Snap Judgment (Samantha Brinkman #3), by Marcia Clark

Eight stars

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

Marcia Clark is back with the third instalment of the Samantha Brinkman series, perhaps the best novel yet. After Alicia Hutchins is tired of her controlling boyfriend, Roan Sutton, she chooses to dump him to relieve herself of the burden. In an act of apparent retribution, naked selfies of Alicia appear online for all to see. This ‘revenge porn’ puts Alicia in a tailspin and her body is found a short time later. Might Roan have taken the next step and killed the young woman who sought to defy him? It would appear so, though the ante is raised yet again, after Roan’s body is discovered a short time later, hanging from the ceiling. Early conclusions point to suicide, but Alicia’s father, Graham, is being eyed by the police as the case could have a homicidal element. Enter Samantha Brinkman, whose criminal work has earned her quite the reputation. Brinkman agrees to take on the case, loving the price tag that goes along with it, and tries to delve even deeper into the investigation. Working alongside her investigator, Alex Medrano, Brinkman begins to peel back the layers of the case, unsure what they will find. Alicia seemed to have been a sheltered young woman who was finally coming out of her shell while interacting with other college students. Could Roan and his controlling ways have been used on other women before Alicia? Might the revenge porn angle be one that he has used before? As questions about the case continue to emerge, Brinkman is visited one night by a man with deep roots in the cartel community. He’s come to call in on a favour that Brinkman has promised him after she was caught breaking the law for another client. Brinkman has been ordered to find a witness who is in protective custody, ready to finger a member of this elusive man’s family. Unable to turn to Alex, who is unaware of Brinkman’s law breaking, she turns to her father, Dale Pearson. Together, they must grease the wheels to find this young woman, whose life story brings up more dirt than either could have imagined. Tales of abuse and molestation, with a handful of younger sisters still at home, Brinkman finds pity for the woman in custody and will do whatever she can to protect her from the death that awaits her once she has been outed by the cartel. Working these two major cases and a slew of other meat and potatoes, Brinkman has little time for herself. Trouble is, there is a time limit on both and patience is not a virtue anyone seems to have for the time being. A wonderfully crafted piece of work that will keep the reader guessing until the very end. Highly recommended for legal thriller fans and those who enjoy the fast-paced writing that makes Clark a master of the genre.

Whatever people seem to feel about Clark in her past life, she has shown that she has the ability to craft excellent legal thrillers that do not miss a beat. Filled with relatable storylines and themes that could easier pulled from the headlines, Clark pulls the reader in from the opening paragraphs and provides enough drama to keep them hooked until the very end. Samantha Brinkman is both a complex and easily relatable character. Not only is she a lawyer with a solid reputation, but she is keen on fighting for her clients and will leave no stone unturned. Her jaded past has not left her defeated, but fuels her to find the best in everyone, or at least to see past their outer layers. She remains determined to discover the whole story, even if it places her clients in an uncomfortable position. Surrounding herself with the likes of Alex and Michy, her office runs effectively and her caseload is anything but boring. A recently discovered father in Dale Pearson has helped her find someone in whom she can feel familial pride, though their relationship is anything but traditional parent-child. Clark injects secondary characters who keep the story moving forward and fuel interesting twists to keep the reader curious throughout. The story takes legal and personal turns that no only make for a great story but are plausible, permitting the reader to feel at home as they lose themselves in the book. Clark’s legal past and blunt delivery help create a story that has everything needed for a superior legal thriller. I cannot wait to see what else Clark has is store for her readers and where she will take Brinkman in the years to come. And the question that I have been asking for a while now, when will Rachel Knight ever make an appearance in Samantha’s life?

Kudos, Madam Clark for another wonderful novel. I am amazed at how thoroughly captivated I am by everything you write. I know you have a large following, and for good reason! 

Grace to the Finish (A Manor House Mystery #8), by Julie Hyzy

Eight stars

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

Julie Hyzy is back for another annual instalment in the Grace Wheaton series. This novel packs a punch and offers some insight into numerous threads that have been left dangling from previous series novels. Celebrating their recent purchase of a run-down building in town, Grace and her roommates-cum-business partners are eager to get a start on the renovations. However, after opening things up, they discover a woman’s body laying at the base of the stairs. Virginia Frisbie is not a random victim, having served as the local bank’s vice-president and the institution’s representative in the sale of the property. Could she have fallen, or is there something more nefarious at play? Grace finds herself in the middle of yet another mystery that could have a definitely murderous odour. As the investigation progresses, a squatter is discovered and his account could play a key role in given better context as it relates to Virginia’s presence on-site, as well as a mysterious man with whom she would rendezvous on a regular basis within the building. If that were not enough, Grace’s sister, Liza, is set to be released from prison and is itching to get her hands on the lion’s share of the Marshfield Estate, something that Grace has been lucky enough to have been promised when her boss (and recently discovered uncle) Bennett Marshfield passed on. Armed with a nosy aunt in town from Florida, Liza seeks to cash-in on the millions (or billions) to which she feels she is entitled because of her bloodline. However, as Grace frets about this, she learns a secret about Liza that could pose an even larger problem, once it comes to the surface. Grace may have a great deal on her plate, but there are suitors all around her, some of whom she has been trying to encounter romantically for quite some time. They, too, have skeletons in their closets, forcing Grace to make some major life decisions. A wonderful addition to the Marshfield Manor series, showing how entertaining Hyzy’s writing can be, in that quaint manner reserved for clean-fun reading. Highly recommend the entire series for a beach-binge, should time permit.

