Those Who Go By Night, by Andrew Gaddes

Six stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Andrew Gaddes, and Crooked Lane Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I was keen to give the work of Andrew Gaddes a try, as it explores not only a mystery, but includes a dose English history, which can be highly entertaining. When a beggar is found murdered and placed in a compromising position on a church altar in Bottesford, panic ensues in the small English town. It is the mid-14th century and Rome has a firm grasp over its congregations. Worried that something will come to pass, the Bishop of Lincoln agrees to send an emissary, Thomas Lester, to investigate and report back. However, it would seem the Archbishop of Canterbury has his own man in the region, looking to explore whether the pagan rituals rumoured to be rife in the area might need a more powerful fist to quell them. Lester comes upon a community with many colourful characters, all of whom offer plausible reasons for being the killer. As Lester works, he must worry that the killer could strike again, all the while trying to protect this corner of England from being painted in a poor light. There is little time and Lester possesses an explosive secret that he cannot let the general public discover, as it could undermine his abilities to bring order to the region. Lester’s personal and professional lives clash in this piece, pinning criminal law against that of the Church, as well as personal morals that seem to conflict with ecclesiastical tenets. Gaddes does well to offer up a decent tale that will keep the reader wondering until the very end!

I enjoy historical mysteries, as they are usually able to mix curiosity with education in equal measure. Gaddes bit off quite a bit here and presented the reader with a decent narrative, though it missed the mark for me. Thomas Lester’s character has some interesting aspects, including his ties to the Church and ability to retrieve information from most anyone he meets. He may be a Church emissary, but he is human and his personal longings cannot be completely neutralised, even with a religious background. Gaddes portrays Lester as a gritty man who seeks the truth while trying to deflect his own personal opinion on occasion, which is a struggle throughout the piece. His Templar background is sure to offer some additional flavour to an already complex character, as the reader will see throughout. Many of the other characters serve to offer interesting perspectives to fill the narrative with different angles, sure to offer up a discussion amongst those who enjoy book bantering. Witchcraft, Church resistance, and wariness of outsiders prove to be themes embedded in the many characters Gaddes offers to the curious reader. While the story seems sound and the narrative progresses nicely, I could not find myself connecting with it throughout. I am no perfect reader, but something had me skimming rather than basking in a story that could have been so enjoyable. Perhaps it was the lure of the dust jacket blurb, but I expected so much more for my personal reading pleasure. It fell short for me, though I cannot expect that others will feel the same. Try it and offer your own opinions, for Gaddes certainly has the tools for a successful novel. Perhaps I am just not seeing the diamond embedded herein!

Kudos, Mr. Gaddes, for what certainly could be a stellar piece. I can only hope that others see something I did not. I will give you the benefit of the doubt and wait to see what you serve up next to the curious reader!

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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We, The Jury, by Robert Rotstein

Nine stars

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

Robert Rotstein has developed this unique legal thriller, told from the perspective of the other side of the courtroom. Rather than putting the reader in the middle of a courtroom drama, the story unfolds as the legal banter is wrapping up and the case is sent to the jury. David Sullinger is accused of having murdered his wife, Amanda, the day before their 21st wedding anniversary. According to David, he was subjected to significant and ongoing spousal abuse, which led him to act in self-defence at the time he plunged a pickaxe into her skull. Told from multiple perspectives, the book opens with the judge offering jury instructions, which are bumbled, and proceeds to the deliberations in the case. In a narrative that offers the jury members’ own perspectives on the case, as well as other officers of the court (judge, bailiff, lawyers) and even some outsiders, the reader learns more about what supposedly happened through recollections of evidence presented. Additionally, Rotstein offers some outside information on the judge, who is showing signs of mental distress due to personal matters, trying to hold it all together. With tidbits of testimony added within various chapters, the reader becomes a juror themselves, as they see the arguments made in deliberation, before a decision is made. Quite the story and highly unique! Rotstein is sure to impress those who enjoy legal thrillers with a different perspective, especially the reader who likes to be the thick of a courtroom drama.

