Deep Fake, by Ward Larsen

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ward Larsen, and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

New to the world of Ward Larsen, I was eager to see how this political thriller would sit with me. Larsen has a wonderful style of writing and ability to inject political flavouring into the text that left me able to see what was going on, while also witnessing some of the ‘new Cold War’ themes he wishes to put forward. The curious reader will surely enjoy the approach and the ease with which the plot develops. Ward Larsen is yet another author I need to add to my radar, as this was a wonderful first impression.

The Ridgeway household has been through a great deal of change over the last number of years. Bryce was a long-serving soldier in the Army, making his mark on superiors and earning a number of commendations before he was injured and sent back home. Thereafter, he agreed to run for Congress, easily winning a set in the House. His wife, Sarah, has always been the dutiful spouse, but secretly has wanted something a lot simpler. This is stymied when Bryce foils a terrorist plot at a Republican fundraiser and becomes a household name in an instant. Bryce Ridgeway is not only a hero, but may be the GOP’s answer for the upcoming presidential election. Bryce is not certain, neither is Sarah, yet both agree to let fate take them where it will.

With a weak incumbent, the race is on and Bryce seems to be the easy choice to secure the nomination and a spot in the White House. However, Sarah begins to feel something is off about her husband and the campaign in general. His memory loss is worse than it ever was when he returned home after his injury and Bryce appears to be acting even more strangely than usual. Sarah seeks some advice from a friend with connections to research and surveillance, opening up a private investigation into Bryce Ridgeway, candidate for US President.

Soon, Sarah comes to realise that her fears may not have been that far off, as Bryce’s actions are completely unlike the man she married. Sarah will stop at nothing to get to the truth, even as those around her try to dismiss her claims. But there is more to the story than this, as a group of Russians hiding in the shadows are watching their plan unfold and the future of the United States crumble, one day at a time. They must ensure solidarity to the cause, which means silencing anyone who could spoil things. Sarah Ridgeway might be their greatest hurdle, but with her bombastic comments, she’s sure to be laughed out of any situation she faces. Still… one can never be too careful. A chilling story by Ward Larsen that had me wondering if this could happen with ease, even more subtlety than the Trump ‘puppet of Russia’ scenario.

I enjoy a well-crafted political thriller as much as the next person, but there has to be an element of reality to hold my attention. While Ward Larsen’s story does appear to have a fanciful element on its surface, reading the book proves just how subtly the actions could be to have ultimate success. Larsen builds his story with ease and keeps the reader guessing until the final piece falls into place. I was hooked and could not stop myself from binge reading, just to see how things would play out. Truly a sign of a great writer who knows his stuff.

With a strong narrative flow, the story builds in all the right places and keeps the reader wanting more. Momentum develops throughout and keeps the reader riding the wave, with strong characters who offer side-stories and flavouring the main themes. Plot twists are key to this piece and Larsen knows just when the develop them and how to tease the reader. While I did not enjoy the original story about which this book is surely based, I can see how Ward Larsen has adapted it to make it work and proves the new Cold War could be even more troubling.

Kudos, Mr. Larsen, for such a great novel. I can only hope that other novels you have penned are just as intriguing.

Sea Castle (Underwater Investigation Unit #4), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

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

Andrew Mayne returns with his somewhat unique series, set in the heart of Florida. Using a forensic diver as his protagonist, Mayne is able to tackle a different angle to most crime thrillers I have read, while keeping the reader intrigued until the final page turn. Adding some serial murder and cult-like behaviour, Mayne shows that he has all the ingredients for a great novel, sure to keep the reader enthused.

Sloan McPherson has made quite a name for herself in Fort Lauderdale as a member of the Underwater Investigation Unit’s forensic diver. When the body of a young woman’s body is found along the shoreline, Sloan immediately presumes it’s murder, while others ponder the possibility that she might have committed suicide. The clues do not make sense and Sloan is baffled as to what she is seeing in front of her.

Sloan begins poking around, but she is stonewalled by the authorities, as they are sure this was a simple miscalculation by a novice swimmer. Enter Gwen Wylder, who is quite rough around the edges and an outcast with the Miami Police. Wylder is happy to help Sloan, but for a price. Sloan must help by offering her own insight into some cold-cases that Wylder has been amassing, all part of what could be a serial killer who has been conniving while they traipse across Florida without detection.

As Sloan soon sees, her victim fits perfectly into the larger case study and there is proof that a killer could be travelling across the state, killing young women. Another woman goes missing, leaving Sloan and Wylder to race out so they can stop a killer from striking again. As things get more intense, both women find themselves involved in something they could not have expected, where they are not able to extricate themselves with ease. Mayne creates an intense story and keeps the reader hooked with some of his unique perspectives throughout.

It was the first book in this series that alerted me to the work of Andrew Mayne. Since then, I have not been able to get enough, having devoured a few of his series, while always remaining in awe. Mayne knows what he’s doing and keeps things fresh, unique, and on point. Whenever I see a new publication of his, I cannot help but rush to get it, knowing that it will be a stellar piece of writing.

Mayne develops his narrative in such a way that the reader wants to learn more. He knows how to present a tale that balances the criminal element with some strong backstory, all of which is essential to the final product. Great characters, some of whom build their development throughout the novel, provide the reader with some entertainment as they continue with the journey. The forensic perspective, mixed with the plot development, offer something unique, though this book steered away from underwater exploration and more to the chase for a killer. While this is not as enticing as some of the earlier novels, Mayne is still able to keep the reader in the know and dazzle with his writing style!

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for another great piece of writing!

Alligator Alley (Joe DeMarco #16), by Mike Lawson

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mike Lawson, and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Mike Lawson returns with another stellar Joe DeMarco novel, allowing the ‘Bagman of Congress’ to expand his investigative wings down in the Florida Everglades. Lawson provides his protagonist with a difficultly case, trying partner, and intense moments of action throughout, sure to impress the reader. Lawson provides an entertaining backdrop in this sixteenth novel in the series, proving that the DeMarco momentum has not waned one iota.

After a young employee of the Department of Justice’s Inspector General’s Office is found murdered in the Florida Everglades, suspicion surrounding her murderer is high. Young Andie Moore had been following two FBI agents who were tasked with investigating Medicare fraud, but the case had gone sideways for no apparent reason. When Joe Demarco, a bagman for the Speaker of the House of Representatives, is sent to Florida to look into it, things take an interesting turn. DeMarco is not alone and his partner is surely not someone who enjoys taking second chair.

Working alongside the gritty Emma, DeMarco helps to explore the FBI agent angle, though these two are as tight lipped as they come. Still, Demarco and Emma think that there’s more to the story than simply two buffoons wanting their payday for screwing up the case. Emma has contacts all her own and calls on them to help with some of the digital and forensic know-how, which opens new perspectives. Trolling the crime scene in the Everglades, known to locals as Alligator Alley, Emma and DeMarco find some key evidence that shows that the kickback plot is a little more complex than first presumed.

With the apparent leader of the group proves elusive, DeMarco and Emma will have to work quickly and diligently to nail down the killer and ensure that Andie Moore did not die in vain. DeMarco will discover a few new things about himself and how to work alongside the rigid Emma, who has little time for any of his shenanigans. Mike Lawson keeps things strong and uses his abilities to impress the reader once more.

Since discovering the work of Mike Lawson, I have never failed to be impressed by all he adds to his stories to keep them on point. While the political aspect is secondary, it offers some interesting backstory to the larger narrative. Lawson has a great writing style and keeps his pieces moving at a quick pace, entertaining the reader from the opening pages.

With a strong narrative that does not rest for a moment, Mike Lawson lures the reader in from the opening pages. Strong criminal storylines provide something intriguing for the reader, while adding some humour at just the right moments. Great characters who add their own flavouring help Lawson move the story along with ease. A few plot lines fuel the story’s underlying greatness without impacting the momentum the narrative offers. While DeMarco is never doing the same thing, the continuity is there and series fans can be assured of a stellar piece of writing. Lawson is to be applauded and I am eager to see where things are headed next.

Kudos, Mr. Lawson, for a wonderful addition to the series, You never fail to impress.

The Drift, by C.J. Tudor

Seven stars

Having read a number of novels by C.J. Tudor, I gladly accepted this ARC. The dust jacket blurb intrigued me, pulling three stories together into a single novel, forcing the reader to tug at threads to put together an impactful story that is full of chills and thrills. Tudor focuses on the darker side in her narrative, but is able to entertain the reader with ease, keeping them flipping pages as the plot thickens.

Waking up to significant chaos, Hannah finds herself surrounded by blood and glass. The bus on which she was travelling crashed during a snowstorm while leaving her secluded boarding school. She’s trapped inside with a few survivors, an unknown virus, and no way to reach out for help. Deciphering that they will have to work together or face the reality of perishing with the others, Hannah rallies the troops, while trying to keep the secret The Retreat has from the outside world.

In the same snowstorm, Meg awakens, dangling in a cable car. As a former detective, her instincts are strong and Meg is sure something is off. With a number of strangers around her and one dead body in the cable car, Meg is unsure what’s going on. All she can remember is that she was on her way to The Retreat. Noticing a familiar face amongst the strangers, Meg begins piecing it all together, and it’s anything but good news.

Carter is safe from the blizzard in an abandoned chalet, spending time with his friends. They are working on a life-changing vaccine and trying to stay alive long enough to ship it out. With the power going out intermittently and the generator on the fritz, nothing seems certain. A shadowy appearance in the depths of the chalet could mean something nefarious awaits anyone who strays too far from the group. When all sources of power fizzle out, only the strongest will survive, but is Carter one of them?

All three of these storylines come together in unexpected ways to create the larger narrative that is this novel, where working together becomes essential and may be the only way for the truth to come out. A chilling piece by a master of the genre, C.J. Tudor shakes the reader to their core with this novel, sure to be the talk of the winter season!

I have come to expect a great deal from C.J. Tudor, though I am never sure what awaits me when I start one of her books. The ideas are unique and the approaches even more so. Tudor offers readers some crumbs and then leads them on quite the adventure, where the end result is anything but clear.

C.J. Tudor has a wonderful way of building up the narrative with plenty of detail and intense description. The story comes to life, though the reader remains slightly confused as the story opens on three independent fronts. As things progress, there are small bits that connect each storyline, with key characters in each setting making themselves known. By then the plot as been developing and keeping the reader guessing, which serves to bind all three narratives together. The momentum is unstoppable by this point, as is the falling snow, which adds an eerie sense to it as well, keeping the reader completely at Tudor’s whim. While I struggled with parts of the development, I can see what Tudor was hoping to offer readers as the story’s perspective became clear.

Kudos, Madam Tudor, for another unique success. Keep them coming!

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.
https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/the-drift-2/

Exiles (Aaron Falk #3), by Jane Harper

Eight stars

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

Jane Harper is back with another thrilling police procedural featuring Aaron Falk. In story full of emotion and tense revelations, Harper strikes a chord for many readers and offers a sensational piece that is sure to entertain. Harper has kept me enthralled with all three novels in the Aaron Falk series and this is likely her best. Eager to see what Harper has on the agenda next, I hope this novel impresses other series fans and those who enjoy something with a great Australian flavouring.

A young baby is found on the grounds of a local festival in rural Australia. Her mother, Kim Gillespie, is nowhere to be found. While the baby is safe, it is the complete vanishing act has everyone baffled. People speculate, but this does not help in the search for Kim or strengthen the foundation that is a motive to abandon a little one.

A year later, plans for the baby’s christening coincide with an updated plea for news about Kim, who remains at large. Federal Investigator, Aaron Falk, is part of the group that has gathered, hoping that he can find a clue as to where Kim might have gone. While Falk hopes to work with the family, he notices things are not as bucolic as they first appeared in this small Australian community.

While things are slow to prove fruitful, Falk refuses to dismiss the gut reaction he has about Kim Gillespie and her disappearance. He discovers more about her past and how she was treated as a teen, particularly around the festival that is playing out around them. What demons lurk in the shadows and might they explain Kim’s disappearance? Falk will stop at nothing in his own policing style to get answers and bring news to those who need it most. With flashbacks that cover a variety of time periods essential to the story’s foundation, this is perhaps Harper’s best Falk Nobel to date. I am eager to see what other series fans think and how Harper will build things from here.

While there are many authors who have been successful in the police procedural genre, those who differentiate themselves have earned by additional praise. I have enjoyed Jane Harper’s Aaron Falk series from the start and can only hope others echo this sentiment. The writing is strong and has a great “Aussie flavour” that never gets tiring. While I appreciate Harper’s stand-alones as well, it is this series that always impressed me most.

Kudos, Madam Harper, for a great read with moments of quaintness amongst the heightened drama.

What Lies in the Woods, by Kate Alice Marshall

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Kate Alice Marshall, and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

New to the world of Kate Alice Marshall, I reached for this ARC in hopes of finding a new author with whom I can connect. Marshall’s eerie story pulled me in from the opening pages and I did not want to let go until all was revealed. An intense thriller that leave the reader wondering if all is as it seems until much is revealed with reorganised memories. Impactful and well worth my time, Kate Alice Marshall is an author worth noting.

Naomi Shaw had a magical childhood, which culminated in the summer of her eleventh year. It was then that she and her two best friends, Cassidy and Olivia, played in the woods, creating a magical game all their own. It was also that summer when Naomi was attacked and almost killed, leading to the capture of a serial killer who had been racking up victims for a significant time. Naomi, a victim in her own right, testified and put the killer away, making her a hero and one who always fought the limelight, even when she did not want it.

It was two decades later that Naomi received a call that the man who had attacked her was dead. Finally she could breathe a sigh of relief, though changing her name had already helped with that. Naomi returns to her hometown to tie off some of the loose ends, particularly with Cassidy and Olivia. However, the suddenly apparent suicide of Olivia with a note apologising for being a ‘part of the lies’ turns the tables on everything from that summer twenty years ago. Might the girls have used their young age and the wave of publicity around the serial killer to point the finger at the wrong man?

As the truth comes crashing down on Naomi, she must relive the past and piece things together in the correct order, no matter how painful it might be. Chilling as it seems, the truth must come out, but Naomi wants to be in charge of its dissemination, as it will surely tarnish her image. However, a man has died in prison who might have been innocent of all crimes, as three girls lapped up the stardom their victimhood brought along with it. Marshall tells an electrifying story and keeps the reader in the centre of things as they come to fruition.

New authors can be a joy to a reader who has experience in specific genre. Well-paced stories that attract attention with ease make for an exciting adventure and leaves readers thirsting for more. Kate Alice Marshall did that for me, introducing her writing in such a way that it is hard to stop once the momentum takes over.

A strong narrative is at the heart of the reading experience, keeping me hooked from the opening page. The premise, a young girl captured and almost killed, had me wanting to know more, even as the narrative was slow to reveal truths. Building with decent characters, all of whom had a story of their own, as well as flashback moments that fill in the blanks, I kept wanting to learn a little more. A plot that never stayed clearly pointed in one direction had me hoping to get to the truth, while perceived reality dominated. Marshall has me wanting to read more of her work, as soon as I can get my hands on it, as this was one thriller that will stay with me for a while.

Kudos, Madam Marshall, for leaving that indelible mark and making me want to get deeper into your writing. I can only hope there is more to come, as this was a reading experience I will be sharing with others.

The Devil You Know (Detective Margaret Nolan #3), by P.J. Tracy

Seven stars

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

Long a fan of P.J. Tracy and their work (from the era when it was a duo and now a single author), I have followed things from the Monkeewrench series to this new collection. While things have proven to be less impactful for me, the stories remain strong and have the needed spark to attract many readers. Full of action and set on the West Coast, Tracy keeps the reader guessing in this unique police procedural that has subtle undertones of personal struggle. Tracy has done well as a single author, though I do miss the duo that had my rapt attention with every turn of the page.

LAPD Detective Margaret Nolan is back with a new case that takes her into all aspects of the city’s citizenry, including the stars who feel that they are untouchable. While the every day citizen toils and the dark underbelly use crime to get by, there is a privilege the rich feel they have, and Nolan sees this first hand. She’s also forced to contend with her own issues, which might pale in comparison, but are still prevalent as she does her job each day.

Prominent actor Evan Hobbes turns up dead in the rubble of a recent rockslide. Shouldering accusations of child pornography kept Hobbes from being able to live his best life, but Detective Nolan thinks that there might have been more than a rockslide involved in his death. The world of the entitled makes Nolan’s job all the more difficult, parsing through truth and deception. Still, Detective Nolan is determined to get to the bottom of what’s happened and who might have wanted to smear Hobbes’ name.

When another body turns up, with strong connections to Hobbes, Detective Nolan is all but assured that there is a killer on the loose; someone with an axe to grind and message to deliver. Detective Nolan will have to work with her team to get to the bottom of what’s happening, all while she tries to deflect the gleam of riches and entitlement that stardom leaves in its wake. With a killer hiding, Detective Nolan knows that this will be a challenge, but when has she ever shied way from it? A great addition to the series!

Authors surely undergo a transformation for a number of reasons, be they personal changes or writing styles. P.J. Tracy is one of those authors, moving from a strong mother-daughter duo into the daughter alone after the death of the elder. I have seen a significant change in the writing, which is to be expected. I have not been able to connect as much with this new series, but it could simply be that my writing tastes have shifted as well. Still, this is a series that has a great deal of potential and should attract the attention of many readers.

The key to a strong police procedural is to keep the crime at the centre of the narrative and build from there. P.J. Tracy does that well, adding her own flavouring with characters and setting development. Plot twists throughout keep the reader guessing, which permits things to be less than predictive. I appreciated this, as well as shorter chapters, which propelled the story forward. While I did not feel as connected to the story, I can appreciate how some would find this to be their perfect reading experience.

Kudos, Madam Tracy, for a decent novel that is sure to impress many, even if it was not something about which I can rave.

Devil’s Way (Kate Marshall #4), by Robert Bryndza

Eight stars

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

Always eager to get my hands on novels by Robert Bryndza, I reached for this ARC in the Kate Marshall series. Pushing the limits of private investigation, Kate and her associate delve into some of the seedier cases across the UK, only to discover how past secrets can emerge and haunt those who hoped they would stay buried. Bryndza spins quite the tale here, pulling the reader into the middle of it all with an impactful novel.

After a freak swimming accident leaves Kate Marshall hospitalised, she has a great deal of time on her hands. Some of that time is spent speaking to her roommate, who recounts the horror of her missing grandson. Charlie Julings disappeared during a family camping trip eleven years earlier. Kate, in a moment of medicated curiosity, agrees to take the case, working with her associate, Tristan. How could a little boy disappear into thin air?

After trolling the area and determining that Charlie did not fall into the raging river close by, at least by police investigative notes, Kate and Tristan must look elsewhere for more information. When Kate learns that a social worker who had been looking into Charlie’s well-being was brutally murdered two weeks after the disappearance, the case takes on a new level of interest.

Could Charlie still be alive? Is someone harbouring a deep secret that cannot get out? With the help of a few others, Kate and Tristan begin piecing things together, in hopes of bringing some peace to a family that has been on the edge for over a decade. Bryndza does a masterful job spinning this tale, keeping the reader wondering until the very end.

I have come to expect great things from Robert Bryndza when reading his novels, as he has impressed me so much in the past. Crime procedurals that pack a punch and leave things slightly off-kilter, these novels never fail to leave a lasting impression. Great narrative approaches help shape the story and propel it along, with a few twits to keep the reader from feeling too comfortable along the way.

Both of Bryndza’s crime thriller series had the advantage of a strong narrative foundation, keeping though moving and forcing the reader to pay close attention. Bryndza weaves his story through the narrative, which encapsulates the intensity of the moment, while adding characters who flavour things for the reader’s enjoyment. Plot twists abound, as does the necessary character development, leaving readers feeling a sense of comfort and discomfort in the same breath. I have long enjoyed the work of Robert Bryndza and this was no exception. I only hope that there is more to come, as Kate Marshall is one character who remains somewhat of a mystery to me.

Kudos, Mr. Bryndza, for another winner!

All the Dangerous Things, by Stacy Willingham

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Stacy Willingham and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Back with a new and intense novel, Stacy Willingham presents readers with something chilling. A story that has multiple layers and an eerie resonance the more that is revealed, Willingham dazzles and keeps the reader gasping. Well-paced and full of twists, this is one story that will have to be absorbed attentively, as pieces subtlety fall into place as the narrative crescendos. A great addition to a genre that has been gathering momentum over the past few years!

It’s been a year since Isabelle Drake had her worst fears realised. Her young son, Mason, was taken from his crib in the middle of the night while the rest of the house slept. Since then, Isabelle has been trying to find him and attending true crime symposiums to pass along the news. Isabelle has turned into a raging insomniac, vowing that she will sleep only when Mason is safely returned to her.

The disappearance causes strains in her marriage, as well as accentuating a number of memories from her past, when Isabelle’s childhood sleepwalking was at its worst. Isabelle struggles with these memories as well as the possibility that she may have unwittingly harmed Mason.

If that were not enough, Isabelle tries to juggle her estranged husband’s actions, as well as a crime blogger who wants to know more about what happened. The pressure is enough to make anyone crack, though Isabelle must be keep a facade of calmness to ensure no one suspects anything. An intense thriller that Stacy Willingham as created, sure to impress many readers, to at least keep them flipping well into the night.

I discovered Stacy Willingham through her debut novel a number of months ago. Her work is both chilling and well-paced, making me want to explore more and dig a little deeper within the narrative. With strong characters who accentuate a decent plot, the story moves along well and keeps the reader guessing. Quick chapters help push things along, though there are enough twists to also whet the appetite of the hungry reader. Not to be missed and proof that Willingham keeps getting better!

A story needs direction in order to succeed for me. I found Willingham to have all the needed elements to develop a strong story from the outset. The narrative direction is strong and keeps the reader wanting to know more, as does the handful of strong characters, all of whom have a purpose throughout the piece. Chapters serve as teasers and make things move well, without getting in the way of the momentum. I like Willingham’s style and found her delivery to be on point throughout. I’m eager to see what else she has in store for fans in the coming months.

Kudos, Madam Willingham, for an entertaining read. Keep the publications coming.

The Nazi Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Brad Meltzer, Josh Mensch, and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

A longtime fan of Brad Meltzer’s writing, I have come to also admire his collaborative work with Josh Mensch. Together, these two pen stellar pieces of ‘little known’ history that allow the reader to feel refreshed when reading about topics that have sometimes been overdone. Meltzer and Mensch explore a unique angle of the Second World War, as well as a plot that would have changed the world significantly. Eager to wrap my head around this piece, I devoured the book and was left to wonder ‘what if…’ on numerous occasions.

After a tumultuous few years in the Second World War, US President Franklin Roosevelt is looking forward to meeting with this two greatest allies, Winston Churchill (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) and Joseph Stalin (leader of the USSR). While these three men have been juggling the war on two major fronts, they have yet to sit down as a group of three to plot out how to exterminate Hitler and the Nazis. Secret discussions determine that Tehran, Iran would be the ideal place for these three to meet and hash out a plan to neutralise Germany before any other Axis powers can come to their aid.

While planning remained covert, the Nazis had a stellar spy network that leaked the information back to the highest level within the Party. Hitler and his closest associates thought it best to plot something so nefarious that it would not only show his might, but also resonate deeply, while crippling the war effort. Hitler thought it best to use German soldiers to infiltrate the Tehran meeting and assassinate all three men, thereby turning the tables on a growing Allied effort in 1943. Hitler would expect nothing less than success. While the end result was anything but spectacular for the Nazis, Meltzer and Mensch posit that the entire plan could have been a Russian piece of war folklore.

The authors take the reader through the build-up to this remarkable summit, as well as the Nazi planning to kill all three leaders. Paced with wonderful anecdotes, asides, and a great narrative, Meltzer and Mensch offer the reader a new look into a very documented period in world history. While I vowed not to read anything set during the Second World War—mostly because I was tired of hearing about Nazi death camps and Hitler marching across Europe—I was happy to read this piece and learn a great deal as I devoured the text.

Meltzer and Mensch have worked together before and impressed me with their efforts. Taking a little known event and turning it into a great piece of writing proved helpful yet agin. From the inside look at all four sides (US, UK, USSR, and German), as well as some of the cultural aspects to a summit in Iran, the authors provided an impactful piece that is sure to garner a great deal of attention. I am pleased I took the gamble and am happy to see Brad Meltzer keeping his avenues open with a variety of writing projects geared towards different audiences. Well worth the effort, particularly with Scott Brick as narrator for those who listen to the audiobook.

Kudos, Messrs. Meltzer and Mensch, for a stunning look at history through a unique lens. I am eager to see what other projects you two have in the works.

The White House Plumbers: The Seven Weeks That Led to Watergate and Doomed Nixon’s Presidency, by Egil ‘Bud’ Krogh and Matthew Krogh

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Egil ‘Bud’ Krogh, Matthew Krogh, MacMillan Audio, and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

As an avid history buff, I was eager to get my hands on this book about the White House Plumbers. While I have read a great deal about Watergate, never have I taken the time to explore anything written by those men who were involved in the break-ins that would one day bring down a sitting US president. Egil ‘Bud’ Krogh and his son, Matthew, tell a great story in a handful of chapters, explaining how Nixon became paranoid about national security, which snowballed into worry about the Democratic Party leading up to the 1972 general election.

It was the summer of 1971 when Egil ‘Bud’ Krogh found himself sitting in a top-secret meeting within the White House. While Krogh expected to be talking about some part of the Vietnam War, things soon took a turn. President Nixon was highly worried about the leaking of the Pentagon Papers, a covert history of the war in Vietnam. Krogh was handed a file and tasked with heading up the Special Investigations Union—SIU—nicknamed ‘The Plumbers’. Their job would be to find the leak and plug it once and for all. This began a series of events that Bug Krogh would never forget.

Fuelled by a dedication to his country and president, Krogh blindly followed the direction of those above him as he sought to find proof of the security leak. The primary goal was to sully the name of Daniel Ellsberg, presumed to be the core of the leak and a potential Soviet spy. Working to do whatever was asked of him, even when it was highly illegal, Krogh began by organising a break in at the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, in hopes of finding damning evidence. These steps would one day bring down Nixon’s presidency and leave an indelible mark on the country for decades.

After committing this crime, Krogh left the SIU and chose to work within the Administration, lying when called upon to testify during the Watergate hearings. When the truth about his involvement surfaced, Krogh pled guilty to his actions shedding some unique light on what happened during those late night meetings and just who gave the orders, as well as who knew what was happening at any one time. His frankness and eagerness to tell all is both intriguing and resonates just how corrupt the Nixon inner circle turned out to be.

Exploring his attempts to put his life back together after time in prison, Bud Krogh explains his meetings with Nixon in 1974-75, as well as trying to regain his ability to practice law. While it was a superficial exploration, the reader can take something away they likely did not know.

Having now died, Bud Krogh’s story went with him to the grave, but this written account helps shed some light on the actors long deemed guilty, even if they deflected any responsibility at the time. While short and somewhat crafted as a primer, it was a refreshing look at Watergate, the role of paranoia in the early 1970s, and how Richard Nixon’s intoxication with power proved to be his downfall.

While this was not a stunning publication, full of revelations and finger-pointing towards new and mysterious actions in the Waterhouse debacle, it was still worth my time. Bud Krogh provides some blunt admissions and interesting insider views from 1971 and 1972, particularly related to illegal break-ins that Nixon could use for his own power games. Using short chapters and a clear narrative, Krogh presents eye-opening tales of events, naming names and eagerly explaining just what happened. His views, while surely tainted from years passing between the events and this publication, prove forthright and well worth the reader’s time. Surely a way to ‘ease one’s conscience’ before death, Bud Krogh was able to leave this world with a clean slate and likely allowed Matthew to see what happened when the younger Krogh was just a child. Short and to the point, the read was swift and a decent piece of writing, but lacked the depth and intensity I had hoped I would find with a piece of this nature.

Kudos, Messrs. Krogh, for this piece. While little was shocking, the entertainment value that emerged while reading and piecing things together proved well worth my time.

The Jeffersonians: The Visionary Presidencies of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, by Kevin R.C. Gutzman

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Kevin R.C. Gutzman, 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 the early years of the American Republic, the Founding Fathers sought to craft the foundation of the country, then lead it in their own image. Once Washington had laid some of the essential groundwork, it fell to a few men to build on it and create a strong nation. Kevin Gutzman explores three of these men throughout their presidential tenure: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. Gutzman argues that they were intertwined under the ‘Jeffersonian’ umbrella, while still being independent from one another. Gutzman presents, in detail, their respective presidencies, which occurred consecutively, thereby creating an era of government, legal precedents, and development of a country from its thirteen colonies into a geographic juggernaut. Full of anecdotes and well-placed arguments, Gutzman does a stellar job of connecting these three men together for the reader.

While all were strong political allies, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe had different outlooks for the country they helped develop. As Gutzman opens the tome exploring the presidency of Jefferson, there is a strong view towards setting the scene and building on core values the country had developed under Washington, while also exploring some of the newer ideas that came to the surface. Many of the constitutional questions that shaped a more modern America came from the Jefferson period, as interpretation of laws and the foundational rules of the country were being hashed out and challenged. Jefferson was also keen to create a mark on the international scene, using his ambassadors to form pathways for the still youthful country seeking to stand on its own. Gutzman effectively shows how Jefferson mandated this and made the country one that Washington would have been happy to see still progressing.

James Madison took up the torch when Jefferson, eager to create the two-term precedent that Washington began, stood down for new blood to take over governing. Madison’s impact was to keep trying to fill Jefferson’s shoes and keep the country on track, while also being faced with the first major international crisis to befall the country, a war with the British. Madison had to develop keen leadership skills and rely on many of his military men to keep America ready for any attack, and to fend off a reverting back to British control. Gutzman shows that the battles of the War of 1812 were hard fought and Madison was not one to get into the fray, but he valued the importance of America remaining independent and ready for whatever was tossed its way. Building on the Jefferson presidency, Madison sought to push America out of its infancy and into rugged adulthood, where it could grow and prove its prowess.

James Monroe was a leader who looked back as much as he did ahead, trying to keep the momentum going without losing much of what’s his predecessors forged for him. A man of great intellect, but not as gritty as the others, Monroe held his head high and focussed his attention to ensure that the work Jefferson and Madison did was not lost. Gutzman shows him to be the less impactful of the three men, but still trying to keep things running effectively and helping to shape Jeffersonian policies to keep Congress working effectively and with a detailed purpose. Gutzman shows how Monroe used the life lessons from his predecessors to shape America into the power that it would be moving towards its most tumultuous years. Monroe did all he could to keep things steady, without toppling too many apple carts along the way.

While the book was well written and full of formidable themes, there was a huge amount to digest. The history and the day-to-day exploration of things in a detailed narrative could, for some, get to be too much. Kevin Gutzman does well to leave the reader feeling as though they are a part of the action, but there is just so much going on that it can be overwhelming. While this is not an academic tome, its detail and analysis could keep only the most dedicated readers holding on. I was so pleased to be able to pluck something from each chapter, which helped me see how things are interconnected. The theme of three independent men directing the country through their respective presidencies is a stellar undertaking and Gutzman easily argues that this occurred. However, the names and places, as well as historic events, proved a great deal, as I sought to synthesis all that I read. Thankfully, he uses relatively short chapters, permitting the reader to launch themselves through the tome with relative ease, should their interest persist. I would gladly explore some of Gutzman’s other works to see if I can take more away from them, but I cannot say enough about this tome and the effort invested in it to give the reader something about which they can feel highly educated by the end of the reading experience.

Kudos, Mr. Gutzman, for piece of historical writing that left me hungry for more, even though I needed to pace myself to absorb it all.

Murder by Definition (42nd Street Library Mystery #4), by Con Lehane

Seven stars

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

Always eager to read another of Con Lehane’s stories, I reached for this ARC, hoping it would be as exciting as some of the other novels in the series. Using New York’s 42 Street Library as a backdrop, Lehane weaves a mystery that is full of action and even some simple moments of book loving to provide the reader with something well worth their time. Unique and to the point, Lehane does well to keep things interesting throughout and provide readers more to ponder when it comes to protagonist Raymond Ambler.

Raymond Ambler loves is job as the crime-fiction curator within the prestigious 42 Street Library in New York City, but is always looking for a new edge. When approached by Will Ford, a rough around the edges writer with some critical acclaim, the discussion turns to Ford’s old manuscripts. While the author is known for his gritty writing, he also has a history of womanizing that has left many with a sour taste in their mouths. However, as Ambler soon discovers, Ford has penned a controversial short story that has more fact than fiction to it, including talk of a cop who’s covered up a murder they committed. No wonder Ford does not want this story to see the light of day.

As Ambler tries to discover the truth behind the story, he trips upon a handful of cops who may not want the truth coming out either. Ford has taken too many liberties and might reveal some of the darkest parts of New York’s underbelly, painting cops and criminals with the same brush. The more Ambler pushes, the more is revealed, before Ford is eventually shot and killed. Was he silenced as revenge or so that he cannot tell anyone else of his escapades?

As Ambler rushes to get to the truth, he convinces his long time friend, Mike Cosgrove, to help, Cosgrove, a former NYPD detective, is reluctant, but feels that there is something to the investigation. Together they turn over some rocks, only to learn that some things are best left in the dark. Ambler soon feels he has put himself in even more danger and risks the happiness he is building in his personal life. With some family matters of his own to digest, Ambler will have to play his cards right or end up with a bullet in his own head for his amateur sleuthing. Lehane keeps the series alive with this latest piece, sure to pique the interest of many.

The debut novel in this series fell into my lap a yew years ago and I was eager to see where things might go. Lehane paints a great picture while using the somewhat bucolic backdrop of the library as an odd setting. Mixing a library with murder might seem odd, but it works and Lehane has done well to keep Raymond Ambler in the heart of the action, while also passing in some personal foibles to show his bumbling nature. I am eager to see where things are headed, as there is never a clear path put out for the reader, even with a cliffhanger in the final chapter here.

Lehane tells his stories in a quick paced manner, while also adding some meandering for good measure. Sure to impress some readers, the narrative moves along at a steady pace and provides the reader with something they can follow with ease. Great characters and some well-placed plot twists keeps the reader from getting too comfortable, as things prove highly intense by the latter half of the novel. With more to come, I am eager to discover Lehane’s plan for both the series and Raymond Ambler’s personal situation. I suppose I will have to wait a but but hopefully not too long.

Kudos, Mr. Lehane, for keeping me guessing throughout this one! I cannot wait to see what you have coming next.

Blast Wave (Alex Morgan #3), by Leo J. Maloney

Eight stars

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

Always eager to get my hands on anything by Leo J. Maloney, I rushed to read this ARC. Maloney extends the Alex Morgan series with the novella, keeping the excitement high and the backstory ever-developing. Maloney has done well already with the elder Morgan (Dan) in a previous series and this collection is following in its footsteps with the same stellar outcome.

As Alex Morgan is in London for an international security conference, she can only wonder what’s going on. Smoke billows around the city, with explosions in the background, while a sniper has been trying to mow down members of the Zeta Group. While Alex does her best to neutralise the threat from the Ares network, there are apparently larger threats that require her attention on the other side of the world.

After being sent to Japan to help Yoki-Dyne, a significant tech company in the region that finds itself being targeted through cyber attacks, Alex realises that there is more to protection than guns and bullets. She soon learns that Ares has been working to dismantle this company as well, in hopes of siphoning off large portions of its profits, likely funding terrorist efforts around the world. As Alex learns more, she discovers that Ares is using a female operative of their own. This clash of women could turn out to be Alex’s most difficult mission to date.

Working with some locals, as well as members of Zeta, Alex seeks to get to the heart of the matter and stop events from getting out of control, all while seeking to remain one step ahead, of the operative targeting her. While Alex’s father, Dan, was a master at keeping the enemy at bay, she is still earning all the family tricks of the trade, with little time to ponder her next move. Zeta Group is relying on Alex, as are many others, to keep Ares from retrieving some of the most delicate intel and Yoki-Dyne’s profits to fund their future terrorist plots. Alex not only has the Morgan name, but also the grit and determination to get it done. Another stellar piece by Leo J. Maloney that will have series fans begging for more.

I cannot remember how I came across Leo J. Maloney and his early work, but I have never looked back or missed a book. Maloney mixes an intense counter-espionage thriller with something that adds depth to the Morgan family through the eyes of their daughter, Alex. Gritty in its delivery, Maloney pulls out all the stops to keep the reader enthralled with this novella, where there is little time to stop and take a breath. I can only hope that both Morgans will be back soon, in another adventure that keeps me occupied as I delve into the world of terrorism and high-stakes espionage.

Leo J. Maloney has always had a great handle on his narrative, telling a story that keeps the reader on their edge of their seat until the final page turn. As the narrative builds, key characters add something to the story that provides direction where there is little time for stagnancy. A few plot twists occur within the story, keeping the reader wondering as Alex Morgan tries to untangle herself from the web that Ares has spun for her. Strong storytelling and suspenseful writing are two keys to Leo J. Maloney’s work, which are present once again. I can only wonder what Zeta Group and Maloney have in store for readers in the coming months.

Kudos, Mr. Maloney, for another great piece, show as it may have been. I await more, which I am sure is close to completion.

Wayward (Wanderers #2), by Chuck Wendig

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Chuck Wendig, Ballantine Del Rey and Random House for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

While many found Chuck Wendig shone in the series debut, I was not as captivated as I would have liked. However, with this ARC in my possession, I wanted to give things a chance to see if I could be drawn into the middle of things with the sequel. While I was not, I surmise that it could be my own personal issues and not Wendig’s abilities throughout this detailed novel.

It was five years ago when a number of everyday Americans began randomly sleepwalking across the country. The reason was unknown, though the malady caught the attention of many. Making their way to a specific place, these sleepwalkers were followed by people, self-identified as shepherds, in an effort to protect them as they wandered in their trace-like state.

Upon arriving in Ouray, Colorado, the group began setting up their outpost, as though they were the chosen ones and all others were set to perish. While a militia sought to destroy them, the sleepwalkers remained diligent in their mission, advised that this was only the first step in a slew of significant changes to come.

Those who are setting things up in Ouray include a scientist who tries to piece together a plan to lead, a former police officer with ideas on how to protect a select few, and a teenage shepherd who is still trying to come to terms with what’s happened to her and what awaits the world. While outside forces continue to push around the outskirts of Ouray, many will have to sacrifice it all to protect themselves. From ruthless politicians to those who do not fully understand the special nature of the sleepwalkers. At the heart of it all is Black Swan, an A.I. program behind the entire ‘end of days’ scenario. Wendig does well to stir up the reader’s emotion throughout, even if it did not impact me as much as I would have hoped.

While I have only read the series debut by Chuck Wendig, I have tried other books in the genre, so there is a general understanding of the premise. Wendig provides a strong foundation and keeps the reader wondering throughout the narrative. Continuing with the apocalyptic theme, the story clips along and will likely grab many readers. For me, my mindset was not entirely into the experience, though I can see Wendig’s abilities clearly.

The story continues with a great narrative that serves to guide the reader. Bleak when needed but also well-paced, the story adds more surprises and roadblocks found in the debut novel. Using strong characters with their own personalities helps to shape the story once more. Plot twists emerge to offer some excitement as things take a darker turn. Some may get lost in the premise of this novel or simply not like where Wendig is headed. While it was not for me, I can see how many would really enjoy this series and find themselves excited by this new publication.

Kudos, Mr. Wendig, for a thought-provoking piece that is sure to impress your fans.

Murder at Black Oaks (Robin Lockwood #6), by Phillip Margolin

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Phillip Margolin, 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.

A long-time fan of Phillip Margolin and his work, I was eager to read this latest in the Robin Lockwood series. Margolin uses his strong ability with legal thriller and mixes in a murder mystery to create a doubly impressive piece for everyone. Full of great drama and some strong storytelling, Margolin impresses while never losing the momentum that this series appears to have with each new novel.

Frank Hardy was a stellar part of the DA’s office, able to push for convictions on many crimes. He even went so far as to put a man on death row for a heinous crime. After leaving for private practice, Hardy discovers that one of his clients was actually behind the murder, but knows the rules of attorney-client privilege keep anyone from being the wiser.

Years later, Hardy summons up-and-coming defence attorney, Robin Lockwood, to his palatial estate in the Oregon mountains. Hardy reveals what he knows and pushes Lockwood to see that justice is done, allowing an innocent man to go free. Lockwood does all she can, while also baffled about Hardy’s residence, the Black Oaks manor. Many a mysterious thing happened at the original manor, in the heart of England.

After Lockwood is successful in getting Jose Alvarez free from prison, they make their way to Black Oaks for a celebratory meal. Alvarez has made it clear that he holds a grudge towards Hardy for the delay in acting to set him free, even over the rational arguments made by his attorney. When Frank Hardy and others are murdered during the party, many wonder if the curse of Black Oaks has reared its ugly head. Robin finds herself scrambling to find a killer and try to piece it all together before too many others fall victim to a murderer and the curse of Black Oaks. Margolin dazzles with this piece and proves his versatile nature.

