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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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House Witness (Joe DeMarco #12), by Mike Lawson

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mike Lawson, Grove Atlantic and Atlantic Monthly Press 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 Mike Lawson’s work, I was pleased to get my hands on an advance copy of his latest Joe DeMarco novel. After House Minority Leader John Mahoney receives word that someone close to him has been murdered, his first call is to Joe DeMarco, his fixer of sorts. Understanding the nuances of the Manhattan D.A.’s Office, Mahoney insists that DeMarco offer his services to assist in any way possible. The case looks fairly cut and dry, but those are the ones that tend to be the most problematic if they reach trial. The killer comes from family money that will stop at nothing to erase events in any way possible. When the defence attorney places a call, seeking some assistance in the matter of trying to turn an easy conviction into something far less straightforward, there is hesitation. However, for the right price, things may turn their way. Enter Ella Fields, who has made it her business to work alongside her husband to help dissuade or disappear key witnesses from what they saw, thereby toppling the proverbial apple cart. As things begin to get a little shaky in Manhattan, DeMarco learns of the possibility that someone like Fields could be out destroying easy cases. He vows to track her down, travelling across the United States to learn more about a number of cases, always two steps behind. However, with the trial about ready to begin, DeMarco may have stumbled upon something, though even he is not sure if it will be enough. Lawson continues paving the way for DeMarco to remain at the top if his game, while pulling readers into the middle of this quick-paced series. Fans of Joe DeMarco and those who like crime thrillers that do not slow down will surely enjoy this piece and the entire collection.

It is hard to believe that this is the twelfth instalment of the Joe Demarco series, though Mike Lawson has a wonderful handle on things. What began as a strong political thriller has turned more into something criminal and loosely legal in nature, but the reader is not forced to compromise too much. DeMarco’s backstory is well known to series vets, but is not lost here in the crumbs left for new readers. His past comes full circle as he is forced to come to terms with the murder of his cousin, though there are even larger shocks for the attentive reader. DeMarco has grit and determination, as well as charm and some rough exterior that usually garners him the results he needs. It is some of the other characters, particularly Ella Fields, that steal the show in this novel, offering up both a thorough backstory and a wonderful collection of traits as the story’s narrative heats up. The reader is left little time to ponder what’s been read, too busy are they with trying to see where the next part of the cat and mouse game will go. The story itself is well crafted in a legal thriller genre that I felt worked more effectively as a one of the crime variety. DeMarco rushes to fill the gaps while Fields will not go down without a fight, eluding capture throughout. Newer fans of the series, or first timers in general, will not be aware of the transformation of the series. If I had to offer up one area that I disliked, it is that political intrigue and centrality are gone, as though Lawson feels that he has lost that avenue. As I read, I could not help but ask myself, ‘Will DeMarco play more than a passing role in this story?’ for much of the early narrative, though Lawson did bring things back before too long. I yearn for a political thriller, if there is someone that Lawson has left in him, though I will not complain too much, as this story was written in a masterful style and one sure to pull the reader in from the early chapters.

Kudos, Mr. Lawson, for another success. I always look forward to what you have to offer and hope that you’ll keep writing.

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

Force of Nature (Aaron Falk #2), by Jane Harper

Nine stars

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

After devouring Jane Harper’s debut novel, I could not wait to get my hands on this sequel, which pulls Aaron Falk back into the mix. A member of the Australian Federal Police’s Finance Division, Aaron Falk is knee-deep in a case that could have many important implications. One of his sources calls him in the middle of the night and leaves a garbled voicemail, with ‘hurt her’ as the only decipherable message. It is then that Falk realises that his source, Alice Russell, has been on a team-building weekend, hiking in the Giralang Ranges outside of Melbourne. Her group, five women from the company, did not arrive for their pick-up and it was only six hours later that they emerged from the wilderness, tattered and torn, without Alice. Calling on his partner, Falk rushes to the scene and agrees to help the state police with the search, learning a little more about Alice as things progress. With no clues leading to Alice, many remember what gave the Ranges their infamous notoriety, having been the location a serial killer picked his victims, all but one of whom was discovered at some point. Two decades later, Falk wonders if there is something in the forested area who seeks to copycat that horrendous experience. However, the more he digs, the greater the information trove about Alice and her relationship with the others on the trek. Each person tells a different story about the weekend and their connection to Alice, which provides many with a reason to see her silenced. With a parallel ‘slow narrative’ of events during the trek itself, the reader can not only see the investigation as it progresses, but also the strains that befell those five women as they tried to work themselves out of many awkward situations with little but their guts to lead them. Harper has shown that she can create multiple novels of a high caliber as she delivers yet again. Fans of Aaron Falk are privy to more of his development, in a novel that proves vastly different from the debut thriller. Well-worth the time for those love a good thriller and who were highly impressed with The Dry.