I thoroughly enjoy legal thrillers and courtroom dramas, as they are not only entertaining, but highly educational. Rotstein peppers a little of everything in this case, which sees a man’s freedom hang in the balance. Spousal abuse against men remains a new defence, though it is one that has been rolled out here. Taking the perspectives of the jurors provides the reader with a unique glimpse into what they know, how they feel, and what influences their voting. The banter between these individuals—the least legally trained but with the most legal power in a case—is amazing and Rotstein infers a great deal throughout. The characters are plentiful and each has their own perspective, which allows the reader to watch as development and flavour mix to create the most entertaining set of individuals. The story is quite well done, offering great insight into how the same set of facts can be interpreted so many ways by a group of eight (see an early explanation in the story about how eight can serve on a jury in California) common citizens. With short chapters and a variety of perspectives, the reader will not get bogged down in the legal or personal minutiae of the characters, but will seek to see how things end up when the foreperson presses the red button, indicating a decision has been reached.

Kudos, Mr. Rotstein, for such a great book. I will recommend it to anyone who enjoys legal pieces, as you have a wonderful handle on the genre.

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

House of Ashes, by Loretta Marion

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Loretta Marion, and Crooked Lane Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Loretta Marion develops a story that straddles time and geography to bring the reader into the centre of numerous mysteries that come to a head in an energetic ending. The small Massachusetts community of Whale Rock has been home to the Mitchell family off and on for over eight decades. When one of the largest homes in the area caught fire eighty years ago, the fallout created a curse that permeates the region to this day. Cassandra ‘Cassie’ Mitchell’s great-grandparents perished in the fire that some believe was part of a larger curse they brought from England. At present, Cassie has an issue of her own, as her two tenants have recently disappeared into thin air. Could this be part of the ongoing curse or some other nefarious act? Leaving behind a few odd clues, including a piece of rope tied with unique knots, Cassie is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. However, she also has a gallery showing booked and must finish a number of paintings, some of the bucolic community of Whale Rock. With the authorities turning up nothing and the FBI admitting that Cassie’s tenants never existed, at least by those names, the mystery only thickens. With a parallel storyline exploring events leading up to the aforementioned fire, additional backstory and knowledge about this Mitchell Curse come to light, which could explain some of the present-day anomalies. An interesting tale that will pique the interest of some, though I found myself less than committed throughout the reading experience.

This is my first experience with Marion’s writing, which left me curious to see what sentiments came to the surface. Her attention to detail and nuanced placement of clues is second to none, as is her seamless ability to write in both past and present while keeping both stories poignant. I remain baffled as to why I could not grasp the entirety of the story. I did not feel the connection to the characters or plot, though both seemed to be well grounded. Cassie Mitchell proves to be an interesting woman, who has struggled finding her niche as she seeks to rebuild a bridge with her older sister. Cassie’s determination to get to the bottom of the mystery while also living her life at present is something that Marion develops throughout with a strong narrative and decent dialogue. I’m left to wonder if I was just not in the proper mindset to tackle this book, as there are many characters who pop up and serve to push things in a forward direction. The premise was decent, using a past curse to explain away some of the issues taking place, without getting too supernatural with the entire plot. Still, I needed something more that shook me in my seat as I flipped the pages of this book. Perhaps others will find something stellar in this book or with the author and to them I offer my complete support. It just did not come together for me.

Kudos, Madam Marion, for a decent piece of writing. While I may not have been captivated, I do not feel that I will be in the majority.

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

A Murder by Any Name: An Elizabethan Spy Mystery, by Suzanne M. Wolfe

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Suzanne M. Wolfe, and Crooked Lane Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Suzanne M. Wolfe takes the reader into the darker sides of the Elizabethan Court with this murder mystery, using a great deal of detail to bring out the unique flavour of the time. Queen Elizabeth has been reigning over England for close to three decades and has earned the favour of many, both within her Court and in the general public. When the youngest of the ladies-in-waiting is murdered, the Court is abuzz with gossip and Her Majesty is enraged. Found on the high alter of a church, the killer must surely have been seeking to make a statement like no other. Elizabeth turns to the one man she feels is up for the task of locating the killer and bringing them to justice, Nicholas Holt. A spy in his own right, Holt will be able to use his deceptive ways to lure information out of many in order to quickly bring the case to a close. With his connections to Court and possessing a seedy background, Holt will stop at nothing to bring the killer before Elizabeth. However, this might be a more difficult task than first thought, as Her Majesty is far from regal in its traditional form and seeks immediate answers. When a second lady-in-waiting is slain, Holt knows that he is running out of time. If he cannot produce the killer soon, it will be his head on a platter before Elizabeth. Working every angle, Holt travels to ascertain not only clues but motive, remaining as covert as possible. Wolfe delivers an interesting mystery that is sure to pique the attention of some who enjoy their murder mysteries in a historic setting.