Phillip Margolin has proven his ability time and time again, luring me in with a well-developed story and a cast of characters well worth the reading time. This story moves things away from being strictly legal and into the realm of mystery, as if Robin Lockwood must temporarily resurrect a character from an Agatha Christie novel. Working on building a strong connection to the story and characters alike, Margolin proves he has what it takes to entertain the reader throughout.

Margolin develops a strong narrative and uses this to propel the story forward. With a strong foundation, the story clips along at a rapid pace, helped by short chapters and a handful of strong characters. The plot twists move the story from a legal thriller to a mystery, taking the reader along for an exciting ride. Building on a series that has already garnered a great deal of positive feedback by fans, Margolin is set to keep things flowing with ease, well into the future. I cannot wait to see what’s next for Robin and her legal team!

Kudos, Mr. Margolin, for a great piece that had me binge reading and enjoying every moment.

The Collector (Kaldan and Schäfer #2), by Anne Mette Hancock

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Anne Mette Hancock, andCrooked Lane Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After her series debut piqued my interest, I returned for another ARC by Anne Mette Hancock. A Danish psychological thriller, the story works in ways that force me to look outside my traditional expectations for novels in the genre. Full of local flavouring, Hancock develops a piece that is sure to intrigue many readers, though I am not sure if the original Danish was more impactful from a linguistic point of view.

After the disappearance of a young boy from his school, the authorities in Copenhagen are on high alert. Lukas was gifted in ways that exceeded academia; he obsessed over pareidolia, where one sees faces in inanimate objects. After scouring Lukas’ possessions, they discover a photo of a barn door with what could be a face in the shadows. Might this be a clue to his whereabouts? Journalist Heloise Kaldan thinks that she might be able to help, but struggles with locating the source of the barn.

After the grisly discovery of Lukas’ jacket, the forensics points to a former soldier with a mountain of issues all his own. Could Thomas Strand have abducted Lukas for some twisted reason? What was the endgame in all of this and how did it all take place? While Heloise Kaldan works with the authorities, including Detective Erik Schäfer, little comes together, However, once Strand is found executed in his apartment, the case takes on deeper and more sinister panic.

A missing child, an executed soldier with mental health issues, and this lingering pareidolia. How did it all come together so swiftly? While Schäfer and Kaldan try to piece it all together, they have some personal demons that must come to the surface or risk ruing their ability to successfully manage the case. In a gripping piece that has moments where the reader will surely gasp aloud, Hancock creates a chilling tale with a tense ending for all to enjoy!

While I do read a number of Scandinavian thrillers, I would not call myself an expert, That said, I know what I like and which books I am happy to push to the side. Anne Mette Hancock has all the ingredients for a strong piece, though there were times I felt it lacking. I contemplated what it could be and wonde if the translation was not as crisp as I would have liked. I know that with many books that face the translation mountain, I cannot tell where the seams are located. However, with this one, they were all too apparent, leaving things slightly jilted.

The key to a strong thriller is to begin with a bang. Hancock does that with the disappearance of a young child, as well as some of the subplots related to the protagonists. She pulls the reader in and uses her narrative abilities to build on the story from there. Once things are strong from a foundational point of view, Hancock is able to incorporate strong characters and key plot twists to keep the story moving. I felt as though I were on the streets of Copenhagen throughout and never left the scene of the crime, which exemplifies Hancock’s abilities. I am eager to see if there will be more to this series, which I may give one more chance, as the translation proves a yoke to my overall enjoyment.

Kudos, Madam Hancock, for another intriguing piece. I am curious where things are headed now.

The Prisoner, by B.A. Paris

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, B.A. Paris, and Macmillman Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After reading the dust jacket blurb for this piece I was eager to get my hands on B.A. Paris’ latest novel. Full of some chilling psychological twists, Paris provides the reader with an addictive thriller that is sure to keep them up well into the night. Paris builds her story effectively and provides a clear path towards the unknown. Well-paced and surely something for fans of this genre!

Amelie is a woman with a great deal of resolve, having faced adversity from a young age. She’s lost both her parents while living in Paris and has now made a life in London, hoping for something fresh. Slowly creating a life for herself, Amelie gets caught up in a posh lifestyle and catches the eye of Jed Hawthorne, a man who has significant money in family wealth.

When Amelie wakes up in a dark room, she tries to piece together what’s happened to her. It takes a while, weaseling information out of her captors, but Amelie discovers that both she and Ned are being held prisoner. While Ned feel certain that Amelie is dead, he makes choices that prove that she is but a pawn to him. This leaves Amelie to wonder whether she has anyone backing her, or if she is left to her own devices. As the days advance, Amelie learns more about her supposed husband and his family, though it is anything but exhilarating. A chilling story that proves Paris has what it takes.

While this may be the first of B.A. Paris’ novels I have read, it will likely not be the last. Paris constructs a great piece, full of psychological thrills that are sure to impress the dedicated reader. Slow at times, the story has many ups and downs, but ends up working well, with a great ending that will keep the reader gasping late into the night.

Paris uses a great narrative to develop the story, keeping the pace throughout while leading the reader down many a rabbit hole. With chilling twists, the story evolves and turns into somethingthe reader will likely remember for a long time. Great characters and a setting that adds needed flavouring, the story is able to grow through these pathways. While I struggled with some slow parts, the overall experience was redeemed by the end and left me wanting to try more of Paris’ work. This audio version of the book allows the reader to use their imagination to picture what’s taking place, as the narrator weaves the layers of the story together for an impactful conclusion

Kudos, Madam Paris, for a great piece that is sure to impress many.

1989 (Allie Burns #2), by Val McDermid

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Val McDermid, andGrove Atlantic for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always eager to to read the works of Val McDermid, I readily reached for her latest novel. Allie Burns and her journalistic prowess are back for another adventure, using the backdrop of history to spin a story like no other. McDermid packs of punch with this novel, which explored a number of issues from 1989, both social and historical, while providing her reader with something well-worth their invested time. I can only wonder where McDermid will take things next, but am sure fans are in for another treat.

Allie Burns has come a long way in a decade. Now in a senior role within the Sunday Globe, Allie has come to terms that her passion for investigative journalism must be shelved as she tries to cater to readers with tabloid-style writing. Sent to cover the Lockerbie memorials after a plane exploded over the small Scottish town, Allie soon realises that she is meant to be a pretty face digging in the mud of societal grief.

After tripping upon a story about AIDS in Edinburgh, Allie discovers that there is more to it than labelling the city as the disease’s European hotspot . A drug trial aimed at stemming the effects of HIV is quickly stopped by UK authorities. As Allie digs a little deeper, she learns that trials for the drug continue in East Germany, though little is known about what’s going on. Allie vows to get answers and heads behind the Iron Curtain to get to the truth.

While in East Germany, Allie learns much about the pharmaceutical industry, but has another hot potato story land in her lap. The apparent suicide of a media magnate has ties to Nazi Germany and Allie is keen to get to the bottom of this as well. While she tugs on a string or two, Allie soon realises that she has unraveled quite true story and won’t stop until she gets to the truth. The world is changing around her, but Allie Burns is one woman who won’t watch it pass her by! Another stunning story by Val McDermid that will keep the reader flipping pages well into the night.

I have long enjoyed the work of Val McDermid, who never shies away from controversial things while highlighting the wonders of Scotland. There is so much going on in this piece that it is difficult to summarise with ease. McDermid encapsulates a great deal within the pages of this book and keeps the reader wanting to know more. Society and the world at large come under the microscope in this piece, which is both reflective and refreshing in equal measure.

McDemrid is able to develop a strong narrative from the outset, which serves to guide the story along for most of the ride. There are strong themes that resonate out of what McDermid has to say and she’s keen to address them in detail. Great characters offer the reader some entertainment throughout, though it is the depth to which they take the novel that is their greatest purpose. A few key plot twists, complementing the historic goings-on, prove to be the best part of the story and keep the reader learning as they make their way through this gripping tale. I wonder if there is more. to come and what year Mcdermid will choose next.

Kudos, Madam McDermid, for a great piece and wonderful collection of historical moments. You never ceases to amaze.

Duplicity (Brick Kavanagh #2), by Shawn Wilson

Eight stars

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

Always eager to to try new books and authors, I gladly accepted an ARC of Shawn Wilson’s latest novel. After familiarising myself with the debut novel, I dove into this one, which was just as intense. Wilson creates a stellar mystery with some strong themes and keeps the reader guessing until the final page turn. I cannot wait to see how former cop Brick Kavanagh progresses as Shawn Wilson develops this series.

While the DC area is always wonderful, former homicide detective Brian ‘Brick’ Kavanagh needed a change. A trip to his ancestral homeland of Ireland proved useful, choosing to return stateside only because of the visa requirements. However, Brick did not leave Ireland empty handed, having struck up a romantic connection with a flight attendant who spends much of her time in Chicago.

Brick is looking for something to bide his time and agrees to help a criminologist talk about cold cases to one of her college classes. Choosing one, Brick begins revisiting a hit and run that came to nothing, primarily because the accused was able to hide behind diplomatic immunity. All the same, it is something to keep him occupied and once Brick finds a thread, there’s no knowing where it will lead.

While away on a brief trip to Chicago, Brick hopes to strengthen his relationship and see if it is going anywhere. However, a panicked call from his former partner, Ron Hayes, has Brick rushing back to DC. Ron’s wife and twin babies have been kidnapped and they are nowhere to be found, though clues begin popping up. Brick will have to tap into all his detective experience to help piece things together, but the direction in which things are going seems baffling.

Both cases progress rapidly; the cold case showing signs of a potential motive lie the kidnapping a sinister revelation. Brick might have wanted to let sleeping does lie with this case, as it seems his poking around has someone highly agitated. Still, Brick Kavanagh is not one to turn his back on progress and will open whatever doors are before him, even if they could cause harm. How will Brick be able to juggle two intense cases and bring justice to them both before more people are hurt? Shawn Wilson weaves another great story in her latest novel, not to be missed by those who love something intense and unputdownable.

I enjoy discovering new authors, as they are a formidable challenge for me. I find some who are best left behind me, but others, like Shawn Wilson, who earn a spot on my list of those I will gladly follow. A great writing style is balanced with poignant plot twists, all of which create something well worth my while. In a genre full of authors who purport to have what it takes to spin a police procedural into something fabulous, Wilson excels and should rise to the top for those seeking something worth their reading time. I just hope there is more to come before too long.

From the opening pages, Wilson builds up her narrative to create a mystery that has all the elements of success. The story flows easily and is aided by strong characters who add flavour where it is needed. Short chapters keep the reader pushing forward before realizing they are neck-deep in the story and cannot put it down. Plot twists emerge throughout that keep the reader on edge and wondering what awaits them. I can only hope that Shawn Wilson will keep up this calibre of writing, as I devoured both of the first two novels in the series. There’s something about Brick Kavanagh that has me eager to come back, whenever the next novel makes its way to readers.

Kudos, Madam Wilson, for another great piece. You have a fan in me!

Building Justice: Frank Iacobucci and the Life Cycles of Law, by Shauna Van Praagh

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Shauna Van Praagh, andUniversity of Toronto Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

For any reader who enjoys Canadian politics and legal analysis, this quasi-biography of Frank Iacobucci proves the perfect mix. In a piece that explores the life of a former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Shauna Van Praagh does a great job of exploring Iacobucci’s life, his legal thinking, and the personal touch he brought to serving his country through the law. In her detailed piece, Van Praagh touches on many key points about how the Canadian judicial system was shaped by Iacobucci’s decisions, as well as the compassion he brought to the judgements he penned throughout his various years on a few of Canada’s courts. A highly informative piece that provides the reader with a great understanding of the man and how one person can make a difference in the lives of many, one stone at a time.

Part of Van Praagh’s narrative explores Frank Iacobucci’s early years, including living in Vancouver as a child of Italian immigrants. While his name would leave many to believe that he bantered in Italian at home, Iacobucci’s parents insisted that he speak English alone and bond with others in his immigrant neighbourhood. His passion for the law showed from an early age, as Iacobucci’s announced that he would be a lawyer at twelve. His acerbic wit would surely help him and fuelled many great moments of banter for the young Frank, who found his own before too long.

After significant academic dedication, Frank Iacobucci left law school ready to change the world, though that would mean a great deal fo additional work. The author shows how his hard work paid off with a number of jobs, including serving as a law professor at the University of Toronto. It was here that his passion to teach others blossomed and would be a key theme in his daily activities thereafter. The more impact Frank Iacobucci made on the Canadian legal community, the more significant his jobs became: Dean of Law, Deputy Minister of Justice, and Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Canada. All of these positions would pave the way for his greatest ‘$5 a day’ job, puisne justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

As Van Praagh explores, it was the ascension to the Supreme Court that allowed Iacobucci to do the greatest good. His compassion for those around him made him a justice that many admired. He sought not only to hear cases and decide on matters of law, but forge new pathways as Canada’s social and political agenda progressed. Iacobucci’s decisions were well-rounded and sought to explore Canada is it could be, rather than simply as it had been in the past. His is a fundamental means of proving that Iacobucci’s impact would be felt for many years.

Even after he retired from the Supreme Court of Canada, Frank Iacobucci helped shape Canada’s political and social landscape. He was asked to work with a number of groups and help adjudicate key issues , one of which, which is still resonating today. The handling of compensation for those who were forced to live in residential schools has long been a struggle and continues to haunt institutions responsible for this ‘scoop and run’. Iacobucci’s attention to detail made him a respected jurist for both the Canadian Government and the Indigenous community. While the wounds are by no means healed, it would appear that Iacobucci’s overseeing the progress has helped give a voice to those who were never asked for opinions, but rather served as sub-humans for decades, while having it legislated by others.

The premise of this book is strong, helping to educate the reader throughout the piece. It is also a great means of shining the light on a man who always liked to opera for others, rather than praise of his actions. The author uses one of Iacobucci’s tenets, that life is all about ‘building the cathedral’ that will be left for others, from the early stonecutter through to the assembly of a massive structure that can serve to help others. The author exemplifies this throughout the tome and helps argue that this is a style of living that does surely make the greatest impact.

Looking at the inner workings of the book itself, Shauna Van Praagh does well to outline the life and times of Frank Iacobucci. While I did not like the skipping around throughout the Iacobucci timeline, referring something more linear, I can see why she did this to make the greatest impact. The narrative was full of great detail, offering insights from others, both in passing and through detailed quotations. While this provided helpful, Van Praagh had an odd way of attributing quoted comments to those who made them, a means that appears (though I have never been a law student) to reflect legal texts than biographical ones. Chapters that build on one another, divided into three parts that mirror Iacobucci’s three stages of life, the shorty grew and created a telling piece for all readers to enjoy. While there are some heavier aspects, these are balanced by those of a lighter nature that easier to digest. This makes for a great read for many who are interested in the man and all he has done.

Kudos, Madam Van Praagh, for an insightful exploration fo the life and times of Frank Iacobucci. I learned so very much and am eager to learn more about him, with some additional research.

Fallout, by Carrie Stuart Parks

Seven stars

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

Always a fan of Carrie Stuart Parks and her writing, I was pleased to receive an ARC of this latest novel. Parks always brings her background in forensic art to the novels, tapping into what, for me, has been a unique approach to crime and investigation. That being said, she is keen to collect other breadcrumbs and scatter them throughout, giving the reader an exiting experience as they comb their way through the story.

LaCrosse, Washington is known for little and Samantha Williams likes it that way, An art teacher at the local school, Samantha becomes a hero when an SUV careens into the school and many are hurt. Having been in her own vehicle at the time, Samantha must come to terms with what happened, though is stymied when she cannot produce any proof of her identity to authorities, as it has been removed from her purse.

Confused and relying on others, Samantha must try to piece together what’s happened and who is trying to keep her from herself. Some of these answers begin to emerge when a reporter begins asking questions and digging deeper into Samantha’s past. Samantha soon realises that there are other odd goings-on in the area, including sets of remains that were long thought buried. Is there someone trying to stir up trouble? Samantha finds herself at the heart of it all, without any answers to offer.

At a local recovery house, Clan Firinn, some others are also trying to set things straight. There appear to be a number of mysteries all tied to an old government nuclear facility close to LaCrosse and no one is quite sure what to make of it. It’s this that triggers Samantha and memories of her past, not always good. The fallout is a spiralling like no other, as the truth emerges for all to see. What secrets await Samantha on her journey and how could learning about her past be the key to understanding the present happenings? Parks offers an intriguing piece that never stops evolving.

I remember discovering the works of Carrie Stuart Parks and being instantly pulled in by the world of forensic art. It was a branch of investigation I had never considered and appeared to have ways of really stirring up the pot. Since then, Parks has evolved her stories into one-offs that pack just as much punch, but focus on other perspectives as well, including a peppering of biblical references. Parks uses her strong writing abilities to pull the reader into the middle of the story and forces them to confront whatever the narrative is spinning. This works well, as she has a depth to her characters, which adds flavour to the story and keeps the reader feeling connected to whatever is going on.

One essential to a successful story for me would have to be a clear and developing narrative. Parks offers this as she concocts what she needs to keep things progressing throughout. The story moves and has many moments where it can gain needed momentum, be that through the introduction of a new character, plot twist, or even revelation that was once deemed inconsequential. Parks has had success in crafting her stories with these ingredients and continues to do so throughout this piece. However, there were times that I felt a disconnect to the story or its progression. I was not as affixed to events as I would have liked or even expected. The investigation into the accident that opens the novel, Samantha’s past, or even how Clan Firinn fit into the larger story; all of this proved hit and miss for me. This, in turn, created a sense of confusion or lack of excitement as I flipped pages. I saw a gem in some of the foundational narrative, but did not feel the impact as strongly as I might have liked. While I have seen this book marketed as Christian fiction, that should not deter readers. It does have some biblical references, but I would not consider it fuelling the progression or flavouring of the piece. Perhaps it is my mind space at the moment that has me feeling lukewarm, which is entirely possible. I have much respect for Carrie Stuart Parks and would encourage others to red this, as well as her other books, to come to their own conclusions.

Kudos, Madam Parks, for another well-plotted novel. I hope others see some of the strong aspects I did while reading.

Mystic Wind (Jack Marino #1), by James Barretto

Eight stars

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

When I noticed an ARC for this novel, I was intrigued to see if James Barretto could pen as stellar a legal thriller as the dust jacket blurb would have me believe. I was pleased to see how strong his story turned out to be, set in the early 1980s, but not lacking any of the great development found in more modern novels. Gritty and full of great legal drama, Barretto knows his stuff and has me curious to see where things are headed next.

Jack Marino had been enjoying working within the DA’s office as one of the star ADAs. However, after being attacked one night, he becomes a liability to his boss and is summarily fired. But, not before he attends a murder scene of a gruesome killing, where a man was shot, but no witnesses have come forward.

Two years on, Marino has found a place in corporate law, but is convinced by a judge to take a case of a defendant who spouts his innocence, even as the state is keen to put him away for life. This case is a hot potato, particularly because an immunized witness pointed the finger at the newly accused, a single father who has no forensic ties to the crime scene whatsoever. It also happens to be the case he attending on the day of his dismissal two years before. Is the new DA trying to make a name for himself and using a witness who cannot be prosecuted to spew falsehoods just to ensure a conviction?

As the pre-trial motions are coming to a close, Marino is blindsided when the prosecution files for the death penalty, forcing Marino to pull out every legal trick he can manoeuvre. With a judge who is anything but affable and a DA who is trying to secure election as governor, hoping to use this case as a show of law & order, Marino will have to be magical and keep the jury on his side for as long as possible. A brilliant series debut by James Barretto that should be noted by those who love a great legal thriller.

I love legal books, fiction and non-fiction alike. It’s the nuances of the law and how lawyers are able to make it work in their favour that has always interested me. James Barretto does a wonderful job at putting the law front and centre in this piece, using legal tactics and straightforward courtroom arguments throughout. The themes are strong and push the story along, which keeps the reader wondering how things will turn out when the foreman rises to deliver the verdict. I am eager to see how things progress with this series, as there is something about Barretto that has me thinking there is more to come and things won’t lessen in intensity.

Barretto offers a stellar narrative that keeps the flow moving forward with each passing chapter. Short chapters do not allow the reader to get complacent, as there is so I much to see and do throughout this book. Characters are plentiful, though the core ones do their jobs effectively, keeping the reader wanting to know more as the story progresses. Legal thrillers tend to have good plot twists, if done correctly, and Barretto knows his stuff in this regard. I’m ready for more and hope the wait is not too long!

Kudos, Mr. Barretto, for a stellar legal thriller. I am curious to see what else you have in store for your series and will keep an eye out.

Where Secrets Live, by S.C. Richards

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, S.C. Richards, andCrooked Lane Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After receiving an ARC for this novel, I was eager to see how S. C. Richards would grow on me, as I have heard of her writing in the past. A strong story and well-developed ideas emerges early on, leaving me to lose myself in all the action and suspense. I am pleased to have had the time to devour this book and am eager to find some more of Richards’ work soon to whet my appetite.

After losing their parents at a young age, Liz and Meredith McCallister are forced to rely on their sibling connection. All this takes a turn for the worse when Liz learns that her sister was murdered. However, this is not the only mystery that Liz must shoulder at present. While trying to find her sister’s killer, Liz discovers that Meredith had a deep secret, one that could have fuelled the motive for her murder. Liz must come to terms with the fact that her sister had a child in secret, who is now a teenager and asking questions.

While piecing together both these mysteries, Liz is forced to confront a past that she and Meredith thought was buried away. Liz cannot stomach digging into all these dark corners, but soon realises that secrets may have been the one constant Meredith had in her life over all these years

Seeking some help from her step-mother, Liz discovers that the secrets continue to emerge, both held by Meredith and others. Liz looks back at her life and wonders how much of it took place under a rock, while those around her lived secret or mystery-filled lives of their own. It could prove to be the key to learning about Meredith’s murder, but the truth has a way of also derailing the bucolic nature of some people’s everyday, as Liz is learning all too well. What other secrets will emerge and how might Liz handle them all before things come crashing down before her? Richards does a masterful job weaving this tale of deceit and deception.

I have always enjoyed a good book where mystery and deception fuel the narrative flow. S.C. Richards has a knack for making things work well and keeps the suspense high for those who like it. A plot that twists throughout and some characters with strong backstories help turn this book into an enjoyable reading experience.

Richards has strong narrative capabilities and keeps the reader wondering how things will progress throughout. The characters who emerge are both multi-dimensional and well placed, keeping the story on track throughout. I enjoyed how it all added depth to the plot and provided some needed mystery, and the story progressed with ease. Richards never lets up, keeping the reader wondering until the end as the mystery finally has some resolution. I’d try another S.C. Richards novel in the future, if only to compare to this addictive piece.

Kudos, Madam Richards, for a great introduction to your abilities. I will have to see if I can get my hands on more of your books soon.

The Last Girl to Die, by Helen Sarah Fields

Eight stars

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

Always a fan of Helen Sarah Fields, I was eager to get my hands on this book. Fields has developed a masterful police procedural series set in Scotland, but this is one of her equally powerful standalone novels. Fields uses her knowledge of the Scottish countryside, love of mysteries, and ability to cobble together a great procedural novel to provide the reader with something entertaining and highly addictive in equal measure. Not to be missed by those who love a ‘wee great mystery’!

Adriana Clark had been missing for days; eleven to be exact. While the police did not seem to be taking much of an interest, her family decided to hire a private investigator to uncover the truth. Enter Sadie Levesque, who arrived on a small Scottish island off the coast with little to go on but her instincts. However, it was enough to spark a fire in her belly.

While wandering around the island, Sadie could not help but wonder if there was a reason for the lack of police interest. She also had to wonder if her being a foreigner—from Banff, in the Canadian Rockies—could be playing into the cold reception she received. All that changed when Sadie found Adriana’s body in a cave, penetrated with a shell and mouth filled with sand. The authorities took note, but even then it was an investigation they had no interest in sharing with Sadie.

Not wanting to let up, Sadie continued probing in the murder, only to discover that there were those who preferred the bucolic nature of the island to remain that way, hushing up any waves. After the discovery of another teenage girl, Sadie was sure that this could not be a coincidence and began looking at the possibility of a serial killer.

With one suspect catching her eye, Sadie started uncover the truth, only to realise that she was in way over her head. As the story progressed, truths Sadie could not have expected came to light, only to provide more concern for everyone’s safety. Sadie would have to act quickly to ensure there were no more bodies piling up off the Scottish coast, or at least point the authorities in the right direction. Fields does a wonderful job with this piece, sure to appeal to many who have a love for police procedurals.

I have long enjoyed how Helen Sarah Fields weaves her stories together, using local lore and idioms to keep the reader feeling as though they are in Scotland on a man (or woman) hunt. While her series work is my favourite, I can also enjoy her standalone novels, as they do not lack any of the action, narrative strength or quirky humour. There is much to be said for the versatility of Fields and her fans are sure to see that they need not worry whenever she publishes something new.

Fields make sure to get the story moving from the opening pages, This narrative technique is sure to grasp the reader from the outset and keep them glued to the story until the final pages, which is especially important with this novel. Strong characters and a plot that never seems to stay still help the shape this story as well, keeping the reader on their toes throughout the journey. I felt as though I were in Scotland from the opening paragraphs, as Fields is able to imbue such a strong sense of setting throughout the novel. If I had one point of contention, it would be that Sadie Levesque, a Canadian from my neck of the woods, speaks and narrates with obvious Scottish idioms, which appeared out of place. Perhaps it is my Canadianness that led me to say ‘we don’t say it like that’, but it is worth noting, even if it might be a minor point. Overall, one cannot fault Fields for a stellar piece of work and I am eager to see what else she has on the horizon.

Kudos, Madam Fields, for another great standalone thriller. Keep them coming, as you have a great fan in me!

What She Found (Tracy Crosswhite #9), by Robert Dugoni

Nine stars

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

Excited to get my hands on the latest Robert Dugoni novel, I rushed to read it and learn more about the adventures of Detective Tracy Crosswhite. While things in Seattle have been running smoothly, Crosswhite has a great deal still going on, particularly with her work in Cold Cases. Dugoni continues to develop his protagonist in a story where the twists do not stop until the final page. A wonderful addition to the series.

Detective Tracy Crosswhite could not be happier working within the Seattle Police Department, especially with a new Chief of Police. While she has been able to make an impact, she knows that her daily work must not be shelved. When a local reporter approaches Crosswhite to help with the disappearance of her mother 25 years ago, the detective is keen to see what she can uncover. Anita Childress is keen to learn what happened all those years ago and how her mother could up and disappear without a trace.

While Lisa Childress was herself a roaming reporter in 1996, she knew that she could not rely on the memory of others to reveal the truth of many cases. Chasing down a lead one night, Childress simply vanished and her husband was presumed to have murdered her. Living under a veil of suspicion for years, the family soon became local pariahs. Now, Anita wants answers and is not sure her own reporting will be enough to fill in all the gaps.

With Detective Crosswhite now on the case, it would appear that Lisa Childress had been looking into some fairly damning stories, including one about drug trafficking through coastal waters where a police team could have been looking the other way. Might this have been a reason Childress disappeared and could have been murdered? Crosswhite is keen to discover the truth and pulls on some leads of her own, including the original investigating detective.

The more she learns, the less sure Detective Crosswhite is about what she is discovering, but it is only after a trip out of town that things really take a turn. With everything up in the air, a daughter seeking answers about her mother’s disappearance, and Crosswhite feeling the pull from her own family, the case ramps up. Guilty parties seek to hush the sleeping dog that remained quiet for many years, which could have dire consequences. Dugoni adds chills to an eventful thriller, perfect for series fans.

There is nothing like knowing Robert Dugoni has a new book ready for reading, as he is able to mix wonderful ideas with an addictive storytelling ability. I am always highly impressed with Tracy Crosswhite in her stories, especially as there is no lack of character development throughout the experience. Dugoni has a great handle on the series and one can only hope there will be many more books to come, as I am keen to see where things will progress from here.

There is nothing better than an author who has mastered the art of storytelling and knows how to convey their ideas well. Robert Dugoni has never had this issue and keeps readers on the edge of their seats. An easy flowing narrative make the pages melt into one another, as chapters rush by and the story progresses wonderfully. Key characters provide wonderful contrast throughout and there is nothing like seeing Tracy Crosswhite grow, personally and professionally, while those around her also advance in their own way. The plot proves unique and yet grounded, keeping series fans feeling that sense of life in Seattle is ever-evolving and crime is always being explored in new ways. While this is book nine, I can only hope Dugoni has a lot more for his protagonist to do in a series that has not lost its lustre whatsoever.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, for proving that some series can stand the test of time and additions, without getting stale. I want to see what Tracy Crosswhite has to show when she returns soon.

Please Join Us, by Catherine McKenzie

Eight stars

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

When granted the chance to read Catherine McKenzie’s latest novel, I eagerly reached for the ARC. McKenzie weaves a great story that impacts the reader from the opening pages and grips them throughout the reading experience. Able to create a stellar read in a standalone thriller, Catherine McKenzie is one author worth noting for those who have yet to discover her magic. Happy to see she successfully penned Book #13!

Nicole Mueller has come to a crossroads in her life, with a career that seems not to be moving forward and a marriage that is not as exciting as it had once been. As she debates her options, the thirty-nine year old begins to realise that she desperately needs a change, which may be coming sooner, as her law firm is tightening its belt.

Nicole receives a cryptic email about Panthera Leo and how they would like to recruit her to join. They promise a great deal of success and connections, as long as she agrees to attend a retreat in rural Colorado. While Nicole’s husband, Dan, thinks that it is all a cult, Nicole is intrigued and agrees to attend. Nicole can only hope of opening new doors for her professional and personal lives with this weekend away.

After returning from Colorado, Nicole feels a sense of closeness with her ’pride’ the others in the group who attended the weekend. She hopes that her return to New York will be fruitful and that she can reap the benefits. As things begin to fall into place, Nicole has high hopes for Panthera Leo, though her questions are constantly shot down. All she must remember is never to decline an offer made or a request to assist others in the pride.

When one of the other pride members calls for assistance, Nicole is quick to head over. However, the legality of what is going on leaves her wondering if she might have made a poor decision. Nicole wants out and will take her old life once more, provided she can find a means of escape. As in the wild, leaving the pride is not that simple and could be a matter of life or death. McKenzie pens another great thriller sure to impress the attentive reader.

I have long come to enjoy the work of Catherine McKenzie, who is able to cobble together some great storytelling in a standalone thriller. She’s on point and keeps the reader engaged, while tackling some issues of the day in a flawless manner. Her narrative flows well and keeps the story moving along, with great plot twists throughout. I’m eager to keep reading anything she has to offer.

Catherine McKenzie has a way with her storytelling that helps keep the reader involved in the story. This could have something to do with her strong narrative, which takes the reader on quite the journey, or even with well-developed characters that popular many of the pages of the book. McKenzie’s able to use strong plot twists throughout to keep the reader from being able to predict the outcome, while offering teasers throughout. Perhaps one thing that did not mesh well with me in the narrative was how Nicole would commonly list things she had done, “called Dan, checked the dry-cleaning, ordered dinner” rather than letting the narrative explore them. With hyphens to denote the actual list nature of this in the story, it appeared McKenzie wanted to clip the word count or keep from having to develop these acts, some of which were non-essential to the larger plot. Other than that, I was fully engaged with the story and could not have asked for more.

Kudos, Madam McKenzie, for another great novel. I am eager to see what else you have coming, as your books always put me in a wonderful mindset.

Look Closer, by David Ellis

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, David Ellis, andG.P. Putnam’s Sons for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having discovered the work of David Ellis through his collaborative efforts alongside James Patterson, I was eager to see how well things might go with his solo writing. Ellis offers up some gritty and well-paced stories, sure to capture the reader’s attention in the early pages. Ellis proves stellar his in craft and devises some wonderful plots that will keep the reader hooked well into the night as they try to reveal everything the story has to offer.

Wealthy Chicago couple Simon and Vicky seem as normal as they come. Simon is a law professor adored by all his peers while Vicky advocates for victims of domestic violence. While the pair seem as typical as they come, they may be harbouring a secret. One of them could well be a killer hiding in the shadows.

After a socialite’s body is found hanging in the colossal home of someone in the neighbourhood, the secret begins to fray at the edges. Details of marital infidelity, as well as a trust fund’s massive payout come to the surface and many begin looking for a suspect. Some suspect that Simon and Vicky might be involved, but others cannot discern where the truth ends and lies begin. It will surely prove to be a daunting task for whomever is involved in finding a killer.

As panic sets in and the truth must soon come to the surface, everyone is pointing fingers and trying to digest the truths placed before them. Nothing is as it seems, though no one could have suspected just how duplicitous their friends and neighbours could actually be. David Ellis does it again with a masterful story completely with a few twists the reader will not have seen coming. 

I have long enjoyed the work of David Ellis, both as a collaborator and individual author. His work evokes a sense of thinking and complete ‘buy in’ that I have found in few authors whose stories I read of late. Ellis combines a powerful writing style with great plot development to create the perfect mix for the reader who loves crime thrillers.

While many will bemoan the fact that the thriller genre is supersaturated with novels, David Ellis has a way of elevating himself above the rest and producing a stellar story with each publication. His narrative is strong and pushes along effectively to keep the reader on the edge of their seat, especially when he injects some plot twists no one saw coming. His characters are developed to the point of being easily visualised by the reader throughout the story. There is something about Ellis’ work that keeps the reader both entertained and enthralled in equal measure. This allows many to lose themselves in the piece and want to find more of his work, as has happened with me.

Kudos, Mr. Ellis, for another great piece. I cannot wait to get my hands on your next piece to see how things have evolved.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/look-closer/

Fatal Witness (Detective Erika Foster #7), by Robert Bryndza

Eight stars

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

Long a fan of Robert Bryndza and his writing, I rushed to get my hands on the latest DCI Erika Foster thriller. A short hiatus could not extinguish my eagerness to see how Foster would storm back onto the scene with a crime that is both chilling and mysterious. Bryndza picks up as though no time had passed and creates a stellar story sure to impress many who love the genre, as well as fans of Erika Foster.

Many changes are taking place for Detective Chief Inspector Erika Foster, not the least of which is a move to a new flat. While trying to iron out all the details of organising, Foster hears screams and rushes to the scene of a nearby apartment complex. There, a woman’s body is discovered by her sister and Foster is ready to call in the team to begin a new murder investigation.

Soon identified as Victoria Clarke, the body is found to have been mutilated by the killer. Foster and her team begin sifitng through the evidence and commence interviews, only to stumble upon something odd. Victoria was a podcaster and worked on something in the true crime genre. Her fans loved the work, but there would certainly be those who failed to see the glory in turning over every loose stone.

With a handful of potential suspects in Victoria’s life, Foster and her crew will have to narrow it down, especially when a second murder takes place, putting things into better perspective. Victoria Clarke must have been on the trail of a ruthless killer whose victims came from a single place. Now, it will be time for Foster to set the trap or risk being another victim. Bryndza does a wonderful job at laying the groundwork, letting things develop from there.

While I cut my teeth on this series by Robert Bryndza, I have also come to love some of his other recent thriller work. He has a way with words, spinning stories that are sure to impress the fans of the genre. Great characters and an ever-evolving DCI Erika Foster, the stories takes on a new life and keeps the reader flipping pages well into the night.

Bryndza has long been using a recipe for success when it comes to storytelling, proving the reader with a strong narrative on which things are sure to build. He builds up the suspense and keeps readers wondering, while injecting an entertaining list of characters to provide some great balance. Erika Foster receives some deserved development, both in a personal and professional sense. Plot lines crescendo as the story advances and the reader must wonder what is to come. The book reads so easily that I devoured it in under twenty-four hours, without needing to invest huge swaths of time or concentration. That’s my kind of summer read!

Kudos, Mr. Bryndza, for another success. I will have to keep my mind fresh as you publish both your series in tandem.

The Omega Factor, by Steve Berry

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Steve Berry, Hachette Audio and Grand Central Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Well-written fiction with a historical flavoring takes on a new level with Steve Berry at the helm. His stories are both rich in their narrative and full of action, providing the reader with a wonderful reading experience. This standalone provides an intriguing look into a historical artifact, peppered with Christian history, that offers context to a great deal of what is purported as truth today. Berry does it again, treating his fans to a stellar read.

History has shown that religious relics are commonly stolen, hidden, and discovered years later. The Ghent Altarpiece is one such item, but holds the title of being the most confiscated item ever, after thirteen instances of being stolen or disfigured. No one seems to know why, until now.

Nicholas Lee has a prestigious job within the United Nations, as a UNESCO investigator. He’s tasked with investigating cultural and religious items, trying to look into their history and displacement. Trying to protect cultural artifacts around the world is a tough job, but Nick’s up for the challenge.

Nick makes his way to Belgium where someone from his past awaits him. Unbeknownst to him, it’s also where a part of the Ghent Alterpiece is being tracked, last seen just before the Second World War. As Nick tries following the trail, he is thrust into the middle of a conflict that has been brewing for centuries, between a secret order of nuns who vow to protect the truth and the Vatican, wanting to bring the Ghent Alterpiece together to make an astounding revelation. As the Maidens of Saint-Michael are revealed, hired guns within the Vatican try to wrest control of the Alterpiece that possesses many secrets, leaving Nick to scramble for safety.

It’s a matter of life and death for Nick and those around him. With twists and turns all throughout the oldest part of Europe, the story takes readers on an adventure that only Berry could construct, both from fiction and well-placed actual facts. A delightfully intense story that will keep fans of the author on the edge of their seats!

I always enjoy when Steve Berry publishes another book, sure to find something entertaining and educational with each story. This was no exception, diving deep into religious history and controversies known to few. Berry extracts these in his narrative and takes the reader on an adventure like no other. Full of history, great characters, and a stellar plot, Berry impresses yet again.

Nick Lee is a great protagonist in this piece, serving not only a great role, but offering readers a treat throughout. There are some wonderful backstory moments, helping the reader to see the man in this standalone thriller, as well as key development throughout. Berry is able to infuse a wonderful depth in his characters and Nick is surely one of the best, both in this story and of the many novels the author has penned. I want to know more and will have to be hyper vigilant, in case Berry brings him along, even in passing, when Cotton Malone returns.

A storyteller of Berry’s ilk knows how to pull a reader in with ease, offering up wonderful stories as they educate in equal measure. The narrative works well and builds throughout, offering history and some education with each page turn. Those who know Berry’s work will join me in agreeing that everything is a mix of fact and fiction, though sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. A cast of well-developed characters and a few plot lines in which they can blossom rounds out the story, keeping the reader on their toes. As always, there is a deep history, involving the Church a great deal of the time, which left me wondering much about what I know and think I expected to be incontrovertible truth. I can see that there is much I do not know and need to learn, as Berry reveals much in the post-script of his book.

Kudos, Mr. Berry, for another great piece. While I miss Cotton Malone, this was definitely well worth the time invested.

Movieland (Eve Ronin #4), by Lee Goldberg

Eight stars

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

Always eager to get my hands on the latest publication by Lee Goldberg, I turned to the new Eve Ronin novel. Working on an intriguing angle, Goldberg helps progress his protagonist’s development while reminding readers of some important backstory. With an intense crime thriller woven into the larger narrative, the book takes many twists until its culmination, while also offering a few tantalizing subplots to offset the main themes. Goldberg shows that he’s well worth the time invested in this novel.

Eve Ronin has never had it easy within the Los Angeles Sheriff Department (LASD), having risen to fame after an amateur video depicted her defending a helpless individual. The animosity of her quick promotion has surrounded her, as she’s been unable to work with any of her colleagues, save one. Her current partner, Duncan ‘Donuts’ Pavone, has stuck by her, mostly because his retirement is only weeks away.

When Ronin and Pavone are called to the scene of a shooting, they are left baffled as to what’s happened. Two campers were shot in the field of a property used by some movie studios, one dead from her injuries. Ronin works as many angles as she can, trying to determine who might have wanted these women killed and why. Unbeknownst to her, the surviving victim is an active blogger who has amassed a number of enemies in the social media world.

As Ronin and Pavone try to make headway, other shootings from the past come to light, leaving them to wonder if this might be part of a larger crime spree. The evidence has yet to confirm that and the forensics are sparse, leaving the LASD detectives to pull at any threads before them. When a prominent leader in the community is shot, things ramp up to a new level of intensity, forcing Ronin and Pavone to take a second and third look at the evidence before them.

All the while, Ronin is trying to juggle work with the news that her life story and crime fighting is being turned into the latest direct-to-streaming television program. With writers trying to paint her in ways that are not entirely realistic to parents who have come out of the woodwork to offer up their own services, and even Pavone who wants in on the action as a creative consultant. Ronin will have to keep it all in check, as a shooter and killer remains at large. Could it all come crashing down before it’s even started? Goldberg does well with their fourth novel in the series, showing that there is a lot left to discover about Eve Ronin and those around her.

Having been saddled with a number of heavier reads in the last few weeks, I needed something a little lighter. Goldberg’s piece was the perfect pick, as it mixes a quick narrative with a captivating story that kept me entertained throughout. While it may be a but of irony, I could see the novel (and the rest of the series) working well as a television program, with the perfect balance of crime thriller and humour throughout. Goldberg has a great deal of experience when it comes to writing in all forms and it shows with this piece, which is both an easy and quick read for those seeking something light.

