The Triple Frontier (Jericho Quinn #7.6), by Marc Cameron

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Marc Cameron, Kensington Books, and Pinnacle for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In his latest novella, Marc Cameron brings Jericho Quinn back for another high-octane adventure, this time way out of his comfort zone. The Triple Frontier—the area where the sovereign states of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay converge—is extremely dangerous. Drug running and human smuggling are common, creating a zone where the authorities have all but stopped trying to enforce the law. Bo Quinn is down in the region with a group of rich Americans to ride their motorcycles around the country. While travelling one morning, they are ambushed by a group of locals, though Bo is able to activate his SOS and GPS beacons before being tossed into the back of a van and led away. Back in America, Bo’s older brother, Jericho, receives word that the beacon has been activated, but cannot raise his sibling over the phone. Panicked, Jericho prepares to make his way down to South America, though his close friends will not let him go alone. On a rescue mission, Jericho prepares to head into the unknown, though is promised the help of a local when he arrives. Meanwhile, a ransom note comes in, seeking $3 million, only to be trumped by another offer of five million. Could rival cartels be using Bo and his clients as pawns in a larger battle? By the time they reach the Triple Frontier, Jericho and his entourage realise that this is one mission that will not end peacefully. When an unexpected individual shows up to offer Jericho added support, the mission takes on an entirely different flavour. Jericho forges ahead into the unknown in hopes of trying to clean up the mess that is this hostage situation without alerting the formal authorities. Faced with kidnappers who have nothing to lose and seek a major payday, the end result is anything but predictable. Cameron provides an entertaining addition to the Jericho Quinn series that fans of the collection will surely enjoy as they wait for the next full-length book.

Marc Cameron has done well crafting the Jericho Quinn series over the past numbers of years. While he has taken on some additional series work elsewhere, fans of the novels have been biding their time with some novellas, though their quality remains at the highest calibre. While much attention has been spent on Jericho and his interesting backstory, Cameron has only recently shed any light on the life of the younger Quinn, Bo. In this piece, the reader is able to see just how resilient Bo can be when faced with trouble, cool under pressure and ready to fight for what he feels is right. As the premise of the piece is an intense rescue mission, Jericho is still able to take centre stage in this story and does so, showing a compassionate side when it comes to protecting his family. Some of the secondary characters on both sides are able to keep the attention focused on the fast pace of the rescue mission, adding interesting flavours to the narrative. The story remains a ‘cookie cutter’ effort to save those who are being held captive, but it is the way in which Cameron approaches the story and how he is able to inject some much-needed humour into the dialogue to lighten the mood. With a narrative that clips along, the reader is swept up in this novella that has as much action as any of the stories that Cameron has published to this point. That being said, I eagerly await something longer in the near future.

Kudos, Mr. Cameron, for this entertaining piece. I can always count on something interesting and full of adventure when you write.

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


Deadly Secrets (Detective Erika Foster #6), by Robert Bryndza

Eight 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.

Robert Bryndza is back with another Detective Erika Foster novel that takes the reader on a heart-thumping adventure in a thrilling police procedural. While headed out for Christmas lunch, DCI Foster comes upon a recent murder scene and decides to lend a hand. What she finds is a slain Marissa Lewis, her body frozen to the ground after having had her throat slit the night before. Lewis, a burlesque dancer who used the name Honey Diamond, was quite well known around the community, though not always liked. It would seem that she was quite popular with some of the local men, though used her wiles to blackmail them and pad her own bank account. With the investigation in full-swing, Foster begins using some CCTV footage and witness statements to determine that the killer was likely wearing an odd gas mask, a photo of which appeared in a document dump from emails of an early suspect. As a number of those on the police radar take drastic measures not to be fingered for the crime, Foster and her team hear of a man attacking people in a similar gas mask. Might the cases be connected? When an urgent call from Manchester pulls Foster away from the case, the team turns to DI Moss, who is unsure if she can handle the pressure of being in charge. With the case heating up and leads emerging from numerous parts of Marissa Lewis’ life, Moss takes a gamble to bring the case to a close, all while DCI Foster wrestles with demons from her past. Bryndza keeps the reader guessing throughout this piece, with captivating twists in a story that will keep series fans up late into the night.