This is my first experience with Wolfe and her writing, which left me eager to see what sentiments came as I read this piece. She has a wonderful attention to detail and brings out that 16th century flavour in her story without leaving the reader too bogged down in references or phrasing. That being said, my mind could not grasp the entirety of the story, as I sought something a bit quicker and that would pull me in. Her character development is decent, as Nicholas Holt is painted to be a wonderfully dedicated man, even if he has a background that might be anything but pure. Using a handful of supporting characters, including Elizabeth I, proved useful, not only to advance the story, but also to add strength to the setting. While the story is one of mystery with a peppering of espionage, Wolfe dutifully uses some of the historical goings-on of the time to add to the potential motive. With England standing as a Protestant stronghold, might the Catholics have perpetrated this to poke at Elizabeth? Could the anti-Semitic sentiments of the time be the basis for these murders? All this, keenly woven into a narrative that flows with ease and keeps the reader guessing. I thoroughly enjoyed the historical angle, even if the story did not pull me in as much as I would have liked. Wolfe is to be commended for her attention to detail, which will surely appease many of those who seek to read this book.

Kudos, Madam Wolfe, on an interesting tale. I trust that many will enjoy this piece, for it certainly has much to offer the curious reader.

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

In Her Shadow, by Mark Edwards

Nine stars

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

Mark Edwards is back with another spine-chilling novel that takes the reader inside the eerie world of communication with the afterlife, yet another branch of psychological thrillers. Jessica is the proud mother of two children, though it would seem her youngest has begun acting out at school. When she arrives to speak with the teacher, Jessica learns that Olivia has been making many comments about her friend, Izzy, who’s died. Although Olivia is only four, Jessica refuses to take any chances and soon learns that her daughter is speaking about a member of the family. It would seem that Izzy, Olivia’s aunt, died after leaping from her balcony at home, not long after little Olivia was born. How might Olivia be communicating with her aunt, save through some sort of spirit portal? Thoughts of this nature remind Jessica of a situation from her own youth, when she and Izzy were visited by an uncle’s spirit who was highly disruptive. Jessica refuses to believe that Olivia has any contact with her dead sister and pushes the limits to find out who might be feeding her daughter such information. However, the evidence keeps piling up that Olivia has a way to speak to ‘Izzy’ and there are things that few others ever knew, yet they seem to be coming from Olivia’s mouth with ease. The entire situation opens up new fears in Jessica when Olivia admits one night that Izzy was pushed and murdered by someone. Could there be some truth to this? If so, how much does Olivia know and can her connection with Izzy help re-open a police investigation? Edwards uses his skills to lure the reader deep into the story and soon the story has taken over their entire brain, forcing them to race forward and discover what’s happened before turning off the light at night. Perfect for those who love Mark Edwards’ work, as well as the reader who enjoys blindsides throughout.

I have long enjoyed Mark Edwards and his writing, finding myself susceptible to his style of narration so much that I lose track of time. Even when I want to read only a few pages, I find it hard to put down one of his books until I have resolution to the mystery at hand. Edwards has a wonderful way of connecting the reader to his characters, especially a strong-minded protagonist like Jessica. The reader learns much about her throughout, both her backstory and current development as she fights to get to the bottom of both the Izzy and Olivia situations. There is much to discover and the story peels things back slowly enough as to keep the reader flipping pages, but not too quickly as to be a let-down. Alongside Jessica are a handful of other characters, all of whom bring their own flavour to the story, particularly those who crossed paths with Izzy in the days and weeks before her death. Edwards keeps the reader wondering if it could have been murder and who might have the most plausible motive to end the life of this interesting woman. That also serves to promote Izzy into the role of secondary protagonist, as flashbacks and extensive dialogue throughout resurrect her personality throughout the entire piece. Edwards effectively weaves past and present into a seamless plot and keeps everyone guessing until the very end. The story was brilliantly executed and the reader will surely find themselves surrounded by possible culprits and mysteries they ask themselves, all while the narrative forges onwards. With clipped dialogue that keeps the story realistic, Edwards leaves little time to ponder, as each chapter presents new and interesting perspectives to keep things from going stale. I have yet to find a dud when Mark Edwards is at the helm and hope many readers will follow me and get hold of this book in short order.