Eve Ronin has been through a great deal, as series fans will known. While Goldberg does summarise much of it in this book, the entirety of the series shows how Ronin has struggled to defend her position within the LASD. She’s been forced to juggle an intense workload with some interesting goings-on in her personal life, always keeping her on her toes. While she may never win over all those within the LASD, Ronin tries to stand tall and do her job without letting the politics drag her down. Still, there is more to Ronin that the reader has yet to discover, and I hope Goldberg will keep pursuing her development in upcoming novels.

While not all books are created equal, there are times a reader just needs something light and entertaining. This is one of those pieces, allowing the reader something exciting and fast-paced without requiring too much thinking. Goldberg uses a strong narrative and good plot development to hook the reader, while adding great characters and a story arc that provides something else to enjoy. I discovered Goldberg through another series, but find myself completely enthralled with this one as well, which inserts just enough humour to keep me coming back and excited whenever I see publication news about a new instalment.

Kudos, Mr. Goldberg, for helping ease me into the summer months with the first of what I hope are many great ‘beach’ or ‘travel’ reads. I look forward to whatever else you have in store for your fans.

And There He Kept Her, by Joshua Moehling

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Joshua Moehling, andPoisoned Pen Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

New to the work of Joshua Moehling, I thought that this book would make for an interesting read. I was pleasantly surprised as to how smoothly things went, with a dark thriller that carried me through to the final page and left me wanting more. Moehling does well to paint a sinister picture with this story and has me wondering if I ought to return to explore more of his work in the months to come.

When two teens target a house in a remote community, they are hoping to score something to help with their drug high. Little do they know what awaits them there, or that the proprietor has a plan of his own. Wanting to keep the past hidden, Emmett Burr will stop at nothing to silence the teens and keep the past cemented there.

Ben Packard hopes a fresh start in Sandy Lake, Minnesota will help his demeanour. Working as a sheriff’s deputy, Packard hopes to bring security to the community and rewrite his own personal narrative. Leading the investigation to to the two missing teens, Packard is prepared to pull out all the stops and show how effective he can be. With few clues and leads drying up faster than he can process them, Packard will have to rely on his gut and intuition, which is anything but stellar.

As the story reaches its climax, those involved show how a spine-chilling tale can truly grip everyone. A mystery and thriller like no other, Moehling shows that he has what it takes to stand next to others in the genre and make himself known. Easily the best thriller I have read in a while by an author worth of more attention.

Joshua Moehling may not have been on my radar before, but this novel has surely made me take note. I enjoyed the perspexctive he offers throughout and the dedication to the genre exhibited in the story. An eerie tale with some strong character development, Moehling taps into the inner soul of both character and reader, offering a story that will make people take note and want to know more.

While it would be easy to focus all my attention on Ben Packard, I found that there were a handful of great characters who emerged throughout the reading experience. There is a little backstory involved, as well as some great development, all of which feeds into the larger =narrative to keep the story moving, Moehling does well to proponent the reader with something worth their time, without bemoaning too much of the personal lives of the characters involved. I am eager to see how he addresses his characters in other publications, as I was left feeling as though it was a unique approach to much of what I have read lately.

The key to a great story is pulling the reader in from the opening pages. I was hooked before things got too far along and could not get enough. The narrative clipped along and left me fully engaged by the first few chapters, though I was able to steer my way through the plot with some ease. Great characters, developed effectively, kept me on track and the twists came just as I needed them. I am eager to see what else is out there by Joshua Moehling and how this compares to it. Hoping others will discover and devour this book as well, allowing the conversation to grow swiftly.

Kudos, Mr. Moehling, for a great piece. I am pleased to have stumbled upon it and cannot wait for more!

Backstory, by William L. Myers Jr.

Eight stars

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

Happy to read another book by William L. Myers Jr., I turned to this standalone, which packs just as much punch as his Philadelphia legal thrillers. Myers shows that he is versatile in his writing and grips the reader from the opening pages with this story that has a number of twists to keep things on point. Fans of his series will see some of the same spark in this piece, which will surely solidify their admiration for William L. Myers Jr.

It is all a blur to Jackson Robert Hunter, but when he opens his eyes outside a bar, all he has to show for it is a sore head and no memory. He’s soon told that his wife has committed suicide, but Hunter has an inkling that it was staged as part of a murder plot, with the killer still out there. He’s determined to find out who was behind this and ensure justice is served.

As he begins to investigate, Hunter realises that his amnesia has been cover something even more problematic, namely his own sordid past. His marital history is anything but pristine, with betrayal towards his wife and a lover he left hanging on at least one occasion. Broken hearts are only part of the issue, as there are a number of dirty cops who turned the other way, ready to exact their own revenge on him. Could his wife’s murder be the cost of it all?

From a small community in Kansas, Hunter finds himself in various parts of the US, discovering family secrets he did not know existed. His hopes of tracking down the killer is mired in his own dark past and those who remember all too well what he did to them. His chase intensifies as he realises that he is also trying to piece together his own life, which is anything but reputable. Myers offers another winner that is sure to keep the reader flipping pages well into the night.

There is something about Myers’ writing that pulls me in every time. His direct approach and wonderful storytelling makes for a great reading experience, no matter the topic at hand. A clear cut narrative offers the reader something wonderful to use as a guide and provides ample time to get excited about the experience until the final page turn, when all comes crashing together. Whether this is a deviation from his Philadelphia series or the start of something new, I am eager to see what else Myers has to offer in the coming years.

Jackson Robert Hunter is a wonderful character whose life is full of gaps, primarily related to the amnesia he suffered when his wife died. He progresses throughout the book, offering both personal backstory and some development in the hunt for his wife’s killer, providing the reader something of a larger picture. Hunter’s struggles are real, though he does not know them all, leaving him to meander through a darkness he cannot easily navigate. Myers effectively creates and dismantles his protagonist throughout the story, leaving the reader to judge what sort of man they have before them.

I have always enjoyed William L. Myers Jr. for his writing and the spin he places on his stories. While I am used to something highly legal in nature, this was a great move away from it, offering the reader a different flavouring. A strong narrative is complemented by great characters and a stirring plot. The chapters are succinct enough for the reader to want to push through, though also offer the chance to take a momentary rest. Myers spins a tale like few others I have known and makes the reading experience enjoyable. I am eager to see what he has next on his publication radar, hoping it will be just as enticing.

Kudos, Mr. Myers, for another great piece. You shine like few in the genre.

Snowstorm in August, by Marshall Karp

Eight stars

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

While I have read a bunch of his collaborative work, this is the first time I have had the opportunity to see what Marshall Karp can do on his own. This piece is intense and full of great character development, making the experience one that I hope to repeat again soon. Touching on a number of pertinent issues with enough action to keep things moving, Karp shows that he has what it takes to stand on his own and impact the genre quite effectively.

A freak snowstorm in August is all New York City needs. When Central Park is transformed into a winter wonderland, many wonder if it is an environmental situation. However, as people begin to suffer the consequences of the falling flakes, it’s soon revealed that this ‘snow’ is actually uncut cocaine, falling from the sky. Thousands die or are seriously injured and someone will have to pay.

Trying to untangle it all is left at the feet of Danny Corcoran, whose time as a captain in the NYPD recently came to an abrupt halt. With a handful of other retired cops, Corcoran is being anonymously funded to get to the heart of the matter and solve it before anyone else gets hurt. It turns out that Joaquín Alboroto, a powerful drug load feared around the world, is responsible for the carnage and will stop at nothing to keep it going, as long as those who stand in his way refuse to bow down.

While Corcoran and his team work as many angles as possible, the truth behind Alboroto’s plan comes to fruition. It will take ruthless behaviour and strategic planning to bring the kingpin down, but Corcoran has nothing to lose. He’s ready for a fight and this is sure to be one that will only end when someone’s body is gathering dust on the ground. Karp’s intense thriller kept me hooked until the final page turn.

While I discovered the work of Marshall Karp reading the James Patterson NYPD Red series, I could tell that there was something there worth exploring. Karp is one of the few collaborators whose work I have never had issues reading and actually come to enjoy when I see publication dates approaching. His book had all the elements needed for a great thriller and added some grit to the mix, making it even better. A strong narrative and substantial character development kept me hoping for a great story, which came in time. I can only hope that there are more books in this vein for me to enjoy before too long.

Danny Corcoran proved to be an entertaining protagonist throughout the. reading journey. Not only does he have the gumption needed to be a great investigator, but the personal side of his life is on full offer. Corcoran offers an intuitive approach to the investigation and provides the reader with a great adventure throughout while also providing some emotional insight, both into a past with his wife, as well as with some familial issues that prove to be an interesting sub-plot. I would be interested in seeing more of Danny Corcoran, should the chance arise.

Marshal Karp is truly a talented author in his own regard. His writing is crisp and style is just what I would expect in this genre. A well-paced narrative offers the reader the necessary roadmap to successfully make their way through everything taking place, with a handful of strong characters to offer intrigue and keep things interesting. Short chapters propel the book forward and permit the reader to feel as though they could easily devour the book in a sitting or two. I am eager to see if this was a standalone or if Karp will be back with more Corcoran. It is sure to attract many readers, such as myself, who have never read any of Karp’s own books.

Kudos, Mr. Karp, for a great novel. Now that I know you can spin a formidable tale, I will be adding you to my radar.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/snowstorm-in-august/

Beneath Cruel Waters, by Jon Bassoff

Seven stars

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

Never one to shy away from adding new authors to my radar, I willingly agreed to try this book by Jon Bassoff. A psychological thriller like no other, Bassoff weaves a tale that is sure to capture the reader’s attention from the opening pages. Holt Davidson thought that he left his hometown in the rearview mirror, but receives a startling call one day. His mother has committed suicide, forcing Holt to make his way back to Colorado. What he finds is a collection of items that opens up a world of pain for Holt, as well as a pile of questions, some of which include his institutionalised sister. What follows is a secret that Holt may have wished he’d never tried to solve. Bassoff does well to keep the reader intrigued throughout, proving that he has something worth noticing.

While Holt Davidson has made a name for himself, he’s not returned to Thompsonville, Colorado, for years. All that changes when he learns that his mother committed suicide. Holt returns, in hopes of attending the funeral and making a quick exit back to Kansas, but that’s not in the cards. Instead, a night in his family home turns up some new mysteries.

Holt finds himself trying to make peace with his mother and the childhood he fled. When he finds a gun, a gory photograph, and a love letter from someone he does not know, the mystery only thickens. Holt will have to piece it all together, in hopes of learning what his mother did all those years ago.

If this were not enough, the mystery extends to Holt’s sister, who has been institutionalised for years. What role might she have played in the mystery and could sue hold additional clues as to what Holt has stumbled upon? Dark secrets re-emerge at the worst possible times, forcing Holt Davidson to face them before returning to his life in the Midwest. A great story that keeps the reader guessing until the final page turn.

While I love all things psych thriller, not all books are able to capture the essence of a chilling tale. Jon Bassoff does well to present his story in a straightforward fashion, while keeping the reader on their toes throughout the process. A strong underlying story is complemented by decent writing that adds the addictive factor many seek in books within the genre. While I was not as gobsmacked as many others who appear to have reviewed it, I can see strong writing abilities emerging throughout the reading journey.

Holt Davidson proves to be a worthwhile protagonist, holding his own as his life is turned upside down. He’s fairly level headed from start to finish, taking only a little time to appear shocked and in awe, particularly when things take turns he could not have predicted. Holt appears unsure how to handle much f what he learns, particularly when his memory of his childhood is fogged by a certain belief system. Bassoff does well to keep the reader wondering about this man and how his past collides with the present he thought he knew, keeping the narrative strong and the character development ever-present.

The sign of a great writer is one who can capture the reader’s attention from the early pages and hold it throughout. Bassoff does that here with a strong narrative style that does not stop, irrespective of what is going on around him. With strong characters and the ability to have them weather different timelines in the narrative, these individuals pop and come to life throughout the reading experience. Bassoff knows his craft and presents it well. Leaving me wondering things on numerous occasions. While I was not as stunned by what I read as many others, I appreciate the strength of the author’s ability and will look to see what else he has out there for me to try in the coming months.

Kudos, Mr. Bassoff, for a great piece that piqued my interest from the opening pages.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/beneath-cruel-waters/

The Rising Tide, by Sam Lloyd

Seven stars

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

Happy to finds new authors to enjoy, I turned to this piece by Sam Lloyd, as the dust jacket blurb caught my attention. Lloyd tells a gripping tale that is sure to make the reader take notice. While living in a seaside town, Lucy soon discovers that her family yachts is missing, as is her husband. When the boat is located, it’s empty and there’s no sign of her husband either. Thus begins a series of events that not only forces Lucy to take notice, but also leaves a chill running down her spine. How quickly things can change, changing a bucolic town to a place of worry. Lloyd weaves quite the tale and forces the reader to take note throughout this mysterious story.

Lucy is living the life that she always wanted on the Devon Coast, with a family that she loves and all the dreams she’s ever hoped to acquire.All comes crashing down and changes in the blink of an eye one day, forcing Lucy to rethink everything she thought that she knew.

A hard knock at the door changes it forever, when Lucy’s alerted that the family yacht has been recovered out in the water. There’s no trace of her husband, which sends Lucy into a fit of panic. However, it all comes into perspective soon thereafter and Lucy is forced to wonder whether her husband may have orchestrated something as part of a larger plan, one that she was not privy to at any point.

When the rescue mission begins, Lucy has high hopes that it will come to provide answers quickly and everything will prove to be a major mistake. However, a horrible storm blows in and Lucy discovers something that changes her mind in an instant. Still, she has hopes that it is all a bad dream, one from which she can wake soon and hit the rest button, once at for all. However, there is that lingering feeling in the back of her mind that emerges, leaving Lucy to ponder if she might be the one being played in all this. A chilling tale that proves Sam Lloyd has what it takes to develop a great thriller for readers to enjoy.

I’ve had a mix of success and disappointment when it comes to new writers over the past while. Even as some praise the work of a writer, I feel as though I might have missed the mark and am left to scratch my head. While I did enjoy Sam Lloyd’s piece, I am left feeling as though everyone else got something that I could not find, at least based on the reviews I have seen. Lloyd knows how to tell a story and keeps the reader in the middle, but it was not as impactful as I would have liked.

Lucy remains a wonderful protagonist, at the centre of the entire piece. Her early revelations of having the ‘perfect life’ left her vulnerable throughout the piece, something Lloyd uses to his advantage in the writing process. There is a grittiness to her, especially as the story unfolds, leaving Lucy one who refuses to stand down or deny what’s going on. She needs answers and will stop at nothing to get them, even as she is deceived with every step she takes. It is surely Lloyd’s superior abilities that puts all this on display for the reader to synthesise.

Thrillers are sometimes the hardest novel for me to enjoy, as I need a hook from the early stages to pull me into the middle. Many authors prefer the slow reveal, which may work for some, but I am overly fickle when it comes to narrative development. Lloyd does well to set the scene in this book, offering the reader something they can enjoy, while also keeping it innocent for the early pages of the book. A handful of well-developed characters keep the reader learning on a constant basis and forces the reader to attach early on. The plot was sound and kept me wanting to know more, even if things did not go in the direction I had hoped most of the time. I am curious to see how Sam Lloyd writes its other parameters and so I think that it might bode well to give the other novel out there a chance to see how it stands up to this one. All in good time.

Kudos, Mr. Lloyd, for a decent piece of writing. I am happy so many found it so impactful and wonder if I am the anomaly here.

Murder in the Neighborhood, by Ellen J. Green

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ellen J. Green, and Thread for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always curious about the world of true crime, I eagerly chose this book to enjoy. The story appeared straightforward and the premise clear, which only made it all the most intriguing to me. One hot, September morning in 1949, a young man walks along the main strip in East Camden, New Jersey and begins firing. Where the smoke settles, thirteen people are dead. While the shooter did not deny committing the crime, there’s a concern of mental illness, which forces the authorities to undertake significant testing. What follows is the story of the shooting, its aftermath, and a deeper exploration of what might have happened to lead a “quiet man” to commit such a horrific crime. Ellen J. Green does a masterful job at storytelling in this piece.

It was a muggy morning, that September 6, 1949, when Raymond Havens headed out to get a haircut. Little did he know, his life would change forever that day. While walking up the main road in East Camden, New Jersey, Havens heard shots and soon saw Howard Unruh wielding a gun and shooting indiscriminately. Blood flowed and bodies fell, leaving thirteen people dead after Unruh’s twelve-minute spree. This was the first recorded mass shooting in the United States and the authorities were baffled.

Unruh did not deny the shooting, allowing himself to be taken into custody. However, with the electric chair as a looming possibility, everyone wanted to make sure that things were clear, sending Unruh for evaluation to ensure he was fit to stand trial. All the while, young Raymond began piecing things together for himself, wondering if there were more to the story than a war vet who lost his way.

As the story progresses, the reader receives insight into the life of Howard Unruh, as well as the connection that he had with his family. His time in Europe was surely trying on him, as was the struggles he faced afterwards when he returned stateside. Deep psychological analyses helped professionals see a darker side to Unruh, one that few knew about, but which turned to fodder for the press and local gossip circles.

Raymond offers his own views on the shooting, having witnessed it, as well as some of the encounters he had with Unruh leading up to the day. Together, it may create a more comprehensive narrative as to why a twenty-eight year old man would turn from docile into someone filled with rage. The truth reveals much and paints quite a complicated picture of this small, coastal town. Ellen J. Green does a wonderful job with this piece, pulling the reader in from the opening pages.

While true crime is not my go-to genre, I do enjoy treating myself on occasion. I enjoy learning more about the crimes, the background, and the thought of the killer as they prepare for the event. Ellen J. Green did a wonderful job of telling this story, the first documented mass shooting spree in US history. She looks at the event from a number of angles and pulls on details that help shape the narrative in interesting ways. The writing is clear and flows well, keeping the reader a part of the action all the way through.

Green focuses her attention on Howard Unruh and Raymond Havens throughout the piece, though there are many others whose appearance helps shape the narrative. These two offer insights in the shooting itself, its backstory, and even the fallout thereafter. Green uses them and their views primarily to cobble things together for the curious reader. That said, she was a great job of providing needed backstory on the victims as well and how townsfolk handled the news and scandal of such a crime in their own backyards.

Green’s depiction of events in 1949 is not only clear, but also helps develop a wonderful foundation for the rest of the novel. Working with primary sources and small-town newspapers, she pieces the crime together, offering the reader some insights throughout the narrative. A well-paced story, told from a few angles, makes things come to life and provides the reader with the needed insight to come to some of their pwn conclusions as well. Exploring the lives of many, victims and townsfolk alike, helps breathe a realism into the piece that makes the reader want to delve a little deeper. While there were no major mysteries surrounding the shootings, it is the secret life that came to be discovered that makes this book all the more suspenseful. I will have to look into reading more that Green has to offer, when time permits.

Kudos, Madam Green, for a great piece you said was recounted to you by a family members all those years ago. You did it justice and I cannot wit to do some of my own research on the subject.

Cold Snap (Arliss Cutter #4), by Marc Cameron

Eight stars

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

Always a fan of Marc Cameron’s writing, I was pleased to get my hands on his latest in the Arliss Cutter series, set up in Alaska. When random body parts begin to appear on the shore, there is talk that a serial killer may be lurking in the shadows. While working as a US Marshal up in Alaska, Arliss Cutter agrees to help with the case, only to be pulled away for a random prisoner transport up in a rural part of the state. What follows is a harrowing hunt for a killer, and a transport that goes horribly wrong. Cameron dazzles again with his writing and keeps the reader on their toes throughout.

The move from Florida to Alaska is one that Arliss Cutter has never regretted, particularly as it has helped his family out a great deal. Still, there are days that he cannot help but wonder if the cold climate is worth the risk. As a US Marshal, he’s never bored, as the work is ever-evolving and he never knows what to expect.

When body parts begin to turn up on the shore, Cutter is stymied, as well as the local Anchorage Police. Alongside his partner, Lola Teariki, Cutter tries to lend a hand while the locals follow up on some leads. It would seem that the killer is targeting women who work as prostitutes, capturing them when no one would notice. Still, some others cannot help but mention the siting of a ‘Tall Man’, but the information appears to lead nowhere at all.

While Lola works closely with the Anchorage Police, Cutter is called away on a prisoner transport in the northern part of the state. Ready and armed for most anything, he heads out to bring a group of men back to Anchorage. During the flight back, the plane encounters some trouble and lands in the middle of nowhere, leaving Cutter and a few others to try surviving with some ruthless criminals. As temperatures drop and the wildlife in the region come out to scavenge, Cutter and the others will have to survive long enough for someone to rescue them, whenever that might be. A killer on the loose who dismembers victims with ease, a plane stranded in the middle of nowhere… there’s no telling what might happen. Marc Cameron keeps the tension high throughout this fourth novel in the series.

Marc Cameron has always impressed with his writing, mixing grit and determination with the uniqueness of rural Alaska. Using the US Marshals angle, Cameron is able to effectively explore the excitement of prisoner hunts with usual criminal activity that requires daily attention. A strong narrative and great characters, with some building sub-plots, Cameron impresses series fans with this piece, which pushes the story to a new level of excitement. By the end, there is a definite push for how the series might conclude, or move in new directions.

Arliss Cutter has evolved a great deal throughout the series, though much of it is in the form of character development, rather than backstory. Having moved to Alaska to help his sister-in-law after the death of his brother, Arliss plays a dual role as US Marshal and quasi-parent, though he does not wish to accentuate the latter. Convinced that he can find out what happened to his brother, who appears to have committed suicide, Arliss works hard to represent the Marshals and liaise with some of the local law enforcement entities around the state. Where things will go in the coming novels is anyone’s guess, but I am eager to see what Cameron has in store for his protagonist.

While crime thrillers can become quite repetitive, Marc Cameron has found the recipe to stand out. It could be the way he handles the ‘hunt for the killer’, or even that the Alaskan backdrop makes the story come to life, but whatever it is, Cameron has mastered it. His detailed narrative allows the reader to feel as though they are in the middle of the action, which takes things into the coldest parts of the state as well. Well-paced and full of action, the narrative pushes things along well, using characters to keep the story intriguing at evert page turn. A few strong plot lines push the story along effectively and permits the reader to remain engaged as truths come to light slowly, but consistently. While I am unsure where things are headed with this series, Cameron offers some breadcrumbs in the final chapter of the book, which could move the novels in a different ‘hunt for the truth’ direction.

Kudos, Mr. Cameron, for another winner. I hope others discover this series and find the same engaging nature in your writing.

Anatomy of Torture, by Ron E. Hassner

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ron E. Hassner, and Cornell University Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always one to keep my brain sharp with some academic reading, I turned to this analysis by Ron E. Hassner. While talk of torture and ‘enhanced interrogation’ were buzz words a few decades ago, the topic can still bring out many opinions on both sides of the argument. Does it work? How effective is it? When (if ever) should it be used to garner needed information? Hassner tackles these and many other questions, while also exploring the ethics of torture and its analysis in this concise book that is full of information and opportunities for the reader to learn.

From the outset, Hassner explains that not much is known about modern torture, mostly because it is not documented publicly. Surely, the Americans used it quite significantly after September 11, 2001, but they used euphemisms and kept specifics locked away in classified documents, making any analysis all but impossible. Hassner also explores that different sources offer greatly varied answers when it comes to certain people who were detained, including types, frequency, and intensity of torture. Therefore, any analysis of modern torture is impossible and leaves the door wide open for speculative answers, which is not Hassner’s intention.

Instead, the book examines some of the torture that history has provided with a great deal of documentation. Hassner focuses his attention on the Spanish Inquisition, which used torture quite extensively and over a long period of time. There are also a great number of resources readily available to the curious academic that discuss torture of all kinds and its effectiveness. Hassner uses this for the foundation of his tome and explores how it brought about results, but not in the same way US sources cite torture is used.

The attentive reader will see that Hassner divides torture not only by the time period within the Inquisition, but also types of torture used. It was primarily used to extract information, not pigeonhole individuals who were of a different religious belief. Use of secondary information was key to corroborate views before torture might have been considered, rather than relying on pain to lead towards truth telling. In fact, Hassner explicitly mentions throughout that extreme pain was likely not an effective type of torture, as it would have the recipient say whatever was needed to stop the agony, rather than revealing needed truths.

After a few case studies and analysis, Hassner turns to the ethics of torture and reporting it in a modern, academic fashion. While there have been groups who have used torture for long periods, many sought to scare populations, rather than extract key pieces of information from specific people. This is key to better understanding the process and how torture can only be as effective as its application. Use it too broadly and it becomes moot, though some regimes seem not to mind the stick over the carrot approach.

Ron E. Hassner provides the reader with a strong and well-paced book on torture, exemplifying its effective use, as well las its key downfalls. He uses strong examples, both modern and historical, to support his arguments, but chooses to remain as neutral as possible on the subject, so that the reader can come up with some of their own conclusions. The chapters were full of information, both prose and tabular, allowing for effective and comprehensive understanding of everything on the subject matter. While some of it did get a little deeper than I would have expected (or, at times,could synthesise), I thoroughly enjoyed learning and took much away from this short tome. While I may not be rushing out to read a great deal else on the subject, it has piqued my interest to see what others say on the topic and how they contrast with the work Hassner presented here.

Kudos, Mr. Hassner, for a wonderful chance to better understand theins and out of torture, as well as how history has taught us its uses and downfalls.

Redemption, by Mike Lawson

Eight 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.

Long a fan of Mike Lawson and his writing, I was eager to get my hands on his latest book. A standalone, rather than his long-running Joe DeMarco series, I wondered how Lawson would handle this chance to step away from the world of politics and ‘fixing’. Jamison Maddox had it all in the world of finance, but got a little greedy and it almost cost him everything. When he receives a random invite to join a company in the middle of nowhere, he is leery, but accepts the offer. What follows is a job where he does odd research for his boss, without knowing much of anything, nor is he allowed to share with anyone. After falling for someone in town and agreeing to flee, Maddox risks it all, his life included, to stay one step ahead of his crooked employer and those sent to find him. Lawson does a magnificent job with this standalone and offers the reader a real treat in his latest novel.

Jamison Maddox lived the high life of finance in New York, all before it came crashing down and he faced jail time. Able to weasel his way out of prison, Maddox seeks a new life to reinvent himself. When he is approached to join an elusive company in Redemption, Illinois, he reluctantly agrees. It is only then that he realises that this is not your usual company.

Tasked with completing research without asking questions about clients or colleagues, Maddox begins to wonder if everything is entirely above board. Still, he does the work asked of him, though he soon finds himself drawn to his colleague, Gillian Jamison, who happens to be the wife of his immediate superior. Together, they agree that something is off and they can no longer stay in Redemption, worried that they might get caught up in a web of lies and illegal activity.

While many would think leaving a job would be the end of it, Maddox and Gillian soon learn that the work they did was part of a larger criminal scheme, and death is the only way to ensure their silence. While they remain on the lam, both must dodge those sent to terminate them once and for all. Unsure who he can trust, Jamison Maddox tries to find safety and must devise a plan to share what he knows before he, or his family, face the ultimate consequence. Mike Lawson does a fabulous job spinning this tale and it is sure to keep the reader up well into the night.

I have long enjoyed the Joe DeMarco series that Mike Lawson has been developing for many years. Still, it was nice to get out of that framework for a new and unique thriller by the author. Lawson has invested a great deal of time and effort into making this as strong as his series work, succeeding in ways I could not imagine. A strong story with well-established characters, Lawson offers the reader a gem in this piece, which is sure to make a mark within the genre!

Jamison Maddox might not be entirely unique as a character, but his impact is seen throughout this story. His backstory is developed in the early part of the novel, which sets the stage for some great advancements. Lawson develops his protagonist well, without going over the top. There is much to the man and his skills, but also some of the weaknesses work well to establish relatable flaws. Maddox assumes the role of hero, whistleblower, and man on the run in equal measure throughout, while also falling into the odd trap when blinded by lust. Lawson has done well with him, as well as many of the other key characters in this piece.

Authors who are well-established can sometimes rest on their laurels and use fame to push them forward, Mike Lawson does not do that, choosing to keep reinventing himself with ease novel he releases. This was another winner, with a great narrative that flowed throughout the ups and downs of the story. Developing some key characters helped set the foundation for a strong story and permitted key plot lines to push the novel in various directions. Mike Lawson has something for everyone in this piece, which takes the reader on an adventure like no other. Those who love his series work will likely also enjoy this piece, which has some of the same high-impact action throughout its pages.

Kudos, Mr. Lawson, for another great novel. I can only hope others will see what I did and grab this book when time permits.

One for Sorrow (DI Callanach #7), by Helen Sarah Fields

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Helen 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 Fields returns with another great police procedural that pulls the reader into the middle of a chilling investigation with horrible outcomes. No one is safe and many characters in the series find themselves inadvertently in the crosshairs. After a tragic crime leaves DCI Ava Turner gutted, she has a hard time moving on. However, Turner forced to keep working as she tries to locate a bomber who appears keen to kill as many as possible with highly devastating weaponry. DCI Turner and her right-hand man, DI Luc Callanach, will have to crack the code before it’s too late, or face more bodies. Fields does a masterful job at pulling the reader into this fast paced thriller.

DCI Ava Turner has always considered herself one who can separate work from personal life, no matter how closely run. However, when a bomb explodes in the morgue and the chief pathologist is killed, DCI Turner has second thoughts. A life-long friend is dead and the bomb used was embedded inside a corpse ready for autopsy. When the call comes in to Police Scotland about another bomb set to go off, it’s a race to the scene.

While Turner and DI Luc Callanach prepare to handle the situation, a bomb inside a pregnant woman explodes, killing many of the emergency attendants in the area, including one of Turner’s team. This only spirals her deeper into despair with no leads to work the case and superiors ready to send her packing.

In a flashback sequence, a young woman begins a relationship with an elusive man, one who has been able to sweep her off her feet. When a video emerges to show that she was raped, an event she does not remember, things take a turn and the suspect goes on the defensive. With little hard evidence to tie him to the assault, he walks free, but there is a great deal of animosity towards Liam Cook.

As the bombings continue, DI Callanach tries to get inside the murderer’s head to see what they might use as motivation to commit these acts. It’s a dark and sinister pathway, one that is filled with twists. However, the truth is out there, with an explosive (pardon the pun) ending that ties it all together. Helen Fields has done so well with this series, keeping fans on the edge of their seat!

Helen Fields created this series with a great spin on it, using DI Luc Callanach to offset the typical Scottish flavour of the police procedural. She’s been able to effectively work through a number of issues, using the Scottish Frenchman effectively while pairing him alongside DCI Ava Turner, a one-time equal who has risen the ranks. The story turns more towards Turner and her personal angst with what is going on, while layering two time periods and crimes that are seemingly unrelated. With great plot building and decent characters that series fans have come to enjoy, Fields keeps the reader enthused and entertained without hesitation.

While much of the series has worked through the relationship, professional and personal, that DCI Ava Turner and DI Luc Callanach have forged, it takes a backburner to some of the inner struggles that these murders have created. DCI Turner has been personally impacted by the bombings and is trying to piece her lifer together because of it, making little headway. Her issues are compounded when she has to function and lead, as well as keep her personal life in balance,. DI Callanach does play a role in this one, though it appears to be more secondary, at least for most of the novel. Still, there is something series fans will enjoy, should they pay close attention to what Fields is offering.

While police procedurals are plentiful, the genre is always looking for a unique take or interpretation. Fields has used Luc Callanach as her niche, embedding his French upbringing into every situation. Fields has tackled many topics within the book, using her narrative to push the story along effectively. The plots, while seemingly independent, have some threads left hanging for the reader to tie off, though it may take some attentive reading to do so. The two timelines work well in this piece, allowing the reader to appear as though there are two sets of crimes taking place throughout. While Fields has presented some great standalone thrillers, this series is where she blossoms and I cannot wait to see what’s next and how it will work with a broken and troubled DCI Turner!

Kudos, Madam Fields, for another series success! I hope others find it as exciting as I have.

Storm Front (Alex Morgan #2), by Leo J. Maloney

Eight stars

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

Leo J. Maloney is back with another thriller, keeping things in the Morgan family. His younger protagonist, Alex, is full of energy, as she tries to fill the shoes of her father while working for Zeta Group. After being the target of an attack by Ares, Alex Morgan realises that her life is in danger. What better way to protect herself than to agree to an undercover mission on a cruise ship, where Ares is set to strike? Alex will have to infiltrate those who seek to cause harm and wrest control back for Zeta before it’s too late. However, she is not the only Morgan on a mission, one that could end in death! Maloney does well to keep the action high and the twists plentiful.

Alex Morgan loves being an operative for Zeta Group, even if it means that she is sometimes compared to her father, Dan. When Alex is almost killed in an explosion at work, she comes to terms that it was likely Ares who are responsible, Zeta’s enemy, trying to do away with the young foot soldier. Faced with a security issue, Alex agrees to go undercover on a cruise ship in the Coral Sea, hoping to infiltrate the group and likely discover what Ares has in store.

After some rigourous training, Alex is placed aboard the shop and slowly works her way into discovering what is going on, which includes an attach on the ship by would-be pirates. However, she is not going to take this sitting down and shows true grit during the entire ordeal.

Meanwhile, Dan Morgan has learned of his daughter’s mission and has one of his own to handle in Australia. He’s working as best he can to uncover truths many would like buried, all while Zeta Group tries to juggle the intel that is flowing in. With two Morgans working so efficiently, Ares does not stand a chance, or do they?

Time is ticking on this mission and neither Dan nor Alex can risk failure, as it could cost them their lives. It will require patience and some real dedication, something that is woven into the fabric of the Morgans from a young age. However, one wrong move could prove deadly. Maloney does well developing this new generation of Morgan intel operative, which is sure to impress fans of his other works.

I have long admired the work of Leo J. Maloney and the attention to detail he puts into his books. There is something exciting with each piece, which they all tie into together nicely. This book flowed well, with an easy narrative and straightforward chapters. I found it waned at times for my liking, but it could be a slight reading slump in which I find myself.

Alex Morgan is a great character who has come into her own over the last while. She has been forced to live in her father’s shadow, at least since she knew about his work with Zeta Group. Now, she is on her won and facing danger every day. There is some great character development throughout the piece and the reader gets to know a little more about Alex, as well as how she ticks. I am eager to see more as time gores on and this new series comes into its own.

Leo J. Maloney uses this series twist to his advancing, easing Alex Morgan into the role of protagonist without pushing Dan out of the limelight completely. The narrative works well and keeps the reader on their toes, as plot twists arise throughout with great regularlity. Shorter chapters help keep the flow and things are never in a true lull. All that being said, I could not connect as effectively as I would have liked throughout this piece, feeling things weren’t as impactful as they could have been. Perhaps I am simply having a tough time of it lately, but I felt there was a missing link that I cannot properly identify. We’ll see if this was simply a blip when next Alex Morgan graces us with her presence.

Kudos, Mr. Maloney, for another great novel. I am eager to see what you have to come in the next few months.

The Broken Room, by Peter Clines

Seven stars

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

There is a great deal of excitement and mystery when I am handled a novel by an author with whom I have no history. Will I enjoy it, or will the style not meet all the expectations I develop when reading the dust jacket blurb? Such was the case when someone asked me to read this early copy of Peter Clines’ novel, which sounded right up my alley. Hector is minding his own business, when a young girl enters the bar he frequents and says that she was sent to find him. Baffled by this, Hector begins speaking with Natalie, only to realise that things are much more complicated than they appear at first. Now, Hector and Natalie are on the run from those who have been keeping the pre-teen girl and it does not seem as though they are much pleased with current circumstances. As Hector learns more, he discovers that Natalie could hold the key to something special, though he is not sure it’s being used effectively and wants to protect her from further harm. Clines does well to hook the reader at the outset in this sci-fi type thriller that mixes in just enough grit to be suspenseful.

Hector went by many names during his time working for the US Government. He could make a difference at the drop of a hat, though he was betrayed and this left a sour taste in his mouth. Now, to compensate, he medicates himself through the bottle, turning in one sour feeling for another and his no plans to stop.

When a young Natalie enters the bar he calls home base, Hector is leery. He wonders if this is some sort of set-up and can only hope that the prankster has no plans to do him in. However, as Natalie shares more, Hector realises that this is something even more troubling. Natalie has escaped from a facility, after being used for some odd scientific experiments. It reminds him of things he oversaw in the past and none of these were pleasant. Now, there are men out to get Natalie, which means Hector is a target as well.

As Hector and Natalie flee for safety, the young girl tells more of her story about experimentation and being subjected to ‘the broken room’, a place where radioactivity helps push test subjects to new heights. Hector soon discovers that Natalie has some powers that could prove deadly in the wrong hands and hopes to stay one step ahead of those who would recapture her and subject the pre-teen to more testing. However, it is not as easy as hiding out, as the others have guns and are determined to get their test subject back. Hector will have to use all his training and gumption to protect this girl he barely knows. Clines spins quite a tale here and leaves readers wondering throughout.

As I mentioned above, new authors tend to be a gamble for me, though Peter Clines makes a good case to add him to my list of those I follow. He develops a strong story and uses flashback sequences to tell of a past that is anything but pleasant, without overdoing things. While the plot is somewhat reminiscent of many novels I have read, the ideas are new and intriguing, with characters who bring life to the story throughout. Clines knows how to tell a story and uses that ability to get the reader eager to learn more with every page turn.

The dual protagonist roles surely go to Hector and Natalie throughout this piece. Both have their own stories to share, mired with angst and trouble, though this does not subsume the narrative. The connection between them is obvious from the get-go and any attentive reader will see that they bond as the story advances. While Hector has a lot to prove, he is also keenly aware that he is Natalie’s only hope for protection and must do what he can, which adds a parental level to this already busy story.

Peter Clines sets the scene for an intriguing piece and left me wanting more. Not that he lacked in development, but I remained curious about Natalie and Hector when I finished reading this piece, almost wondering if Clines had something else in the works to shed more light on their lives. His ability to create a strong narrative without skipping a beat of the action is present throughout, leaving the reader to delve deeper to learn even more. While the story is primarily about these two, there are some other characters that flavour the narrative effectively. Plots advance in a well-paced manner, even if some of the ideas are well-used within the genre. The reader is keenly aware of how things will likely progress, but cannot be entirely certain, which makes them all the more exciting. I would read more by Peter Clines, given the chance, if only to see what other ideas he has ruminating in mis mind and wishes to put to paper.

Kudos, Mr. Clines, for a great piece of fiction. I will see if I can get my hands on more of your work to see what I think whenever the chance arises.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/the-broken-room/

Don’t Get Close, by Matt Miksa

Seven stars

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

When handed this novel by Matt Miksa, I was not sure what to expect. Having never read the author, I entered this experience blind and ready for most anything. Miksa pens a decent novel with gripping storylines, sure to impress some readers as they learn a little more. When a ruthless cult re-emerges on the scene after a bombing, a new FBI agent is forced to piece things together, both about the case that the group as a whole. All the while, she hopes not to get sucked in as she discovers more about those responsible for significant harm. Miksa does well with this piece, proving he can weave a great tale for all those who are interested.

After leaving her lifelong dream of being an artist, FBI Special Agent Vera Taggart is beginning to wonder if she made the right choice. She has an unusual knack when it comes to working crime scenes, but this has not enamoured her to many within the Bureau. Taggart’s given the major assignment of investigating a set of bombings from years ago, hoping that a fresh look will provide new leads. Taggart combs through the evidence as it related to the Sons of Elijah, a cult with a penchant for suicide bombings. The Sons believe that they have special powers, having been reborn numerous times over the centuries. However, there’s something about them that has Special Agent Taggart curious and wanting to know more.

After a bomb destroys a Chicago restaurant, Special Agent Taggart knows the Sons of Elijah are back, ready to cause new pain to anyone around them. It’s then that Dr. Seth Jacobson becomes a key to the investigation. Dr. Jscobson is a renowned psychiatrist whose work with hypnotherapy has helped people tap into their past lives. Having had two of the Sons as patients before they began their bloody rampages, Taggart hopes that she can use Dr. Jacobson’s knowledge as a key to the investigation and open up new avenues to assist her. This sooon drifts into sessions of her own, where new truths emerge that rock Taggart to the core, while forcing her to question how well she knows herself after all. Mitka spins quite the tale here and leaves the reader much to contemplate.

It’s always tough to discover new authors, unsure if they will mesh with your style of reading or sense of adventure. Matt Miksa did well, showing that he has a great deal of promise with this novel. The premise of the book was strong and he used some interesting angles to prove his points, though there were times that I was not entirely sold on the final product. I enjoyed the book, but was not as enthralled as I might have hoped, based on the premise. Still, there is surely something in here for many, particularly those who enjoy thrillers that push a psychological angle at various points.