While it is always easy to create a single masterpiece, it is the ability to remain at such a high standard that makes an author truly captivating. Harper has done just that, turning both the narrative and the format on its head from the opening novel. Aaron Falk’s backstory is less sketched out in this piece, but there are crumbs to give the curious reader a little more to add. It is the likes of ‘the five’ and how they pieced themselves together that proves brilliant. Harper not only sketches out a solid character for each of them, but builds on it by weaving their stories together with Alice Russell, all while keeping events that occurred in the forest a secret until the very end. Harper pulls the reader in to guess who might be responsible for the missing Alice, while arming all four with viable reasons. The story itself is wonderfully developed, positioning a current investigation alongside the events leading up to Alice’s disappearance inside the Giralang Ranges. What secrets does Alice possess and how can they unravel over the span of four days before someone takes action? Harper pushes the reader forward in such a way that they cannot help but want to learn more, forcing them to stay up late into the night just to piece things together. It is one of those novels, which is sure to prove useful when it hits book stands in early 2018. Harper has much to offer the genre and those who pay her mind will surely not be disappointed in the investment.

Kudos, Madam Harper, for this stunning follow-up piece. I know I will be keeping an eye open for your work in the years to come.

This book fulfills Topic #2 of Equinox #2 Book Challenge: A Book by an Author in Another Hemisphere.

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

The Chalk Man, by C.J. Tudor

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, C. J. Tudor, and Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After being hooked my the premise of this book and noticing the extensive ARC review activity this novel received, I was drawn in to see if Tudor’s book met the hype. Eddie Adams lives what might be a typical twelve year-old life, with a number of friends who have taken it upon themselves to explore the world around them. During the summer of 1986, they attend a local fair and Eddie is witness to a horrible accident, where he meets a man who will soon become a teacher at their school, Mr. Halloran. For the rest of the summer, Eddie and his friends begin using a new form of communication, leaving messages in coloured chalk. There also seems to be someone who wants to up the ante and draws random chalk figures around town. When a number of other tragedies occur, there is always a chalk man left at the scene, or appearing soon thereafter, leaving Eddie to wonder who might be behind all this. Fast forwarding to 2016, Ed is now a grown man and have become a teacher himself. When one of his friends approaches him to write a book about the summer of ‘86, the memories begin to flood back. Threads left dangling are soon tied off as Ed is able to process some of the activities and seeks to better understand who might have been The Chalk Man. Forced to deal with his past and how the filter of adulthood synthesises events, Ed Adams comes to terms with what has happened, while finding new mysteries to leave him feeling ill at ease. Tudor does a decent job here to entice readers with the alternating chapters from 1986 and 2016, telling a dual narrative that meld together at the most opportune times. Those who like a mix of flashbacks and current day may enjoy this piece, though it did not leave me as spine-tingled as I might have suspected, based on the dust cover summary. That being said, what a great ending!

This being C.J. Tudor’s debut novel, I had little but the aforementioned hype to base my opinion on her work. Tudor has laid the groundwork for something sensational here and has moments of brilliance in the form of a creepy aspect, though I somehow felt the story fell short of being as chilling as it seeks to be. The characters found throughout develop well, using both the current and backstory building blocks that are supported with the alternating timeline chapters. Eddie Adams finds himself in the middle of the action and his coming of age occurs throughout the narrative, complemented by a cast of differentiated friends, all of whom have their own quirks. The looming Mr. Halloran and Reverend Martin characters provide additional chill factors, though the potential for true fear in the form of The Chalk Man is left too diluted or on the wayside. That is not to say the story is poor, for it definitely has some strong aspects and Tudor does her best to draw the reader in, if only to see how that summer shaped Eddie for the long-haul. Additionally, the narrative keeps the reader bouncing around, filling in gaps as the plot thickens. Mysteries left dangling find their resolution and new ones emerge, which keeps the reader on track with enjoying the book to the finish. I suppose I got caught up in the hype and the buzz of Goodreads tossing out so many stellar reviews that I feel slightly deflated. What I sought was a bone-chilling novel to keep me up well into the night. I received a decent story that develops well, though lacks the eerie quality that might have been present, given time and some slight changes to the plot’s path.

Kudos, Madam Tudor, for a great novel. Your debut piece shows me that there is potential there and I will certainly tackle another of your books, when you write your next novel.

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

An Engineered Injustice, by William L. Myers, Jr.