I have long enjoyed the writing of Robert Bryndza, particularly his work with DCI Erika Foster. Some may call the series too superficial for their liking, but there are times with a quick read police procedural checks all the necessary boxes. As with the previous five novels, this piece allows the reader to develop a closer relationship to Erika Foster, foraging through her personal life to touch a nerve, while also helping to build-up her strong police presence. Bryndza also seeks to personalise Erika’s struggle to move on after the loss of her husband and the pitfalls of finding that balance between work and a personal life. Foster remains a sharp character who answers to no one and seeks to find the minutiae in each piece of evidence to determine its validity. The handful of secondary characters in this story continue to develop as well, as Bryndza does offer scraps of information to flesh-out their work and personal lives. Readers can enjoy seeing this growth, which provides interesting sub-plots and offsets the intensity of the crimes central to the narrative. The story is clear and flows well, taking a few tangents, if only to allow the reader to be befuddled alongside the coppers. Bryndza weaves his narrative around two sets of crimes and merges them at just the right moment, only to leave gaps that need to be filled to solve the larger murder investigation. Through his use of short and choppy chapters, Bryndza offers up a story that cannot easily be put down and forces the reader to forge onwards, begging to know how things resolve in this high-impact case. To call the story addictive would be an understatement, even if there are police procedural purists who remain bitter on the sidelines.

Kudos, Mr. Bryndza, for another captivating novel in the series. I am eager to see how things will continue to evolve with DCI Erika Foster and her team in the coming novels.

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

Macbeth (Hogarth Shakespeare), by Jo Nesbø

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jo Nesbø, Hogarth, and Crown Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Contributing to the Hogarth Shakespeare collection, Jo Nesbø has created a modern retelling of the Bard’s Macbeth. Set around 1970, the story opens with a police raid on a local gang running narcotics. When the authorities bungle things exquisitely, leaving blood and bodies scattered around the clubhouse, heads must roll within the police force. During the shake-up, Macbeth is brought on as the new head of Organised Crime, set to turn his men into a respectable arm of the force. Learning of her husband’s new position, Lady Macbeth encourages her husband to continue his climb, which is further supported by a high-level crime boss, Hecate. During one of Macbeth’s visits to Hecate, three substance-altered prostitutes foresee Macbeth’s rise to the position of Chief Commissioner, at the top of the entire police force. With a number of officials ahead of him, Macbeth is unsure how he will accomplish this, happy to run Organised Crime for the time being. Lady Macbeth can see a clear path to the top and knows her husband has it in him, if only he will bend the rules to better his chances. She convinces her husband to murder the current Chief Commissioner and frame another official, which he agrees to do while under the influence of narcotics. From there, one murder begets others to cover-up the trail being left. Even when the sought-after position is achieved, neither Macbeth or his wife are satisfied. However, their paranoia force more cover-ups and the need to constantly look over their shoulders. It would seem that power is the most addictive drug of all, one that cannot be sated by a simple snort or needle. Might the rise to power lead to a devastating crash into oblivion? Nesbø weaves quite the tale, using the framework Shakespeare made famous, providing his fans and those who enjoy the Bard’s work quite a great story. Hogarth did well picking Nesbø to explore this dark tale.