Special Agent Vera Taggart does well as a protagonist in the piece, offering up some of her backstory and developing well as the story moves along. She shows a penchant for wanting to impress, while also fighting against the current throughout the novel, something that is addressed in the early stages. As she becomes enthralled with her investigation, pieces of her past and present emerge and keep the reader curious until the final pages, when much is revealed. There is something about her that leaves the reader to want to know more, though this is surely something Miksa will have to decide in his upcoming writing projects.

A story that mixes past with present, crime fiction with psychological exploration, and a peppering of self-discovery is sure to have a great deal of success, which Matt Miksa hopes to have created here. He’s done well and keeps the reader curious as the story progresses. A decent narrative flows well and allows the reader to enjoy the journey. Chapters speed along, some swift and teasers, while others delve deeper into the story. I usually enjoy cults and how they work, as well as a good crime thriller. This piece had both, but seemed to have missed something to pull me into the middle of the story and not get enough. Perhaps it was me, but i will leave it to other readers to see how they felt, rather than pass sole judgment on the final product.

Kudos, Mr. Miksa, for piquing my interest. I am eager to see what you have planned next!

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/dont-get-close/

Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:

https://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/

Sea Storm (Underwater Investigation Unit #3), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

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

Andrew Mayne is back with another exciting story in the Underwater Investigation Unit series, showing how versatile his writing can be. Down in Florida, there are many parts to law enforcement, as Sloan McPherson knows well. Working as part of a dive team, McPherson and her partner answer a call when a cruise ship finds itself in trouble. What looks like a targeted crime soon becomes a highly volatile situation and Sloan McPherson refuses to let up until she has all the answers, even if it costs her everything.

When a distress call fills the airwaves, McPherson and her partner head towards a cruise ship off the coast of Fort Lauderdale. The ship appears to be sinking and there’s are thousands aboard. McPherson will have to act quickly to help them before things take a disastrous turn. She can see the panic in the eyes of many and this does not appear to be a simple malfunction, as smoke envelops the ship.

After examining the ship during an initial dive, it appears as though this was the act of an ecoterrorist, set to make a point. While Sloan uncovers more than could be of use to the investigators, she worries that an approaching storm could nullify all the evidence, thereby making any arrests impossible. What’s even more baffling is that no one appears to care much, leaving Sloan to worry that this is not a priority to anyone. If anything, many seem to be considering it as yet another protest move.

While she appears to be alone in this, Sloan pushes forward and discovers some new truths, things that could put the explosion into perspective and place a target on her back. Never one to back down, the investigation leads to the West Coast, where other things of a nefarious nature have been taking place. Sloan finds herself coming face to face with those in charge and her diligence must be stopped before all is revealed. With everything to lose and a determination to find the truth, Sloan McPherson forges onwards, not realising that she may have met her match. Mayne does well with this instalment, keeping the reader hooked until the final chapter with tension and intrigue.

Beginning this series when it came out was my introduction to Andrew Mayne and his writing. It was only later that others encouraged me to try some of his other novels, permitting me to see just how talented he was and the complexity to his stories. Mayne takes a unique approach to law enforcement with this piece, exploring the underwater domain as a place where crime is just as prevalent. Using a strong set of characters, he is able to keep the reader interested and also pushes something many within the genre have yet to attempt.

Sloan McPherson is back with a great deal to prove. She has an interesting backstory and great development in this piece, something series fans will surely appreciate. Her determination is second to none and she tries to find that balance between work and home life, though it is usually marred with a push to get answers as a member of law enforcement. Using her diving and scuba background, Sloan stands out as a character in the piece, pushing boundaries in order to get answers she needs. I am eager to see what Mayne has in store for her, as the series progresses.

The greatest ability of an author is to provide continuity to their stories and characters, something that Andrew Mayne has done repeatedly. He knows what he wants and weaves it into the narrative to get there. Strong momentum pushes the story along and keeps the reader from losing their way, while characters entertain and provide guidance throughout. A strong plot allows the reader to see where things are going, propelled by short chapters that tease them to try just a little more. While I won’t spoil it, Mayne has done some great crossover work in this piece, keeping his fans of all series entertained with a few small surprises. This unique series has kept me curious from the start and this is yet another reason why Andrew Mayne remains on the top of my list of authors to follow.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for taking the plunge and continuing this series. I can only hope there is more to come for this and your other powerful series.

The Chase, by Candice Fox

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Candice Fox, and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Usually a fan of Candice Fox and her novels, I eagerly accepted the latest book in audio form. Fox has a great ability to pull the reader into the middle of the story with strong writing and alluring characters. After a coordinated prison break in the middle of the Nevada desert, panic ensues and a plan is activated. The story follows not only the attempt to corral these men back into custody, but also an inmate’s journey to show his innocence before he is put to death. Fox draws the story out and adds her own spin to keep the readers hooked throughout.

During the annual baseball game between inmates and guards, something goes horribly wrong and six hundred of the world’s most violent criminals are soon on the streets. It’s mass panic across the Nevada desert, as any one of these men could use their freedom to create another bloodbath. It’s mayhem and the public’s ready to face a rude awakening.

Celine Osbourne, a dedicated Death Row supervisor and fugitive-hunter, is tasked with leading the manhunt. She has her own issues buried in the past, but won’t use this as an excuse, as she tries to locate the worst of the worst in hopes of ensuring her superiors do not fire her at the first opportunity. Still, there is a sense of defeat as time passes without any concrete solutions. She’s also forced to examine how all this happened and whether one of her staff might be the key to the prison break.

One of those inmates is John Kradle, found guilty of murdering his wife and child. Kradle is now espousing that he was innocent and simply folded to make things easier at the time. He’s ready to prove his innocence and tries piecing together facts that could change his outcome. Every step of the way is fraught with risks that could see him executed sooner than expected, should he be caught.

As Osbourne and Kradle play a crazy game of chicken, it’s only time before one of the makes a mistake that could impact things greatly. The hunt is on and no one is quite sure how it will end. Fox delivers an intriguing story, full of flashback moments, to keep the reader hooked until the very end.

Having read a number of Candice Fox’s novels, I feel somewhat connected about what she usually offers and the expectations tied to that. While she is great with crime novels and the search for criminals, I found a disconnect with this piece, at least from the caliber I have come to expect. The story was decent, with some intriguing plot twists and flashback moments. However, I failed to fully connect with it on a number of levels. It might have been the narration or slow pace of the story’s development, but there was a gap that left me feeling less than enthused by the final product.

The dual protagonists in this piece, Celine Osbourne and John Kradle, worked well in their own ways. With a story that flips from character development to layered backstory, Fox uses both these techniques to create a relationship with the reader. There are some intriguing points throughout, though I am unsure how effective it was for me, as I could not get past the slow pace of the story’s development. I tried to get enthused with the Osbourne/Kradle game of cat and mouse, but sometimes felt it was for the dogs, if you pardon the pun.

I have come to expect great things when Candice Fox’ name appears on a book cover, having seen just how impactful her writing can be and what her collaborative efforts can do in a series. However, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed here. I’m not sure if it was the writing, the narration, or even that things took much longer than needed, but there was something I could not entirely enjoy. Interesting plot twists did not save the novel for me, nor did an array of characters whose lives mesh together to add depth to the story. Every author deserves a mulligan, though it may also be me who missed the mark with this piece. I’ll see what others feel and hope that I am in the minority.

Kudos, Madam Fox, for a valiant attempt. I cannot wait to see you return to the gritty police procedurals for which you have come to be known.

The Darkest Place (Robin Lockwood #5), by Phillip Margolin

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Phillip Margolin,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.

Phillip Margolin is back with another explosive legal thriller that is sure to keep the reader on the edge of their seats. Robin Lockwood has made a name for herself since leaving the life of an MMA fighter in the past. However, it all comes tumbling down after a personal tragedy befalls her. Robin retreats back to her hometown, where she can convalesce. At the same time, a surrogacy case heats up and Robin eventually agrees to take on a client, working her magic in the courtroom. Little does Robin know, there is more to this woman than meets the eye, including some antics back in Portland that will require legal attention too! Margolin impresses and keeps the reader flipping pages well into the night.

Robin Lockwood is happy to have a successful legal practice and some strong partners to keep things going. When she agrees to take on a pro bono case as a favour, Robin case show her courtroom magic and continue to grab headlines. However, it is all forgotten when someone close to her dies in the middle of the case, leaving her distraught and not wanting to go on.

Convalescing back in her hometown, Robin cannot see any reason to continue on, though there is something about Elk Grove that keeps her waking up each morning. When she sees a local woman has been taken into custody around a surrogacy situation, Robin finds enough spark to climb back into the saddle and agrees to defend Marjorie Loman. After entering a surrogacy contract, Marjorie gives birth to a healthy baby boy and has second thoughts about returning him to his parents. What follows is a case of apparent kidnapping and assault, but Robin thinks that she can convince a jury otherwise.

It soon comes out that Marjorie has been in Elk Grove under an alias and that she faces murder charges back in Portland, where she sure to face trial. Again, Robin agrees to come to her client’s rescue and takes on the case, fuelled by a desire to help this woman who has been down on her luck. While working through the case, Robin sees that some things just don’t add up and she begins to wonder if Marjorie Loman might have another side she wishes to keep hidden from everyone. A great legal thriller that speeds along, much like many of Phillip Margolin’s novels.

It takes a great deal to put together a legal thriller that is both succinct and impactful. Phillip Margolin has done that repeatedly in the novels that I have had the pleasure of reading. He’s always working a few cases and keeping his protagonist rushing from spot to spot, but there is never a sense of superficiality to the writing or her development. This was another winner in the series and I can only hope there are more to come.

Robin Lockwood has evolved a great deal throughout the series, effectively connecting with fans as the stories progress. Here, there is a curveball tossed into the mix and the reader can see devastation flow through the veins of the protagonist, forcing her to reinvent herself. Robin Lockwood is tough, but this is perhaps too much. With much grit and determination, Robin dusts herself off and shows why she is an amazing lawyer and woman, making an impact in many ways throughout this stellar novel.

While I have not read every novel his has penned, I have a good handle on the work of Phillip Margolin and can assure myself that the books keep getting better. He’s able to work with a strong narrative that builds as the story gains speed, working through plot twists and numerous character developments to culminate in a chilling ending. The pacing with short chapters is key and keeps the reader pushing forward, eager to see how things will progress throughout. I love a good legal thriller and can only hope that there are more, particularly with Robin Lockwood at the helm.

Kudos, Mr. Margolin, for another winner. You know just how to pen a great story that has me hungry for more in the genre!

The Silent Sisters (Charles Jenkins #3), by Robert Dugoni

Eight stars

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

Long a fan of Robert Dugoni and his work, I turned to the latest instalment of his espionage series. Reviving all that was tense during the Cold War, Dugoni has fashioned a wonderful series around sleeper agents and one American’s duty to protect those involved. Still smarting from his latest Russian prison break, Charles Jenkins is enjoying life with his family. That is, until he’s approached by his CIA handler to return to Russia on a mission. It will be harrowing and dangerous, but necessary to ensure American intel is not lost. As Jenkins makes his way there, people are still hunting for him and will stop at nothing to see him dead. Dugoni does well spinning this tale of depravity and ruthlessness, but it’s all for the greater good!

Still feeling the aches and pains of a Russian prison, Charles Jenkins is happy to be with his family on their farm in the States. All that changes when, during a routine meeting with his CIA handler, Jenkins is told that he will need to help extricate the last of a sleeper cell that is being hunted by the Russian authorities. These women, deemed the Seven Sisters, have been providing America with wonderful intel, but there is a (wo)manhunt for them and the consequences are dire.

With only two left in the country, Jenkins will have to hunt them down and ensure they are safe, before trying to get them stateside for added protection. The trouble is, Jenkins is also a fugitive from the Russian authorities and they are on the hunt for him, sure to skin him alive when he is caught. It’s a precarious balance, but surely one that is needed to keep America safe from its renewed enemy.

As Jenkins makes a splash back in Russia, he tries to locate the two women and makes plans to get them out. However, there are those who have been anxiously awaiting his return, so much so that they will stop at nothing to bring Jenkins to justice once again, as well as a mafia don with revenge in his blood. As the tension mounts, Jenkins will have to formulate a plan to get out of Russia and back on American soil, or die protecting the silent sisters as they flee! Another well-paced novel that shows how versatile Robert Dugoni can be!

While I came to know the work of Robert Dugoni through his crime thrillers, he has surprised me with some great pieces that push the boundaries and take things in other directions. This Charles Jenkins espionage thriller seemed to come out of nowhere and has been gaining momentum for a while. It has all the elements of a stunning thriller, hinting at Cold War situations in a new and technological world. The rise of the new Russian enemy is the perfect backdrop for this piece, which has something for everyone.

Charles Jenkins remains a great protagonist in this piece, serving both as a CIA operative and family man. He has been forced to return to danger, putting his family at risk, but does so for the country he loves. There are surely some strains found within, but Jenkins knows what he has to do and is made out to be the only one who can do it. There are harrowing moments throughout, testing his mettle, but Jenkins seems always keen to do what he can, even if it puts him in excruciating pain.

As with all other Dugoni novels I have read, there is much going on and a need to keep things straight. I loved the back and forth offered by the narrative, as it kept me on my toes and wondering what would happen next. Dugoni offers up a masterful array of options in his narrative, which gains speed as the tension mounts. Strong characters and a plausible story help move things along as well, while short chapters keep the reader coming back for more. There is a real sense of ‘new Cold War’ with these pieces and Dugoni hits the nail on the head. He gives the reader a true sense of the urgency, the slow revelations, and the need to always stay one step ahead of the enemy, if only to ensure one’s own safety. The added benefit of a regular peppering of Russian throughout the text gave it a sense of realism. While I cannot be sure if the scheduled trilogy will end now (some authors seem not to be able to rid themselves of a character, even after they have promised a handful of books), I know I will keep my eyes open for possibilities and exciting new avenues.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, for a wonderful story that held my attention throughout. You have a way with words that I thoroughly enjoy and I cannot wait to see what’s next.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/the-silent-sisters/

The First Kennedys: An Immigrant Maid, Her Bartender Son, and the Humble Roots of a Dynasty, by Neal Thompson

Eight stars

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

Always one to eagerly explore anything related to the Kennedys, I reached for this biographical tome by Neal Thompson. Rather than rehashing much of the Kennedy drama, from Joe and Rose onwards, Thompson turns his focus on the early Kennedys who settled in Massachusetts and paved the way for future successes. Thompson’s attention to detail and great storytelling abilities left me intrigued to learn so much about the family that has become synonymous with power and political machinations.

Thompson takes the story back to its roots, the heart of Ireland. It is here that the Kennedys found their start, in a country that was battling for an identity and independent rule. While Britain was a force to be reckoned with, many Irish felt they were left to suffer and forced to cut corners just to survive. Poverty was rampant, with disease a close second, all of which left citizens to look across the ocean and dream of a better life.

Two of these Irish folk were Patrick and Bridget Kennedy, who had seen the horrors of their country and wanted something better. It was only when they were able to flee that things took a noticeable turn for the better, settling in and around Massachusetts, where many other Irish folk took up lodgings. They settled and started a family, which they hoped would allow them to show the next generation of Kennedys a better life. However, this was not quite the case right off the bat. While the Irish presence in East Boston was reasonable, control of the schools and community was still held firmly by the English, or at least groups with little desire for Irish influence. Patrick and Bridget both faced significant hardships and their children suffered at the hands of cruel educators, seeking to indoctrinate them into Protestant ways.

It was only after a family tragedy that the Kennedys saw something positive come into their lives, when Patrick John (PJ) was born. The elder Patrick died not long thereafter, forcing Bridget to raise her children as a widow and work to put food on the table. A sharp minded boy, PJ would quickly grow and found himself exploring Boston and all its facets. As Thompson explains, PJ Kennedy chose many professions as a young man, always striving to better himself, likening mirroring the life of his mother. PJ took much away from each job, making connections that would prove useful when he eventually found his calling in politics. Thompson uses the latter portion of the biography to explore how PJ Kennedy rose in the ranks of the Democratic Party in Massachusetts to become a household name. His wheeling and dealing around the stature did not go unnoticed and he was surely able to pass this passion along to his own son, Joseph, who is introduced in the last chapter of the tome.

Neal Thompson does well to explore some of the early roots of the Kennedy family, how they found themselves fleeing the horrors of Ireland while never forgetting their past. The hard work and determination that each member of the family showed helped strengths the resolve the next generation and kept the flame alive for those Kennedy heirs many have come to know so well. While Camelot and all the glory of the Kennedy name might be waning over the last few decades, there is something about this family and their roots that has always drawn me in, and likely still will as long as well-developed books are written about them.

While I know little of Neal Thompson or his past writing, I was pleasantly surprised at how well this book flowed. A great deal fo information helped shape the narrative of the piece and gave me some needed framework to better understand how grit, determination, and political acumen entered the Kennedy gene pool. Now, with this exploration of the early generation, I have a better idea. Well-paced chapters, full of information, kept me wanting to learn more and left me eager to connect the dots. Written in such a way that any Kennedy fan could read it, without needing significant backstory to piece things together, Thompson makes the journey all the more exciting. I’ll definitely have a look for more of Thompson’s writing in the coming months.

Kudos, Mr. Thompson, for a great piece that has renewed my love for all things Kennedy.

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

100,000 First Bosses: My Unlikely Path as a 22-Year-Old Lawmaker, by Will Haskell

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Will Haskell, Avid Reader Press, and Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always a sucker for a unique political memoir, this book by Will Haskell caught my attention from the title alone. After the election of Donald Trump, Will Haskell, a university senior, knew he wanted to help change the system. He turned to what he knew best, his home state of Connecticut, and began a journey to unseat a long-time state senator. His hope was to show that young people (all of 22 at the time) do care and could make a difference. This memoir is his way of showing how change can come from an idea and short time in office. A great piece and easy to digest, showings that grassroots change is possible with enough passion!

While Will Haskell had always been around politics, he did not give it much thought. He knew that the winds of change were coming, but could not foresee the hurricane of Trump or the destruction that it would bring to America. While still in university at Georgetown, Haskell thought back to some of the comments made by President Obama before he left office and how change would only come by doing something. Cue the interest in being a part of that change.

Discovering that there was a state senate election on the horizon back home in Connecticut, Haskell began bandying around the idea of running for the Democrats to unseat a long-time Republican. Of note, this was a politician who began her service before Haskell was born. It would be monumental, but it was something that Haskell knew would evoke the change he sought. Armed with a small purse and a great deal of gumption, Haskell began making waves and shaking hands, receiving some harsh and sobering advice along the way. However, he did not let it deter him, as his campaign got off the ground and his ideas became key coffee chat topics around his district.

While winning on Election Day was grand, it was only the beginning of a steep learning curve. Haskell recounts some of the major stumbling blocks facing him when he arrived in Hartford, the state capital, as well as how business in the statehouse made for messy work representing constituents. Haskell informs the reader throughout of the struggles to have a voice, get ideas on paper, and push them through to the governor’s desk, even with a majority of Democrats at the helm. He explores the great difference between wanting change and making it happen, while juggling budgets, constant requests, and the shadow of the Federal Government. Through it all, he pushes that idealism is the fuel for change and that anyone, no matter their age, can make a difference if they want it badly enough.

While I have long held a passion for politics, I appreciate my sidelines position. Will Haskell explores some of the great grassroots aspects to politics and how one voice can and will make a difference, given the chance. His writing is real and yet not sloppy, giving the reader a great narrative as they follow along through this unique journey for all to see. I loved the honesty that each chapter brought, as well as the brevity, helping me push through the memoir with ease. There are great themes that emerge throughout, even as politics has taken a dark turn for many over the last number of years. Haskell provides hope for young people who feel they want to make a difference without getting too preachy. I will have to keep my eye out to see how things go for Haskell, as he makes politics intriguing and shows that passion can fuel action, given the right push!

Kudos, Mr. Haskell, for a great political memoir. You show that grassroots need not be a bad thing and that passion is no longer a pipe dream to success!

Desolation Canyon (Detective Margaret Nolan #2), by P.J. Tracy

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, P.J. Tracy, and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having read many of P.J. Tracy’s novels in a past series, I was drawn to this new collection of crime thrillers, sure to make their mark on the curious reader. Leaving Minnesota behind, this series shifts to the West Coast, when LAPD Detective Margaret Nolan is struggling with a number of family issues. When she receives no support from her parents, Nolan turns to drinks with an old colleague, something that could have dire consequences. When they discover the body of a prominent lawyer, it looks like an open and shut case, until whispers of a dark religious cult emerges and Detective Nolan may have to risk it all to protect those around her. An intriguing story that pushes the limits and keeps the reader entertained.

LAPD Detective Margaret Nolan has been struggling for a while, partially because of the death of her brother overseas, but also because she shot someone in the line of duty. While Nolan seeks some solace from her parents, they turn a stiff upper lip and try to compartmentalise it all. This forces Nolan to turn to a friend (sometimes with benefits) for a drink at a posh hotel. If this is the only way that Nolan can dull the pain, so be it.

The time out for a stroll on the grounds turns ominous when Nolan and her companion come upon a man floating in the water. His death appears to be an accident, but Detective Nolan has an eye for these things and something does not add up. She is keen to investigate, though she remains apprehensive about what awaits her.

Sam Easton, another key character, has been asked to help a friend who has a dilemma of his own. A woman and her daughter were found in the middle of the desert, apparently trying to flee a religious compound with a reputation as being a Shanghai-La to the rich and famous. Something does not make sense here.

As Sam and Detective Nolan work side by side on their respective cases, there appears to be a thread of commonality, one that could turn both cases on their heads and leave many in serious danger. Nolan and Sam work together, allowing them to unravel much of what has been going on, only to discover the dangers that lurk beneath. P.J. Tracy has done well with this piece, even if it did not resonate with me as much as I might have liked.

I look for strong writing and a well-crafted narrative in the books I read. While I found some aspects of this in the book, there were times that it lacked and did not pull me in. Detective Margaret Nolan has moments of intrigue, but there was also times when I could not keep things straight, which also happened with Sam Easton. For some, it will surely be an amazing read, but for me it was simply decent and a way to end a year of books.

Margaret Nolan and Sam Easton work together to create interesting protagonists, though not as sensational as I would have liked. They prove to be quite unique in their personalities, struggling to find themselves at various points. While I cannot say anything bad about them, I was not drawn to want to learn a great deal more, which could surely be an issue of my own making. Still, I sought a little something else throughout, though Tracy can develop characters quite effectively.

The story had moments of greatness, but they were outdone by some neutral aspects that I could not ignore. A decent narrative and some intriguing characters rounded out the piece, offering me just enough to want to keep reading, but far from being riveted. The characters worked well and I found myself curious at various points, but I did not have the spark I had hoped to find. P.J. Tracy has a way with words and develops plots well, but something was just not on point for me. I chalk it up to being the last book of the year for me, leaving me ready to begin a new year with a BANG!

Kudos, Madam Tracy, for a decent piece. I am eager to see what;s to come and how it will compare.

A Flicker in the Dark, by Stacy Willingham

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Stacy Willingham, and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In this debut thriller, Stacy Willingham makes a major impact on the genre, taking the reader down a twisted path of memories and revelations. Chloe Davis lost the innocence all children of twelve deserve when six girls disappeared and turned up dead and a police investigation revealed that Chloe’s father was responsible. Now, two decades later, a new batch of young girls go missing and their bodies appear around town, all with loose connections to Chloe. Is someone trying to dig up the past, or could this copycat simply be coincidental? All is revealed in this chilling thriller that is sure to make its mark.

A small town in Louisiana is rocked when six young girls go missing over one summer, their bodies turning up during the ensuing search. Chloe Davis, all of twelve, knew them, at least tangentially, and has to be concerned that she may be next. However, what’s worse is that by the end, Chloe’s father is arrested and charged with the murders based on evidence she discovers in the house. As the Davis family tries to pick up the pieces, Chloe must wrestle with the stigma of being related to a serial killer.

Two decades later, Chloe has established herself as a psychologist and enjoys a prosperous practice. She’s also about to be married, something that has her more excited than anything. Living in Baton Rouge, Chloe thinks that the past might finally be behind her, only to learn that a new set of girls has gone missing and their bodies are turning up. This has the makings of something sensational, though Chloe wants to steer well clear of the limelight.

When a nosy reporter emerges to write about the Davis family, things snowball from there and Chloe finds herself pulled into the web of emotional struggles she hoped would never resurface. Clues related to the girls begin to land on Chloe’s lap and she cannot deny how eerily similar things are to her childhood. Could this be the work of a copycat killer, taunting her, or her own paranoia tied in with coincidence of the highest order? While many around her know little about her past, Chloe cannot help but wonder if the delicate balance may come crashing down around her, leaving jagged pieces to scar her anew. A riveting debut novel by Stacy Willingham that will have readers beginning for more!

I love discovering authors who are just getting their start, as it allows me to feel as though I am part of the wave, rather than trying to paddle to catch up to others. Stacy WIllingham is one I am happy to have tripped upon, as she writes so convincingly that I will have to add her to my author tracking radar and see how things progress over the next few years. This is a captivating thriller that taps into a number of areas that caught my attention. She can spin a tale effectively and keep the reader guessing, while also providing a great deal of detail throughout. Just what I needed!

Chloe Davis proves not only to be an effective protagonist, but one who impacts the narrative with everything she does. Scarred by the past revelation that her father was a brutal serial killer, Chloe tries to pick up the pieces and help others who need assistance with their lives. However, she cannot dismiss her past and wrestles to make sense of it, as new crimes emerge on the periphery. Seeking normalcy and finding only glaring questions, Chloe must make sense of all that surrounds her without extrapolating her past into the present. Her backstory is plentiful, as is the development of her characters throughout the book, leaving the reader to put the pieces together to get a more complete idea of who she has become. Chloe’s being taunted, targeted, and perhaps even teased. What she does about it all could prove to be life-altering.

Stacy Willingham roars onto the scene with this book, leaving me to wonder if this could actually be a debut. It’s so put together and strong, from the well-paced narrative to the characters that make the reader want to learn more and keeping reading to ensure they do not miss a thing. There is an eerie sense throughout the book, as truths pop up like gators in the bayou, forcing the reader to surmise much has yet to be revealed. Chapters that beg to be devoured in short order and a plot that has just enough twists to be impactful, Willingham knows how to grip the reader and refuses to let go. She’s definitely one to watch in the foreseeable future.

Kudos, Madam Willingham, for a solid debut. I hope others feel the same and your following grows.

What I Never Told, By Dawn Goodwin

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Dawn Goodwin, and Head of Zeus for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Intrigued when a new author appears on my radar, I eagerly agreed to read the latest novel by Dawn Goodwin. A tale of deception and suspense straddling two time periods, Goodwin pulls the reader into a mystery from the opening chapters and builds on things from there. With a strong narrative and captivating plot, the story gains momentum and leaves the reader begging for more, as all is revealed. A decent story that kept we wondering!

Helen Whitmore does her best to keep a work/home balance in her small English community. Living in her ancestral home, Helen has a blended family full of strong-wiled individuals. She’s doing her best tp keep the peace, which can be harder than it seems.

When Helen’s step-son, Matt, brings a guest over to the house one evening, it ruffles many feathers for various members of the family. Diana is not only beautiful, but has a conniving side that leaves many turning away from her. Helen also notices that Diana may be more mischief than a new sweetheart for Matt.

All the while, Helen is struggling when an old photograph emerges, as well as some taunting secret notes that make idle threats. The two girls in the photo are well-known to Helen, she being one of them. The other is a girl Helen knew in her past, who died in a mysterious manner.

While Helen has numerous flashbacks to her own youth and how Tracey Deane fit into it, she musty also deal with present-day drama. Diana has turned up dead and everyone in the house has a motive for it. While the authorities scramble for answers, Helen must piece it all together to see who might have taken the ultimate step to silence the deceptive Diana. It will bring a flood of old emotions to the surface again, forcing Helen to confront sentiments she long ago buried. Goodwin spins a tale and keeps the reader gripped as things progress at rapid speed.

Dawn Goodwin masters the dual timeline in this piece, telling two independently, yet interwoven, stories, with Helen Whitmore at the centre. The piece flows well and keeps the twists coming until the final chapters, allowing the reader to engage in both the plot and the characters that push it along. While I found myself struggling at times, I chalk it up to a busy mind rather than less than stellar writing. I enjoy stories like this and Goodwin does well to develop things at a pace most can digest with ease. The mystery builds and the tension heightens until all comes crashing together at the climax.

Helen Whitmore is surely a strong protagonist, straddling both timelines throughout this novel. The reader learns much about her and the struggled she has overcome, as well as the layers of secrets she has been forced to keep. for so long. The novel is written in such a way that the reader gets pieces of teen and adult Helen throughout, allowing one to build an idea of how she has become the woman she is today and just how secretive she remains. While there were times I wanted the backstory to be condensed and a focus on the current timeline, I can see why Goodwin presented things as she did, hoping to allow for a thorough explanation to develop, as it relates to modern events.

I struggled, not with the story or its plot, but with some of my own personal connections to the narrative. While things did move along well, I found things lagging at times and I wanted to get to key twists faster. That being said, I think a lot of it had to do with my personal state of mind, rather than Goodwin’s writing. The narrative was strong and moved along well, keeping both timelines progressing throughout. Key characters emerged in both stories and connections could be found where they were needed, with strong development emerging throughout. The plot held together well, offering mysteries and jolting realities in equal measure. I would love to try reading more of Dawn Goodwin’s work to get some comparisons, so I will add at least one more novel to my toppling ‘to be read’ list to see how I feel.

Kudos, Madam Goodwin, for a great story. Your first impact on me was a good one, though I will be sure to read the next of your novels with a clearer head to get a better sense of my overall sentiments.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/what-i-never-told-you/

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

Taking Down Backpage: Fighting the World’s Largest Sex Trafficker, by Maggie Krell

Eight stars

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

While there are many deplorable criminal acts that take place on a daily basis, few are surely as horrid as sex trafficking. It would seem to be something that could be easily caught by the authorities, but those behind it are not only sly, but also know how to hide things in plain sight. With the emergence of the World Wide Web, people have turned to websites to move and sell people for their own profit, one of which was backpage.com After learning about this and doing her best to comprehend what was taking place, Maggy Krell went on a mission to close down the site and have those who run it brought to justice. This is her story and some of the battles she faced along the way.

Maggy Krell was a young lawyer who sought to make a difference in her own way. She saw some of the horrible crimes of child exploitation and sexual abuse crossing her desk and wanted to make a difference. She came upon Backpage.com, a website with a variety of things for sale, but also large ‘escort’ and ‘adult services’ pages, one that was rumoured to be a front for sexual slavery, where people could post and sell young women for a price and the authorities would be none the wiser. Working in California to get the ball rolling, Krell started her hunt to ensure that those at the top knew exactly what was going on.

As she worked more, it became apparent that the site was used almost entirely to sell young women into sexual slavery, with the other parts of the site there as a shell or front. Krell began pushing for more and seeking evidence that she could use to show that those who ran the site were knowingly participating in human trafficking and profiting off of it. It was slow, tedious, and sometimes horribly graphic work, but Krell stuck to her guns and made things stick.

The latter portion of the book explores bringing those in positions of real power to justice and having the courts decide their fates. While defence attorneys sought to put an arm’s length distance from the events or First Amendment defences forward, Krell and her team did all that they could to ensure the dots connected. This would be a major coup if the judge could see the clear-cut argument and rule in their favour. But, those running Backpage would not go down without a fight.

While Maggy Krell was successful in her endeavour, this is only the beginning. Just because a platform for illegal activity is closed down does not mean things stop. Women, men, children, and many others are being exploited on a daily basis and there is little that can be done, provided it is all committed on the sly. Exploitation and human sex trafficking (in fact, trafficking of any kind) is horrible and leads to many victims. It is the dedication of Maggy Krell and many like her that promise to do their best to remove key bricks in the wall, in hopes that each loosened brick will mean the wall will one day come crashing down.

While I do not read books of this nature with any regularity, I do find myself drawn to learning things about which I know little. Disturbing though it may be, I come away with a major sense of education and preparedness when I scan the news headlines on a regular basis. Krell writes in such a way that I can take things away from the narrative without feeling as though it is all above my head. She educates throughout, providing details and explanations to make sure things are well understood and their impact is not lost. I needed a book like this to open my eyes to the truths that occur around me. Well-documented chapters provide the reader with a pathway of understanding, as well as some photos to personalize the experience. As I mentioned before, this is a horrible topic, but I feel better knowing a little more about it and how it fits into the larger picture of criminal activity.

Kudos, Madam Krell, for your hard work and dedication to ensuring the reader understands what’s going on behind the scenes.

The Truth You’re Told, by Michael J. Clark

Eight stars

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

Having read Michael J. Clark’s debut novel a few years ago, I was happy to return for another crime thriller. Set around my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, I can enjoy Clark’s writing not only for the genre, but also because it reminds me of things from my youth. When a woman settles down in a cabin to get the literary juices flowing, she comes upon an old family mystery that she never knew existed. How well did she know her father and the past he was said to have lived? Sam Hutchings and her teenage daughter begin poking around, only to learn that there is more to family folklore than meets the eye, including something with traces to the Cold War. A great piece that shows how well Clark can recount a tale and keep the reader enthralled!

Having spent the last number of years as a newspaper journalist, Sam Hutchings receives her walking papers and must reinvent herself. Choosing to live the cabin life outside Winnipeg, Sam decides to start a writing career, while balancing a summer with her teenage daughter, Meg. While they iron out the wrinkles and learn to live the simple life, they remember the stories of Sam’s father and his enjoyment of the area.

After a small accident opens new questions to the life Gerry Hutchings lived, Sam and Meg begin poking around a little more. Could he have been more than the accountant he claimed to be? If so, what did he do and how did it change the reality for their Hutchings family? Sam’s curious journalist brain goes into overdrive and Meg is happy to tag along, as best a teenager can.

With flashbacks throughout the novel, the reader is also pulled into the middle of the story and how Gerry lived a life about which few knew a thing, growing throughout the latter decades of the Cold War. It was only a matter of time before danger and risk met a brick wall of reality. However, the truth can be more painful than the familial fairytales that are told to calm others. Might a fake story be more appealing than the harsh reality that awaits Sam and Meg? Clark does a wonderful job throughout to keep the reader guessing, though somewhat informed as the truth is peeled back for all to see.

I always enjoy finding books that not only showcase great writing, but have a Canadian flavour. I am proud of where I live and enjoy when I can feel that much closer to the action. Michael J. Clark not only highlights the ‘eh’ nature of the humble Canadian, but also brings Winnipeg and surrounding environs into the narrative, allowing me to remember growing up in Manitoba’s capital and passing through some of the rural communities. I was tickled peach (or pink) throughout and could not help but smile, partially by these memories, but also because the book was so captivating. I just hope others feel the same when they give it a chance.

Sam Hutchings proves to be a great protagonist. Having been through a great deal over the past number of years, her backstory comes to light in this standalone thriller. Clark ensures there is enough of her past mixed into the present character development to keep the story moving and leave readers begging for more. Surrounding herself with great supporting characters, Sam is able to tap into her investigative nature while also fanning the flames of her own memories. While I know this is a single-novel experience, I almost want to see more of Sam in order to delve deeper into her life.

Canadian crime thrillers are surely plentiful if you dig deep enough, but I was pleased to have this one fall into my lap. Clark does well from the opening chapters to set the historic scene for a wonderful story. Weaving past and present into flashback narratives, the story moves forward effectively and kept me guessing as more truths surfaced. The characters were on point, infused with just enough Canadianness to assuage me (Canadians alone may understand what I mean here, eh), I was happy to see many locales that warmed my heart and left me smiling. With just enough twists to keep the story from being too easy to decipher, Clark makes the reading experience rewarding for all, from start to finish. I loved the debut, found this one intriguing, and will gladly add Michael J. Clark to my ‘authors to follow’ list for more Canadian (read: Manitoba) flavour in the future.

Kudos, Mr. Clark, for a wonderful reading experience. I miss Winnipeg and area very much. You sparked some of the reasons why yet again. I cannot wait to read more!

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

Twenty Years Later, by Charlie Donlea

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Charlie Donlea, RB Media, and Recorded Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having stumbled upon this latest novel by Charlie Donlea, I thought that I would take the risk and hope for the best. This is a curious story that straddles two time periods and is highly impactful throughout its development. An investigative reporter returns to New York to look into some new DNA technology that has uncovered the identity of a new victim from September 11, 2001, but there is more to the story. Victoria Ford was accused of killing her lover in a brutal manner, but all that was forgotten when the Towers fell. Now, Avery Mason is keen not only to get to the bottom of the case, but also uncover truths that were left to dissipate when the world turns its attention to the terrorist attack. She is determined to find truths, even two decades later! A great story that has me wanting to find more Donlea novels in the near future.

While the events of September 11th, 2001 are etched on the minds of many, the number of unidentified remains continue to pose an issue for those tasked with bringing closure to the lives of grieving families. After new technology emerges and a fragment of Victoria Ford is identified, it’s newsworthy. Avery Mason, host of a popular television newsmagazine wants to air the discovery around the time of the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack.

As Avery digs a little deeper into the life of Victoria Ford, she uncovers a goldmine. Victoria was accused of murdering her married lover by hanging him over a balcony, left to appear like a kinky sex act gone wrong. However, after her arrest, Victoria proclaimed her innocence and sent a final voicemail to her sister on the day of the attack, pleading that she was not guilty of he crime. Now, Avery has a copy of the recording and is keen to discover what actually happened and how the truth might have been buried.

Hoping to make this a smash hit for herself and the ratings, Avery contacts the former investigator in the Victoria Ford case and has him return to New York. The case seems pretty open and shut, but Avery refuses to believe it is that simple. She digs deeper and revisits much of the evidence, only to learn that nothing is quite as it seems. She’s hoping that she can blow things wide open and show that a greedy state’s attorney pushed the case along without examining the evidence properly.

While Victoria’s DNA is all over the crime scene, something does not seem right and Avery is keep to find that missing link before someone else does. All the while, she is juggling keeping her own past a secret so that she won’t have to admit hard truths that have loomed over her for years. When Avery uncovers an old and dusty manuscript, something clicks and she racing along to see if that might be the beginning of something that could exonerate Victoria Ford once and for all. This is more than ratings or stardom, it’s the honour of a woman whose life ended on September 11th, but left a family behind tarnished by the accusations. A chilling tale by Charlie Donela that has me hoping for more soon and kicking myself for not discovering his writing sooner.

I often surprise myself when i discover a new author, only to learn that they have been writing and impressing others for a long time. Such was the case with Charlie Donlea and this thriller. There is so much to enjoy with this piece, from the well-paced narrative to the great plot twists that took time to develop. I can only hope that many of his other books are as intense and I will surely find some soon, adding them to my list of must reads (rather than simply to be read).

Avery Mason is a wonderful protagonist with a great deal to offer the reader. Her backstory is both complex and ever-evolving throughout the novel, leaving the reader to see some of the struggles she faced and how she tackles them now. She does, however, not simply live in the past, but finds herself developing throughout the novel, presenting struggles both with the mysterious murder before her and the need to carve out a niche for herself in the world of television news programming. She can hold her own throughout this piece and I would love to see her in action once again, even if one-offs might be more Donlea’s style.

A great thriller uses a foundation of strong writing to begin, building on that to entice the reader throughout. Such can surely be said of this piece, as Charlie Donlea provides a stellar piece of writing here. His ideas layer together well and keep the reader on their toes as they progress throughout the piece. The mystery grows as the narrative gains momentum, allowing the plot to lead the reader down many a curious path. I cannot say enough about the ability that Donlea has to spin multiple plot lines together and keep the reader curious until it all comes together effectively. I wondered and guessed my way through this book, filled with teaser chapters that begged me to keep reading a little longer. I am quite eager to find more books by Charlie Donlea and am open to suggestions by those who have some to make!

Kudos, Mr. Donlea, for a fabulous novel. I cannot believe it took me this long to find you. I won’t wait too long before I return, of that you can be assured.

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

Count to Three, by T.R. Ragan

Eight stars

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

Seeking something with a little more chill to it, I turned to the latest publication by T.R. Ragan. In a story that tells of two kidnapped children over a span of time, the reader in thrust into the middle of the action, where the lead investigator has the memory of her own daughter’s disappearance to fuel her actions. With confusing leads that go nowhere and two storylines that leave the reader to wonder what’s really going on, Ragan spins a tale of deception and horror, while two girls remain missing, years apart. A gripping story that kept me turning pages and left me wanting more!

Dani Callahan had always wanted a child, but was faced with many roadblocks along the way. It was only through intense fertility treatment that she and her husband, Matthew, were blessed with little Tinsley. While Dani loved her daughter, she knew that there would come a time when she would have to let her earn some independence. On her first day of kindergarten, five-year-old Tinsley disappeared without a trace by the time Dani arrived to collect her. The teacher was sure Dani, or someone looking like her, had picked the little one up. Thus began the horror of Dani’s life.

Fast forward five years and Dani is now divorced and has earned her license as a private investigator. Tinsley is still nowhere to be found, but Dani will not give up hope. Working with a new assistant, Quinn, Dani takes on the case of a missing teenager who up and disappeared as well. While some are sure she ran away from home, Dani and Quinn have other ideas. A young boy says he saw Ali Cross being stuffed into the back of a van, though the details are somewhat vague.

