angst and anger in literary form, Kurbjuweit offers readers an interesting story, though I cannot say I was fully enthralled.

With no benchmark for the author’s work, it is hard to compare or contrast against some of the other stories that may have been published. However, the premise of the novel is interesting, particularly the ongoing struggle to come to terms with an offended neighbour whose personal agenda is unknown. Layering this struggle with the protagonist’s own life events, Kurbjuweit allows the reader to view some of the foundations of fear that emerge throughout. While the story does progress, the delivery of the backstory is a little tepid, almost detached and told in a less than involved manner. This could be due to the translation, but I felt as though Kurbjuweit was using the first person narrative to allow Randolph to deliver his life history is a speech format. ‘Here is what I have experienced, etc…’ While I have expounded the wonders of European mysteries whose translation into English makes them better than many North American pieces, this one does not meet that mark. I felt as though I was missing something throughout, waiting for the other part of the story to fall into place, even with some of the self-doubt woven into Randolph and Rebecca throughout the piece. Alas, the only ‘clunk’ I heard was my head hitting the table as I tried to shake some order into the story before writing this review.

Interesting work, Herr Kurbjuweit, for this piece, which speaks to the stereotypical German literary gloom and doom. It served its purpose for my book challenge, though I am not sure I will rush back to read more of your translated work.

This book fulfills Equinox I (A Book for All Seasons) Book Challenge for Topic #2: A Book Translated from its Original Language.

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

The Blackbird Season, by Kate Moretti

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Kate Moretti, and Atria Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having no previous knowledge of Moretti’s work, I was able to read this novel without preconceived notions. It is worth noting, though, I did falsely presume the premise of the story that would develop. When thousands of starlings fall from the sky in the sleepy Pennsylvania town of Mt. Oanoke, everyone is left baffled as to what it might mean and how it could have happened. The reader may feel ready to synthesise a story that plays directly into this phenomena, but the narrative takes an interesting turn, plunging into more heartfelt mysteries. Told from the perspectives of a few characters and using flashback chapters, the reader is able to meet Nate and Alecia Winters, who are struggling through parenting their autistic son, Gabe. Nate is the high school baseball coach and a teacher with whom many of the students have a close relationship. When an allegation arises that a high school student, Lucia Hamm, and Nate are having a sexual relationship, the town splits as authorities try to decipher what is going on. Added to the mix is the role of Bridget Harris, Lucia’s creative writer teacher, who has come to learn some of her darkest thoughts through an ongoing journaling assignment. As the story continues, the reader learns that this ‘starling’ event proves to be the dividing line between Nate’s apparent ‘institutional assault’ of Lucia and the fallout that leads to the girl going missing. Alecia is torn and unsure whether to support her husband, seeking to juggle the pointing when she is out in public with the realisation that Gabe might never be the ‘normal’ child she seeks. Lucia’s disappearance turns into an even darker mystery, one that will make the massive avian raining event seem like a distance memory. Moretti draws on the dramatic development of small-town living to create this thriller that leaves the reader wondering how things will come together. A great read for those who enjoy a sense of surprise enveloped in a mystery fuelled by fractured relationships.

There is a great feel to this novel and Moretti’s writing, as it pulls the reader in from the outset. Without being able to compare it against some of her other work, I am left to offer my own independent sense of how things developed. While the seemingly core event, the starling mass death, opens the novel, it can soon be seen to take a backseat to the dramatic development of the alleged sexual relationship between Nate and Lucia. Moretti builds up all the characters, both central and surrounding, to reflect the news of this event, but also fleshes out a strong backstory to individualise them. Woven throughout the novel is the angst felt by teenagers as they grow into their own personalities and the struggles of trying to raise a child who does not fit easily into society’s notion of normalcy. However, there is also the exploration of a couple torn apart because of their diametrically opposed interests in the family dynamic and the ‘third wheel’ friend/teacher, who is able to glimpse into the struggles of the student mind and the pain of seeing a colleague lose his way in his broken marriage. In essence, it is placing love in its various forms under the literary microscope. The mystery, which develops throughout the novel, is less the birds than the disappearance of a young student, one who has an agenda to divorce herself from the world and struggles to accept that she is not the most important person to the man she adores. Moretti ties things up effectively and yet tosses a curve at the end, leaving the reader wondering how it all developed and what could have happened to precipitate such a drastic outcome. A novel that forces the reader to play an active role and choose sides, Moretti is surely an author who deserves much attention by those who enjoy the genre.

Kudos, Madam Moretti, for taking me on this journey. I was left wondering throughout, both as it relates to the starlings and the larger town crisis.

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

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.

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!