Nine stars

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

After his sensational debut legal thriller, William L. Myers, Jr. is back with another explosive novel that is sure to grab the attention of the reader from the opening lines. Vaughn Coburn is a young and fairly astute lawyer in Philadelphia whose meticulous work and passion for the job show on a daily basis. Arriving back at the firm one afternoon, Vaughn finds everyone glued to the television as they watch the latest developments in a fatal passenger train crash. Soon thereafter, the dreaded phone call comes, his cousin, Eddie, was the engineer and is being blamed for the entire event. As the body count mounts and media outlets are quick to point blame, Vaughn hastily accepts the request to represent Eddie. How could he not have seen the ninety-ton train car ahead of him? Might he have been distracted by his cell phone? When his blood test comes back, Eddie is clear of any narcotics or alcohol, but nothing makes sense, and the current state of amnesia is not helping Vaughn put together a reasonable case. Turning to an unlikely source, Vaughn begins to peel back the layers while two high-profile attorneys begin gathering up suits against Amtrak and Eddie. Problems only get worse when it turns out one of Philly’s finest mobsters had a relative on board and vows retribution. Vaughn can see no light at the end of the tunnel, but he will have to find something quickly, as he owes it to Eddie to clear him of this crime. A shared secret seems to cement Vaughn’s commitment to a man who has had a string of bad luck. With the country watching and the noose fit and ready, Vaughn must do the impossible and explain how Eddie Coburn could be innocent of such a straightforward crash. Might this be too much, even for a legal go-getter, to handle? Myers does a sensational job at piecing the story together, pacing the narrative in such a way that the reader will not be able to help but demand a little more with each page turn. Perfect for those who loved the debut novel and fans of a near-perfect legal thriller.

I came across Myers’ work earlier this year when I saw his novel, A Criminal Defence, receiving a great deal of hype. I loved that novel and hoped to find myself with a copy of this, the follow-up, in short order. Myers uses his knowledge of both the law and Philadelphia to pull the reader into the middle of something realistic. Using strong characters, Myers is able to offer up a wonderfully complex legal web. Vaughn Coburn is the ideal young lawyer to forge into his legal minefield. His past grit and determination paired with a desire to see justice done helps move the story forward, even when things appear bleak. Working alongside many others, both in the legal field and those who are trying to sink Eddie’s case, Vaughn is able to shape the story and keep the reader wondering. Layering much backstory into the narrative, Myers portrays both Coburn men as inseparable, though also having taken paths that could not have differed more. Pompous legal minds and gritty Amtrak employees balance the hope that Vaughn seeks to bring to Eddie’s case, leaving the reader to make the final decision as to what they will accept. Turning to the story itself, Myers offers his superior writing abilities to weave together a strong piece that has the ability to pull on the reader’s heartstrings. The horror of such an incident, a fatal train accident, adds dramatic flair to an already high-impact thriller. Myers uses not only his skill but draws on real-life events to deliver a novel that will be talked about long after it hits bookstands around the world. Mixing shoer chapters with those seen to develop the already strong foundation, Myers ensures the reader is presented with a high caliber novel that does not fade at any point. I can only hope that many others will discover Myers and increase his fan base. That said, it might leave some leery of travelling the rails for the foreseeable future.

Kudos, Mr. Myers, for such a powerful legal thriller. I will be insisting that many people rush out to get their hands on this book soon. I trust that this will get rave reviews from others who enjoy your style and delivery.

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

19 Souls (A Sin City Investigations #1), by J.D. Allen

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, J.D. Allen, and Midnight Ink for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Tapping into that interesting sub-genre of private investigator thrillers, J.D. Allen offers up this interesting tale. Jim Bean enjoys his PI work in Las Vegas, though is not all that impressed with the hours or seedy aspects of the job. When Cynthia Hodge contacts Bean to assist with locating her brother, the PI is not certain if this case has legs. Learning that Daniel Hodge has absconded with his mother’s life savings and has a penchant for drugs, Bean is sure there will be nothing left, even if the man can be located. However, with his retainer paid in full, Bean agrees to help Cynthia, though makes no promises. Little does Bean know, but the woman sitting before him is actually Sophie Evers, who has recently disposed of Cynthia, as well as many others who have kept her from the boy she fell in love with all those years ago. As Bean begins his search, he bounces around from Texas and out to Utah, only to discover that Daniel is living off the beaten path. When Bean describes his distraught client, Daniel clues in that it is not Cynthia, but the foster child who lived next door during his youth, Sophie. Now, Bean sees that he’s been played and must try to keep Daniel safe while locating Sophie before she gets her hands on the prize she has been seeking for years. With the help of the LVPD and FBI, Bean works to coax Sophie out of hiding, but is unable to do so with ease. Using his tracking skills, Bean leads the investigation down the rabbit hole to piece together who Sophie Evers might be and how she’s come to fix her crosshairs on Daniel Hodge. Leaving a pile of bodies in her wake, Sophie Evers will stop at nothing to ensure Daniel is hers forever. That said, Jim Bean is not ready to walk away just yet. Not all cases close with a satisfied client. Allen offers up an interesting cat-and-mouse game with this novel. There will be some who enjoy this piece, while others will surely find it lacked the grit and punch that could have made the story far better. I find myself firmly rooted in the latter category!