While Dani and Quinn do all they can to find Ali, they are worried as the only evidence comes from this young boy, who is troubled in his own right. To offset the search, Dani thrusts herself back into the search for Tinsley, which reveals a few leads. Could this be the break in the case that Dani needs?

All the while, Ali Cross is being held in town by a man who has odd ideas of what will come of their cohabitation. He offers little things to Ali, but there is no doubt that she is his captive and, should he have his way, will be the love of his life. As Ali hopes to be found, Dani and Quinn take a dive deep into a sadistic man’s life, wondering what they will find. With Tinsley still missing, could the two cases intersect in some way? T.R. Ragan tells a wonderfully dark story that is sure to captivate many.

I believe I have read some of T.R. Ragan’s work in the past, though will have to look through my massive digital stack of reviews. The writing kept me wanting to learn more and plunge deeper into this mystery. The plot kept me wondering while also begging to be entertained, which occurred repeatedly throughout the process. I will have to find some time to read more of Ragan’s work, as it was just what I needed at this time of year.

Dani Callahan is a wonderfully complex protagonist. Her backstory is primarily fixated on the loss of her daughter, though there are moments when we see the struggles she had conceiving and the importance of this little one. In the present, Dani is forced to juggle her own feelings with those of trying to find a new missing girl and how that must weigh on the emotions of the family. There appear to be the seeds of a possible series here and I am happy to keep my eyes open to see what transpires.

There’s something about a thriller that pulls me in most of the time. I love the chills that run up my spine as I visualize what’s taking place before me. T.R. Ragan does that repeatedly and kept me eager to learn more. A strong narrative pushed the story forward and left me eager to follow along, particularly as the momentum increased. Strong characters and a complex plot kept me guessing throughout and I marvelled about how it all came together. While private investigator novels are quite common, Ragan adds her own flavouring and has me wanting to come back to see where Dani Callahan takes readers in the near future. The only downside was the end, which did not leave as many threads hanging as I might have liked to pave the way for another sure-fire novel.

Kudos, Madam Ragan, for a great piece of entertainment. I can see why you have achieved such popularity over the years!

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

Head Shot (Marko Zorn #2), by Otho Eskin

Seven stars

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

Otho Eskin returns with the second in his Marko Zorn crime thriller series. Taking a more international approach to this novel, Eskin provides moments of political intrigue and international coup plotting, while using a local murder to tie things to Washington, D.C.. Hoping for the same grittiness I found in the series debut, I was, at times, left feeling as though this was a ‘cozy murder mystery’, based on the narrative and ongoing dialogue. However, into the latter portion of the book, Eskin found his stride and turned on the proverbial engines to race towards the finish line, using a coup attempt to bring the story home. Entertaining and easy to read, Otho Eskin keeps readers turning pages.

Things do not begin well for Metro D.C. Homicide Detective Marko Zorn. A shot at him while outside his home leaves Zorn wondering who he’s upset now. Summoned to meet a man best left in the shadows, Zorn is tasked with protecting the new Montenegrin prime minister, while being reminded of some covert business he recently completed on a side trip to Chicago. Zorn is ready to help serve as part of the security detail, as long as it does not interfere with his day job.

Speaking of that, Detective Zorn is called to the scene of a possible suicide by gunshot, though many believe the dead actress may have been murdered moments after exiting the stage during a recent play. Zorn finds himself shocked to see that the actress is a woman with whom he has a past, though he seeks to shelve those feelings and get to the bottom what’s happened. This pulls him into the middle of a ‘dramatic’ world, where enemies are plentiful and the competition is ruthless.

While trying to focus on the murder investigation, the prime minister arrives in town and makes her way to the embassy. There, Zorn seeks to make introductions and lay the groundwork for how things will go during the state visit. He’s doubly tasked with protecting the international guest by a senior member of the US Administration, showing Zorn that people mean business.

When additional bodies close to the Montenegrin leader turn up strangled, Zorn realises that trouble is lurking. Things get much worse as attempts on his own life begin to occur in rapid succession. Zorn will have to use all his resources to locate the hired assassin, ensuring he neutralises them before more blood is spilled on US soil. All the while, the dead actress turns out to be part of a larger conspiracy, with Zorn in the crosshairs. A chilling story that, at times, proves to be as gritty as the series debut.

My recent discovery of Otho Eskin has proven fruitful as I found myself enthralled with this series. I devoured both books Eskin has published and am eager to see what is to come. Eskin builds on the Marko Zorn character, a gritty detective with a number of skeletons in his closet, adding more depth to the protagonist’s abilities and personality. Even with some shaky narrative moments, I am still eager to see what is to come for this rule-breaking cop!

Marko Zorn is still complex, working both sides of the law as he remains calm and collected throughout. There are some curious aspects to his backstory, revealed through some personal memories, as well as a strong focus on the law and how to protect those around him. Zorn is always ready to use his determination as a cop to get answers, even as it puts him in serious danger. While not a spy, he knows how to rub elbows with those lurking deep in the shadows and finds himself the target of the most ruthless international individuals. There’s a great deal more to discover about this man and how deep his connections go!

Otho Eskin proves himself a master storyteller, as I have come to see with these first two books. His debut was both gritty and full of mystery, with this one following suit, though it teetered on becoming a cozy mystery for a time. The narrative had moments of greatness, particularly when tackling the international angle, offset by some hokey moments at the theatre during the early stages of the plot’s development. The darker side of Marko Zorn is surely on display yet again, as some of his past handlings of events for nefarious people comes to light in passing. The reader remains invested in the process with some short chapters that tease major plot twists. International flavouring and layers of deception kept the story balanced and pushed me to keep reading well into the evening. I’m interested to see what’s next and how Otho Eskin will present it to readers.

Kudos, Mr. Eskin, for another strong piece of writing. Your experiences shine on every page.

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

The Missing Piece (Dismas Hardy #19), by John Lescroart

Eight 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.

There is something captivating about the writing of John Lescroart, perhaps because he tackles legal matters from all angles. His series intertwine so well, using a strong core of characters, but never seem to run out of ideas along the way. Now that Wes Farrell is no longer the District Attorney, he’s turned to working for the defence, something that has him less than happy. As he ponders his future, he’s contacted by the father of a victim whose killer he helped put away. It would seem there is some concern that a murder has been committed. As Farrell takes the case and uses all his resources, things take a definite turn, sending the lead investigator down a path with many dire warnings. Lescroart at his best, sure to impress those who have long followed this series.

After an illustrious career, Wes Farrell knew it was time to end his tenure as District Attorney and find something new to fill his time. While it was not the best offer, Farrell chose to work for the defence, alongside his longtime friend, Dismas Hardy. However, Farrell’s been having second thoughts about defending those he feels are guilty and thinks that it might be time to call it a career. Hardy, having taken the plunge many years before, seeks to counsel his friend, but does not appear to be making much headway.

When a call comes into the firm, asking for Farrell to attend the local jail, he’s intrigued. It’s a man he knows well, the father of a victim whose killer was just released from jail by an energetic Exoneration Initiative. It would seem that Doug Rush is now being accused of killing his daughter’s killer, with an eyewitness who saw the murder. While Rush asserts his innocence, even Farrell cannot be sure of it, feeling that there was more than enough anger to fuel some retribution.

As Farrell begins his defence, he realises that he will be up against a mountain of evidence. He acquires the services of Private Investigator Abe Glitsky, former homicide detective with the San Francisco PD and best friends with Dismas Hardy. While Glitsky is ready to take on the investigation, he’s not too sure what it will reveal, particularly with Farrell sure his client his guilty.

When Rush does not turn up after being granted bail, everyone’s sure he’s on the lam. Glitsky works to uncover what’s going on with Rush, as well as trying to nail down an alibi. Things take a definite turn for the worse and Glitsky becomes trapped in a web of deception, double speak, and lies. He discovers that the Exoneration Initiative has done work across the country with some interesting results, though the fallout has much to be desired. Could all this pose significant issues for Glitsky, Farrell, and others around San Francisco. A great piece by John Lescroart that keeps the reader in the middle of the action.

Lescroart’s writing is so entertaining that varied that it owes not matter whose perspective the novel takes, the story is sure to be worth reading. Lescroart has built-up various offshoot series, using his core characters, all of whom work well together and keep the overall story arc intact. There is something about these stories that keeps me coming back, from the legal maneuvers to the investigative measure, as well as the dry wit that matches my own. When Lescroart publishes, I take note, having done so for the last two decades, since I stumbled upon this series.

There are a few central characters in this piece, making it difficult to choose just one. Wes Farrell and Abe Glitsky are the apparent protagonists, offering up their own views and development throughout. Both have had great backstories woven into their respective series in the past, but do not hesitate to always leave their mark at present again. There is a richness to the characters and great interaction between them, leaving series fans to bask in the banter that is a special part of this large and complex set of series.

As with many of his novels, I was pulled into the middle of this book in the opening chapters. Tackling some retribution issues proved to be only the tip of the iceberg, as Wes Farrell and Abe Glitsky forged ahead to make their marks on the piece. Strong narrative flow helped create a needed momentum, as the reader seeks to understand the complexities of the plot as it is developed. Chapters vary in length and perspective, keeping the reader guessing about what awaits them as things progress. As mentioned before, the web of characters and series that connect here have always impressed me, allowing some who play a major role to be but cameos at times, while others step into the limelight. I cannot wait to see what comes of this series, which has remained strong, even with the ever-growing number of books!

Kudos, Mr. Lescroart, for another winner. I eagerly await publication when I see you have another book in the works!

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

Darkness Falls (Kate Marshall #3), by Robert Bryndza

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Bryndza, and Thomas & Mercer 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 intense crime thriller with Kate Marshall at the helm. With a sordid past as a police detective, Kate has opened up her own investigative agency and is ready to take on the world. She’s given a cold case, where a journalist disappeared twelve years before. While there are some possible avenues to explore, the police have given up. All that being said, Kate and her partner begin finding a new and interesting connection with some other cold cases in the area, which could be the momentum they need to acquire answers.

Kate Marshall had high hopes when she worked for the Metropolitan Police, but addiction and other skeletons in her closet kept her from being able to stay on the right path. She’s taken her skills and turned it into something great, opening a private investigative agency, supplementing her time as a lecturer at the local university. Working with her partner, Tristan Harper, Kate is hoping to make a name for herself and earn a decent living.

When she’s given a cold case, Kate has high hopes that she and Tristan will be able to solve it. A journalist went missing twelve years before, one who was gritty and determined like few others. She’d brought down a sitting Member of Parliament for potential indiscretions, but he had a solid alibi for the time of the disappearance. Working through the police files given over by the family, Kate and Tristan come across some names that do not seem to fit.

Deeper digging reveals that these were young men who went missing in the years before the journalist’s disappearance. They frequented gay bars and some had a connection of a commune in the area. The more Kate and Tristan push, the stronger the potential connection of the disappearances. Could someone have been trying to write a story, connecting the missing men to someone around the bars?

All the while, a killer lurks just out of sight. Their target is one of the seedy bars on the outskirts of town. When a young man is found raped and murdered, Kate cannot help but wonder if there is a connection to the cold cases she has on her radar. Forensics makes some connections, but there is nothing to tie these disappearances to any particular killer. Still, things may be slowly coming together, but at what cost? Another great novel by Robert Bryndza that will keep readers flipping pages into the night.

I always enjoy a great thriller and Robert Bryndza has never failed to deliver. His attention to detail is like no other and he finds intriguing ways to keep the reader engaged throughout. The stories are not outlandish, but neither are they plain and easily deduced. This is the second of Bryndza’s series that I have tried, which is equally as intense and has me wanting more.

Kate Marshall has a major backstory that continues to reveal itself here. While series fans will know some of her past, Kate is still trying to come to terms with them, as things emerge to remind her of where she was all those years before. Bryndza allows for some wonderful character development here, both professional and personal, which offers Kate Marshall a new perspective as she is getting her life in order. I am eager to see where things will take her in the coming novels, as I am ready for more as soon as possible.

Robert Bryndza is an amazing writer with strong capabilities. He writes well and keeps the story moving along. The narrative builds from the opening chapter and there is no time at which I felt things dragged. The story evolved well, using short chapters to tease the reader into pushing forward just a little more. Tackling social and societal issues amongst the murder investigation, Bryndza does not shy away from topics and keeps the reader educated throughout the experience. I can only hope for more, as he has a knack when it comes to crimes thrillers!

Kudos, Mr. Bryndza, for another winner. Don’t keep us wondering for too long, as your fans surely love what you have to offer.

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

Hello, Transcriber, by Hannah Morrissey

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Hannah Morrissey, 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.

Hannah Morrissey impresses in this powerful novel, where a woman in a new position within a small police force takes on a significant role in a baffling set of murders. Thrust into the middle of it all, Hazel Greenlee moves from simply documenting the reports the police detectives make to being a key part of solving the case, all while getting herself into a great deal of personal trouble. With well-crafted plot lines and impressive narrative momentum, Hannah Morrissey ensures that readers take note of her style.

It’s never easy being new in town, even less so when everyone seems to know one another. Such is the case for Hazel Greenlee, who has recently moved to Black Harbor, Wisconsin. When she takes a job as a police transcriber, she presumes it will be all work and that she will have to sit on the secrets that flow into her ears, but it ends up being much more than that.

The death of a young boy from an overdose is bad enough to hear through the transcription machine, but when Hazel connects with one of the detectives, it take on a new horror. How someone could have coaxed a young boy to take pills and then later tossed him into a Dumpster is unreal, though it is all too true.

As the days progress, Hazel finds herself drawn to one of the detectives on the case, with secrets of his own. Risking everything, Hazel puts herself in the middle of the case, seeking to know more than is revealed to her in investigative reports. Soon, she finds herself having crossed many lines, some of which she cannot erase, which is sure to cause issues both at work and home. As a killer remains on the lam, it will take Hazel’s intuition and perhaps a little luck to stay out of the crosshairs, though she is already in a great deal of trouble away from the precinct. A great story that kept me wondering until the final chapter, proving that Hannah Morrissey is another author to keep on my radar.

I love police procedurals, as many who have seen a number of my reviews will know. However, many of these novels seem to use the same format, so I look for unique takes in order to really make them worth my while. Hannah Morrissey delivers with an angle I would have not thought could work, that of a transcriptionist who is seeing and hearing of the crimes and fallout through recordings she must put into typed words. Morrissey does well to add depth and flavour to the story throughout, keeping the reader guessing as to how things will go and where the plot twist will take things. I am eager to see where things go from this debut.

Hazel Greenlee is a great character that connects easily with the reader. She’s got some issues through which she must work, but is also keen to make her mark. With some backstory tossed in amongst a great deal of character development, Hazel works her way into the middle of the Black Harbor community with ease. There is still much about Hazel that has not been revealed, so I can only hope Morrissey has more to come before too long.

Unique takes on crime thrillers is a sure way to distinguish one’s self in a genre that is supersaturated. Hannah Morrissey does well to show that she’s not only here to make her mark, but be memorable in doing so. There is much to praise within this novel, not the least of which is a strong narrative that keeps pushing ahead. Morrissey develops great characters, some likeable while others are truly sinister, without getting too wrapped up in them so as to hinder the story. The transcriptionist angle was genius and adds depth to the plot, as long as the reader can stomach reading some actual dialogue that includes dictated sentences (complete with verbalised punctuation). This was a great novel that kept me wondering and I can only hope that Hannah Morrissey has more to come before long.

Kudos, Madam Morrissey, for a fabulous debut. I am eager to see where you go with this premise in the coming years.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/hello-transcriber-2/

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

Amok, by Sebastian Fitzek

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Sebastian Fitzek, and Head of Zeus for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Sebastian Fitzek is a master of the sharp psychological thriller, pulling the reader into the middle of something, only to provide a massive twist to discombobulate anyone trying to following along. In this piece, there are layers of intrigue set against a fast-paced plot and a time limited narrative, where a killer has a handful of hostages and is broadcasting live over Berlin’s radio waves. With a criminal psychologist tasked with diffusing things, she has her own issues and finds the added pressure all too much. Explosive and chilling at the same time. Perhaps Fitzek’s best novel to date!

During the morning show on one of Berlin’s most popular radio programmes, a tour for winning listeners goes sideways when one among them decides to take the group hostage. He wants his demands broadcast live, on-air and is willing to use the show’s popular games to get what he wants. Listeners must answer when called and recite a precise phrase or someone will die.

All the while, renowned criminal psychologist, Ira Samin, is preparing to die. She can no longer handle the pain that has befallen her, but wants things done a certain way. When she is called into work as a hostage negotiator, her suicide plan must be temporarily shelved. Ira works to get to know the hostage taker a little better and takes his one demand very seriously, ‘find my fiancée and bring her to me’.

While Ira works to unravel a tense situation, she must also wrestle with some troubling news. It would seem the aforementioned fiancée has died months ago in an automobile accident. However, the hostage-taker will hear none of it. He knows she is alive and demands that she be brought to him. Ira does all she can, only to realise that there is another reason that she must end the hostage taking right away. While Ira works through her own issues, all of Germany is on high alert, awaiting the next call and hoping someone will pick up and say the right thing. If not, things could get much worse, live for all to hear.

While I only recently discovered the magic of Sebastian Fitzek, I cannot get enough of his writing. Twisted and highly entertaining, one can never decipher what twists await the reader as the story progresses. He is surely a master at his craft and has pulled me in with each of the novels I’ve read. There are so many layers to the stories that the reader must pay close attention, or risk being left behind.

Ira Samin is a well-developed and troubled protagonist, perfectly cast for this story. Her personal issues almost drown out the need for professionalism throughout the piece, but this only adds depth to an already intense story. Ira has come to terms with the end of her life, but seems almost put out that she cannot do what she wants most, to die, until she stops a madman from killing others. There is much the reader discovers about Ira as the story progresses, all of which is essential to her own larger narrative.

Fitzek opens the novel with a seemingly odd tangent, only to force the reader to realise that this is the crux of the novel. The narrative pushes forward and offers deceptive twists almost from the outset, keeping the reader guessing what is to come and how it will all play out. Using short chapters, Fitzek teases the reader to ‘read just a little more’ and captures their attention with ease. Chilling and not quite what it all seems, Fitzek delivers yet again, with an English translation that is as smooth as ever, not distrusting the flow whatsoever. I can only hope there are more stories like this to come, as I am ready and eager to see what’s next.

Kudos, Mr. Fitzek, for another winner. Where you get all these ideas is beyond me, but I am not complaining in the least.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/amok/

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

Find Me in the Dark (Detective Harlow Durant #1), by Dea Poirier

Eight stars

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

Always eager to discover great authors that have never crossed my radar, I picked up this series debut by Dea Poirier. As I usually enjoy a dark police procedural with a strong backstory for the protagonist, Poirier pulled me in with the opening chapters and I could not get enough. A body found in a pile of snow could be a snowblower accident in upstate New York. However, when more bodies appear and Detective Harlow Durant receives messages instructing her to leave, it would appear that a killer is lurking in the shadows and targeting young women. Chilling and intense throughout, perfect for those who need something to keep them on edge.

While Plattsburgh, New York is no joy in the winter, when the Spring thaw commences, it is usually quite nice. However, this March may be the exception, when the body of a young woman is found sticking out of a snowbank. It appears as though she’s been there quite a while, encased in ice and preserved for all to see.

Detective Harlow Durant arrives on the scene to assess the situation before her. Part of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Durant has much to prove to her colleagues, as well as a number of secrets. For the time being, she’ll keep the case at hand and look for a break to make this a quick solve.

After identifying the victim from a list of missing person reports, Durant discovers that the woman lived two lives, depending on who knew her. Working alongside a new partner, Durant tries to piece it all together, only to find herself with more questions than answers. All the while, someone threatens her for being in town and investigating. Should she be heeding the anonymous advice?

When another body emerges in the snow, Durant knows that this is the work of the same person, but struggles to connect the dots. All the while, her secret past begins to emerge to her colleagues, some of whom are ready to pounce on her and cast her out. Durant will have to work through it all and find that one clue, buried out there, to tie the killings together, in hopes of locating a killer before it becomes a spree. A great series debut that has me wanting more.

While this was my first Dea Poirier book, it will certainly not be my last. This novel had all the elements I look for in a great thriller and kept my attention throughout. I found the narrative crisp and the plot ever-developing, which left me wanting to know more with each passing chapter. I cannot wait to see where Harlow Durant goes within the series.

Harlow Durant was a well-crafted protagonist with a great deal going on. If it’s not her sharp police work, it’s trying to handle many of the flashbacks to her fated childhood, with a father who led a double life and a mother who abandoned her at the worst time. Balancing these two areas of her life, Durant enriches the story with her presence and kept me wanting to learn more. Gritty as needed but also showing some slight vulnerabilities, she’s surely got a lot to show readers in the future.

Poirier knows how to write and deliver a strong thriller, of that I have no doubt. The narrative flowed well and kept gaining momentum at the perfect time, leaving the reader to wonder what was coming next. Using the small town setting, the story was not lost in the rush of the big city, allowing it to complement the plot as it thickened. Great writing and just the right number of twists keep the reader guessing until the final reveal, yet also opening new and chilling avenues for the next novel to come. I will be waiting anxiously, to see what Dea Poirier has for us next.

Kudos, Madam Poirier, for a stunning series debut that left me with some burning questions. I will certainly be back for more!

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

Echoes of the Dead (Special Tracking Unit #4), by Spencer Kope

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Spencer Kope, 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.

Spencer Kope returns with his fourth novel in this unique crime procedural series, using the abilities of two men to track people down using their own personal skills. The Special Tracking Unit is known around the country for their abilities, but it is the work of Magnus ‘Steps’ Craig, who can see ‘shine’ that adds new depth to the investigation. This may be the more harrowing case yet, with dead ends and a mysterious undertone that connects all those involved. Kope keeps getting better the more this series progresses.

Four men have been enjoying an annual fishing trip for the past two decades. It’s a way to escape their daily lives and enjoy a little camaraderie. When they don’t check in at the expected time, families worry and calls are made. Due to the notoriety of one man on the trip, Washington becomes involved, which means a call to the Special Tracking Unit.

Jimmy Donovan and Magnus ‘Steps’ Craig comprise the Unit, working together to locate those who have gone missing. Steps has a special ability, seeing each person’s unique ‘shine’ or glimmer they emit, which helps with tracking and forensic progression. However, it’s also a detriment, as has become apparent in cases past. Together, they travel to California and begin their investigation, only to land in the middle of something odd.

When one of the victims is apparently found on a park bench, things soon turn baffling. It’s not actually the victim, but a man who has recently died and been buried. This body, having been placed in a coffin, is now out and wearing one of the missing men’s clothes. As Steps and Donovan follow the local authorities, it’s revealed that this has been a body swap and someone was buried alive.

Unsure what to make of the killer or their antics, Steps and Donovan must continue working, trying to hone in on anything, including shine, to get answers. After a second body is discovered, it’s a race to learn the motive and rationale. What may be a political connection could also be something completely different, which only complicates the investigation. Time is running out and the body count keeps mounting.

I discovered Spencer Kope’s books and could not get enough of this unique take on the crime procedural genre. There is something refreshing about a unique take, while still keeping the reader completely attached to the story. Kope writes well and leaves the reader eager to see what awaits in this non-stop novels.

Steps and Donovan surely take centre stage in this piece, using their skills to track down not only the four missing men, but a killer with an axe to grind. While there is a little backstory when it comes to Steps, that is mostly a means of reminding readers what’s happened to him. Personal and professional growth is key in this novel, occurring throughout and keeping the series fan glued to what is to come. As the novels have progressed, I have become more attached to both men, eager to see what awaits and how they will progress.

Kope uses a strong writing style and sinister crime to lure readers into the middle of this piece. There’s nothing like a crime thriller to get the blood pumping, but it is the uniqueness of solving it that adds something special. A great narrative, with constant movement, helps catapult Kope to the top of the genre, while the story never loses focus on what’s important. One would not think that tracking the missing and those who have committed crimes could be so intriguing, though Spencer Kope has found a way, so much so that I cannot wait to see what he’s got coming in the future.

Kudos, Mr. Kope, for another winner. I can only hope that others will discover this series and find the same enjoyment .

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/echoes-of-the-dead/

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

Gated Prey (Eve Ronin #3), by Lee Goldberg

Eight stars

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

Having discovered the world of Lee Goldberg a few years ago, I have been pulled into the middle of this great series. The reader is sure to remain on the edge of their seat throughout. Goldberg’s television background shines through in the narrative, providing a story that would be perfect for the small screen. Eve Ronin is a detective used to fame, though she’s had to struggle with how that stardom has strained the relationships she has with colleagues. Goldberg does a masterful job in short order with a police procedural sure to tug on the heartstrings.

Eve Ronin has had a meteoric rise within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, having made detective faster than anyone else in recent memory. This comes with some issues, as many believe that she leapfrogged over others who have been putting in time and effort. While she’s happy with her position, it is still a daily struggle to be recognised as worthy.

Ronin and her partner, Duncan Pavone, are working undercover to capture some violent home invaders in a honey trap, who have been targeting rich couples within gated communities. When the sting yields a band of bandits, things go sideways and the suspects’ bodies lay in pools of blood. Surely not what Ronin and Pavone had in mind.

While some would call this an open and shut case, Ronin is not so sure. The targets might be part of a larger crime ring and Ronin is determined to get some answers. Working inside the gated community, she stumbles upon a young woman who gives birth to a stillborn. What seems like a horrible, yet simple, situation soon gets more complicated when the M.E. makes a startling discovery.

As Ronin digs a little deeper on both cases, she cannot help but wonder if this is a trap and whether someone’s targeted her directly. She’s trying to stay focussed, but even Pavone cannot lock Ronin into being positive. Something’s got to give as Ronin tugs on numerous threads in order to get to the heart of justice.

Lee Goldberg does well with his storytelling, leaving the reader to feel as though they are part of a great television drama. Strong writing with just enough humour to keep the reader from getting too bogged down, this series is coming into its own and flows extremely well. One can hope that Goldberg will keep things moving for the foreseeable future, as there’s something special about what he’s started.

Eve Ronin continues to dazzle and show her gritty side as she progresses in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Squabbles aside, her rise in the ranks has been helpful for her, as she makes a name for herself and slowly earns the respect of her superiors. Her dedication to the job is apparent and she’s surrounded with some strong supporting characters, some of whom have made appearances in the previous two books. Goldberg has a wonderful way of developing his characters so that they seem quite relatable to the reader.

In a story that seems ripped from television, Goldberg keeps the energy high throughout. A strong narrative that keeps gaining momentum throughout, Goldberg is able to spin a tale that can easily be visualized by the attentive reader. Shorter chapters push the story forward and begs the reader to ‘try just a little more’ before putting it down. This is a great series and I can only hope that Goldberg has more in store for Ronin in the coming months.

Kudos, Mr. Goldberg, as you continue to impress me with what you publish.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/gated-prey/

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

Wolf Point (Ashe Cayne #2), by Ian K. Smith

Eight stars

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

Ian K. Smith is back with another gritty investigative thriller where nothing is quite as it seems. Ashe Cayne knows the world of private investigating quite well and Smith has developed him into a strong character who is prepared to turn over every stone to get to the truth. While the series is still coming into its own, the foundation is strong and sets Smith apart from many within the genre, which permits the reader to sit back and enjoy some stellar writing and suspenseful plot twists.

Corruption is rife on the streets of Chicago, something that private investigator Ashe Cayne knows all too well from his time on the CPD. When the adult children of prominent political figure Walter Griffin turn to Cayne, he’s not sure what he can do. Griffin was found dead in a seedier part of Chicago, but it was clearly a suicide. That said, neither of Griffin’s children believe that their father could have done this and implore Cayne to get to the truth.

Two years after the fact, Cayne must work extremely hard to cobble anything together, while also fighting against the suicide label. What he discovers not only refutes the official cause of death, but opens up new problems that could easily provide a list of suspects. Might it have been the Russians? A political figure Griffin wronged? Someone with a secret who wanted to ensure it never saw the light of day? Cayne is busy tracking down all the possibilities while trying to keep himself from being a new target.

While Ashe Cayne knows his city well, there’s something going on that even he could not have predicted. Nothing is coming together, leaving him to wonder if there’s a cover-up in place. Cayne owes it to Griffin’s family to find the truth, even if he ruffles a few feathers along the way.

I remember being highly impressed with Ian K. Smith’s series debut, feeling that the book took private investigation to a new level. This was not the hokey investigator looking into simple cases to appease an insistent family. Rather, Ashe Cayne dives headlong into the dark underbelly that is Chicago’s most dangerous neighbourhoods, seeking answers that are likely best not revealed. The grit oozes from every page and Smith keeps the reader wanting to know more, particularly as new twists take the story in unforeseen directions.

Ashe Cayne continues to reveal himself throughout the story, adding a little more to his backstory while forging ahead with abandon. Well-known to some of the richer parts of the city, Cayne does not mind getting his hands dirty if it helps a client, especially one he trusts has been wronged. Surrounded by a number of strong characters who bring the streets of Chicago to life, Cayne is sure to be a memorable protagonist for as long as the series continues.

This was another strong effort by Smith, who has a way with words and description. The narrative moves swiftly and keeps the reader trying to match its pace, while never being truly predicable. Smith peppers the story with unique characters and plausible plot lines, all while developing an air of mystery until the final reveal. Ashe Cayne may know Chicago, but even he is sometimes surprised just how corrupt its politicians can be when trying to vie for ultimate control. This is a series worth noting, as Ian K. Smith has laid the groundwork for something spectacular, provided he continues with the effort he’s invested into these first two novels.

Kudos, Mr. Smith, for delivering yet again. Readers are sure to take note and see that the genre has a new master.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/wolf-point/

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

The World Played Chess, by Robert Dugoni

Eight stars

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

While I have long had an affinity for Robert Dugoni’s series work, he is extremely talented, enough to pen some stunning standalone novels as well. This is another of those, taking the reader through three time periods as the characters explore themselves, the world around them, and struggles of young men in various situations. Dugoni’s theme of struggle is further strengthened by his depiction of one soldier’s view of the Vietnam War, sure to impact many readers who take the time to connect with that particular narrative. A wonderful piece that shows how versatile Dugoni can be in his writing.

Vincent Bianco has high hopes for the summer of 1979. Having just graduated high school, Bianco is hoping to make some pocket money before heading off to college. When he’s given the chance to work with a construction crew, he soon learns just how hard the work can be. He connects with two of the men, William and Todd, just enough to realise that they have quite the history themselves. Both served in the Vietnam War, with stories of their own. Throughout the summer, Bianco finds himself trying to emerge from teen to young man, while also seeing how different his struggles are from those of his coworkers, whose time in Asia eleven years before left an indelible mark, as well as remnants of PTSD.

In a parallel narrative, modern-day Vincent Bianco watches his own son, Beau, come to terms with life after high school and the choices he will make to shape his own future. The elder Bianco tries to steer his son in the right direction, but realises, thinking back to 1979, how important self-discovery can be. Beau suffers his own issues and must make sense of them as best as possible, while striving to better himself, both scholastically and as a young man.

A third perspective emerges in journal entries from William’s personal documentation in 1968 in the jungles of Vietnam. The young man questions himself, the choices of his fellow Marines, and the war as a whole. Seeing horrors unlike anything he could have imagined, he wonders how much is actually making it back home, where people read newspapers and see television news reports of the fighting. Death is everywhere, something no eighteen-year-old could have fathomed a few years before. All while the world seems somewhat ignorant to the real story.

Robert Dugoni is a master at the written word and is able to pull the reader into the middle of each story with ease. His standalone novels always resonate a little more with me, as the themes emerge independently from the series he has has crafted over the years, getting to the core of the reader and forcing them to reflect on what they’ve read. While stories of espionage and police procedurals are great, it’s nice to take a deeper plunge at times as the reader must come to terms with their own feelings, rather than read on autopilot.

The three young men featured in the piece could not be more different from one another, yet rate also so very similar. Just out of high school, each has a plan that is stymied by life events outside of their control. William, Vincent, and Beau all must have epiphanies to see what life means and how they want to leave their mark, wondering at times if they matter at all. The attentive reader will see these three struggles as well as a commonality between them, sure to bind the story together by the closing pages.

I have never had an issue with narrative momentum when it comes to Dugoni’s writing and this was no exception. The story takes hold of the reader from the opening pages and carries them along throughout. There are moments of humour alongside deeply pensive times, forcing moments of contemplation, all while keeping the story clipping along. Each chapter contrasts a longer narrative, set either in 1979 or 2016, with a journal entry from 1968. This permits the reader to contrast and compare effectively as they get to know the three protagonists. While some will bemoan the overly serious nature of the novel, many readers who can take a step back and enjoy something a little ‘meatier’ will likely want to delve deeper and see another side of Robert Dugoni. I loved it, as I needed something to pull me out of my drone reading, forcing me to take notice and ponder my own choices, as well as those of my young son.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, for taking the time to write this. Your efforts do not go unnoticed and I am eager to see what else you have in store for your fans in the coming months.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/the-world-played-chess/

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

Odd Numbers, by J.J. Marsh

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, J.J. Marsh, and Saga Egmont Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having never read anything by J.J. Marsh, I had no idea what to expect. It was certainly an interesting thriller, exploring not only the events on one cold New Year’s Eve, but the fallout over the next two decades. Marsh does well to keep the reader guessing and building on her characters, even if the core event that pulled everyone together is soon left in the past. With a great twist in the latter part of the story, Marsh has a wonderful way of storytelling and I am eager to see how this compares to some of her other work.

It was a biennial tradition for a number of college friends to gather on New Year’s Eve somewhere in the world. In 1999, it was the Czech Republic, where the cold and some unique activities would take certain group members by surprise. After an evening of drinking and cavorting, one of the group ends up in the water and disappears. The pall of his disappearance and suspected drowning hangs over them all as they process the truth.

As the narrative continues, the reader learns of subsequent New Year’s encounters, as each of the five remaining friends grow and develop in their own ways. Some begin to come out of their respective shells, while others turn away from college memories and try to forge their own personalities. Soon, it’s been two decades and some cannot believe that fateful time in 1999 has been left in the past, without proper resolution.

It’s on this 20th anniversary that old wounds are torn open anew, when a revelation comes to pass. Everyone discovers that what seemed a foregone conclusion could not be further from the truth. It’s only when the fallout is realised that new truths must be forged.

While the book plays out in a unique way, it’s by no means hard to digest. J.J. Marsh does well to build up narrative momentum in the early stages of the novel, only to turn down the pressure for most of the remaining story. With a mix of unique characters, the reader can attach themselves to someone of their choosing, seeing their growth over the twenty years, but also realise the stagnant nature of life at times. Mid-length chapters keep the reader wanting to know more, particularly as the narrative switches to explore various perspectives and timelines. Marsh weaves a curious tale with strong psychological undertones that surface in the most tense manner during the climactic portion of the story.

As this was sent to me as an audio ARC, I had better make some comment on the narration. While using two narrators, the story came to life, with great personalities emerging and accents to add to the creative presentation. I enjoy a well-casted audiobook and it would seem those chosen for this piece fit the bill perfectly. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for their work when next I am trolling for an audiobook to help pass the time.

Kudos, Madam Marsh, for an intriguing novel that is both impactful and succinct. I’m eager to see what some of your other writing might be like.

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

We the Fallen People: The Founders and the Future of American Democracy, by Robert Tracy McKenzie

Eight stars

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

As a former student of politics and one who enjoys the analytical side of things, I grabbed this tome by Robert Tracy McKenzie with great interest. His basic premise is that America is neither GOOD, nor GREAT in its current political state, even as politicians would espouse this falsehood freely. While one could look at insurrectionist activities, the treatment of certain races, or even the state of protection from the pandemic that some state governments offer their people, McKenzie chooses to look at the political core, democracy.

McKenzie asserts clearly that the democracy embedded in the US Constitution is not what is being practiced today, nor has it been throughout the ages. McKenzie does not pretend that even the original democratic foundation in America was perfect, nor does it have the fluidity of a textbook presentation. However, the Founding Fathers worked with what they had and could not have foreseen every eventuality, some of which were abused in years to come. A number of democratic shortcomings are explored in the tome itself.

The general sentiment that there is a need for proper democratic input and output holds true, though it is impossible to run a country in a vacuum. McKenzie presents some of the struggles with trying to run a new country that sought to forge its own rules, pitting democratic ideals with everyday goings-on. Protecting the minority in a system where majority rules was one such example and there is significant ink used to explore this. The balance is both essential and complicated, though McKenzie makes fair points about its implementation.

McKenzie would be remiss if he glossed over some of the larger democratic abuses in the early stages of American democracy. His focus on the treatment of Indian resettlement during the Andrew Jackson presidency is a blight on the entire process. This continued when Jackson sought to wrest control of the banks during his time in the White House. McKenzie clearly espouses that there are gaping holes in democracy, which Jackson used to his advantage.

An interesting contrast emerges when McKenzie pulls in the analysis that Alexis de Tocqueville made when he came to America and penned his magnum opus, Democracy in America. Tocqueville spent numerous months in the country and sought to present his findings for all to synthesise. However, as McKenzie argues, the end result was a massive tome that was completely indigestible for the common person and remains so today. Tocqueville offered some poignant comments about how America ran its political affairs and some key lines have been taken out of context while also falsely presented in the years that followed.

McKenzie makes clear that there are problems, and that America is in need of some major changes. He is not of the opinion that it is impossible to rectify, though it is not as simple as reading the book and gloriously shaking off the shackles of the past. There is work to be done, beginning at the grassroots. Whether this is something someone wants to undertake is another matter. That said, “democracy isn’t intrinsically intolerant and authoritarian, but it can be”, given ongoing ignorance.

While I have read my fair share of political non-fiction over the years, the span of ‘readability’ is not equal. Some books are able to boil things down to the basics and make it easily digested by the layreader, while others are more academic and seek a deeper understanding to comprehend the detailed analyses. McKenzie is part of the latter group, though I did not find this to be a deterrent. I need to flex my brain at times and really get to the heart of the matter. This makes it a denser read, which is fine if I am expecting it. McKenzie offers strong arguments with many core examples to substantiate them, without belabouring too many points. In a handful of well-structured chapters, McKenzie makes his thesis clear and keeps the reader engaged. If I had to offer any critique, it would be the layout of the footnoting, though the sloppiness may simply be a part of the ARC I received. The mish-mash took away from the flow throughout, though I suppose some readers prefer easy access to citations as they read.

Kudos, Mr. McKenzie, for a decent read and some strong arguments. My brain is buzzing and it’s just what I needed.

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

The Missing Hours, by Julia Dahl

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Julia Dahl, 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.

Having never read anything by Julia Dahl, I was eager to give this standalone novel a try. Dahl writes in a gritty and fast-paced fashion, perfect for those who love a story that never gives the reader time to enter a lull. When Claudia Castro realises that she’s been raped, it is a mix of embarrassment and determination that fuels her to move forward. With the help of an unlikely dorm mate, Claudia soon realises that she’s been a target of revenge porn, as a video of the act surfaces. Now, she’s determined to get her own retribution and make a statement that she is not to be treated so poorly. With a little help, she’s able to put the wheels in motion to show that she is stronger than any boy who thinks she can be used for their own pleasure! A great piece that has me eager to see what else Julia Dahl and penned!

When Claudia Castro woke in her dorm room, she knew something was the matter. The night before had been a haze, but the burning sensation between her legs was indicative of something, and she could not remember consenting. With the place almost empty because of Spring Break, Claudia is left to stew, but comes across Trevor, who seems eager to help however he can.

While Claudia comes from a family with money, Trevor has lived the simple life in Ohio before making his way to New York City. Together, the unlikely pair connect, though never romantically, as they maneuver their way through Claudia’s rape and how to handle it. Having missed her sister giving birth, Claudia knows that she will have to tell her family one thing, but she has yet to cobble together a story that will fit the bill.

When Trevor receives an anonymous text with a video of the rape, he’s enraged. It’s two boys that Claudia knew from her time at NYU, more trouble than they are worth. While they are content to say that it’s ‘just Claudia being her slutty self’, Trevor takes offence and lets Claudia convince him that they need to act. With money burning in her pocket, Claudia has a plan, but it will take time and precision to work.

As Claudia and Trevor work to exact their own form of revenge, they are fulled by the fact that this was no simple act of young people goofing off. It’s time to show that the victim need not wait for the legal process to run its course. The missing hours may still be blurry, but Claudia intends to make those who participated feel her wrath. A jolting story that sped along at a wonderful pace.

The premise of the book left me curious and yet slightly unnerved, though I was intrigued to see how Julia Dahl might handle it. Having written a few thrillers before, I knew Dahl would jump headlong into things and she did well to capture my attention from the outset. This is a story that is sure to keep the reader flipping pages, if only to see how everyone plays a part in the larger whole and what sort of revenge can be expected.