Nesbø has quite a dark side when writing for his adult audience, though is also well-versed in creating police thrillers that keep the reader engaged. Some love his writing—as well as the darker side of crime that emerges from the narrative—while others find his work too dense to enjoy, as it is not easily digested. I found myself straddling both camps here, though was able to forge ahead when I gained enough momentum (and time to read!). Macbeth is, of course a central character in the piece and Nesbø does a wonderful job portraying this man as someone who is in touch with his passions, but soon becomes swept up by all the power that is laid at his feet. One can only presume that it is the influence of his power-hungry wife and the influence of narcotics that led him down such a difficult path, one that would be paved in gold, only to reveal tarnished brass by the end of the book. Other characters emerge to support and block Macbeth’s climb to power, adding depth and flavour to the narrative, including those who see Macbeth for the corrupt leader he becomes. The story is strong and ties nicely into the original narrative laid out over four centuries ago. Using the same characters and most of their fates, Nesbø stays true while also modernising the story in an effective manner. Fans of Shakespeare will surely find their own weaknesses, but in an effort to entertain effectively, Nesbø is spot-on with his storytelling. Mixing short and longer chapters, the reader is able to develop a connection to the story and its characters, as long as a steady momentum is kept. As with all Nesbø pieces, the translation does not take away from the power of the message found within and, if anything, provides an even stronger piece.

Kudos, Mr. Nesbø, for another excellent piece of writing. While your style is an acquired taste, those with the patience for it are surely in for a wonderful adventure.

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

The Good Liar, by Catherine McKenzie

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Catherine McKenzie and Lake Union Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Catherine McKenzie is back with another novel that pushes the reader to think while enjoying this fast paced story. On October 10th at 10am (Triple Ten), an explosion rocked a building in Chicago, leaving more than 500 dead and destroying many families. This story surrounds the lives of three women with intimate ties to that explosion and the personal tragedy that befell them. Cecily has spent the last year coming to terms with the loss of her husband, Tom, and how she will raise two children on her own. Not only does she have that on her plate, but she was on her way to see Tom when the explosion occurred and her face was caught by a freelance photographer, making her the ‘face’ of the tragedy. Cecily has been forced to endure the faux-celebrity of being ‘that woman’, personifying the Triple Ten event for the last twelve months. Franny Maycombe has become a friend of Cecily’s over the last year, as they both sit on the compensation board for the families of the victims, in hopes of bringing some financial stability during these trying times. Franny lost her biological mother in the blast, an event that is still hard to digest. Franny was adopted as an infant and just recently discovered her birth mother who lived in Chicago, only to see her killed after such a short reunion. Franny’s story emerges in a series of interviews conducted by an eager filmmaker, trying to create a documentary of the Triple Ten event a year later. The more the reader learns of Franny, the more mysterious she becomes. The third woman who plays a key role in the story is Kate, who has relocated to Montreal and tried to put the events of Chicago behind her. Kate has a secret that no one knows and a family that presumes she is never coming back. With the anniversary of the Triple Ten, Kate is forced to come to terms with what happened and her role in the larger scheme of these. Cecily, Franny, Kate… three women who have suffered, though all have also been holding onto a lie from that day; a lie that could destroy them. Keeping it under wraps might be the only way they can come out of this as a good liar, if such a thing exists. McKenzie offers up another wonderful piece of writing that is sure to attract the attention of many, as it is thought provoking and leaves a definite aftertaste. Those familiar with her work will likely enjoy this piece, though new fans are sure to emerge as well.

I can admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this piece, even if I felt there was something holding it back. I kept thinking to myself that this book is on the cusp of being ‘great’ for me, but lacked something on which I cannot place my finger. As though superb is on the other side of a thin cellophane wall, but I was kept from it by McKenzie holding something back with the story and her characters. The three women who spend much of the time in the spotlight could not be more different and similar at the same time. Cecily is struggling with digesting Tom being gone and the strains within her marriage. Franny wants nothing more than to connect with her biological mother’s family, as well as slide into the middle of the drama that is Triple Ten mourning. Kate hides herself away, though has an interesting backstory for leaving and choosing to make her way up to Canada. All three propel the story forward, working with a handful of well-crafted secondary characters. The story is rich in both backstory and character development, a strong suit for McKenzie, and said pieces help form a strong foundation on which the story can rest. There is something eerie and yet heartwarming about the story and the way it develops. Struggle is woven throughout, though each of the three protagonists comes at it from a unique perspective. Added to that, the constant theme of lies and deception helps to imbue a strong sense of distrust between characters and forces the reader to judge the actions of those on the printed page, while also trying not to be too harsh. McKenzie uses some interesting techniques in the book to pull out the plot, with the direct approach that Cecily portrays, the more ‘interview-centric’ release of information that Franny utilises, and Kate’s thoughts and flashbacks to deliver her own personal angle. All three work effectively, as does the documentary that pushes the story along, though there seems to be something missing that kept me from proclaiming that this was another masterpiece. I suppose the slow development that led to an abrupt end, as though the reader was expecting a climax and had the carpet pulled out from under them. However, McKenzie’s writing is so strong and alluring that some weaknesses cannot take away from the overall pleasure that comes from reading this novel.