Kudos, Mr. Edwards, for another winner. I hope those who have yet to discover your writing style do so soon, for you have a great deal to offer the genre and those who love it so very much!

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

The Confession, by Jo Spain

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jo Spain, and Crooked Lane Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

This is my first venture into the writing of Jo Spain and it will surely not be my last! Spain offers a well-developed novel that mixes the thrill of a mystery with the intrigue of a multi-voiced narrative that seeks to explore an act of extreme violence. While Harry and Julie McNamara are watching television one evening, someone discretely makes their way inside and repeatedly strikes Harry across the head with a golf club. A panicked call to the authorities after the attacker has fled finds Mr. McNamara taken to the hospital, clinging to life. Detective Sergeant Alice Moody takes the lead on the case, trying to ascertain who might have wanted to attack McNamara, a rich Irish banker. With Harry clinging to life in a coma, the reader discovers one John Paul “JP” Carney has been arrested in conjunction with the attack, though he seems not to remember the event, or have any reason to have approached the McNamara manse. The story offers a present-time narrative through the eyes of DS Moody, who is trying to build a case and discover a motive that Carney may have had. Julie McNamara and JP Carney offer up their own perspectives, both as backstories and with flashes of present-day, as it relates to the larger McNamara crime. Was the attack on Harry McNamara completely random? How might JP have ever run in the same circles as a powerful banker? Why has Julie been so hands-off since a suspect was detained? All this and more fills the reader’s mind as they push through this novel. Spain leaves the reader wondering until the very end as they, like DS Moody, slowly peel back the proverbial onion to see the core of the crime. Perfect for those who like mysteries that slowly develop and then come together with a BANG!

This being my first venture into the world of Jo Spain, I was not sure what to expect. It would seem that she has quite the following, with an established novel series already, but I cannot help but feel that this standalone novel could convince many to take a gamble on more of her work. Spain does a masterful job of using her characters to propel the story forward, in that interesting ‘multiple perspective’ narrative. This allows the reader to develop a closeness with Julia McNamara, JP Carney, and DS Alice Moody independently and as a larger whole. There is much backstory, as mentioned above, for the latter two characters, while Moody seeks to keep her chapters in the present and focussed on the case. The reader can feel more of a closeness to Julia and JP, thereby helping them to have a better idea as to the foundation of the attack that saw Harry McNamara injured so grievously. Taking the time to develop these characters in short order fuels the momentum of the story and enriches the narrative for the curious reader. The story proves to be quick paced and is a mystery that has little downtime as the authorities race against the clock to gather needed evidence. How could an attack on a wealthy gentleman who has no ties to the attacker have played out? What role, if any, did the wife have to the man who came in wielding a golf club? Who was Harry McNamara, away from the headlines he generated because of his profession? All this and more enters the fray in a narrative that flows through short chapters jammed with information. The dedicated reader will surely polish this off quickly, but be left with a wonderful residue as it all comes together, demanding more of Spain’s work in short order.

Kudos, Madam Spain, for a wonderful piece. While it was my first of your novels, it will surely not be the last!