Having never read J.D. Allen, I was curious to see what he had to offer, especially as he places his protagonist in the middle of Sin City. Jim Bean is an likeable character, though his no-nonsense attitude leaves him a little rough around the edges. The story suits him, as he seeks to get to the bottom of his cases without all the flair and panache that some PIs might enjoy. Paired against the likes of Sophie Evers, who is a complex character in her own right, the story offers an interesting flavour. Evers’ struggles with locating the love of her life and the voices (demons?) in her head, keep the story twisting as the narrative picks up steam. The handful of secondary characters inject some humour at times, as well as the needed depth of law enforcement to make the story the thriller it seeks to be. The characters help push the story along, though the narrative has some issues of its own as it barrels down the tracks. While the premise is there and the delivery seems to present an interesting plot and collection of ideas, I felt things limping from the get-go. It might have been that the ‘false impression’ of Sophie Evers appears so early to Jim Bean or that the chase was slow to develop and became less about the thrill and more about how to gather mundane information, but this story seemed too diluted to really capture me. Use of short chapters and degrees of humour did help, but I felt as though I could have been waving my hand to propel things forward at a quicker pace on many occasions. If one seeks a book with potential mired in treacle, they need look no further than this piece. First in the series, it could be jitters or simply a lack of connection with the intended audience, though I cannot commit to returning to see what else Bean and Sin City Investigations has to offer.

Kudos, Mr. Allen, for your attempts with this book. All the pieces are there and the intentions are good, but there’s a need for some pizzazz injections throughout to keep the reader hooked!

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

The Traitor, by Jonathan de Shalit

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jonathan de Shalit, Atria, and Emily Bestler Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Turning to the dark and mysterious world of Israeli espionage, Jonathan de Shalit takes readers into a realm they may not know well. When Alon Regev approached the American Embassy in Rome one afternoon in 1983, he had a plan. Seeking to speak with the gentleman in charge of intelligence matters, Alon made a proposition. He currently served in the Israeli Government and would surely rise though the ranks. For a fee, he would gladly share all that he knew, including state secrets, if only to provide stability in the Middle East. Pondering this, the American consular official accepted this and submitted his plan to use Alon for the foreseeable future. However, unbeknownst to Alon, his American friend was actually a spy for the Soviets, or more specifically the Stasi. With the Soviet bloc teetering, East German espionage will soon go the way of the dodo, but with ‘Cobra’ on board, the Soviets could surely procure much needed information within the Middle East. Fast-forward thirty years, with the Stasi dead and buried, those who worked inside the organisation are quickly fading with age and not prepared to take all their secrets to the grave. There is mention of Cobra, which reaches Israeli Intelligence, who now know that they have a mole in the upper ranks of the Government. Who that person might be remains a mystery, but the hunt is on. Working both Russian and American angles, the Israelis play a game of cat and mouse, unsure whom they can trust and whether the feather ruffling will spook Cobra into deeper hiding. With extermination the only viable outcome, the Israelis begin their mission to destroy Cobra and thereby knock the Russians off their perch, once and for all. An interesting story by de Shalit, whose past has certain helped fuel the antics. Some who enjoy espionage thrillers may enjoy this one, but it seemed to lack suspense and depth for me.

Jonathan de Shalit’s real name remains hidden in the publication of this book, for security reasons, though he has been able to weave together a believable fiction based on his actual work with the Israelis. This is apparent throughout, touching on many of the interrogation techniques and sentiments to outside intelligence services. There are a handful of characters who play an important role in this book and whose appearance on the page is useful to keeping the story moving. Readers may enjoy the early Alon, as he barters away his country’s sovereignty, though once adopting the Cobra moniker, he is all but gone from the pages of the story. The agents who seek to find Cobra and sever his proverbial (or is it?) head play some interesting parts, though I felt there was too little backstory for my liking. I want to connect with characters, not be forced to watch them work and banter without knowing their roots. The story itself had much potential, but it became too much of a hunt and peck game, rather than a covert spy continuing to feed information and the world seeing action based on it, leaving the Israelis to scramble to plug the leak. The drama was gone, the more than superficial tactics were missing, and the people involved played only their part to gentle nudge information out of willing sources, save perhaps a few Russians. I like thrillers, especially those with some spying involved, but felt this one fell flat. Perhaps de Shalit was trying too hard to pull on the reins and not show readers what tactics are actually used, but the diluted result left me questioning if I will return for more by this author.

Thank you, Mr. de Shalit, for your effort. Perhaps spying is your strength and you can use a ghost writer to spice up the action. Either that, or stop worrying about pleasing the censors so much when you write the down and dirty portions.

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

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

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