Kudos, Madam McKenzie, for dazzling and keeping things fresh throughout. I have encouraged others to read your work in the past and will continue to do so.

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:

Baby Teeth, by Zoje Stage

Seven stars

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

In her debut novel, Zoje Stage has made quite a name for herself. Exploring some dark and disturbing areas of the parent-child relationship, the reader is forced to see a seemingly calm little girl turn against her own mother. Hanna Jensen appears to be quite the average four-year-old girl, with one glaring exception; she does not speak and never has. Countless tests and examinations have left her parents, Alex and Suzette, baffled, as there is nothing physical wrong with her. With her muteness comes the added issue that she is unable to acclimate into any scholastic situation, leaving Suzette to homeschool Hanna. While there is no verbal communication, Hanna’s comprehension and written word is advanced for her young age. What no one has been able to see is that Hanna has another side, a darker side that is focussed on tearing Suzette down in a well-planned manner. Hanna internalises her struggle, but is happy to show her mother an evil side and purposely sabotage any progress that is being made. What begins as simple defecating on the floor turns to barking and, eventually, full-on violence in a school setting. While Suzette tries to come to terms with this, Alex is oblivious and sees only the princess-like girl that Hanna presents on a nightly basis. After Hanna tips her hand and shows off an alter-ego, Suzette is no longer prepared to go at this alone, but Alex remains uncertain that Hanna is to blame for anything. Hanna sets out her own plan to get rid of Suzette once and for all, allowing her to have Alex’s attention forevermore. While Suzette knows it is coming, she is helpless to slay the monster before her, seeing it has taken the form of sweet Hanna Jensen. Stage weaves together quite the disturbing tale here, pitting parental instinct against base survival. Fans who enjoy a diluted psychological thriller may enjoy this one, as its presentation has rounded edges and light spine tingles.

When this novel was recommended to me by a friend, I wanted to give it my full attention, not only because of its subject matter, but also because it would fit perfectly into a reading challenge requirement. It would seem that Stage has found herself with a great deal of Goodreads activity where reviews continue to grow on both sides of the fence. I can see where both the five- and one-star folks are coming from, having been able to situate myself somewhere in the middle. The characters found herein are perfectly crafted and complement one another so well. Hanna is that young child who has a love of her father and inherent dislike of her mother, partially because there is a need to share, but also due to the fact that Suzette is her primary caregiver. Hanna manifests her dislike from disobedience through to full plotting of injury and death of the woman who has nothing but confused love for her. As the story progresses, Hanna’s character turns darker, especially with the revelation of an alter-ego, though things always bounce back when Alex is in the room, which only perpetuates the tug-of-war between the parental units. Suzette, on the other hand, is a woman who has suffered much medical and emotional turmoil in her life and has had to wrestle with a mother of her own who could not care about her. Suzette seeks to be a better mother and person, but Hanna seems to bring out the worst and they battle regularly. While Suzette may seem the paranoid one, her significant time and experiences with Hanna fuels this push to have her daughter examined by professionals, while Alex seeks to protect his offspring. Many of the secondary characters work well here, especially in peeling back the onion and seeing just how destructive Hanna can be, even if her father refuses to see it. The story itself is well-done, choosing to alternate chapters from the perspective of Hanna and Suzette. One could see where things were going, but it was a matter of how swiftly they would get there and how outlandish things could get by the end. Where I struggled with this novel was the intensity level. True, not all books have to have “psychopathic serial killers” to be successful, but I felt Stage wanted to unveil the truly demonic side of Hanna on a regular basis, but diluted it for reasons unknown. I wanted to be shocked and feel Suzette’s pain, but it almost seemed as though some of the narrative chose to gloss over things, lessening the impact. Still, for a debut novel, Stage kept me curious, especially with the ongoing symbolism that the attentive reader will gather as they forge ahead in this piece. Well constructed and I would surely give Zoje Stage another try, hoping that she and her publisher take some of the criticisms that are coming out, to heart.