Dahl uses a wonderful collection of characters, depicted well throughout the narrative. Contrasting the rich with the more ‘grounded’ provided the reader with great comparisons as to the tools available for retribution. Backstories and development occurred in equal measure throughout, keeping the reader attentive so as not to miss anything being offered. The flippant nature of some who play a role in the story made it all the more believable, especially when the narrative explores so many perspectives. That said, Claudia and Trevor surely steal the show as strong and multi-faceted protagonists.

Dahl uses her skills to explore the themes effectively throughout the narrative. Perhaps her greatest feat in a story of this type is to use varying narrative perspectives, bringing many of her characters into the central role and telling events from their own experiences. This helps quicken the pace of the plot and keeps the reader aware of all that is going on throughout the development of events. Chapters flowed freely, usually quick and to the point, leaving the reader to desire more as the story unfolds. I was captivated with it throughout, even if the subject matter got dark or sometimes quite violent. Told over a few weeks, the plot never lost its intensity or left the reader feeling less than satisfied with the end result, which comes in the final pages of this well-paced novel. I am eager to explore more of Julia Dahl’s work before too long.

Kudos, Madam Dahl, for a great introduction to your writing. I am definitely going to explore some of your other writing to see if it is just as captivating.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/the-missing-hours-2/

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

1979 (Allie Burns #1), by Val McDermid

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Val McDermid, 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.

Whenever I see a piece by Val McDermid, I know it will be a rollercoaster ride through the world of thrills and mystery. This series debut was no exception, as McDermid not only introduces the reader to a gritty investigative journalist, but takes things back to a time before the technological breakthrough made journalism a 24/7 reporting game. Allie Burns is a well-balanced journalist, but has come to realise that working in Scotland in the late 1970s is not as easy as she would have hoped. It’s 1979 and she’s stuck writing about issues that are important to women, rather than getting bloody in the real issues of the day. When Allie meets fellow reporter, Danny Sullivan, they decide to take Glasgow by storm. Their work reveals some real winners, including a tax fraud scheme that is sure to rock the country. However, it is a political piece that could really make a difference, while putting them both in the crosshairs of some troublesome individuals. Allie soon faces a significant setback, but is determined not to let this derail her passion or gritty personality. An intriguing start to a new series for Val McDermid.

Allie Burns had hoped that 1979 would allow her to get off on the right foot, but things were not looking too great. The year started with a massive blizzard and she was tasked with reporting it, as well as sundry other ‘light’ stories that her editor thought she might be able to handle. As an investigative journalist, Allie Burns had hoped to uncover the major stories in and around Glasgow, but she was relegated to the fluff, things that ‘women would want to read about’.

Danny Sullivan had issues of his own in 1979, but it was not a lack of action. Rather, he’d uncovered a major tax fraud scheme taking place, where businessmen could siphon off their money and invest it in an offshore bank on the other side of the world. What’s worse, Danny’s own brother was in the thick of it, making the story all the more delicate. Slow and steady, he told himself, all in the hopes of making the headline and earning a decent byline.

When Allie and Danny began working together, they proved to be unstoppable. Both full of grit and determination, the pair were able to turn up every stone and get to the heart of the matter, impressing editors and readers alike. While they worked on the tax story, news arose about something else in the lead up to the Scottish Referendum on Devolution. Danny made inroads with a group who sought to turn up the heat and bring a little violence to help things along.

Sitting on the story, both Danny and Allie knew they’d need to take action if there was any chance of catching the exclusive. Danny worked from the inside, befriending the group and discovering their ties to the IRA, while Allie used her superior writing skills to pen the story they’d present for publication. It was around this time that Allie learned another secret that Danny had been keeping, one that could really cause him grief. However, this was one story that Allie vowed to keep under her hat.

When the stories broke and the accolades came tumbling in, Allie set about to celebrate with Danny, only to discover that he’d been murdered in his flat. Who could have done such a thing and for what reason? While Allie was well aware that they had both made many enemies, she could not surmise who would want to take such drastic action. Donning her investigative hat, this was one story she’d have to write alone, fuelled by the need for answers and a truth that was hiding in the shadows. McDermid does well with this piece, keeping the reader hooked until the final page turn.

While I have long enjoyed the work of Val McDermid, I am usually arriving well after the series has started and playing catch-up. It was nice to get an early peek at this series and see that it is sure to pack quite a punch for the reader and anyone else who takes the time to enjoy it. McDermid has done well to develop the series and keep the reader on their toes throughout. I have high hopes for this novel and the series that is to come.

Allie Burns plays a strong protagonist throughout, though she dies share the limelight for most of the novel with Danny Sullivan. Both have great backstories and find the time to develop throughout this piece. Their connection is primarily with work, but there are personal moments that show a deeper and more meaningful linkage. Complemented by others who grace the pages of the book, McDermid adds characters who matter and whose placement provides a flavour for the narrative that keeps the story on track.

While there are many angles a thriller can take to deliver on crime and confrontation, McDemid always seems able to find a new approach. Readers can revel in that and find something that they can take away for themselves, finding a degree of excitement. The narrative flowed well throughout, keeping the story moving in a forward direction. Characters kept the piece exciting and intriguing, not least because of their Scottish slang that was peppered throughout. McDermid puts Scotland front and centre throughout, providing a treat for those who are not from the region. I quite enjoyed the grittiness that emerged as the story developed and cannot wait to see how Allie Burns will emerge into the 1980s, scarred but not broken.

Kudos, Madam McDermid, for another winner. You always seem to find a way to impress me with your writing.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/1979-2/

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

Denial (Jilly Truitt #2), by Beverley McLachlin

Nine stars

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

Having served a long and illustrious career in the Canadian legal field, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley McLachlin, has not been resting on her laurels in retirement. Rather, she’s come up with some amazing legal thrillers that keep the reader flipping pages to get to the core of the case. Jilly Truitt is an established lawyer, getting her practice in order and can finally choose her clients, rather than take whatever scraps are tossed her way. When an acquaintance asks that she take on the case of his wife, Jilly is sceptical. Vera Quentin is accused of killing her mother with a legal dose of morphine, though she denies the charges. Two previous defence attorneys have quit and the judge is not likely to grant another continuance. Jilly reluctantly agrees to the case, which opens many issues, both with the legal preparation and the law towards assisted suicide in Canada. The further Jilly explores, the more twists the case provides, which only fuels her to get to the truth. Another stunning piece by McLachlin, whose fiction writing is as riveting as the judgements delivered from the bench.

After a rocky few years, Jilly Truitt is finally making a name for herself in Vancouver’s criminal defence community. She’s established herself as a gritty lawyer with nothing holding her back. When she is approached by Joseph Quentin, she is intrigued, particularly because the man is a no-nonsense legal mind who has been dealing with some family issues of late. Quentin’s wife, Vera, is on trial the the murder of her mother, Olivia Stanton. While Vera denies this, she also refuses to take a plea being offered by the Crown’s Attorney, Cy Kenge. Jilly really does not want the case, particularly since two other attorneys quit in the lead-up to trial, but there’s something here.

Jilly agrees to meet with Vera and is persuaded after their frank conversation. While Olivia Stanton felt strongly about her right to die, having suffered from cancer and being in constant pain, Vera has outwardly refused to take such measures. Still, on the night of Olivia’s death, Vera was the only other person in the house. Jilly must find a crack in the story that the Crown is presenting and show that Vera’s adamant behaviour is her own defence. However, Vera has issues of her own, including mental health, which creates a sense of denying the truth on occasion.

While working the case, Jilly has been doing some pro bono work and helps a young woman who is fleeing human trafficking. However, not all of Vancouver’s criminal element feel so fondly about Jilly, meaning that there are many who would have painted a target on her back. Still, Jilly cannot let that deter her from doing good work, either in the courtroom or for those who need help as victims of horrible crimes.

When Jilly finds a new angle to approach in the case, she rushes forward, learning that Olivia may have been making some significant changes to her estate before dying. Could this has fuelled someone to take drastic action to stop things in their tracks? It’s only when the case goes to trial that Jilly is handed a significant set-up, as additional secrets about Vera’s life come to the surface and truths paint a new picture about what might have happened that night.

Working every perspective and trying not to enter any traps set by Cy Kenge, Jilly works her legal magic and tries to stay the course, even as personal tragedy befalls her in the middle of presenting her case. Vera Quentin may be espousing her innocence, but the facts left to the jury are nowhere nearly as clear cut. Denial of the truth could be the one weakness Jilly and Vera must overcome before this ends. A stunning thriller that will keep the reader hooked until the very end.

Having followed the career of Beverley McLachlin for many years, I was excited to see that she was able to make the shift from Chief Justice of Canada to a published author. Not only that, but her writing is gripping and riveting, something that not all lawyers and judges can do when moving into the world of fiction. McLachlin spins a tale with a great Canadian flavour and keeps the reader turning pages with ease. I can only hope that there are more Jilly Truitt thrillers to come before long.

Jilly Truitt remains a wonderful protagonist in this piece. She builds on her past from the series debut and grows quite nicely in this piece. Working to carve a niche for herself in Vancouver’s busy legal community is surely not easy, but she has done it with ease and flair, something that shows throughout the book. Her gritty determination shines through, as does her desire to protect any client for whom she works. There are moments of weakness for her, as depicted in a subplot of the book, but she comes out determined to set things straight, as best she can.

McLachlin uses strong supporting characters throughout the piece to keep the story moving and complement Jilly effectively. There are angles of the story that depict legal issues in Canada, familial squabbles, and even personal interactions, all of which are effectively covered through the numerous characters introduced throughout. McLachlin has paved the way for a wonderful novel and builds on her stellar debut piece with both new and returning characters sure to impress the reader.

I have long loved a good legal thriller, but find it hard to find ones set outside the big domains of the US and UK. McLachlin has done well to present the Canadian angle, which differs from both without being too off the wall. The narrative flowed well and keeps the reader enthralled throughout, using strong characters and a paced plot that gains momentum as the story builds. A mix of chapter lengths serve to fuel the story, teasing the reader at times while also pulling them in for a legal or personal exploration at times. I found myself reading and not wanting to stop, which is not always an easy feat. However, there was something about this book. Some bemoan that McLachlin ought to have stayed with her courtroom work, but I am sure it is only that they did not take the time to allow the story to really sink in. I cannot wait for more!

Kudos, Madam McLachlin (not sure what title I ought to use), for another wonderful piece. I cannot wait to see what Jilly Truitt will discover next and how that will add to the greatness of this blossoming series.

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

Mastermind (Theo Cray and Jessica Blackwood #1), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

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

After developing some strong series, Andrew Mayne has tried something few authors dare to attempt. In this novel, he’s combined the power of FBI Agent Jessica Blackwood—former magician and illusionist—with the analytical prowess of Dr. Theo Cray, a computational biologist. These two protagonists have done amazing things on their own, but when combined, the story takes on an entirely new depth and excitement. After Manhattan appears to disappear in plain sight, Jessica Blackwood is called to the scene, hoping that she can deduce what’s going on. She’s baffled, but wonders if her nemesis, Michael Heywood, could be behind it. Many within the Intelligence community have a list of individuals who may have assisted Heywood in his plan, including one Dr. Theo Cray. Blackwood travels around the world to find him, which only leads to more ‘blackout’ moments as they spend time in Asia. What follows is a series of events that neither Cray nor Blackwood can explain, though it all points to trouble, particularly if Michael Heywood is involved. A chilling tale that is full of thought-provoking moments, showing just how sharp Andre Mayne’s writing can be.

While she has grown up loving magic, even Jessica Blackwood cannot fathom what’s happened when she is called out to help find Manhattan. Having disappeared in some form of electronic pulse, combined with a fog, the city seems too have been carved from the map. Everyone has Michael Heywood—The Warlock—on their minds as a possible suspect, with his recent escape from custody. However, he could not have done it alone. Many suspects are bandied about, but there’s one that catches Jessica’s eye, Dr. Theo Cray.

After travelling to the far side fo the world, Blackwood locates the doctor, who’s been trying to vaccinate local population so they are not murdered by their own government. While noble in his actions, Cray is not seen as a hero by many and has been tossed in a putrid jail cell. Blackwood is able to help him and uses her own form of deception to get him out of the country, while explaining about Manhattan. When two more ‘events’ occur in Asia, both Blackwood and Cray decide to stay in the region to work through what’s going on.

It’s soon clear that the ‘Void’ moments are only a distraction for what’s really going on, the theft of massive amounts of data. While Blackwood and Cray cannot understand what it’s for, this has Michael Heywood written all over it. They undercover some truly horrible science experiments in both Thailand and Ukraine, which could possibly open up new and disturbing outcomes, but the data is not comprehensive enough to offer any concrete answers.

Returning to the US, Cray and Blackwood must jump through some Intelligence hoops to remain on the case, while being goaded by Heywood to decipher what he has in mind. Slowly, but intentionally, they make some progress and learn that something huge is in the works, a plan that would truly help Michael Heywood shed his ‘Warlock’ moniker for another… Mastermind! A captivating novel that had me guessing at every page.

Since stumbling upon Andrew Mayne, I have learned so very much about a wide variety of subjects, whether it be magic, biology, or even police sleuthing underwater. Mayne is so full of ideas and means by which crime can be solved, allowing his books to open new pathways within the genre while keeping his fans entertained throughout. This protagonist amalgamation was ingenious, something I often encourage authors of multiple series to attempt. The premise was strong, working well alongside the novel’s pace and constant revelations.

One essential area in a book is its characters and how they come to life on the page. With established stories for both Jessica Blackwood and Dr. Theo Cray, it was less about building them up, but sustaining what series fans knew about them. Working alongside one another, it is the character chemistry that is essential, something that Mayne did really well. Neither knew much about the other, allowing for some brief mentions of their respective backstories, but it is the strong connectivity that kept the book going and how they are able to feed off one another, developing themselves as individuals and a unit simultaneously.

While there were many characters who helped move the story along, it was the science that stole the show in many regards. Mayne has never shied away from analysis of events through different lenses and this book was full of that. Exploring biology, computer analytics, virology, and even some currency issues, Mayne floods the narrative with ideas that could spark curiosity amongst readers. I found myself lost in the discussion at times, though was able to surmise some of what was being said, through poignant questions the characters asked throughout the discussion.

There is so much going on within this book, it is difficult to determine where I ought to begin. The premise of the piece was quite strong and kept things moving from the outset. Mayne may appear to be taking things in one direction, only to steer them on a completely opposite pathway before too long. The narrative gained momentum throughout and kept me wanting to turn a few more pages. Chapters of varying lengths kept the story on track and left things dangling at the right times, forcing the reader to push onwards to satiate their curiosity. While the science was intense at times, it all came into perspective and Mayne did a wonderful job of keeping the reader engaged and informed. I can see this Blackwood/Cray partnership being one that I will enjoy, as Andrew Mayne keeps the stories coming.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, on this stellar collaboration between two of your key protagonists. There’s a lot more to explore and you are sure to impress many of your series fans.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/mastermind/

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

Enemies and Allies: An Unforgettable Journey Inside their Fast-Moving & Immensely Turbulent Modern Middle East, by Joel C. Rosenberg

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Joel C. Rosenberg, and Tyndale House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

As a former student of politics and a lover of political thrillers of all stripes, I have come to really enjoy the work of Joel C. Rosenberg. I do not profess to know a great deal about the intricacies of the Middle East or its precarious political situation, outside of the primary tenets developed in the latter part of the 20th century and into the 21st. Rosenberg’s fiction has been quite telling, at times predicting events that did occur, which has always left me paying close attention when he spins a tale. In this, a piece of non-fiction, Rosenberg not only offers his opinions about progress in the region, but he provides first-hand accounts of discussions and scenarios with the various actors who have/will be responsible for peace in the region, as well as the emergence of religious freedoms, namely for evangelical Christians. It’s a telling piece and eye opening at the same time.

Rosenberg makes clear in the opening portion of the book that he is no soothsayer or prognosticator of what will happen in the region, but has been able to engage in key meetings with various high-ranking officials to get their opinions on situations, as well as forecasting what is likely to come in a reform movement. Israel is no longer an automatic pariah to countries in the region, though it is not a one-sided situation where Arab and Muslim countries are prepared to simply ‘take a knee’ and let Israel have what they have wanted since 1948. As with anything, there is a balance, albeit precarious, to a peace in the Middle East and the harmony that will occur thereafter.

While not seeking to name drop or put himself on a pedestal, Rosenberg makes clear that he has been given some unique access to various world leaders in the past few years. Organizing delegations as a Jewish evangelical Christian (you have to read the book to understand) and Israeli citizen (in all honesty, a joint US-Israeli citizen for the past number of years), Rosenberg has broken new ground in getting leaders of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and even Saudi Arabia, to sit with him and share their visions for the future. These include both within the country, as well as throughout the region. All include a view towards a peaceful interaction with Israel and a stronger connection to the evangelical Christian base Rosenberg espouses.

As the title asserts, there are also enemies in the region who would seek to stymie progress, or who are not helpful to the peace process. Iran and Turkey are two of these countries and their leaders, while perhaps eschewing their own version of the truth, have taken a hard-nose approach to both Israel and the United States. Rosenberg is clearly critical, not only of these actors (tossing Russia in there as well), but also points to a lack of definitive political bullying by the Obama Administration when they had the chance. While there are moments of sycophantic, pro-Trump rhetoric, the book does not make the past president appear to be the saviour of the region or that his views are the only hope for peace.

Rosenberg uses the last portion of the book to explore the possibility of religious freedom in the region, particularly for evangelical Christians. There appears to be a move towards such freedoms, citing that a number of the leaders to whom he spoke were happy to allocate a portion of the country to open Christian religious practice, as well as the building of churches. This is, according to Rosenberg, progress that parallels the emergence of a peace with Israel, inching forward slowly but notably.

While a piece of non-fiction and surely meant to convey some of the region’s history and current political turnaround, the book is not a dry recollection of events. Rather, it is Rosenberg’s personal interactions and conversations with leaders in the region over a period of years. While there are moments of necessary paraphrasing, it is full of strong quotes and explanations that readers without a thorough understanding of the region of its leaders can digest with ease. I found myself flying through the chapters, as they are intriguing and offer insights I had not considered, even if it is clearly seen through the lens of the speaker at times and not always analyzed through every angle. Backed by substantive endnotes, Rosenberg shows that this is not a soapbox diatribe, but rather work supported by documentation to which the reader can refer if they choose.

I will continue reading many of the fictional accounts of the region that Joel C. Rosenberg develops in his novels, as they tell a story that few other authors can present. The nuances woven into their narratives are not to be dismissed as off-hand or fairytales, as Rosenberg has shown that he knows the region, its actors, and the possible fallout. Fans of his work may enjoy this to see where some of the ideas for his past (and future) novels come from, though this is also a great piece for those who enjoy a perspective or two on Middle East politics and the upcoming perspectives of key players.

Kudos, Mr. Rosenberg, for an intriguing look at the other side of your writing. I enjoy seeing your non-fiction writing, as it complements those novels I have come to enjoy for the past many years!

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

The Corpse Flower (Heloise Kaldan #1), by Anne Mette Hancock

Eight stars

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

Having never read anything by Danish author Anne Mette Hancock, I leapt at the chance to get my hands on this, her first book published in English. The title alone pulled me in, though once I got into the story, I found other facets that kept me intrigued until the final page. After a Danish journalist is close to losing her job, she finds herself in an awkward position. Soon thereafter, Heloise Kaldan begins receiving cryptic letters from a woman who claims to be a sought-after suspect in the slaying of a high-profile lawyer. What follows is a chance for Kaldan to piece the crime together and try learning what the elusive Anna Kiel might want with her. By the end, the chilling truth is revealed. A great debut novel and one that had me pining for more of Hancock’s work!

The autumn rains may be refreshing for the people of Copenhagen, but journalist Heloise Kaldan is too busy worrying about her future. One of her sources has be revealed to be fabricating all they offered up, making Kaldan’s reporting look not only flimsy, but completely unreliable. It’s an issue, as reporting is what Kaldan does best and it is about to be taken away from her.

While she wallows in her own self-pity, a mysterious letter arrives for Kaldan, one that she cannot fully understand. The sender, Anna Kiel, does not try to conceal herself, but rather greets the harried reporter with open arms. Kiel has been on the lam for three years, a key suspect in the murder of a lawyer back in Denmark. Hiding somewhere in France, Kiel tries reaching out to Kaldan and expresses that she is not the evil person many have made her out to be.

With little to lose and curiosity fuelling her desire for the truth, Kaldan begins poking around the murder case and tries to decipher what might have happened. Along the way, using the cryptic letters sent to her, Kaldan learns that there is more to the story than meets the eye. Throughout the sleuthing ordeal Kaldan is sidetracked when someone in whom she confides is brutally murdered. Might Kiel be sending a message not to get too close?

It is only after Heloise Kaldan travels to see her father that all the pieces come together and the truth about Anna Kiel can be discovered. The story gets highly personal and past truths about the Kaldan family come to light. While there is chaos around her, Kaldan seeks the truth and to pacify things once and for all, as if knowing it will serve as a… lullaby. A brilliant thriller that will have the reader on the edge of their seat by the end.

I quite enjoy Scandinavian thrillers and this was no exception. Anne Mette Hancock has a way of pulling the reader into the middle of the story and leaving them to piece things together. It’s a wonderful journey, filled with many tangents and learning moments. With a deeper theme running through the story, there are a number of impactful moments the reader is forced to digest, as awkward as they may be.

While it took a while for me to connect with Heloise Kaldan, I am pleased that I did. She is both a straightforward and complicated character, one that the reader will enjoy getting to know throughout the novel. Her passion for reporting comes to light, as does her thirst for the truth. However, it all comes crashing down when she discovers a family secret that her father kept, something that will surely shape Kaldan as the series progresses. I am eager to see how Hancock uses these truths to shape the protagonist moving forward.

There are a number of strong secondary characters, many of whom help prop up the story in needed ways. The police element serves to inject some needed crime solving, though Kaldan does well to uncover things on her own. There are those in the upper echelon of Danish society who offer their own truths, as well as some of those who inhabit the lower rungs of the society ladder. All are needed to provide the full picture of this complicated story. Hancock does well to bind them together in this piece, providing the reader with something well worth their time.

While I have a long history with Scandinavian crime thrillers, I would not call myself an expert. I can say that they tend to take some time to process, which could be related to the translation from their mother tongue into English. I did struggle with connecting to the narrative for the first portion of the story, feeling that it was all over the place and did not pull me in as I would have liked. However, once I got a feel for Anne Mette Hancock’s style and way of conveying things, I was intrigued. The narrative moved along well after a bumpy start and the chapters began to gather momentum, revealing truths and leaving the reader wanting more. By the end, there was that needed plot twist that turned the entire experience on its head and had me needed more information. While this is the only book published in English, I see there are a few more in the series. I hope this is rectified soon, as I am intrigued to see where Heloise Kaldan finds herself in the coming years and how this family secret might shape her future reporting.

Kudos, Madam Hancock, for a stellar debut. I cannot wait to get my hands on more of your work, just as soon as they are translated into English.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by others.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/the-corpse-flower/

Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:

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

Mercy Creek (Jo Wyatt #2), by M.E. Browning

Eight stars

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

I can always be guaranteed an intense read when I choose one of M.E. Browning’s novels and this was no exception. Focussing less on the razzle-dazzle of the big city, Browning takes things into a more rural setting and turns her attention on the story, with its strong characters and ever-evolving plot. In Echo Valley, Colorado, Detective Jo Wyatt is still trying to make a name for herself, seeking to step from the shadow her father’s cast. When a young girl goes missing, it’s more than a case, but a trip down a bumpy part of the past. Wyatt is forced to relive a time when she lost a good friend to a jealous accusation and has never been able to settle things. Now, as time passes and the girl is nowhere to be found, it’s a race for answers and truths in a community that almost seems indifferent. The truth is out there, but Wyatt will have to peel back layers of emotion to get to the core of the matter! Another great story that is sure to impress many readers.

In Echo Valley, Colorado, there’s nothing like a fair. The midway, the animals, and even the county competitions stir up intrigue in this small community. However, when young Lena Flores does not show up on Sunday morning, some begin to wonder what’s going on. Her mother, Tilda, is beside herself and cannot get the police out to the house fast enough. Lena’s older sister, Marisa, is sure her sister is only seeking some attention, but this soon turns to worry, when the eleven year-old appears to have simply vanished.

When Detective Jo Wyatt is called to the scene, it’s more than just a job. Wyatt grew up in Echo Valley and has been trying to make a name for herself on the police force, seeking to dodge the reputation her father delivered from a long career on the force. Wyatt’s also got a long history with the Flores parents, dating back to their time in high school when things went horribly wrong. Still, this is a missing child case and Wyatt will do all she can to bring Lena home safely.

Combing through the fields and any video surveillance they can, Wyatt and her partner finger a few possible suspects, including the girl’s father, Lucero. Digging a little deeper, Wyatt tries to piece together what might have happened and who could have wanted to abduct Lena. All the while, she is trying to deal with the politics of a new chief and his plans for Echo Valley.

Working as many leads as she can, including a carny who took an unhealthy interest in Lena, Detective Wyatt tries to make headway in a case that is slipping out of her grasp. With little on which to go and the clock speeding ahead, this could soon morph into a case of a different sort. When a call comes in that some hikers found something along a trail, it sends a frigid jolt down Wyatt’s spine and opens another can of worms best left shelved, as well as a new line of questioning. A strong story and gripping ending shows that M.E. Browning has what it takes to make an impact.

I’ve enjoyed each of the novels M.E. Browning has penned, as they get to the core of the matter in short order and seek to develop a strong story without all the glitz and glamour that some authors feel must decorate their writing. Gritty and heartfelt in equal measure, Browning tells a story and keeps the reader on their toes throughout the experience, trusting the strength of her writing. I powered through this book in short order, as it was that good and found myself connected to the story.

Jo Wyatt is again front and centre in this piece, working through her own issues to serve the community of Echo Valley. She’s got big shoes to fill, something those around her never fail to mention, yet she is always trying to better herself and help those in need. The reader is able to see a glimpse of her personal struggles from a past that had many issues, as well as some growth in her professional career. I am eager to see more of her in the coming years, as she comes across as a no-nonsense cop with a great deal to prove, both to herself and all readers.

Browning develops strong supporting characters throughout the piece, keeping the story moving along without being derailed by too many sub-plots. Things develop effectively with those who complement Detective Wyatt well, as each storyline links together at some point in the larger narrative. Shedding light on both the investigation and an earlier time in Echo Valley, these characters offer something needed to the story without over complicating the delivery.

There’s something about a focused and gritty procedural that gets me every time. M.E. Browning delivers a great deal in this second novel of her new series. With a strong narrative, the story flows well and each subplot finds its place. Gaining momentum through a string of mid-length chapters, the story keeps a good focus and yet develops both plot and character without needing to add unnecessary flourishes. Browning has proven herself yet again and can hold the reader’s attention throughout, using small town settings to hone the basics of the story. I’m eager to see where things will go from here, as this is a series that caught my eye and has so many loose threads yet to be tied off. Let’s hope M.E. Browning feels the same way!

Kudos, Madam Browning, for another great piece. I hope others take notice and find themselves as enthralled as I was throughout.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/mercy-creek/

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

The Island (Dewey Andreas #9), by Ben Coes

Eight 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.

Whenever Ben Coes decides to publish something, fans of political thrillers should take notice. Coes is able to mix wonderful political backstories with intense strategic fighting in novels that show just how important agents of the CIA can be in the protection of America. In this latest from the Dewey Andreas series, it would appear that the Republic of Iran has been working with Hezbollah to strike terror into the hearts of Americans with a plot like no other. Before doing so, someone will have it remove Andreas from the equation. While this is undertaken, it’s a close call, but nothing will deter Hezbollah from their plan. Targeting the sitting US president, they set their sights on Manhattan, as the UN General Assembly is expecting the Leader of the Free World to speak. What follows is a harrowing tale that pushes Andreas to act swiftly, trying to save America from what could be its worst attack yet. Sensational writing in a series that keeps getting better.

Dewey Andreas is a man who is known around the world for his protection of America. A CIA operative, Andreas has foiled plots hatched by some of the world’s most ruthless countries and assassinated many who needed to die. However, with this fame comes a large target on his back, something the leadership within the Republic of Iran wish to highlight. While working with Hezbollah the Iranians concoct a plan to bring America to its knees and see Dewey Andreas dead, but it will take precise planning for it to work.

While Andreas is targeted, he narrowly escapes and agrees to a unique bit of R&R with a woman he is getting to know. While he’s resting up, all eyes are on New York City, where US President Dellenbaugh is set to address the UN General Assembly. As POTUS makes his way there, hundreds of Hezbollah fighters are strategically positioned to take out all access to Manhattan when they explode massive bombs in each of the found tunnels connecting it to the rest of the city.

As Dellenbaugh is inside the UN, additional forces storm ther building, leaving many dead as they push to reach the Great Satan. Dellenbaugh, a past sports star, wants to defend himself, but soon discovers that these are men on a mission, willing to die for their cause. As the game of cat and mouse commences, many scramble to find safety amidst all the chaos.

Dewey Andreas and a few of his fellow agents are called into duty, as the true nature of the attack becomes clearer. It will take strategy and patience to locate POTUS and ensure his safety, all while killing those who seek to bring America down. Andreas always puts country before anything else, so it will take little to convince him. However, with Dellenbaugh severely injured, this might be too little too late. All the while, something’s up with the Federal Reserve!

There’s nothing that compares to the work of Ben Coes, particularly when he is on his game. This is the ninth novel in the series, which has not lost any of its intensity or intrigue. Dewey Andreas is in fine form and shows why he is a key character in the genre, happy to help his country in whatever way possible. Adding some intense political drama and a secondary plot to keep the reader enthralled, Coes shows why he belongs with other household names in the thriller genre.

Those who have followed the series will know that Dewey Andreas has a hard shell that is all but impossible to penetrate. However, once you do, there is much depth to the man. His rough exterior is a front, but also a means of keeping his focussed on the task at hand, usually protecting the country and its institutions. Andreas shows why he is a stellar part of the CIA, with some great character development and a few threads left untied for future novels.

The cast of secondary characters is, as usual, top notch and shows that Ben Coes is always thinking. There are a number of individuals who have been along for the ride throughout the series, as well as some one-offs, all of whom add depth and flavour to the story. The intensity of the piece is furthered by the development of these men and women on both sides of the good/evil divide, which keeps the reader flipping pages just to discover what adventures await them.

As with many of the past novels, this is a highly addictive story that keeps moving without hesitation. The narrative flows well, told primarily in a single day, and keeps the reader wanting more. The multi-faceted plot is perfect for the book and makes the story come to life. Short chapters are timestamped to show the minute-by-minute progression of the action, which only makes the reader want to read more to discover what’s to come. I could not pull myself away from this book, bingeing it whenever I could. This is surely one of the best in the series and treats a threat to the US as something plausible with many moving parts. Series fans will not be disappointed, though those who are not well-versed on Dewey Andreas really ought to start at the beginning in order to capture many of the nuances.

Kudos, Mr. Coes, for a stellar piece of writing. You’ve made a fan out of me long ago and I hope others can echo my sentiments.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/the-island/

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

The Noise, by James Patterson and J.D. Barker

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley; James Patterson; J.D. Barker; and Little, Brown and Company for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I have enjoyed the few collaborative efforts by James Patterson and J.D. Barker, which offer a scintillating look into psychological thrillers with a unique twist. Mixing their two styles, the authors have come up with a sure page-turner here, keeping the reader on their toes throughout this piece. A rural community in Oregon soon turns to panic, leaving two young girls to flee for the family’s underground bunker as a piercing noise permeates their surroundings. The elder child appears unharmed, but her little sister begins spouting gibberish and acting in a highly troublesome manner. Soon, a handful of scientists are herded aboard a military chopper and sent to the area, in hopes of better understanding what’s taken place. However, it is baffling to everyone and there seems neither rhyme nor reason for any of it. Many have died and appear to be piled in large crevasses, while those who are alive have fevers like no other. What’s happened and who or what is responsible for all this. One doctor vows to get answers, even if the government seeks to cover it up from the public.

Things are quiet in a rural mountain Oregon for Tennant and Sophie Riggin, who have lived off the grid for their entire lives. However, all this soon changes when an odd vibration emanates from the forest and their father rushes the girls into a bunker. The piercing noise escalates, leaving Tennant worried and Sophie acting strangely. The younger sister, all of eight, begins spouting odd phrases and complaining of severe pain in her ears. Tennant can only hope to protect her sister until all of this passes.

Soon after the baffling incident in around Mount Hood, military officials begin gathering top-ranked scientists and medical professionals to help assess the damage and fallout. This includes, Dr. Martha Chan, a medical doctor, who is as confused as ever about why she was chosen for this mission. What Chan and the others witness is baffling and highly unusual: massive crevasses in the ground, many bodies piled up, as well as destruction of the earth like nothing seen or predicted. What’s even more troubling is the top secret nature of the event, where military officials will not even allow those viewing the fallout to converse with one another.

After Chan and the others are permitted on the ground, it’s discovered that many of those who are alive have fevers that are off the charts, climbing into the 104 degree Fahrenheit range. This includes young Sophie Riggin, who continues to spout odd phrases, one of which can be traced back to a dead language used in the Bible. Might this be some sort of End of Times event? If not, could an enemy nation be testing a new weapon? Military officials scramble for answers and try to brief the president with what they know.

As Tennant remains unharmed, Dr. Chan is unsure what’s kept her safe and how Sophie could be so affected. Chan will do all she can to get answers, even if that means defying the orders of military personnel. Something is behind this noise and Chan will not rest until she gets answers, sure that someone is not telling the truth. The larger question remains, when the truth is discovered, how will the US Administration handle it and what message will there broadcast to the world? A chilling story that will sober many readers into wondering what could happen right under their noses.

Many will know that I have a love/hate relationship with the works of James Patterson, depending on the series collaborators. Those who don’t can find my comments elsewhere, as I wish to focus on the collaborative efforts that Patterson has with J.D. Barker. This is a duo that has worked from the outset, combining their individual skills to create something really enticing and easy to read. While the novels may be longer than many Patterson fans have come to expect, they are always filled with twists and narrative nuggets that push them to the top of the genre. Psychological thrillers are hard to perfect, as the reader must commit fully, but Patterson and Barker make that easy with the caliber of their work.

The numerous narratives make it difficult to choose a single protagonist, though the authors have highlighted a few characters to assume the role, namely Tennant and Martha Chan. While they come from completely different backgrounds, both seek the same thing, to get answers and to help Sophie. The collaborative efforts both make throughout the story make them targets for the military and political actors, but this only adds to their development. Many readers will likely affix themselves to at least one of these leading ladies, if only to get to the core of the plot.

The authors have done well to craft a collection of supporting characters who use individual agendas to clash with the aforementioned protagonists. Many serve within the US Administration, trying to uncover and then whitewash what’s happened in Oregon. This tension works well throughout the novel, pushing the reader to see how good and evil (or at least curiosity and pragmatic secret keeping) butt heads throughout. The description of some other supporting characters helps to show the dire straights in which this segment of the population has found itself, something that resonates throughout for the attentive reader.

The goal I suspect authors strive for in standalone novels is to allow each to succeed on their own merits. While James Patterson’s books have often been given a ‘cookie cutter plot’ label, his work alongside J.D. Barker makes these novels stand out as being some of the best, with no prediction where things will go. The narrative, told through the eyes of many, is strong and builds constantly, while the characters are varied enough to be of interest to the reader. The plot is anything but linear and gains momentum in all the right spots. Short chapters push things along and keep the reader from getting too bogged down in minutiae. I am always pleased to see collaborative efforts between these two international bestselling authors, as I see it brings out the best in them both. One can only hope there are more novels, series or standalone, to come.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Barker, for another winning recipe when it comes to thrill writing. I hope many of your respective fans will rush to get this book, as it checks all the boxes.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/the-noise/

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

The Ambassador: Joseph P. Kennedy at the Court of St. James’s 1938-1940, by Susan Ronald

Nine stars

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

I have long been a fan of the Kennedy family, perhaps America’s first political dynasty. While much of my focus has been on JFK and his assassination, Susan Ronald opened my eyes to another angle worth exploring. Joseph P. Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedys, used power and influence to sway opinions, both in and out of the political arena. When he was given the role of US Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s (United Kingdom), it was the job of a lifetime. However, as Ronald argues effectively throughout this tome, it came with significant consequences for the country, the president, and world history. Ronald puts forth strong arguments and keeps the reader enthralled throughout as she lay the groundwork for how Kennedy’s ambassadorship changed history, not entirely for the better.

Susan Ronald opens the book offering the reader some great backstory on the Kennedys and how Joseph helped build his empire on both American coasts. His love of the movie industry helped make him a household name, though his focus was making money rather than making sure every American could recite his name at the drop of a hat. As his family grew, Kennedy found ways to build walls around himself, keeping his wife, Rose, at a distance when it suited him. However, He always wanted his eldest, Joe, Jr., and John (Jack) close to the action, hoping to pave the way for their successes in the years that followed.

With his eye on the ambassadorship in the United Kingdom, Kennedy lobbied Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) for the appointment. Many people know Kennedy was wealthy, but a position like this would require more than cutting a cheque to cover the costs. He would need to be a diplomat and one with power to persuade. Kennedy did all in his power to show that his influence could be used properly in Europe and that his connections would effectively help the Americans build stronger ties with their allies. Reluctantly, FDR agreed to the appointment in 1938, but tried to leash Kennedy to ensure things flowed smoothly.

While Kennedy was keen to use his new role to cement European connections, he was fond of offering his opinions when it came to the brewing unrest on the European continent. As the Germans and Italians rose to power, Kennedy repeatedly espoused views that fascism was not entirely problematic, as long as it kept communism from rising. This was not official American foreign policy and there are numerous instances when FDR offered angered rebukes about his ambassador. Kennedy was, perhaps indirectly, trying to formulate US policy on his own and speaking as the government mouthpiece while doing so. Using his ties within the British government, Kennedy sometimes could be seen to shape politics at Westminster in a time when a united front was needed against the boisterous Germans and equally troubling Italians.

Appeasement appeared to be the theme of the day, as Kennedy supported his British counterparts while they dealt with the fascist uprising. FDR did not take the easiest approach and recall his ambassador, for many reasons. With an upcoming election in 1940, FDR sometimes surmised that it was better to keep Kennedy away, so as to prevent him from making a run for the Democratic nomination. While war inched closer, Kennedy pushed his views, but was eventually rebuffed when FDR-supported Churchill returned to the prime ministership. Kennedy was no longer the great political statesman and bided his time while FDR turned attention elsewhere. Kennedy had overstayed his welcome and was soon on his way back, with little to show and no overt support from his own government.

Ronald effectively portrays Joseph P. Kennedy’s rise to power as being one in which the man thought that he could use his influence to change opinion, no matter what his superiors wanted. While this did occur repeatedly, the clash between Kennedy and official US foreign policy never seemed to be properly resolved. Kennedy dictated what he wanted, the State Department issued their version, and the two wafted next to one another, while Europe stood on shaky ground. Ronald shows how this gamble to send Kennedy to Europe paid off more to keep him out of the Administration’s hair than to keep things steady and calm. Joseph Kennedy had an agenda and would not leave without pushing it in one direction or another. That it caused a great deal of turmoil in the late 1930s is clear to many, though could it have been halted without ruining FDR’s chances at an unprecedented third term in office? That’s a mystery best left to the alternate historians.

While this was by no means a light and quick read, Susan Ronald makes it highly enjoyable for the reader who has an interest in this sort of thing. Her attention to detail and thorough analysis provides the reader with something intriguing to read. Much of the instability within Europe is well-known, but Ronald’s perspective offers readers a great insight into what happened and how Kennedy played a key role in its development. With chapters that are easily digested and a captivating narrative, the story advances well and the curious reader is provided some wonderful nuggets. Susan Ronald is clear in her arguments and does leave the reader with something on which to chew as they consider what might have been. I’d gladly read more of her work, as this offered a great perspective on pre- and early-war analysis.

Kudos, Madam Ronald,, for an insightful book. I am glad I took the time to read it and hope to find more of your work soon.

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

Woman in Shadow, by Carrie Stuart Parks

Seven stars

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

I am always eager when I see Carrie Stuart Parks has written another novel, having found myself fully enthralled with her Gwen Marcey series a number of years ago. While Parks has moved into writing standalone thrillers, she can still pack a punch and offers up some great storytelling in this piece. When a woman who is saddled with much PTSD from a horrific work event arrives in rural Idaho, all she wants is some rest and well-deserved relaxation. Darby Graham could not have known that this ranch had so many issues and someone causing massive amount of uproar. As things begin to happen, Darby is thrust into the middle of trying to solve them and determine if there is a killer targeting the ranch or someone on its grounds specially. Gritty and mysterious, Parks does well to lure the reader in with this story.

When she arrives in Idaho, all Darby Graham wants is some time to recharge her batteries and enjoy the wilderness. However, things begin with a bang (or more literally, a shake) and develop from there. In an area close to Yellowstone National Park, there are countless mini earthquakes that cause quite a stir. Graham encounters this, as well as two potential canine companions to join her as she makes her way up to Mule Shoe. Graham slowly tries to get herself acclimated, though she carries much baggage of her own.