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

Courtney’s War (Courtney #17), by Wilbur Smith and David Churchill

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Wilbur Smith, David Churchill, and Bonnier Zaffre USA for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After a few novels in the Courtney saga proved to be complete duds, I was pleased to see Wilbur Smith team up with David Churchill and returned things to the 20th century, where the series has flourished. In the Spring of 1939, young love is blossoming between Saffron Courtney and Gerhard von Meerbach. Highly educated and politically savvy, both Saffron and Gerhard can feel the tides turning in Europe and anticipate the Nazis will begin their push through Europe, triggering another massive war. After spending time in Paris, these young lovers must part, vowing to find one another as soon as possible. Fast-forward to 1942, where Saffron Courtney is deeply embedded into ‘Baker Street’, a covert group led by a handful of British spies. Her goal will be to infiltrate the National Socialist movement in Belgium and the Netherlands, with hopes of learning Nazi news that can be fed back to the Allies. Meanwhile, Gerhard has become a valuable asset to the Germans, working in the air during the Battle of Stalingrad, shooting down any Russian plane that dares get too close. During one flyover, Gerhard sees some of the atrocities being done to large portions of the Jewish community, only later learning that it is the Final Solution ramping up. Vowing to himself to bring down the Nazis, Gerhard must carefully destroy the political machine without being caught, with a brother who is fully engaged in the Nazi movement and smells a rat. As Saffron returns to the African continent to help build her backstory, she spends some time with family and renews old acquaintances, only to be pulled away and sent to Belgium. Her actions may not be as covert as she hoped, but she can hope to remain one step ahead of the Germans hunting her down. With the War reaching its climax, both Saffron and Gerhard will have to work hard to return Europe to its proper course, though Nazis are ruthless and are happy to scrub out anyone who does not respect the Reich’s power. Brilliant in its delivery and full of wonderful storylines, Smith and Churchill show that this is one saga to which dedicated readers can return with pride. Recommended for those who love the Courtneys in all their glory.

It was a difficult decision to choose this book, having been so disheartened by some of the recent novels in this saga. That said, I had to tell myself that those novels that took things onto the high seas many generations ago were part of a sub-series that never caught my attention. With some of my favourite characters and 20th century history mixed together, I knew that Wilbur Smith (alongside his writing companion, David Churchill) should get the benefit of the doubt. This is a return to the great Courtney stories and the reader should find it easy to glide into the comfort of familiar names (had they read much of the previous novels) while finding the plot riveting and eager to comprehend. Saffron Courtney remains a strong, independent woman who, even though she is madly in love, finds little issue with remaining grounded and able to make snap decisions. She has become a powerhouse character in previous novels and only grows more likeable and independent-minded here. Her tactics will likely have the reader cheering her on as she makes her way through early 1940s Europe in an age where women were still not given their due. Gerhard von Meerbach proves to be as interesting as he is cocky, though some of that is surely a ruse as he hides within the Nazis in order to bring them down. He is strong-willed, as is seen throughout and particularly in the last segment of the book, always hoping that he will be reunited with the woman he loves. While there may be an imbalance in that love between the two characters, the reader can surely feel the connection throughout the parallel plots as they develop. The story itself is strong and uses Second World War history and some of the less familiar angles to keep things from becoming too predictable. Saffron’s seeking to penetrate the Nazis is as intriguing as it is unpredictable, while Gerhard seems more passive in his attempts to weaken the military might for which he fights. The handful of worthwhile secondary characters do well to push the story forward, particularly as to go to either support or suppress our aforementioned protagonists. I can only hope that the reader will see some of the vilification that I did throughout the book, from actual Nazi officers as well as those who support National Socialism in other domains. The narrative kept a good pace, giving the reader action throughout. However, with unnumbered, lengthy chapters, some segments seemed to stretch out without that literary breath that invigorates a stellar story. Let’s be glad the Courtneys are back in fine form.

Kudos, Messrs. Smith and Churchill, for returning the Courtney saga to its rightful place with a strong novel. I can only hope this will continue, as you boasted, Mr. Smith, in your recently published memoir that you loves this series with all your heart.

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

Perfect Silence (DI Callanach #4), by Helen Sarah Fields

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Helen Sarah Fields, and Avon Books UK for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Helen Sarah Fields has been developing this strong police procedural series over the past few years, which mixes some unique characters against the backdrop of some vicious murders that will keep the reader wondering well into the story. When a young woman is discovered murdered, her body dumped like a pile of rubbish, DI Luc Callenach and DCI Ava Turner are understandably concerned. However, when the body is shown to have a doll-like piece of skin carved from both the abdomen and back, things get a little more concerning. Thus begins a panicked search for a killer that Police Scotland can only hope will be brief. When a second woman goes missing, she is seen to have left her baby in a pram. The baby is eventually located, with a raggedly stitched doll of human skin tucked next to her. Callanach and Turner think that this may be the start to a gruesome killing spree and it is only getting started. Meanwhile, there is a new drug on the streets named Spice, which turns its users into zombies, at least for a time. Those in the homeless population are turning up carved with a ‘Z’ on their cheek while under the influence. Turner and the rest of her team are trying to see who might be targeting this vulnerable population, finding a clue that takes them on a goose chase through the richer families of Edinburgh. DCI Turner must not only wrestle with these two cases, but a superior who will stop at nothing to meddle and cut her down. Edinburgh is rocked by these crimes and the killer may be trying to push a religious extermination of their own to cleanse the streets. Fields continues with her stellar writing that will have series fans begging for more. Recommended to those who have been intrigued by the DI Callanach novels to date, as well as those who like a well-paced police procedural that does not lose stream throughout.