Kudos, Madam Stage, for this very interesting debut. I can see much potential within the genre and hope you’ll keep writing. Your fan base is sure to grow exponentially, especially with all the popularity this book is receiving online.

This book fulfils Topic #4 (Title/Author Beginning with Q, X, or Z) of the A Book for All Seasons (Equinox #2) Book Challenge.

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:

Clean Sweep, by Michael J. Clark

Eight stars

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

Having stumbled upon Michael J. Clark’s debut novel, I was eager to see if the story met the hype of the dust jacket summary. Winnipeg may be in the heart of the Canadian Prairies, but it has a seedy underbelly. With the Heaven’s Rejects as the most notorious biker-gang in town, the city is constantly buzzing as criminal activity lines the pockets of a few well-connected individuals. Pastor Tommy Bosco uses his homeless shelter and ‘born again’ nature as a front, allowing him to help those who wish to disappear with few questions asked. However, he may have met his match when Claire ‘Claire-Bear’ Hebert seeks his help. Hebert, a local prostitute, and Bosco’s ex, killed one of the gang’s higher-ups and is in possession of a ledger filled with pages of indecipherable numbers. Not only is the ledger a hot commodity, but the Reject’s want retribution for her act of self-defence. While Bosco tries to stay one step ahead of everyone, Robbery-Homicide Detective Sergeant Miles Sawatski is looking to bring Hebert in for her crime. However, he’s also been tasked by an anonymous source to obtain the ledger and hand it over before the Winnipeg Police Service or anyone else can confiscate it. Torn, he must balance the pledge to protect the city with the knowledge that someone has him dead to rights. This faceless entity is trying to initiate one of their own operations, Clean Sweep, which could have dire effects. No crime story would be complete without a crime desk reporter—David ‘Downtown’ Worschuk—who wants his own shot at fame, no matter who gets burnt on the way to print . Clark offers an excellent debut novel that pulls on all aspects of the criminal element, putting Winnipeg on the map for all its less than shiny attributes. Those with an open mind when it comes to language and with an interest in a well-constructed crime thriller may find this to their liking.