Having arrived at the ranch from Clan Firinn, a program for law enforcement officers who have suffered severe PTSD, Graham hopes to put all her worries behind her. However, that is not always the case, as small things occur that trigger flashbacks and horrible fugue states. When these occurrences begin to pile up, Graham has no choice but to work with the locals to try uncovering what’s been going on.

A forensic linguist by training, Graham finds clues in language and how it is presented. She is able to use some notes from the past sent to ward others away and finds herself able to piece together a very loose profile. That may not help her now, as people are dying and destruction is rampant, though it does not deter Graham from trying her best.

Riddled with memories of the past that haunt her, Darby Graham will have to put all that behind her if she is to help find a killer before she becomes a victim herself. Much if riding on this, the least of which a chance to slay her own demons once and for all. A well-paced story that adds action and suspense throughout, proving that Parks has not lost her way with words.

I struggle after reading a series and the author turns to standalone novels. When I get into the groove of things, I can only see myself wanting to continue on the journey of a protagonist I know well, with dangling threads and new plot ideas formulated in the closing chapters of a book. However, Carrie Stuart Parks turned to writing novels that float on their own, equally as impactful to the attentive reader. These are still filled with the element of mystery and suspense, as well as utilising some unique forensic research, which is usually able to extinguish my longing for a series continuation.

Darby Graham does well in her role as protagonist, offering the reader a fair bit with which it work. Having suffered a great deal and still haunted with vast amounts of PTSD, Graham has tried to right herself and find a new path. Graham’s attempted escape to rural Idaho may not be the peace and quiet she needs, but it does showcase some of her wonderful forensic skills and keeps the reader guessing about how she will overcome it all. There is great growth and backstory construction in the piece, even if it is meant to go no further than the end of this novel.

Those Parks matches up with her protagonist also play key roles in keeping the story moving. While many flavour a particular aspect of the narrative, some drop clues throughout to help add depth to the story and provide insights into where things are going for the overall reading experience. Parks has a way of developing the rural authority figure effectively, which is not lost in this novel. Some of the characters help propel Darby Graham to a new level, while others are strictly there to impede her personal and professional progress throughout.

Things began somewhat slowly for me in this read. I needed some time to find myself interested in what was going on. Parks uses a slow reveal to really captivate the reader’s attention, but when it is found, the narrative picks up and finds its momentum. The various perspectives offered throughout provide the reader with an exciting tale, with decent backstory and mysterious twists. The plot advances in due time and keeps the reader guessing until all is revealed by the end. Short chapters push things along, though the information in them is essential, forcing the reader to play close attention. One of Parks’ great assets in her writing is presenting a typical criminal case through the lens of a less-known forensic profession. As with her Gwen Marcey series, the reader learns much through the eyes of Darby Graham, whose life as a forensic linguist offers some insights that may have been missed otherwise. While not my favourite piece by Carries Stuart Parks, I enjoyed it and would encourage readers to look into her other work, particularly that of the aforementioned Gwen Marcey.

Kudos, Madam Parks, on another solid piece of writing. You never cease to impress me with the new forensic angles presented in your writing.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/woman-in-shadow/

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

Kill All Your Darlings, by David Bell

Eight stars

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

David Bell does a masterful job in this novel, combining a well-paced thriller with hints of the writing process and the seedy underbelly of sexual harassment on college campuses. He is able to keep the reader committed throughout and reveals all in the closing pages when all the pieces come together. After an English professor publishes his first novel, he’s hoping for a great deal of praise. However, a former student—missing for the past two years—returns and presses him to admit that he’s used her thesis. This is the least of his worries, as the plagiarized piece includes details about a murder, as yet unsolved, that were never released to the public. Things spiral out of control as the police and college hierarchy begin to ask questions that cannot be dodged. Bell is utterly entertaining and captivating in equal measure.

Connor Nye enjoys his work as an English professor at a small Kentucky college. Having lost his wife and teenage son a number of years before, his work is everything. When Nye publishes his first novel, he is hoping for a great deal of praise and can all but guarantee tenure. Things could not be going any better for him, which fuels his emotions as he arrives home that night.

When he enters his home, Nye is greeted by one of his former students, Madeline O’Brien. This undergrad has been missing for the past two years and her surprise arrival here has Nye in a tizzy. However, things go from bad to worse when Madeline confronts him for using her honours thesis as his own novel. Madeline is keen to recoup her dignity and threatens Nye about coming clean, something that the previously faultless professor must consider.

If plagiarizing were not enough, the police are soon knocking on his door, citing that the premise of the novel resembles an unsolved crime in town from a few years before, including a number of details never released to the public. Now, Nye is faced with being changed as a suspect in the young woman’s murder. What’s worse, while Nye says that he does not know the victim, he can be played along her street many times, having used the area to walk his dog.

While the evidence begins to pile up, Nye is debating about telling the truth about his book, hoping that it will release much of the tension. However, there are more twists to come, some of which only make him look guiltier. With perspectives from Madeline in flashback chapters and a new student of Nye’s telling things in the present, the story takes on many topics as the truth is peeled back and the murder is better explored. Can Connor Nye escape the nightmare that was his attempt to get the academic pressure off his back? David Bell spins quite the tale and I could not get enough.

While I have read many books in the genre over the past while, David Bell has something that I am sure will stick with me for a lot longer than many. He has both a strong writing style as well as some unique approaches that envelop the story in both an entertaining read and educational tome on a few key subjects. The piece moves along well and keeps the reader guessing as the layers are revealed pushing the protagonist to flail between honour and truth. It’s a whodunit as well as a motive-seeking piece, which speeds along until the final few pages.

Connor Nye comes across as somewhat endearing, though his cheating a student out of her glory taints him early on. Suffering the loss of his family, Nye must keep it together as best he can, while also juggling the pressures of academia. When his lie snowballs out of control, Nye is not able to simply pull the plug on it, choosing instead to try explaining his way out of predicament. He’s determined to help his cause, while only making matters worse in short order.

Bell uses some wonderful supporting characters in this piece, as well as juicing it up with three narrative perspectives. As the story is closely tied to the murder, everyone plays their part and keeps the machine well-oiled and running in a single direction. Some characters complement one another, while others clash in needed ways to push the story’s plot along. It’s Bell’s mastering of development that proves to be the greatest accolade in this piece, fixing everyone together as needed to tell a captivating tale.

This was one of those books that took a bit for me to connect with, though when I did, it was pure magic. The plot gained momentum and I could not say enough about how the story flowed. With a mix of chapter lengths and perspectives, Bell gives the reader something they can thoroughly enjoy throughout and keeps them guessing. Plots are interwoven and twists occur repeatedly, offering the reader the chance to second guess themselves repeatedly. I have read some of Bell’s work before, but this was surely something even better than past novels, dealing with some real-life issues in academia, student rights, and the pressures of college campuses.

Kudos, Mr. Bell, for a great piece of work. I hope many find and read this in short order, as the messaging is on point and the writing easy to digest.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/kill-all-your-darlings/

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

Couple Found Slain: After a Family Murder, by Mikita Brottman

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mikita Brottman, and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

While I rarely read true crime, I was drawn to this book by Mikita Brottman, which seeks to explore a unique perspective. After a young man killed his family, he went to authorities to admit the act, but felt that he was not in his right mind at the time of the murder. Deemed not criminally responsible, Brian Bechtold was sent to live in a psychiatric facility for the foreseeable future. After meeting Brottman there, Brottman is able to slowly reveal the truth behind what happens inside these facilities. What is presented is as chilling as the lead-up to Brian Bechtold’s arrival! An explosive book that really had me thinking throughout and a must-read for true crime fans!

In 1992, Brian Bechtold walked into a police station in Florida with a stark admission. After some mumbling and confused banter, Bechtold told authorities that he had killed his parents within the last few weeks in the family home. When the police in Maryland made their way to the Bechtold house, they found two bodies, dead for over a week, all of which substantiated Brian’s comments down in Florida.

Citing years of abuse—which the author depicts in the opening chapters that summarise the Bechtold family—Brian did not deny what he had done, but felt that his actions were fuelled by feelings that left him not responsible for his actions. The State of Maryland agreed and deemed Brian Bechtold not criminally responsible for the murders. This would not set him free, however, but rather force him to reside in a psychiatric facility for the foreseeable future. It is here that the crux of the book presents itself.

The book continues by picking up the thread of Brian’s story—and life—within the walls of this facility. The author met Brian as she came to hold weekly meetings with residents to hone their reading and fiction skills. Brian’s story explores not only life within an institution, but also how residents live under constant scrutiny of staff, guards, doctors, and the general public. Some residents, like Brian, were suffering from obvious mental illnesses, but whose live were manageable with the proper medications and daily rituals. Others, on the other hand, appeared highly troubled and in a world all their own. The variance is substantial and truly remarkable for the attentive reader.

The struggle is not only one of the life of a psychiatric patient, but how they are treated and what rights they have. The author shows on numerous occasions the powerlessness that Brian suffered and how his diagnosis all but neutered his ability to stand up for himself. There are both legal and health issues that emerge throughout, many of which led to actual court proceedings. These interactions, albeit brief, with the outside world, show the limits that patients have, particularly when saddled with crimes they have committed.

Mikita Brottman may focus much of her attention on Brian Bechtold’s life, including many of his advancements and regressions, but also branches out to tell the stories of other residents at times, offering strong contrasts in how others were treated, handled, and relegated to a sort of psychotic heap when things got to be too much. There is not a single chapter that does not raise many interesting arguments about psychiatric facilities or the treatment of those within their walls, as well as the difficulties of those who are inside to ever make it back in to the general population. While some have drawn parallels to famous movies about life on a psychiatric ward, Brottman offers fact, rather than glamourised fiction, to tell a story that will surely offer true crime fans new horrors and fears about what happens when most of their books end. The story is far from over at the point of conviction!

I will be the first to admit that true crime is not usually the type of book I flock to read, though there was something here that drew me in. Perhaps it was Brottman’s desire to ‘show the view behind the curtain’ or to discuss the other side of true crime. It may have been the author’s clear narrative that built the story up while also tackling key aspects of the Bechtold experience. The story progressed nicely and the narrative clearly laid things out in such a way that the reader could follow the story without much trouble. The content was, at times, staggering in its bluntness and also somewhat ghastly. That people are regularly treated in such a way, outside the view of the public, is astonishing. It is, however, something that must be said and Brottman has done so effectively. I felt a part of the struggle throughout Bechtold’s turmoil, which is what I expect Brottman wanted.

Kudos, Madam Brottman. You have me curious about what else you may have penned in the genre and so I will have to scour some library shelves to see what I can find.

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

Shadow Target (Jake Keller #4), by David Ricciardi

Nine stars

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

After a binge of the previous three novels in this series, I was able to get to this, the gem of the collection to date. David Ricciardi has done a wonderful job building up to this piece, planting story arcs and developing his Jake Keller character, only to put him in the crosshairs of a convoluted plot that spans years and many parts of the globe. Keller awakens in rural France, having been in a plane crash, but is unaware of what just happened. Barely able to escape, he makes his way back stateside and tries to discover what has happened. After a few more attempts on his life, Keller realises that his safety is not guaranteed. Meeting an old friend, Keller discovers that someone is trying to hunt down CIA paramilitary officials for reasons that are not yet clear. He will need to dig deep and rely on many resources to get to the bottom of it all, trying to stay one step ahead of a ruthless killer with connections all their own. Perhaps the best Ricciardi novel to date, it is sure to impress series fans.

It was all a blur to Jake Keller as he lay in the snow. There was a plane crash and he was involved, but the specifics have eluded him and the cold is beginning to envelop his body. Able to hide as two men scour the wreckage, Keller is able to evade capture and is rescued by the authorities before he makes his way back to America.

Once there, Keller begins to piece things together, though he is not sure why he has been targeted, having been on leave from the CIA. When someone tries to kill him again, Keller knows that something’s up and his name is on a hit-list of sorts. He connects with an old friend and discovers that there have been a few unexplained deaths of fellow CIA paramilitary officials around the world, as well as some whispers that Jake’s own troubles can be tied to some Russian officials having tipped off the locals. Armed with this intelligence, Keller does the one thing he was sworn not to do, connect with a person in his past who thinks him dead.

Travelling to France, Keller has an awkward reunion with the first woman he ever loved, someone with credentials within the French security agency. Keller receives a cold shoulder to begin, but is soon able to connect and prove that he’s being targeted for reasons as yet unknown. A Russian oligarch appears to be pulling some strings and using his connection to the Russian president to bring Keller down, as well as trying to extinguish the lives of many CIA officials. There must be a mole within the Agency, offering some help, but Keller is not yet entirely sure.

Working angles and trying to stay one step ahead of those seeking to kill him, Keller gathers more intel and works with some British officials as well to craft a plan not only to trap the Russians, but to lure a rogue American official out of hiding, in hopes of revealing the CIA mole once and for all. Additionally, there is a major plot to assassinate a head of state, one that will leave more than blood running in the streets. It’s up to Keller to utilise his skills and mindset to foil the plot, all while trying to stay alive long enough to reveal truths many had hoped to bury.

In the short time I have been aware of David Ricciardi’s work, I have truly come to enjoy it. His fast-pace action and attention to detail keep me feeling as though I am right in the middle of the action. While each book develops themes of their own, there is a loose connection that spans more than the protagonist, all of which comes together in this fourth novel in the series. With wonderful characters and a plot that never stops evolving, it is not hard to believe that David Ricciardi is rising within the ranks of the genre to make a name for himself.

Jake Keller has evolved greatly since he was summoned onto a plane, heading for Singapore in the debut novel. His personality has deepened faster than the needed plastic surgery he received when he was a man wanted in all corners of the world. Keller shows his grit and determination to get to the truth, but also has a personal side that yearns for that romantic connection he’s lost a few times along the way. Relatable and down to earth, Keller shows readers that not all those who star in the genre need to be indestructible, but it helps to have an unbreakable sense of determination.

Ricciardi crafts wonderful supporting characters throughout his novels, some of which serve as recurring characters, while others find their purpose in a single book. There was a great mix here, allowing series fans to revisit some of those they have enjoyed in the past while also finding new and exciting storylines emerging from fresh faces. This is a story of loose thread, allowing the reader to see unfinished plots resumed and pieces of the puzzle fitting together at opportune times. A great cast complements Keller at times, while also contrasting with the grit the protagonist offers throughout the novel.

The test of a true novel is the ability to grip the reader from the opening pages. This is done effectively throughout, beginning with the opening chapter. Ricciardi crafts his story around the mystery of what’s happened to Jake Keller and what’s to come, slowly revealing plot twists as needed. The narrative gains needed momentum throughout and keeps the reader guessing, while also showing both sides of the tale—the hunter and the hunted—for added excitement. Great characters and decent dialogue banter inject some humour where needed to lighten the mood, but nothing takes away from the urgency that emerges throughout the piece. I can only wonder what’s next for the group and how their coming together may have forged a new and exciting alliance that could work effectively in future series novels. The wait is on, though one can hope it will not be too long!

Kudos, Mr. Ricciardi, for another winner. I liked the change of pace, though it does not lessen the impact of the plot or the excitement found herein.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/shadow-target/

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

Hard Target (Alex Morgan #2), by Leo J. Maloney

Eight stars

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

Leo J. Maloney is back with another adventure for the younger Morgan family member. Alex has become the rising star in Zeta Group, even though some cannot see the benefit in her role. When Alex and a handful of others are tasked with helping the NSA, things go wrong while they are in Chicago. An attempt on the vice-president’s life is foiled, but bodies are everywhere, with Alex the sole apparent survivor. Many feel that this is a Zeta mission and a manhunt is started to bring Alex Morgan to justice. She’s on the lam, just her and a motorcycle, but she won’t be able to do it alone. It’s fast-paced like you have never seen it before in this novella. Maloney fans will not be disappointed.

Whispers of a planned attack in Chicago reach the highest levels of US security, which causes worry when the vice-president is set to speak there. Zeta Team is sent in to help, seconded to other agencies, though there are multiple issues to tackle and little time to do it. When an explosion rips through an underground passage, many die and an ensuing shootout brings the body count even higher. When the smoke clears, it seems only one person is left alive, Alex Morgan. Rather than cheering this, US officials wonder if she was behind the attack and have started a manhunt to locate her.

Left with little to do but hide, Alex tries to make her way out of Chicago on her motorcycle, which is not the most conspicuous of transportation modes. She will have to be as stealthy as possible, but even that can’t be done alone. While traveling, she learns of a second attack on a uranium facility, sending Alex on another mission to protect her country. It won’t be easy, but she finds help in an unlikely source to make it a little easier. Meanwhile, her ever-protective father, Dan Morgan, is working with Zeta to save all involved before it’s too late.

This was a great novella that read family quickly. It’s got all the elements that Leo J. Maloney usually brings to a book, with strong characters, action that never stops, and short chapters to push the story forward. The reader familiar with the series and Zeta will know that there is little time to rest at any point, keeping a heightened level of excitement throughout. While only a short piece, Maloney hit the mark with this one. Teasers can only help fuel the interest in the next publication, something that I am eager to see, when it comes to fruition.

Kudos, Mr. Maloney, for another winner in this series. I have come to expect great things when you write and rarely am I disappointed.

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

The Truth about Lies: The Illusion of Honesty and the Evolution of Deceit, by Aja Raden

Nine stars

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

Everyone lies! Let’s get that out of the way before we get any further. Aja Raden sets out to explore the world of lies that seems to have woven its way into our moral fabric, offering the reader some insight in to why we lie, how it has become commonplace, and what lies have become supposed truths over the centuries. While she attempts to divide the types of lies into three categories, she is able to show that some lies have turned to accepted truths, though many are oblivious to the fact that will is constantly being pulled over their eyes. With straightforward writing and insightful research, Raden provides the reader with a great exploration of how truth and lies are interconnected on so many levels.

Raden uses the first part of the book to explore the world of lies and swindles that some have used to tell others. Her example of a man travelling from Europe to ‘settle’ a territory in the Americas, only to sell tracts to unwitting people shows that some people will believe something because it is so far-fetched that it must have a grain of reality. Raden hashes out how and why people believe these types of large-scale cons, explaining that the extravagance is too large to trick people, so it must be true. Yet, people fall for the cons each and every time because they are hard-wired to trust in others. Shell games, where someone is to guess the location of a pea under a shell, are also prime examples of putting trust in others. The expectation is that one of the shells will hold the sought after pea, while in reality, a sleight of hand means that none of the shells possesses the item in the long run. Trust and deception are intertwined here, providing the con artist the greatest advantage throughout.

The book continues by exploring the large-scale world of deception of the masses through lies, deception, and guilt. Raden uses some wonderful examples, the greatest of which is the promotion of medications of all sorts. The reader learns of the origins of ‘snake oil salesman’ and how the masses are duped into trusting that their ailments can be cured with one item of another. Scientific studies show the effect of placebos to the individual, debunking the need for the miracle cure if the personal inherently trusts that what they are putting in their mouths (or elsewhere) is the cure all. This can be extrapolated to the world of televangelism, where the only path os the one used by the speaker on the television, whose needs to ‘save’ are wrapped in a pricy donation. People fall for this because they cannot see past the wonders of salvation or healing, however dubious or backwards it may look on the outside.

Raden’s final section tackles the topic of lies on the grandest scale, the con, where it is society who is the targeted victim of falsehoods. Using platforms of media and mass information distribution, Raden shows how there are certain soapboxes that have been used to push an idea to the masses, all in the hopes of spreading a falsehood that is so vast that it seems real. While many readers may have lived through the time where #fakenews was a daily cry, Raden explores what it means and how it works, amongst other areas of societal duping. She also offers the reader insight into how to create a great con by insisting that lies can be used, brick by brick, to create a false truth that everyone seems to follow. Fascinating throughout and definitely perplexing when put in those terms.

I do enjoy a mix in my reading, usually to keep me on my toes and my brain sharpened to some of the non-fiction topics of the day. Aja Raden did a masterful job presenting this piece as being one that is not only relevant, but also highly intriguing. The psychology, sociology, and plain history that emerges from the pages of this book are not over simplified, but used effectively to keep the reader learning at every page turn. With a strong narrative, peppered with some saltiness to lighten the mood, Raden offers a wonderfully relatable piece that will keep the rewards enthused and laughing in equal measure. Lies have a way of pulling people in, wanting to see where they were duped and how others fell for something so simplistic (in hindsight). Raden does this perfectly and kept me wanting to know more. Quite the book, sure to pique the interest of many. My only question…how much of it was true?!

Kudos, Madam Raden, for a great piece. You had me hooked from the opening pages and I learned more than I thought I could on one (vast) topic. I cannot wait to get my hands on your other book, which I hope is just as informative.

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

Six Weeks to Live, by Catherine McKenzie

Eight stars

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

Emerging with another unique psychological thriller, Catherine McKenzie shows why she is at the top of her her genre. Mixing mystery with real-life situations, McKenzie presents the reader with a story that will surely hit home for many. Recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, Jennifer prepares to live her final weeks with family. However, she comes to discover something odd in a past blood test result and wonders if the cancer might have had some ‘help’ emerging, leaving her to speculate who might have targeted her to die. Another winner for McKenzie fans and those who love books with slowly revealed ‘aha’ moments.

Jennifer Barnes could not have expected the news when she went to the doctor about a series of headaches. Told that she has brain cancer and only a handful of weeks to live, Jennifer tries her best to come to terms with it and make the most of her time remaining. With adult triplets and a few grandchildren, Jennifer is ready to bask in the love they have for her as she wrestles for answers inside herself.

However, among the papers her doctor handed over, there is an old blood test result that denotes a spike in lead levels, something about which she knew nothing. When the doctor’s office has documented proof that they called her for additional tests and she communicated by phone that she wanted a second opinion, everything thinks it has to be related to her forgetfulness and a bout of migraines from last year. Jennifer in not convinced and begins digging a little deeper.

At the time of her aforementioned migraines, her husband had begun asking for a divorce, the next step after he had admitted having an affair and left the marital home. Might he be responsible for the anomaly in her blood test? Could he have wanted to kill her all along?The plot thickens as more is revealed and new layers of the family drama come to the surface.

While Jennifer’s time is running out, she refuses to take it sitting down. She must learn the truth and who has been trying to harm her over the last year. While the cancer progresses and she must make amends with the life she has lived, Jennifer refuses to die before knowing what really happened last May and who within her circle she can truly trust. Chilling and emotional at the same time, Catherine McKenzie keeps the reader guessing until the very end.

I have been a fan of Catherine McKenzie and her work for a few years now, having discovered her books while reading other reviews. Each of her books that I have taken the time to read proves to me that she is the real deal and knows how to spin a tale that will captivate the reader wholeheartedly. This is another stunning piece that seeks to weave a tragedy within a mystery and encapsulate it in a psychological thriller, where the protagonist cannot tell who can be trusted. A stellar piece, if ever I have read one.

Jennifer Barnes plays the presumptive protagonist throughout, offering the reader an insight into her life and how she’s come to have only a few weeks left. Her struggles as a mother, a wife, and a victim of adultery all come to the surface, while she refuses to lay down and let her world come crashing in on her. While she has only a limited time left, she is determined to discover the truth behind her lead poisoning and who could have acted so brashly as to try to kill her. McKenzie creates moments where Jennifer exposes the relationships she has with each of her triplet daughters, her own mother, and the husband who betrayed her, leaving everyone as a potential suspect, even if one name rises to the top throughout.

The collection of secondary characters are, to a degree, not as supporting as one might think. McKenzie’s storytelling is such that all three daughters could share the limelight with their mother and it not be a stretch. There is much to learn about them and their differences, even though they share a birthdate. Deception and duplicity are mixed with moments of compassion, as McKenzie contrasts how each connects with both parents in different ways. The story is richer for it and the twists even more impactful. This is the sign of a really great piece of fiction, where lines are blurred and the reader must decide who to like and hate.

The story itself was fantastic, which might help explain how I was able to read it in a single day. McKenzie tells things in such a clear manner within getting too wrapped up in the frivolous details. There is so much to learn and it comes out in a strong narrative that forges ahead, alongside great character development and quick dialogue. As is McKenzie’s style, there are many twists that the reader might not expect, which keeps the reader on their toes as they push forward to discover the truths that await them. Telling a multi-layered story is not easy, but Catherine McKenzie does it with ease, without revealing too much and letting the reader guess what is to come. I cannot say enough about this piece or the quality of Catherine McKenzie’s writing.

Kudos, Madam McKenzie, for another winner. You hooked me with the opening chapter and I could not stop reading from that point onwards.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/six-weeks-to-live-2/

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

Bone Rattle (Arliss Cutter #3), by Marc Cameron

Nine stars

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

Marc Cameron is back with the third in his Arliss Cutter series, a collection of novels that get better with each new addition. Cameron’s background as a former Deputy Marshall serves him well in this piece, where the action is ever-mounting and the reader is pulled into the middle of a sensational story from the opening pages. Arliss Cutter enjoys his work on the Fugitive Task Force, but has no interest in any management position. When he and his team are sent to Juneau to help with a high-profile trial, things go south soon enough. Cutter is pulled into a situation and must find a young woman who is the target of a crooked businessman, all in rural Alaska. It’s a story that will keep the reader flipping pages well into the night. Another winner from Marc Cameron for sure!

Arliss Cutter loves his job as Supervisory Deputy Marshall up in Anchorage, though there are surely times he misses his native Florida. Working hard all day, capturing those who have tried to evade the law, Cutter and his team within Alaska’s Fugitive Task Force do all they can to help balance the scales of justice. There are bumps and scrapes along the way, but it’s all in a day’s work. When he returns home, it’s to help take care of his twin nephews and teenage niece, a handful on their own. Still, he would not have it any other way.

While there are some odd goings-on in Anchorage, Cutter and his partner, Lola Teariki, are sent to Juneau to help in a high-profile trial. The jury is about to be sequestered and the judge is in need of protection, as the defendants are part of a gang that prefer to take justice into their own hands. With the trial being covered by a sharp reporter, everyone is wondering where she’s getting her scoop. Lori Maycomb is not prepared to say much of anything, as she wants to keep her information under wraps and her informant out of the limelight.

When things at the trial go sideways, Cutter knows that he will be put to work hunting rather than simply protecting. There’s more to the story than a simple confidential informant, but a crooked business owner has plans of his own for the local territory and he’s not prepared to let anyone stand in his way. Even when a valuable artifact is found that might impede a money-making transportation venture, it’s no impediment to progress, as long as the right people can be silenced, permanently.

With a young woman in hiding up in the Alaskan hills, Cutter will have to work quickly to get to her, or at least keep those with a mission to scrub her out from arriving first. It’s a race against time and through a series of hurdles, including a mining area. Cutter knows it won’t be easy, but he’s not prepared to simply let a young girl’s life be silenced to pad the pockets of a corrupt individual. Justice must be done, no matter the cost!

I have long had an appreciation for Marc Cameron and his work, which pushes the reader to think outside the box. Not only is the Alaskan setting unique, but the writing delivers something that is not entirely in line with many novels in the genre. It is a different type of gritty, one that leaves the reader wanting to know more. So much is going on in this book, though it never feels overwhelming. This is definitely a series for those who love trillers and quasi-procedurals. While some applaud this as a decent standalone, I cannot think why anyone would not want to grab the previous two books to have the full context of this sensational series and its protagonist.

Arliss Cutter has grown on me over this trio of novels and there is nothing like seeing how his progression has developed. I love a mix of personal and professional growth in a character, something that Cameron offers in spades throughout. Cutter may be a saviour to his family, after the death of his brother, but he is also one who allows his sister-in-law to take on the primary role, while injecting some of his own familial life lessons when they are needed. On a professional front, Cutter works well with his partner, Lola Teariki, but does not force her to conform to what he does at every turn. The richness of the Cutter character develops well throughout this book and in the previous two novels, making him one that many readers can admire, given the time.

Marc Cameron has done well in this piece to really add some standout supporting characters. From those who recur throughout the series to the people who are one-offs to add depth to the story, there are few who do not make an impact. I thoroughly enjoy how Cameron crafts those who appear on each page, honing their personalities to flavour the narrative and enrich the plot where needed. There is something to love or hate with each person the reader encounters and this is precisely what I needed after reading some novels where things are brushed over too swiftly. While not a dense read, the book is by no means superficial and the characters help add some weight to the final product.

This is the second of Marc Cameron’s series that I have read, neither of which have left me feeling disappointed. The writing is strong and there is something that makes me want to keep reading every time I pick up one of his books. The narrative flows well, offering wonderful twists throughout, without tying the reader up in knots. The characters have depth and prove to be intriguing no matter what they have going on in their lives. Cameron teases the reader with shorter chapters at times, as if to coax them into settling down for the longer and more detailed parts of the book, which allow plot development. I enjoyed the banter through dialogue, which added something to the book and helped me imagine things playing out on the screen with ease. I cannot wait to see what’s next with Arliss Cutter, as there were a few threads left loose, which is another of Cameron’s great abilities, as the reader begs to understand what’s to come!

Kudos, Mr. Cameron, on another stellar piece. I cannot get enough of your writing and hope Arliss Cutter will be back soon!

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 Tracks (Tracy Crosswhite #8), by Robert Dugoni

Eight stars

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

Robert Dugoni is back with another Tracy Crosswhite police procedural procedural, but adds a certain twist to keep the reader guessing. It’s been a tough go for Seattle PD Homicide Detective Crosswhite, but she is not one to let bumps in the road derail her work. Returning from maternity leave, Crosswhite is forced to take a position she does not want, but tosses herself into the work. She discovers an intriguing case that appears to be without strong leads. When Crosswhite is pulled into an active case, she finds her spark again, much to the chagrin of a captain who wants her under his foot. The missing and presumed dead have a voice in Detective Tracy Crosswhite, but she will have to breathe life into their cases before they go cold.

While she loves motherhood, Tracy Crosswhite cannot wait to get back to work. Returning to the Seattle PD’s Homicide Team, Crosswhite hopes to have her position back. However, her wily captain has other ideas, citing that they need to fill the spot while she was on maternity leave. Offering her a position as the cold case detective—one that everyone is sure Crosswhite will decline—it’s a chance for Tracy to decide what she wants next. A pep talk with the retiring detective leaves her willing to give it a shot, if only to scuttle the plans of her nemesis for a while longer.

Crosswhite scours the list of cases and finds one that piques her interest. A little girl went missing when her father took her to a corn maze and was never seen again. Part of a bitter custody battle, the little girl made numerous comments about how her parents fought before the separation. As a beat cop at the time of the disappearance, the father pulls on the heartstrings of Crosswhite, but she must remain objective.

Working on a few of the leads that go nowhere, Crosswhite is pulled into the middle of a fresh investigation with her former partner. A young jogger has gone missing in a local park and no one saw anything. Canvassing the neighbourhood, Crosswhite comes across three brothers who live together but seem to be hiding something. With nothing concrete to assert her claims of guilt, Crosswhite will have to pursue a few options on the sly.

While her missing girl case is going nowhere fast, Detective Crosswhite finds herself fixated on this jogger and how she could have disappeared into thin air. There’s something that is not adding up and those who know Tracy Crosswhite understand that she is not one to let opportunity slip through her fingers. She’ll use all her resources to get to the bottom of it, even if it means putting her future in jeopardy with a captain who wants her head on a platter.

There’s something about this series that has always kept me fully engaged and wondering. Robert Dugoni has crafted a stellar cast and writes so fluidly as to keep the reader on their toes. New ideas emerge with each novel and the series gets better the deeper into the characters Dugoni pulls the reader. I can see this being one series that will not get old any time soon.

Tracy Crosswhite is a stellar detective in her own right, having grown effectively over the last number of novels. Her grit and determination are like no other and she keeps her eye on the prize throughout, hoping to make the most of what is offered to her. Balancing work with motherhood has been tough, but Crosswhite has found a balance, even though it has come at the cost of her preferred job. It will take all she has inside her to solve the cases placed at her feet, while dodging the obstacles of suspects and a captain with an ax to grind. There is mention throughout her cold case investigation about how a missing child can tear a family apart, something Crosswhite knows all too well from her sister’s disappearance. Guilt is nothing new for Detective Tracy Crosswhite, which makes her all the more intriguing as she strives for truth.

Dugoni creates a string of strong secondary characters in this piece that complement Crosswhite when the need arises. Pulled from a variety of sources, those who fill the gaps and keep the reader intrigued offer their own spin on these missing persons cases. Some are straightforward while others prefer to present deceptive fronts, all of whom work well to keep the reader wondering what’s to come. The recurring cast is always welcome, but I also enjoy how Dugoni has created new and one-off characters that keep things exciting for all readers.

There’s something to be said for the novels in this series, as they take police procedurals to a new level. While there are the essential elements found throughout, Robert Dugoni uses his strong writing abilities to create a certain magnetism that pulls the reader into the middle of the case and won’t let go. The narrative pushes along effectively and keeps the reader on their toes until the very end, when the pieces finally come together. It’s a piece that may reveal itself slowly, but once the momentum is started, there’s not tapping on the brakes. Short to mid-length chapters propel the reader forward and keep the story on track, as much is revealed with each page turn. I can only wonder what’s to come and how Dugoni will continue to shape his core set of characters with new and exciting hurdles.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, for another winner. Your work is some of the best in the genre and I can only hope you have many more ideas to share soon.

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

Legacy of War (Courtney #19), by Wilbur Smith and David Churchill

Eight 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.

Having followed the Courtney saga for many years, I was overjoyed at the release of another novel. While Wilbur Smith has been using the assistance of other authors over the past while, the books are usually still of high caliber. With the Second World War ended, the most everyone is breathing a collective sigh of relief. However, it is still a time of and for change. Not everyone in Germany is happy with the new divided country. Additionally, there are rumblings of independence along the African continent. Smith and David Churchill bring readers another great piece in this long saga, providing much for the reader to enjoy throughout.

As the world is still coming to terms with the end of the Second World War, there are a number of truths that cannot be ignored. The largest of which is that German dictator Adolf Hitler is finally dead and Europe can relax, to a degree. While the Nazis are no longer a threat, Europe has been taken over, in a sense, by the conflicting ideologies of American capitalism and Soviet communism. Saffron Courtney surveys things from London and is relatively pleased. Her husband, Gerhard, is free from a concentration camp, and they can focus on their connection once more. However, Konrad von Meerbach, Gerhard’s brother with strong affinity for the Nazis, seeks to regain power and bring a new wave of national socialism to his native land.

While all this envelops Europe, the African continent is becoming more boisterous. The colonial empire has developed cracks, particularly in Kenya. There, the locals have begun trying to drum up support for a complete overthrow. Their current target are those who are sympathetic to the British. Blood will flow and that is sure to cause issues for the Courtney family, all the way up to the patriarch, Leon. As Kenya balances on the precipice, the Courtneys must wonder what the future holds for them in the country of their forbearers.

When Konrad arrives in Kenya to pay a visit to Gerhard and Saffron, it is anything but cordial. He has a plan and wants nothing other than to instil fear. Could a simple visit begin a chain of events that leads to Gerhard’s demise once again? With Kenya less than stable, there are many factors that could easily cause issues for all involved. The Courtney family is in serious trouble and Saffron may be the only means by which things do not completely unravel. A nice addition to the series that proves there is still something left to explore in this series, which has entertained for over a generation.

While I was quite late to the party when it came to the Courtney series, I loved the early novels that spun wonderful tales of mystery across the African continent. However, as Wilbur Smith aged, he chose to partner up with others, sometimes lessening the impact of the novels and diluting what has been a strong Courtney saga. David Churchill appears to do well in complementing Smith’s work, keeping the 20th century series alive and well. At least that’s something series fan can look forward to with this piece.

Saffron Courtney does well as a protagonist in this piece, offering the reader some great insights into how to handle living in both Europe and Africa. The story uses her experiences on both continents, as well as some historical events that developed in the background. Saffron reminds readers of the richness of the Courtney family over the decades, as well as her own personal growth. There is some wonderful character development to be had and series fans will likely enjoy how all the pieces have come together.

Smith and Churchill have used a strong collection of supporting characters as well, all of whom enrich the story in their own way. Be it the rise of independence in Kenya or the residue of Nazi support in Germany, those who grace the pages of the book prove highly entertaining for the reader. There is a lot to cover in the book and these secondary characters do well to keep the reader on point throughout.

As it relates to the overall story, I found myself enjoying parts of the book and seeking to skip over others. There is a definite richness in the narrative, particularly as it relates to historical events, pulling the reader in and keeping the story on a strong pathway. However, there are other times when things appear to drag and left me wanting to hit the ‘turbo’ button to get back to the action. The character development and richness of the Courtney saga cannot be ignored here, as those who have followed the collection have come to know. All that being said, this is not a book (or a series) that can be started at any point. There is too much backstory that emerges to ‘catch up’ in a single book. With short to mid-length chapters, the authors keep the book moving and the action growing. There’s much to discover for the curious reader, even if the writing style and delivery can sometimes not match the traditional Wilbur Smith approach.

Kudos, Messrs. Smith and Churchill, for another instalment of this strong series. While I may not like all of them, I have come to enjoy the ongoing drama!

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

Instinct, by Jason M. Hough

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley,Jason M. Hough, Gallery Books, and Skybound Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always one to try something a little different, I excitedly grabbed for this novel by Jason M. Hough, which mixes the intensity of a thriller with the mystery of small-town America. When a police officer in a small Washington community is thrust into a leadership role, she begins to notice that the locals are not acting as they should, or at least how she expects they would. Is there a reason or is this all something wonky about small town life? Hough keeps the reader guessing throughout and makes quite the impact in doing so.

After leaving Oakland PD, Mary Whittaker is still trying to acclimate to life in Silvertown, Washington. It’s small—population 602, small—and the locals seem happy to keep to themselves, but also come up with some typical issues. Learning all she can from the local chief, Whittaker is determined to make her impression on the town and its citizenry. It won’t be easy, but it’s one challenge that Whittaker is bound and determined to overcome.

When the chief takes an unexpected leave of absence, Whittaker is left to run things on her own. She takes a call out of town when a hiker is attacked by a bear, unable to understand why he did not react. After interviewing his companion, it would seem that the man who had little love of nature simply gave up and waited for fate to take its course.

There are other oddities around town, like the introverted teenager who loves gaming but chose to wander out into the woods and died. Or the woman who loves her twins and yet left them at home while frolicking in town. Some call it a reaction to the new cell tower that was erected, but Whittaker thinks that there is more to it. This is one mystery for which she’ll not let the gossips create a narrative.

As she tries to piece things together, Whittaker discovers what might be involved in all the shenanigans, but she is not yet ready to commit to that response. She probes a little deeper, only to see that losing one’s instinct is the least of the town’s concerns, though she might not live long enough to report it to others. A chilling piece that keeps the reader thinking until the very last page flip.

I have never read anything by Jason M. Hough and I am kicking myself for that. In a piece that is full of action and intrigue, I found myself fully committed throughout the process and could not wait to see what was coming next. Hough keeps things on the mysterious side, without venturing too far out of reality. Still, there’s something a little eerie in the story and how things play out.

Mary Whittaker is a strong protagonist in this piece, keeping the reader informed of both her back story and how she develops throughout. Still trying to get used to country or small town life, Whittaker must tackle policing on an entirely new level. While she struggles at times, the reader can see some wonderful development throughout, which enriches the story as well as advancing the narrative.

Hough offers up some wonderful supporting characters in this piece, all of whom do their own thing to make the story all the better. While small town life is not always full of excitement, there is something about the various characters in this piece that flavour the narrative effectively and keep the story moving. Those the reader thinks they know are soon showing another side, which only adds depth to the piece and keeps the reader wanting to discover a little more.

The story itself sounds typical small town, something is going on and the townsfolk are acting oddly. However, Jason M. Hough takes it a step further and delves into some interesting discussions, both on a character level and with the psychology of a person. What makes someone do something and can override those instincts or inhibitions? He tackles this with a strong narrative that progresses throughout, easily taking the reader on many a journey. Additionally, there are some wonderful ‘aha’ moments, as the reader tries to make sense of things with the numerous reveals throughout. The plot stays intense and there are no lack of twists as the piece progresses. A mix of chapter lengths has the reader begging for more, as they read well into the night. I cannot wait to see what else Hough has penned, so that I can compare and enjoy things in the future.

Kudos, Mr. Hough, for a great piece that has me curious. You are definitely on my radar.

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

Turn a Blind Eye (Detective William Warwick #3), by Jeffrey Archer

Eight stars

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

The newest novel in Jeffrey Archer’s latest series is always reason for some excitement, at least for those who have a penchant for the author’s attention to detail. DI William Warwick has been through a great deal of late and feels that his actions might merit demotion or worse. However, his superiors at the Met have other ideas, using him to coax out those who have gone rogue. It will be a secret mission that could cost Warwick everything if he is caught, but ensure another promotion if he is successful. Archer at his best in this piece, which keeps his many fans on the edge of their seats.