While there are many police procedural series on the market today, Helen Sarah Fields has found a way to produce unique stories with a handful of strong characters. Using Edinburgh as an interesting backdrop, the stories exemplify the strength of Police Scotland as they face a number of bone-chilling cases. Fields again turns her focus on DI Luc Callanach and DCI Ava Turner, developing their characters as well as abilities to solve crime. Callanach continues to impress since his move from INTERPOL, showing that he has a strong dedication to the police work required to solve these complex cases. As with the previous novels, Callanach’s struggles with issues in his personal life bleed into the present through a well-paced narrative that highlights these struggles. The series reader will know precisely what is going on and find much interest in how it is handled herein. Turner is forced to continue her struggle with being catapulted up the ranks, where she is now able to oversee the Major Investigations Team (MIT). However, this has led to a number of other issues, including trying to define her relationship with Callanach, who now answers to her, as well as the issues of being put under the microscope by an equally determined Superintendent. Fields effectively shows how Turner seeks to find a balance in a position that is rife with controversial decisions. The story is strong and Fields is able to weave together a powerful crime thriller with clues and dramatic case development peppers amongst the ever-intensifying chapters. These cases are full of dark criminal elements and will surely keep the reader up well into the night. Another strong effort by Fields will keep me reading as long as she has ideas put to paper.

Kudos, Madam Fields, for another wonderful novel in this series. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for your fans.

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

A Long Time Coming, by Aaron Elkins

Seven stars

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

A fan of one particular series Aaron Elkins penned over the years, I was curious to see how one of these standalone novels might work for me. Valentino ‘Val’ Caruso is facing middle-age head on, though life has not dealt him the hand he would have liked. An assistant curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Caruso knows his stuff and makes it his business to ensure the New York art world remains on pace with its European counterparts. When Caruso is approached to help with the return of a few pieces of art confiscated by the Italian Government during the lead-up to the Second World War, he jumps at the opportunity to assist. Mr. Solomon Bezzecca, into his ninetieth year, tells of how he witnessed his great-grandfather lose two early pieces by Renoir, torn from his grasp, including an early self-portrait of the author. Caruso soon learns that the current owner is none other than his old friend and mentor, Ulisse Agnello. After securing a plan with Bezzecca, Caruso travels to Italy to determine what might be done. Armed with the knowledge that the Italian courts rejected Bezzecca’s claims of rightful return, Caruso will use his familiarity with the current owner to find a happy medium. After reaching out to Agnello, Caruso discovers that things are more complicated than they first appear. Pulled into the darker side of the Italian art world, Caruso will not stop until he brings these pieces home to a man who wants nothing more than to set the world right once again. Elkins proves that he is able to write effectively outside his forensic genre and still entertain the reader with his captivating writing. Those who enjoy art and mysteries centred around them will surely find much in this book to their liking.

I first became familiar with Aaron Elkins as the father of modern forensic anthropology mysteries, which proved to be a lighthearted and highly educational binge read a few years ago. I knew he had worked on a few other novels, including a husband-wife series, some of which might have an art flavour to them. However, this was my first venture outside of forensics with Elkins at the helm (admittedly, he adds some in this novel). Val Caruso proves to be an interesting character, with much of his backstories relayed through first-person narrative in the opening chapter. Moving forward, he presents as an intelligent man in the art world but one who bumbles around and appears to fall into the crosshairs of those seeking to stop him from accomplishing his mission. The handful of other characters pepper the narrative and inject their own personality traits to provide the reader with some decent contrasts, some more effective than others. The premise of the novel is decent, tracing back a piece of art that was confiscated from its rightful (?) owner in a world where prices change hourly and the criminal element is always lurking. I found the pace of the story decent, but the plot had so many quick resolutions. The art is there, then it’s gone. A shadow changes in the background, then two bodies are left bleeding and alone. There was also a problem with the first-person narrative, as it allowed Elkins (through Caruso) to offer annoying editorialising and information dropping. I have often read books outside of my area of vast knowledge, but I am forced to stumble through and learn for myself, not be told every minute thing that I may not know in a “look at how much I know and will tell you, reader!”.That being said, it is clear that Elkins knows his stuff and has been able to relay it to the reader effectively. I have come to expect Elkins to be a little ‘bumbly’ and ‘preachy’, though it has slightly skewed my enjoyment of this novel.