Having grown up in Winnipeg, I was quite happy to get my hands on this book, to see how Clark would depict my hometown. Surely not the city I remembered, but definitely a story that mentions many of its landmarks, I found it easy to follow and paced well. Pulling out all the stops to highlight the criminality, Clark utilised many characters to depict the darker side of the ‘Peg. Bosco comes across as an interesting character who uses his ‘reformed’ front to serve him well, trying to steer clear of crime where he can, but still with a penchant to help those who can pony up the money. The character contrasts nicely with Detective Sergeant Miles Sawatski, who is trying to keep his nose clean but has been boxed into a corner with this nameless ‘Voice’ over the phone, appearing to pull his strings. Hebert and her fellow prostitutes pepper the novel with their unique style and racy language, bringing an element of reality to the story that Clark is able to capitalise upon throughout its progression. The story is somewhat unique, and not only for its location. There is a sense of cat-and-mouse to it, with the criminals seeming to be less problematic than those who are trying to snub them out, but there is still a sense that the law must prevail. Clark explores the criminal element from all angles and brings it to life on the page. To the story more generally and its delivery. This is surely not your rosy crime novel that simply explores some of the seedier aspects, but parachutes the reader into the middle of them. Language, descriptions, and some graphic depictions pepper the story, but I find them to be fitting and not gratuitous (though I am sure some will bemoan it!). It all lays the groundwork for some realistic writing and Clark seems to have the right delivery for it. Chapters are not too long and they flow nicely into one another, keeping the reader wondering and wanting to push on just a little further. Where I have some issue myself was with the ‘over-Winnipegisation’ of the novel. Yes, we understand that the novel takes place in Winnipeg and Clark is surely proud of his city (as I am of my hometown), but it would seem he chose EVERY opportunity to street or location drop, which creates a stop-and-go nature in the narrative. Perhaps it is because I know all these places too well, but the need not only to say that someone grew up in a certain housing project, but also cite the street on which it was located seems excessive. Cross-streets for coffee shops may be something intriguing once, but few readers want to hear the intersections each time (even if you were to include a street map pullout at the beginning of the novel). It would seem that Clark got a little too overzealous and editors gave too much freedom in keeping those bits in that would better be used to plug holes in the cutting room walls. Still, it’s worth noting to help him grow as a writer and with a solid story foundation, this can surely be polished for future editions and novels.

Kudos, Mr. Clark, for a great debut piece. I am happy to see something of such high calibre and hope it gets rave reviews, both within and outside of Winnipeg. I’ll be sure to let you know when I come to the ‘Peg and we can grab a Timmy’s since I never was a Sal’s fan, lol.

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

Justice Lost (Darren Street #3), by Scott Pratt

Nine stars

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

As a long-time fan of Scott Pratt and his work, I was pleased to receive an early copy of his latest Darren Street thriller. Having been through a great deal over the past few years, Darren Street is starting to revisit all the criminal acts that he’s committed, covered up just enough to keep him one step ahead of the authorities. That said, he feels a sense of vindication, having disposed of a few key figures who have left him feeling empty. Now he is able to turn over a new leaf, with his girlfriend ready to give birth to their daughter. As they arrive at the birthing centre, the doctor on call is not answering his pages and when he does arrive, he stinks of a distillery. Another doctor takes the lead with the delivery, which turns into something high-risk, as Street waits for news. Tragedy strikes and Street is again plagued with devastation, blaming the intoxicated doctor for negligence. When Street approaches the District Attorney General, his request for legal action hits a wall and soon learns that friends will cover for one another, no matter what. While his conscience is trying to tell him not to, Street must handle things in his own way. Additionally, Street is talked into challenging the District Attorney General in the upcoming election. While preparing for his big day, Street uses some strong financial and political resources at his disposal, but also realises that the county is riddled with corrupt officials. Knowing that Street will soon uncover their backroom dealings, some of these officials take it upon themselves to neutralise him. As Street seeks elected office, he must also dodge those who would see him face the verdict he has handed out many time before; death at any cost. Pratt does a masterful job in this third novel in the Darren Street series. Fans of his work and those who enjoy a darker thriller will surely find something exciting in this novel.

I thoroughly enjoy Scott Pratt’s writing and his unique approach to legal matters. He has developed a strong series that keeps the reader wondering just how far Darren Street will go to balance the scales once and for all. In Street, Pratt has created an interesting character, whose development has been quite dramatic in these three series books. While Street has faced adversity and taken things into his own hands, he begins to grow a conscience and has second thoughts about all the blood he’s shed. Building on the crimes that have plagued him before, Street comes to see how fragile life and his future might be if he does not change his tune. Filled with some interesting supporting characters, Pratt is able to shape the story in many different ways, as though there are a few mini-plots that all come together in the end. While I have criticised the vigilante lawyer presented in the first two novels, they have grown on me. A mix of legal matters and Dexter-like criminal activities, Pratt develops his story in an effective way, which entertains readers until the final pages.