As the case of Assem Rashidi, notorious drug lord, is set to go to trial, William Warwick is promoted for his work on the arrest. DI Warwick is not sure if he ought to be happy about this, or expect to be punished because of all the corners that were cut in the sting operation. Still, he’s happy to be a part of the action and will follow whatever plan is put before him.

DI Warwick is given a daunting task to help discover whether others within the Metropolitan Police have been acting in a corrupt manner. It will not only be difficult, but highly dangerous, as no one likes a leaker. Amassing his team, DI Warwick begins targeting a young detective who is surely living beyond his means, which is likely related to receiving kickbacks.

The Rashidi trial comes before the courts with DI Warwick as one of its key witnesses. Two others in the Warwick family are heading the Crown’s case—Sir Julian, the ever-present father, and Grace, his sister—prepared to put away this seedy character as soon as possible. The case will be difficult, with a strong defence headed by Booth Watson QC, but the Warwicks are determined, if nothing else. The case hinges on identification and Rashidi will do anything he can to lead everyone off his trail.

Meanwhile, Beth Warwick has been tending to her new twins while William is away working. She knows the life of a detective’s wife is anything but glamourous, but finds ways of keeping herself busy. Oddly enough, this includes spending some time wit ha new friend, Christina Faulkner, who happens to have been recently divorced from William’s greatest foe, Miles. When a series of events thrust Christina into a massive fortune, it becomes apparent that corruption inside the Met is much deeper than first expected.

Juggling the trial and some of his own sleuthing, DI Warwick gets to the heart of the matter, in hopes of rooting out those who would try to bring the Met to its knees. It will be a challenge, but there’s nothing that DI William Warwick holds closer to his heart than ensuring no one is turning a blind eye to justice. Well, perhaps family is a little more important, but that’s for another story!

Anyone familiar with Jeffrey Archer and his writing will know that there are numerous subtleties found within each story. Be they linking pieces that keep a series connected or off the cuff remarks that come back to mean something later, Archer keeps his readers on their toes throughout. This book is no exception, creating a series about William Warwick, a character who was mentioned throughout the Clifton Chronicles as being the main protagonist of Harry’s popular series. Now, the reader can see all the buzz that the novels created directly, as Archer takes on the role of Harry Clifton to breathe life into the idea.

William Warwick is a fabulous protagonist and grows effectively throughout the series. He has been promoted and works on showing his leadership throughout this piece. However, he cannot stop looking behind him, as there are those who would love to see him fall flat on his face. Added to that, Warwick a new father to twins, which forces him to divide his time between work and home life, never easy at the best of times. The reader sees some solid development throughout, perfect as things heat up ahead of the fourth novel.

Archer is never one to create flat characters, even those who are in a supporting role. The cast of this novel offer great depth and excitement throughout, as the story shifts to numerous plot developments and settings throughout. There are those who complement Warwick well, as well as individuals who flavour the narrative such that the impediments are clear. Never a shortage of action fills the pages of this book, with Archer providing wondering entertainment in the form of his minor characters.

The story itself was strong and began soon after the previous novel ended. This is always hard to do, as Archer must bridge the excitement that ended the last piece with a new sense of pizzazz immediately. There is no issue with the flow of the story or pulling the reader into the centre. I found myself lost in the story with a great deal of ease, leaving me to want even more with each chapter. The narrative pushed along well and kept me begging for more, with short chapters that teased as much as they propelled the story forward. Archer has a style I have come to love and I cannot get enough, so I am happy to know that the next piece is hot on the heels of this one, due out in November. What a treat that will be, as DI William Warwick has much to do in the coming years.

Kudos, Lord Archer, for another winner. You never seem to slump in my opinion, which makes seeing your books all the more exciting for me.

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

House Standoff (Joe DeMarco #15), by Mike Lawson

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mike Lawson, and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Returning with the fifteenth book in the Joe DeMarco series, Mike Lawson brings something new to the discussion to keep readers on their toes. While DeMarco has made a name for himself as the ‘fixer’ for Speaker of the House of Representatives, he disputes the title and the sentiment that he is under anyone’s thumb. After learning that a friend was murdered in rural Wyoming, DeMarco makes his way out there to do some investigating of his own. What he discovers is not as open and shut as some would believe. A great piece with just the right amount of grit to fit the DeMarco norm. Recommended to those who enjoy a looser crime thriller with a handful of potential suspects.

Joe DeMarco’s earned quite the reputation as a fixer for John Maloney, current Speaker of the House of Representatives. While the two men have worked together in the past, DeMarco does not want his reputation tainted, as many see the senior politician as troublesome. With the Speaker out of the country on official business, DeMarco hopes to be able to get some golf in and relax, enjoying the quiet.

However, he learns of the death of a long-ago friend, Shannon Doyle, in rural Wyoming. Doyle is a popular author who was said to be researching her latest novel when she was murdered in a robbery. The local authorities were convinced it was a trucker who might have been passing through and wanted to score something to pawn. DeMarco is not buying it and chooses to leave DC to begin an investigation of his own.

Upon his arrival in Wyoming, DeMarco realises that things are a lot different than in DC, with a slower pace and a greater deference for the law. DeMarco approaches the local FBI to explain his presence, as well as some of his sentiments, though he is stonewalled before he gets too far. It would seem the local authorities have their own ideas and do not want anyone from outside poking their heads around.

Once DeMarco gains access to Doyle’s cloud account, he discovers a journal that she’s been keeping about the locals, something that tells quite the story about all of them. It gives him a better idea as to who might have been ‘colouring outside the lines’ and what motives they may have to want her quieted. Working the angles as best he can, DeMarco hones in on a few possibles, only to uncover a larger crime. The murder of a Black Lives Matter protestor seems to have been neutralised, though Shannon Doyle had some proof that could upend things quite substantially.

DeMarco is not one to leave stones unturned and he goes blazing in, pointing fingers where he feels the need. The murderer is in town, of that DeMarco is sure, but trying to choose the correct person is important. It’s sure to cost him something or other, but one can only hope his life’s not in jeopardy.

I’ve been reading and enjoying Mike Lawson’s work for a number of years, always finding the mix of crime and politics to my liking. While Joe DeMarco does come across as a man who is happy to blur the lines, his dedication to justice cannot be disputed. DeMarco takes matters into his own hands with this piece, but is happy to fight for what he feels is right as he salvages the reputation of a woman for whom he cared a great deal.

Joe DeMarco is the perfect protagonist for this piece, mixing his gritty determination with strong sleuthing skills. His background with familial connections to the Italian community does not hurt his reputation, though he does not want to rely on it, as he tries to live the clean life. With a little backstory on his ties to Shannon Doyle, DeMarco’s character evolves slightly in the fight for justice. His investigative skills are on display throughout this piece, showing that a little attention to detail can go a long way, even if it causes some with the local police more than a few headaches.

Lawson creates some strong supporting characters for his protagonist as well. Moving the piece out to Wyoming, there are few recurring characters in the book, save for a few who receive passing mention, allowing DeMarco to rule the roost as it were. Those who help create the Wyoming flavouring to the story emerge throughout as key characters and ones that add depth to the story. The reader will likely enjoy this ‘small town’ feel, with locals who wish only to stick to what they have always known and frown on outsiders who try to poke their noses where they do not belong.

The story was well presented and left much of the politics out of the mix. This is more a crime thriller than anything political, allowing Lawson to expand his writing style. There is a little of everything in the piece, with some much needed humour to offset some of the darker revelations that come to the surface. Quick chapters balance nicely with a narrative that moves at a clipped pace. The reader is sure to get into the middle of the story with ease and find themselves devouring the book in short order. Who knows what’s next for Lawson and how he will approach the series. It’s done well for now, though I wonder if DeMarco is pining for more golf time than having to smash heads to get answers.

Kudos, Mr. Lawson, for another winner. I am glad to have found the series and an eager to see what’s to come!

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful book summaries by strong reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/house-standoff/

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

Mother May I, by Joshilyn Jackson

Eight stars

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

There’s little I find more exciting than stumbling upon another author whose writing is electrifying. While many others may know Joshilyn Jackson and her thrilling style, it was only when I received this book to review that I was pulled into the middle of a story that left me reading (listening) well into the night. When a baby is kidnapped right from under his mother’s nose, panic ensues. Bree Cabbat must come to terms with her loss and try to rectify it without alerting too many others. However, this kidnapper has a plan and Bree finds herself jumping through hoops to get her son back, only later realising the motive behind the madness. Jackson offers a chilling tale that will prove highly addictive, once the reader finds themselves fully committed to the story. Recommended to those who love a chilling thriller full of twists and ‘aha’ moments.

The day started off poorly for Bree Cabbat when she noticed an old woman dressed in black—the proverbial witch, if ever there was one—peering into her bedroom window. Alerting her husband to the intruder, Bree’s worries were dismissed as a lack of sleep and ‘baby brain’. Bree’s upbringing in rural Georgia may not have been ideal, but she has transformed those years into something special, turning out to be an amazing mother to two teen girls and a new baby, Robert.

While at the girls’ school one afternoon, horror strikes Bree. Robert is kidnapped when she’s distracted in the drama room, snatched from his infant seat. It is only later that the same witch woman is seen in the school parking lot. Bree enters panic mode and is ready to do anything to save her son. When a call comes in, Bree is prepared to do whatever it takes to save Robert.

Bree is directed to undertake a confusing act to prove her loyalty to Robert. She must drug one of her husband’s legal partners at the firm and slip away, waiting fur further instructions. Given the pills she must use, Bree follows the instructions she’s given, only to realise that the plan has taken a horrible turn. What should have only knocked the man out has killed him and Bree is left with the guilt, on top of not yet having Robert back in his custody.

Confiding in a former cop and family friend, Bree soon learns that there was another recent kidnapping of a little boy by the same woman, who insists that all this is being done with her daughter’s assistance. Bree uncovers something that may connect the two cases, though she is not yet ready to bring it to the authorities or any media outlet. The more she understands about a distant past, the clearer things become as to why these two families were targeted.

Confronting her husband, Bree learns about his college years and how he was not the man she thought he might have been. However, this stroll down memory lane is not bringing Robert back any faster. Bree must work within the confines of what she can do and try to locate this pair of vindictive women before Robert disappears for good. A mother’s dedication to her baby crosses paths with another’s search for justice, however twisted it might be. This is one explosive story that will leave the reader enthralled as they try to see which maternal instinct is stronger.

While I may have never read anything by Joshilyn Jackson before, I can see the allure. Her storytelling is second to none and the flow of the piece keeps the reader in the middle of the gathering momentum. The piece pulls on the reader’s heartstrings while also telling of a sordid past that fuels the present kidnapping plot. Which side is innocent is up to the reader to decide, though the tangled web presented herein makes that determination all the harder to decipher.

Bree Cabbat is a strong, if somewhat harried, protagonist. Her role as doting wife and mother is balanced nicely with a fearful woman who wants her family back. As she story unfolds and she learns of a past to which she was previously unaware, Bree finds herself acting outside of the realm she might usually be comfortable inhabiting. Her dedication to finding her son is fuelled by maternal instinct, though she is equally concerned about the issues she learns relating to her husband’s past. The reader will feel Bree’s determination throughout this piece, never stopping when it comes to doing what she feels is right, even as she knows it could have dire consequences.

Jackson has used a handful of strong secondary characters to fill in some of the gaps throughout the narrative. There is a chilling undertone in the narrative and one that requires a cast of characters to bring it to life. Jackson does so effectively by painting vivid narratives with key characters, all of whom complement the larger story. Characters play their chosen roles well and the reader is gifted with a strong story throughout.

While I was not sure what to expected as I started this piece, I came to see just how talented Joshilyn Jackson was when I allowed myself to connect to the narrative. A story that appears to be a simple kidnapping takes a turn when certain twists are added to the narrative. The reader is pulled into the middle and left to wonder what might happen and how baby Robert might be used as a pawn to exact some form of revenge for past wrongs. Working with mid-length chapters, Jackson portrays her characters effectively and builds a plot that is as vivid as it is chilling. This is one book that really kept me wondering throughout and I binged numerous times just to get a better understanding of what was going on. I will definitely be back for more Joshilyn Jackson in the coming months.

Kudos, Madam Jackson, for winning me over. Your writing style and story development are surely worth additional exploration.

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

Stung (Arthur Beauchamp #8), by William Deverell

Nine stars

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

The arrival of a new Arthur Beauchamp novel is always reason to celebrate. It shows that William Deverell has been hard at work, using his unique style to craft a truly Canadian legal thriller that has layers of strong plotting and even better off-the-cuff comments about the world in which we live. Deverell does not disappoint with this piece, which takes the reader on many an adventure, with a court case that is sure to pique the interest of those who enjoy such things. Highly recommended to those who love courtroom dramas, as well as the reader who has a penchant for all things Canadian.

It was all about the honeybee, or at least that’s what they said. Chemican-International is touting their new pesticide, Vigor-Gro, which has been useful to hep farmers and their crops, but has been wreaking havoc on the bees that try to pollinate. Rivkie Levitsky is working with a group of young eco-friendly people, all of whom are trying to make Chemican see the error of their ways. Their latest ploy is to get inside the Canadian plant outside Sarnia, where they will be able to stop things, at least temporarily.

All the while, Arthur Beauchamp (that’s “Beech’m”) has been enjoying life on his tract of land in Garibaldi, British Columbia. With his wife away serving as a Member of Parliament, he’s taken to enjoying the farm life and still thinking back on his many courtroom victories as a criminal defence attorney. Beauchamp has also been using more of his time to tend to local issues, which includes blocking an American company from mining the resources out from under him. While Beauchamp has a few minor dust-ups with the law, he’s peaceful for the most part.

Once Rivkie and her crew strike at the local Chemican plant, they cause quite the stir, which begins an extensive police investigation. The ‘Sarnia Seven’ are collected after the evidence is gathered and a few well-timed sting operations locate their lair. Helping out an old friend (and with the insistence of his wife), Beauchamp agrees to defend five of the members, prepared to use the necessity defence. While Beauchamp is not as familiar with it, he understands that arguing the act of sabotage was needed to protect the larger community—read: the bees—though this will be a hard sell.

In the lead-up to trial, Beauchamp must not only handle the cross-country travel to meet its his clients and co-counsel, but also handle some issue on the home front that he would likely prefer stay on the back burner. It’s going to be a lot to take on, especially as he has a long record of victories in the courtroom, matched against a Crown Prosecutor with an equally long string of victories. This is sure to be one trial no one wants to miss.

As the trial comes to a head, it will not only be a necessity defence that Beauchamp presents, but one vilifying Chemican-International. Fallout from the pesticide has not only been hurting the bees, but there are studies that show human consumption, albeit minutely, has been causing issues as well. Beauchamp must push this line of inquiry against the Crown’s insistence that it is futile, while the judge is keen to see things wrapped up swiftly. Add to that, there are issues within the jury that could cause things to topple over before closing arguments are finished. Beauchamp will have to use all his legal prowess, but even that might not be enough.

I discovered the wonders of William Deverell a number of years ago. His writing is not only detailed and highly addictive, but also layers the wonders of the Canadian legal system, putting a spotlight on its nuances, contrasting nicely with the supersaturation of American law in the genre. Of particular note, the Arthur Beauchamp series offers the reader a great escape into some true Canadiana with subplots that are second to none. Any reader who has the patience to sift through many of the tangential plot lines will not be disappointed with the series.

Arthur Beauchamp is a great protagonist in yet another novel. A brilliant legal mind, as is mentioned throughout the series, Beauchamp does not come across as pompous or egotistical. Quite the opposite, he struggles to sink into the background and enjoy retirement. Deverell places him in numerous sticky situations throughout the story, both of the legal and personal variety, which adds to the reader’s enjoyment. Those who have followed Beauchamp throughout the series will see how certain pieces connect in this novel, while others are new and exciting additions to an already full plate. Deverell does showcase the wonderful legal mind Beauchamp possesses, particularly in the courtroom, though the reader is not inundated with legalese that is sure to leave them befuddled.

The cast of secondary characters is quite complex and all encompassing, which adds to the depth of the narrative. The story takes place in various domains and tackles a few interconnected plot lines, all of which require strong characters to keep the momentum up. Deverell delivers unique and enjoyable characters, some of whom complement each other well, while not losing the reader in the tangential nature of the story. There are returning faces that add flavour to the story, as well as first-timers, some of whom I hope will return, should Arthur Beauchamp have more steam to offer in another novel.

The story itself was one of the best I have read from William Deverell. While it was a Herculean effort due to the details, most of his novels are, though they flow with ease. There is so much going on that the reader must almost keep a scorecard to set matters straight. Arthur Beauchamp is on display throughout, tackling so many interesting aspects of his life, as well as the case. The story is split into three narrative perspectives, which adds depth to the piece and keeps the reader pushing ahead. Add to that, Deverell has separated the book into chapters, as well as sub-chapters, which effectively serve to divide up the action for the reader. The flow of the book is not lost with the repeated divisions, though some may wonder why a more traditional approach was not taken. The narrative is sprinkled full of tongue-in-cheek moments, which lightens the mood in what is surely a high intensity piece. One cannot escape some of the science related to the topic at hand, though Deverell handles it effectively, educating the reader without drowning them in minutiae. I can only hope there is more to come, as Arthur Beauchamp is one character who never is at a loss for dramatic interactions.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for another stunner. I love the mix of courtroom, rural Canada, and flashy crime thriller aspects. You are in a league all your own and I hope others discover your magic. Pardon the pun, but there is a real ‘buzz’ in this piece, well worth the attention of the masses.

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

On Harrow Hill (Dave Gurney #7), by John Verdon

Nine stars

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

The arrival of a new John Verdon thriller is sure to excite many who have loved past novels with Dave Gurney helping on yet another homicide investigation. Gurney, a former NYPD Homicide Detective with many years experience, has a way not only with coming to assist many of the rural New York communities, but also finds himself growing in unique ways. With this case, which has layers upon layers of oddity, Gurney agrees to head to the community of Larchfield, where his former partner is running the show. However, there is nothing routine or textbook about what he discovers, save the increasing number of bodies piling up. Verdon is at his best with On Harrow Hill, and this is one book sure to impress anyone who takes the time to read it.

Dave Gurney has been enjoying retired life, though he seems never to be able to get into the swing of things before he’s called upon to help with another homicide. When his former partner asks for a favour, Gurney cannot say no, remembering their time on the NYPD together and the night Gurney was almost killed. He agrees to come to Larchfield, a small community that has no experience with crime, let alone murder.

The town’s wealthiest man, Angus Russell, has been found murdered inside his mansion on Harrow Hill. During the preliminary investigation, forensics uncovered a print and some blood of the suspected killer, Billy Tate. This should make it a fairly simply open and shut case, save for the fact that Tate died in a freak accident the night before and is currently in a coffin, awaiting burial. Baffled by this, Gurney tries to deal with the widow, though she is anything but helpful, wanting to tie up all the loose ends so that she can return to the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed.

If that were not enough, there’s a disturbance at the morgue and the Tate coffin’s been opened. Analysis shows the baffling proof that it was destroyed from the inside out, which is substantiated by some surveillance video that show Billy Tate alive and well—at least as well as someone who was struck by lightning and fell from a church steeple can be—before he leaves the building.

Given barely enough time to wrap his head around that, Gurney and the local authorities discover that two more bodies have turned up, one likely murdered on the way to the Russell killing and one soon thereafter. Might Tate have been resurrected and begun an odd killing spree? The mysteries continue with a massive manhunt started.

As Tate’s involvement with a satanic movement comes to light, Gurney follows new leads to help put some order to the case. Fanning the flames is a religious movement committed to ‘saving the town’ from the zombie satanist, while a reality news website has made it their business to add as much glitz and spin to things as possible. Gurney must wrestle false leads away from these two sources, while also protecting himself, as his property is targeted at one point.

While Billy Tate remains on the lam, Gurney and the others will have it find a motive that explains it all, while also capturing the killer before more bodies turn up. From whispers about a sordid past through to opponents of Tate’s personal beliefs, there are no shortage of people offering themselves up as potential victims, though Dave Gurney does not seem dissuaded in the least to catch yet another sadistic killer!

John Verdon does a masterful job in yet another thriller in this series, pulling the reader into the middle of the case in the opening chapters. His attention to detail and wonderful subplot development makes this book one that the reader will want to devour as quickly as possible, as I did. Using a few tangential leads to keep things interesting, there is no lack of intensity as the narrative builds, right up to the final reveal that had me shaking my head.

Dave Gurney cannot catch the break that retirement was supposed to bring him. If it’s not being asked to help out yet again, he’s thrust into the middle of a new household project his wife has for him (this time an alpaca farm)! While personal growth and backstory may not be something to which he is subjected throughout, the reader can see how his methodical thinking helps to shape the pace of the story and solving the crime at hand. He is by no means indestructible, though he tries to take it all in and find the core issue, working it through to a reasonable conclusion. However, resurrection and satanic belief might be a little outside Gurney’s ability to comprehend, even with 25 years in NYPD Homicide.

Verdon develops a handful of key secondary characters in this piece, who are essential to the success of the novel. There is no shortage of personalities in this piece, all of whom work their own angles to enrich the plot and keep the reader wondering. While it is not a whodunit with a few potential killers the reader must suss out, there is much to be said about those who make up the foundation of a small community. Some complement Gurney and some prove to be essential roadblocks to solving the crime.

This was perhaps the best Verdon piece I have read, though I have loved them all a great deal. The flow of the story is perfect, revealing much as the narrative builds. Verdon has done well to develop this quirky, layered story that is not a simple A to Z crime thriller. Rather, the reader must wade through some distracting side stories (as Dave Gurney does too) to get to the heart of the matter. With a mix of chapter lengths, the reader gets hooked and then finds themselves sitting for long periods just to get a better understanding of what’s going on. While it is not your typical crime thriller, its uniqueness makes it one readers will want to explore and challenge themselves with throughout the journey.

Kudos, Mr. Verdon, for a book I could not stop reading. I hope others are ready for as wild a ride!

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://mysteryandsuspense.com/on-harrow-hill/

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

The Beirut Protocol (Marcus Ryker #4), by Joel C. Rosenberg

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Joel C. Rosenberg, and Tyndale House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Joel C. Rosenberg is back with another of his nail-biting thrillers that pulls together many of the current goings-on in the Middle East and their delicate political interactions. Special Agent Marcus Ryker is in the region as an advance team with the Diplomatic Security Service, scouting things out before the signing of a major peace treaty. However, things go terribly wrong and he soon becomes a pawn of a ruthless regime seeking to flex its own muscle in the region. Rosenberg aptly covers all the perspectives with strong actors and leaves the reader feeling as though they are in the middle of the action in The Beirut Protocol. Recommended to those who have loved his work in the past, as well as the reader who cannot get enough of political thrillers.

It seemed like an easy mission for Marcus Ryker and his team, all part of the US Diplomatic Security Service, as they worked ahead of the upcoming peace treaty signing between America and the Saudis. However, along the Israel-Lebanon border, Ryker and his team are captured by Hezbollah and taken to a compound. It’s only later that Ryker’s identity is discovered after some brutal interrogating and torture techniques.

While no one in the White House is yet aware of what’s happened, the news travels to Tehran quickly. Iran is in the middle of its own political vacuum, with the Grand Ayatollah having died and a new man about to be chosen for the job. Whomever assumes the role, their support of Hezbollah is almost guaranteed and having Ryker will prove to be a gift no one could imagine.

While Ryker tries to get himself out of the clutches of Hezbollah, he musty act quickly. He’s a wanted man, having scuttled a number of plans by America’s most ardent enemies. It will require a great deal of planning and determination if Ryker hopes to make it out alive. Still, the rewards could be monumental, particularly if it means the Americans and Saudis can move ahead with their peace treaty, which is sure to open the door to more tranquility in the region.

Joel C. Rosenberg has long been a favourite author of mine, not only because of his political thrillers, but also since he knows just how to lay the groundwork for a plausible story. Many who are familiar with a number of his series will recall that he predicted some of the major events in the region in the late 1990s and into the 20th century, almost foreboding the events that would lead to clashes that pit countries and regions against one another today.

Marcus Ryker has been a great protagonist throughout the series. Rosenberg has been able to develop him effectively throughout the series, mixing a strong determination with some key personal backstory. The series has become more intense because of Ryker’s presence and one can only hope that Rosenberg is not entirely done with this man, who seems at ease no matter where he finds himself in the world, or which enemy awaits him.

Rosenberg’s creation of strong secondary characters is like few others I have seen before. Each actor plays a key role in the larger narrative and keeps the reader enthralled as they learn about how political and social situations are seen through a number of lenses. While it can be hard to keep the countries and their politics straight, Rosenberg has a great list at the start of the book to provide the reader just what they need to keep the plot flowing with each actor and the flavour brought to the narrative. While there are usually a large number of actors being used, Rosenberg is always spot-on about how he hopes to effectively utilise those who push the story forward.

The overall story was, as usual, amazing and well-paced. Rosenberg understands the nuances of the region to provide the reader with something to keep them on their toes. The writing is of high caliber and keeps the reader interested throughout the story, with key moments of dialogue to paint an even more intense picture of how the machinery of Middle East politics works. With short chapters that push the reader to keep the story going, Rosenberg jams much into his writing and does not let the reader rest on their laurels at any time. With a plot that is well-paced and full of twists, the reader is never left knowing what is to come, which helps to add new layers of thrills to an already stunning piece.

Kudos, Mr. Rosenberg, for another winner. I cannot wait to see what you have next for your fans and how the future of the region will shape your writing.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/the-beirut-protocol/

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

Everything is Mine, by Ruth Lillegraven

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ruth Lillegraven, and Amazon Crossing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

There’s nothing like a little mystery to keep a family on its toes. Such is the case in this latest piece by Ruth Lillegraven, in which a couple is pulled apart not only by their work, but a long-standing disinterest in one another. When a man is found murdered at a hospital, one is fingered as the prime suspect, only to profess their innocence. Everything is Mine is an apt title for this piece, though one wrong move and it could all disappear.

Clara and Henrik have a somewhat quiet life on the outskirts of Oslo, where they enjoy time with their twin boys. While they seem to have a routine between them, neither is all that happy in the relationship, or so it seems. Henrik is a doctor in the A&E, specialising in paediatric medicine, while Clara is a politician with a bright future. Their independent spheres serve them well, as the narrative depicts throughout.

When an angry father brings in an unconscious young boy directly to Henrik at work, something is amiss. The father insists that it was a fall from a tree, but something is not adding up. A major brain bleed and countless bruises of various ages cover the boys body. Rushed into surgery, everyone tries their best, but the boy cannot be saved. Henrik knows it was child abuse, but allows his mind to drift and does not report it to the authorities. During a brief confrontation, Henrik directs the father to a prayer room, what little good it will do him.

When the authorities arrive soon thereafter, Henrik is kicking himself, sure that they are here to discuss the abuse. However, it is the murder of the father outside the prayer room that has everyone buzzing. Henrik has not hidden his disdain for the man, but says that he knows nothing about the murder.

Meanwhile, Clara has been trying to get a piece of legislation through parliament that deals with protecting children of abuse. While it is scuttled by the Minister of Justice and Prime Minister, Clara cannot help but wonder if there is something more going on. She is determined to ensure it sees the floor for debate, but is stonewalled at every turn.

When another body turns up close to where Henrik found himself after his shift, he is taken into custody and questioned extensively. While there, more bodies turn up, at a time when Henrik could not have acted. Could his innocence hinge on these ongoing murders? How will Clara react when she learns the truth and what can she do to keep her job from overtaking her? Lillegraven reveals it all as the story reaches its climax.

Having never read anything by Ruth Lillegraven previously, I was intrigued to see how things would go with this book. I found myself highly impressed with the writing, even in translation, and sped through the book to see how it all came together. This is certainly an author well worth my time and I will have to see what else she has to entertain me.

Henrik proves to be the central character in this piece. He struggles with his life, not only as a doctor, but a father and an almost forgotten husband. He is by no means innocent in the marriage, having been stepping out for a long time, though feels it is justified because of how poorly Clara treats him. When faced with adversity, Henrik buckles down and shows his true colours, though they are sometimes muted by those around him.

Lillegraven uses a strong cast of secondary characters to tell her story, pushing a gripping murder mystery into the middle of a busy emergency room. She’s apt to pull on a great cross-section of characters throughout the piece, many of whom come together nicely to fit into the nooks and crannies of this piece. The reader need not worry about a lack of perspectives, as many of these characters offer their own narratives throughout.

The story was easy to follow and kept me entertained throughout. I cannot say that there was a time I was checking my watch or tapping my toe. Lillegraven constructs a powerful piece on chid abuse and builds it from there, keeping the reader wondering throughout. With a strong narrative that takes in the perspectives of many, the story pushes forward through short chapters. Questions arise at various points in the story, answered only by forging ahead and waiting to see what else is to come.

Kudos, Madam Lillegraven, for a thrilling mystery like no other. I cannot wait to see what else you have written and whether they match up to this piece.

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

A Matter of Life and Death (Robin Lockwood #4), by Phillip Margolin

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Phillip Margolin, 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.

Phillip Margolin has his newest legal mind, Robin Lockwood, in the middle of her most harrowing case yet. When a man is accused of murdering a judge’s wife, the evidence seems almost irrefutable. As the death penalty stares them in the face, Robin and her indigent client must do all they can to prove that this was not only a miscarriage of justice, but that there’s a larger scheme at play, even more dangerous than anyone might imagine. In A Case of Life and Death,, Margolin does a masterful job and keeps the reader enthralled throughout. Recommended to those who love a good legal thriller, particularly the reader who has come to enjoy the work of Phillip Margolin.

Things have not been going well for Joe Lattimore of late. Technically homeless, with a wife and little one, Joe is forced to scrounge for money wherever he can and remember his past as a boxer. When he’s offered a chance to make a quick buck, he takes it, though it’s a dubious venture. He’s told that there’s a fight club where he can make a decent amount of money, which Joe thinks might be the pot of gold for which he has long been waiting.

While he wins the fight, it’s no-holds-barred and Joe’s opponent is left clinging to life. Joe’s told the man died and is ushered away. Told that there is a video of the event, Joe knows it could be used against him should he not follow directions to the letter of the law. When Joe’s sent to a house and told to go inside, he enters, only to find the body of a woman who has been beaten to death. His prints are all over the walls as he tries to scramble away, only to be caught fleeing by the victim’s husband, Judge Anthony Carasco.

Once Joe’s been apprehended, after an anonymous tip, things go from bad to worse. The State has some damning and seemingly irrefutable evidence, pushing for the death penalty. Robin Lockwood, who knows Joe in passing, agrees to take his case, feeling that someone’s been pulling strings to frame an innocent man. However, nothing seems to add up and the evidence points strongly to Joe’s guilt. However, beneath it all, there are secrets that people are keeping, from the fight club to the victim’s suspicions about her husband, and even the judge’s alibi on the night of the crime. Robin knows that capital cases require not only dedication, but persistence in the face of adversity. She’ll need it all in this situation, as it’s the difference between a man’s life and his untimely demise.

I enjoy a well-crafted legal thriller at the best of time, something that Phillip Margolin never fails to deliver. I discovered his work primarily with the launch of the Robin Lockwood series, but have come to find that he is a master of the genre and has much to say without being overly repetitive. The plot is alluring and the writing hooks the reader from the opening pages. This is what a legal thriller should be.

Robin Lockwood does well as protagonist once again. Her presence adds something to the story and keeps the reader wanting to know even more. With a backstory as an MMA fighter, Robin knows the world of fame and glory, though is also keen to help those who cannot help themselves. Her legal acumen is second to none, as she finds one dangling thread and is apt to yank on it, hoping to unravel the truth. Gritty and all in, Robin works for her clients like no lawyer would, wanting truth to reign over the easy way out.

Margolin’s use of a handful of strong secondary characters in this piece helps to develop a great story that uses a few subplots to advance the larger narrative. There are those within the pages of this book who will impress the reader, while others will show their true mettle as the story advances. Everyone has their role, even if it does not seem apparent at the outset. Margolin’s development of these individuals helps keep the story flowing and the plot twists fresh in the reader’s mind.

The overall delivery of the piece was something I thoroughly enjoyed. I cannot say enough about Phillip Margolin or his work, both of which left me highly impressed. I like a story that is full of twists and a legal thriller that uses the law to peel back to the truth, both of which are on display here. The reader is treated to a quick narrative that pushes the story along, with some credible dialogue along the way. Short chapters force the reader to feel the momentum of the piece and get carried away as the story pushes towards a verdict where punishment is at the heart of it all. A little murder, some deception, and a handful of blackmail situations all create the needed intensity for the reader to see just how talented Margolin is with his writing. I cannot wait for what else this series has to offer.

Kudos, Mr. Margolin, for another winner. While some may need a comlex courtroom drama to appeal to them, your action-packed story has just what I needed to pass the time.

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

Two White Queens and the One-Eyed Jack, by Heidi von Palleske

As this book was marked as unfinished, it will not garner a star rating, out of respect for all involved.

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Heidi von Palleske, and Dundurn Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Eager to sink my teeth into this book, especially after giving the dust jacket blurb a glance, I found myself greatly confused. Heidi von Palleske lays out in her introduction how she had chosen a number of important events and people in her life and crammed them into this story. While that may sound good, using ‘what you know’, it did not work for me. I tried a few times to connect with the characters and the story, but failed to do so.

Others may find something that compels them within these pages, but I could not. I chose to take the high road and let others bask in the story, reviewing it as they wanted. I tried and it did not work for me, so I left it after twice making it close to a third of the way through the piece. I hope to return to it down the road, but for now, I will slide it back onto the shelf.

Kudos, Madam von Palleske, for writing what you know. I just ended up not being someone who could follow the path you laid out before you.

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

The Kaiser’s Web (Cotton Malone #16), by Steve Berry

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Steve Berry 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 ushers Cotton Malone and Cassiopeia Vitt into the sixteenth novel of the series, which is full of intrigue, political banter, and historical ‘what if’ moments in the middle of an important election. The future of Germany is at stake with two contenders for the chancellorship and a country on the verge of change. As Malone and Vitt travel across three continents, they uncover the truth behind a mystery that is seventy-five years in the making. A chilling glance into what might have happened in a Berlin bunker and the web of deceit spun in its aftermath. Recommended to those who love Berry’s work, as well as the reader who enjoys a little historical pondering in their thrillers.

Working off the books, former US President Danny Daniels arrives in Germany with a portfolio of information to deliver to an old friend. At stake is the winner of Germany’s most coveted political position, the chancellorship. Its current holder seeks to continue use her control of the political system, but a challenger holds the reins of the nationalistic right and is supported by a base who find solace in hate and racial purity.

Within the portfolio is the truth behind the events of April 30, 1945, when Hitler and his new wife, Eva Braun, apparently took their lives rather than see the fall of Germany. However, while the Russians claim to have found Hitler’s body and buried it, questions remain about Braun. Cotton Malone and Cassiopeia Vitt are called in to poke around, which will include extensive research in Chile. While their lives will be put in danger, as they unravel the complexities of the post-war fates of many Germans, neither is willing to dismiss the possible truths that have been diluted by war-time histories with obvious biases.

Might Evan Braun have escaped with one of Hitler’s confidants? Could their connection have led to a romantic connection that bore a child, one who was whisked away and adopted by another family? It will take more than a crafty marksman to deter Malone and Vitt, as they reveal all and make their way to South Africa to learn just how complex this secret, dubbed the Kaiser’s Web, proves to be.

With the fate of Germany in the balance, secrets will come to light, but will it all be in time to let the country know before a chancellor is picked? Might the end result leave Germany back in the hands of the national socialists, no longer needing a putsch and beer hall to wreak havoc on the strongest economy in Europe? Malone cannot sit idly by, but even he is not sure which side is favoured in this web of lies and deception.

Steve Berry has never shied away from controversial subjects, all while injecting the ‘what if’ question into his narrative. Spinning truths he has uncovered with just the right flavouring of fiction, Berry develops a story that series fans are sure to love, with a backdrop of far-right politics that is sure to resonate in an era when elected leaders turn into tyrants drunk on power.

Cotton Malone has always been a strong, if not entirely loveable, character in these books. Painted as a former Justice Department operative who sought solitude with an antique bookstore in Denmark, Malone has always kept one foot in the realm of active duty. This story pushes him not to explore more of his backstory, but to help clarify a major issue, all while seeking to stay alive for one more day. There is not the traditional development that a series might bring to a character, but more a constant hunger for truth, even when it is buried beneath the rubble of time and deception.

Berry uses some returning characters to add flavouring to his series, but also uses a handful of key characters who are essential to the plot at hand. He mixes history and present-day when presenting those who serve as effective vessels in portraying the many layers of his narrative and there is never a dull moment as the reader learns more about the people on the page and the history behind them.

Blurring the lines between fact and fiction is what Berry does best, though he is always keen to shine the light on things in his author’s note. Berry touches on some relevant issues with the rise of the neo-Nazi movement, as well as nationalism in general, throughout this piece. The narrative is strong and keeps building throughout, while the characters embody the tension that comes from truths being unearthed. The pace of the plot never slows and the twists come throughout the story. Working through a strong storyline, the piece keeps the reader enthralled as they ask themselves what might really have happened as the Russians advanced on a crippled Berlin back in 1945. I know I was keen to see what Berry had to say in his end of story note, as I am sure many others will be who devour this book!

Kudos, Mr. Berry, for another winner. I love how you use the present day to make the past come to light, leaving many to question what they really know and where they may have been blindly led.

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

Black Coral (Underwater Investigation Unit #2), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

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

Andrew Mayne is back with another police procedural that will have the reader thinking outside the box (as well as off land). With his Underwater Investigation Unit, Mayne utilises the world of police work under the water with Sloan McPherson as lead diver. In Black Coral, the discovery of four teens from decades ago opens old wounds about their trip to a concert and the potential trouble they encountered while partying one night. Mayne keeps things crisp and will have readers plunging in for more by the final pages. Recommended to those who like unique takes on crime fighting down in Southern Florida.

Sloan McPherson quite enjoys her work in Southern Florida with the Underwater Investigation Unit (UIU), a group slapped together with the governor’s blessing a while back. She trolls under the surface of the water when the police cannot properly do the work on land. While diving down to help remove victims from a car that flew into the water, McPherson comes across a van that no one knew existed. She helps extricate it and bring it to the surface, but must be wary of the countless alligators that flock to the area, basking in the warmer waters and ready to feast on flesh of any sort.

Once some of the preliminary forensics are complete, the UIU learns that the occupants of the van were four teens who went missing over thirty years before. All were presumed to have run away, though their families had come to terms with their likely deaths. Analysis of the two girls in the van shows that they were dressed with their underwear inside out, leaving some to believe that there may have been some sexual assaults that occurred before the van flew into the water.

While McPherson and her new partner try to work through what they know, they are saddled with a new and more glitzy case. It would seem that someone is targeting some of the larger yachts in the marina and stealing from their when the owners are asleep or otherwise engaged. McPherson calls this a silly ‘rich crime’ and wants to focus her attention on the grittier one that includes the dead kids. However, she will have to learn how to manage both, at least for the time being.

After some sleuthing leads to the discovery of a recent couple going missing, the case takes a significant turn. Further probing leads to the discovering of a large cage full of bones, surely bodies that were left deep in the water after a slew of killings. It’s a serial murder investigation and the UIU is elbowed out of the way. However, Sloan McPherson is not one to let things go too easily. Her independent explorations into what they know opens new and disturbing pathways that might explain a horrible new angle and a specific penchant that the ‘Swamp Killer’ may have. This case will chill anyone to the bone!

While my knowledge of Andrew Mayne’s work rests solely with the debut in the UIU series, I was hooked from the opening pages. I am always on the look out for new and interesting perspectives when it comes to police procedurals, Mayne uses this angle effectively and keeps his readers hooked on the case throughout, offering them one tidbits of action both above and below the waterline.

Sloan McPherson emerges as a strong protagonist again, keeping herself busy with work while also trying to remain a member of her family. The mother of a tween girl, Sloan has come to realise that her daughter is not so little anymore and the lure of boys will soon be a worry that must be addressed. Professionally, she is gritty and wants to be in the driver’s seat at all times. Her fearlessness shows repeatedly, both when chasing down leads and interaction with the reptile population while diving for clues. She’s got lots going for her and I quite enjoy how Mayne has crafted her up to this point.

A cast of strong supporting characters keeps the story moving well and does not distract from the plot. Mayne uses his characters to push the narrative along and allows the reader to choose a few people to follow throughout the story. Delving into the dark world of serial killers and paedophiles, Mayne must craft his characters well as he ensures the reader feels the full impact of what is going on.

As with the series debut, this book moved along well and never lost its momentum. With a great plot and strong narrative, Mayne is able to pull the reader in from the opening pages and never lets up. He develops the plot well, with his strong dialogue and uses shorter chapters to keep the flow throughout. While I know little about diving, Mayne bridged that gap effectively for me and kept things easy to comprehend for the layperson. I am eager to see what is to come, as the third novel in the series was just announced. It’s sure to be just as captivating as this one!

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for another winner. I will have to check out some of your other series to get a full feel for your work. You have a fan in me, and a curious one at that.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

Black Coral

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