Kudos, Mr. Elkins, for a decent novel. I know many have lauded your praise and I see much that I enjoyed in this piece. At this stage in your life and career, I suppose it’s best to roll with the punches from reviewers like me.

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

Bloody Sunday (Dewey Andreas #8), by Ben Coes

Nine stars

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

A fan of Ben Coes, I could not wait to get my hands on this latest Dewey Andreas thriller, which did not fall short in any way. After some of Dewey’s most harrowing experiences, he is ready to hang-up his gun and check out. The events surrounding the murder of his wife have proven to be too much for him and he dreams of nothing but life in the countryside. Trouble is, no one else seems to have that same dream for Dewey and hope he has a little more juice inside to run a few more ‘essential’ missions. When MI6 sends a top mission architect to the CIA, Jenna Hartford is somewhat bitter, but willing to try things on the other side of the Pond. Significant intel shows that the North Koreans have been stirring up the pot in the region with their nuclear testing and have a covert meeting planned in Macau with the Iranians. What these two American foes have to say and what plans might come for this remains unknown, but Hartford has an idea about how to extract it. Dewey is the key to its success, though he remains fixated on life after the Agency. A singlet persuasive chat changes his mind, if only for a time, and he agrees to make his way to the ‘Asian Las Vegas’, where the highest-ranking North Korean General awaits. While trying to execute a plan to force the news from the lips of the General, Dewey is struck with the same weapon and has only a short time to counteract the measure. The CIA learns a snippet of what North Korea has in store and it is nothing short of disaster, in a strike codenamed ‘Bloody Sunday’. Now, Dewey must try to stay alive and save himself before he can turn his attention to America, all while infiltrating the North Korean border, where spies and traitors are killed before breakfast. All eyes are on Dewey, as the countdown clock reaches its perilous final moments. Coes has done it again and brilliantly entertains readers in this fast-paced thriller sure to impress. Recommended for those who love the series and readers who cannot get enough political thrillers with an espionage twist.

I always look forward to a Ben Coes thriller, as I never know what to expect. Full of political and spy-based branch-offs, Coes always injects just the right amount of dry wit and suspense to keep me coming back. In the early stages of the book, the reader sees some interesting happenings inside North Korea and a flame lit under its dictator with a plan to finally strike on US soil. Counter that with Dewey Andreas, who is hellbent on avenging the life of his wife, and the story could not get more intense if it tried. Andreas has long be a rogue character, none more than at this point in time. He is fuelled by revenge and wants nothing more than to strike at the heart of those who have wronged him. However, he still has a little something left in him and Coes portrays his protagonist as being steel-willed to the very end, making moves that few could expect to work. The introduction of Jenna Hartford has its own interesting spins, though the reader will have to take the time to see what Coes has in store for her. She is surely an interesting addition to to series and, should she remain, could prove interesting. The handful of secondary characters add flavour to an already spicy novel and allows the reader to feel in the middle of the action. The story is great, though the nuclear threat is by no means a new theme in the genre. However, Coes goes about it in a wonderful manner and portrays both the North Koreans and Americans in a light I have not seen. The intensity of the narrative and the action build within it to reach the climax is wonderful and keeps the reader guessing and hoping. As an unrelated aside, those who have read the short story that Coes released ahead of this novel, Shooting Gallery, may notice that this novel (#8), actually precedes the short story (labelled as #7.5) from a chronological point of view. Both stories run independently to one another, so there is no risk of spoilers, but I did notice that early on and promised to put it into my review. There is never a lack of excitement when Coes at the wheel and I can only hope that more novels are in the works, even with a different character base after the North Korean fallout.

Kudos, Mr. Coes, for a stunning addition to the series. I am addicted and cannot wait to see what else you have in store for your fans.

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