Kudos, Mr. Pratt, for another stellar piece of writing. I have loved this newer series and will recommend it to anyone who has an interest in vigilante justice.

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

Poison: A Novel (Dismas Hardy #17), by John Lescroart

Nine stars

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

As a long-time fan of John Lescroart and his work, I was pleased to receive an early copy of his latest legal thriller, which offers series fans much to digest while being highly entertained. Dismas Hardy is still recuperating from the harrowing end of the last novel, when he was shot twice at point blank range. Vowing to scale back at the legal practice and refuse any significant criminal work, Hardy is contacted by a former client whose was arrested for the murder of her boss. Hardy is willing to at least provide some early legal advice to Abby Jarvis, though remains at least somewhat dedicated to his promise, something his wife will demand he honour. The death of Grant Wagner shocked everyone, particularly since it was originally deemed a heart attack, only to be re-examined when one of the Wagner children could not understand the finding. Further inspection reveals that Wagner was actually poisoned, paired with other interesting pieces of evidence, including that Jarvis had been skimming from the company’s profits and that she had been spending a great deal of extra time with Wagner before his death. While the legal system moves forward, it is not only Hardy who feels that his client might be innocent. The entire Wagner family seems shocked that Jarvis might have murdered their father, aware of some secrets shared between Grant and Abby. As Hardy agrees to represent Abby at her arraignment, he pulls out all the stops, upsetting his former partner and current district attorney, challenging the validity of the evidence used to arrest his client, which opens a rare bail hearing and leaves everyone watching what else Hardy might have in store for the courtroom. When Wagner’s recent love interest is shot in the face and killed, it leaves SFPD Homicide to use all their resources to see if the shooting might be tied to Wagner’s murder. Trouble is, Abby Jarvis was behind bars during the shooting and could not have committed the crime. Can the Grant Wagner murder be fuelled by financial gain or might there be something far more sinister at play here? And how does all this tie into another recent shooting that has baffled SFPD Homicide? Lescroart does a masterful job with his full collection of San Francisco characters, sure to impress series fans and those who love a well-crafted legal thriller.

It is always a pleasure to pick up a John Lescroart legal thriller, or more generally, a piece from his ever-expanding ‘San Fran crew’ as I call them. As this extended series keeps its quality throughout the twenty-plus novels, it is enjoyable to dive into Lescroart’s work and discover the legal nuances he has to offer. Lescroart’s Dismas Hardy is always an interesting character, who has evolved throughout the series. While there has been little backstory offered over the last number of novels, the ever-flourishing developments within his family and legal units keeps the reader connected to this unique man. Hints throughout leave the reader wondering if there is some major change brewing, though surely Lescroart will force everyone to wait for the next novel to unveil his plans for this central character. There are a number of strong secondary characters, both those who appear regularly (and receive their own novels in the extended series) and the one-timers who appear within this novel. All the characters mesh well and promote a multi-faceted story that keeps the reader wondering as the narrative develops nicely. Turning to the story, Lescroart delivers a strong piece that looks not only to explore the legal nuances of Abby Jarvis’ case, but also some key areas of poison, finance, and familial interactions. Lescroart never enters a topic half-assed, choosing instead to show that he has done his work to permit the reader the most detailed information as possible. The narrative is heavy with all these areas of insight, but things do not get bogged down by this. Rather, they flourish and permit the reader new areas of interest that might pique their interest for personal exploration. I would be remiss if I did not mention the quality of Lescroart’s work. The novels always flow so well and chapters seem to melt away as the reader rushes through the narrative and finds a well-crafted story throughout. I can only hope that Lescroart will stick with the San Fran gang and let those novels propel him to continued greatness.

Kudos, Mr. Lescroart, for another stellar piece of writing. I have loved this series since first I discovered it and will recommend it to anyone who has an interest in legal thrillers.

This book fulfils Topic #1 in the Equinox #2 Book Challenge, A Book in a Series (not a debut).

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