I have heard rumours that Hyzy decided to end the series with this novel, which would be somewhat disheartening. If it is true, she ends things on a high note, closing the proverbial book on the series before it loses its lustre. Grace Wheaton has seen much transformation in the series and this novel allows the reader to learn a touch more about her. Her sleuthing ways are front and centre in this piece, while the interesting balance of her work seems to have taken a back burner. I always enjoyed the balance, though I suspect Hyzy had too many Grace balls in the air to inject mention of art in more than passing. The secondary characters remain strong, with Frances adding her two cents whenever and wherever possible. The rest of the crew keep the story flowing well, though they do not play a crucial role. Even Liza and Aunt Belinda seem to be muted in the storyline that utilizes them. The overall mystery is strong and keeps the reader guessing. The entire series has relied on a quaint nature and so there is a strong sense of lightheartedness, even when cracking the mystery wide-open. Some key aspects of the story are resolved herein, which fuels the aforementioned rumours a little. However, there is much that could be developed yet, so Hyzy has not entirely closed the door on another book. Either way, I enjoy these novels, as they are quick-reads and highly entertaining for the time they take to finish.

Kudos, Madam Hyzy, for another wonderful novel. I am eager to see what else you have going on, being it Grace, Olivia, or someone new. 

Portrait of Vengeance (Gwen Marcey #4), by Carrie Stuart Parks

Eight 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.

Returning with her much anticipated fourth novel, Carrie Stuart Parks takes readers on an emotional rollercoaster. After recently being hired to work on the Interagency Major Crime Unit (IMCU), Gwen Marcey attempts to curry favour with the team and her current beau by taking a case in Alaska. However, when another case is being described at the Unit briefing, Gwen cannot shake the intense flashback she has, directly tied to a traumatic event from her youth. Leaving little room for negotiation, Gwen swaps cases and heads to Idaho, where she will liaise alongside the Nez Perce Tribal Police in Lapwai. There, a couple has been murdered and their four year-old daughter is missing. When her reception is met with less than open arms, Gwen must begin her work as best she can, interviewing witnesses and providing any composite sketches that arise. When her vehicle is stolen, Gwen enlists the assistance of her best friend, Beth Noble, whose online prowess will surely come in handy. In a moment of emotional vulnerability, Gwen admits to discovering a murder scene of her ‘sorta-mom’ at fourteen, which led her out to Montana. This revelation, tied to the added admission that her parents were murdered when she was four, fuels Gwen as she tries to locate this little girl and ensure the killer is found. However, all that is easier said than done. Much of what Gwen grew up knowing changes the deeper Beth is able to dig around through old records. Gwen is distracted and she misses major elements of the crime at hand, which leads to her dismissal from the IMCU. There is surely an element that connects these past crimes to the current abduction, but the clues that tie it all together are slow to emerge. As Gwen and Beth continue to dig, key pieces of evidence fall into place, but that only pushes them into more danger. A killer lurks and Gwen appears to be their target. Her past and present collide, but someone wants to keep what is not yet known firmly veiled in mystery. Parks has spun a powerful story in this novel that will appeal greatly to the series fan and is sure to hook newbies who are just now learning about the wonders of this talented crime writer. 

I have been a fan of Carrie Stuart Parks and her work for a number of years. She offers a wonderful crime thriller, but tackles her stories from a unique angle. With Gwen Marcey as a forensic artist, this individualizes the protagonist and allows the reader to approach the crime fighting from a perspective that might not receive much merit. Basing Marcey on a number of her own experiences, Parks is able to speak with confidence as she weaves an intricate backstory. This novel is saturated with Gwen Marcey’s backstory and fills in many of the gaps left from the previous three books. Additionally, Gwen’s internalized arguments with others (both her ex-husband and Beth) show a struggle the character faces on a number of topics. Rather than simply loading the narrative with these breadcrumbs, the entire story takes on a Gwen Marcey flavour, permitting exploration and growth. Other than Beth and some minor mentions of others back in Missoula, Montana, the entire cast of characters is new and exciting, with a strong Indian (aboriginal) flavour. Politics surrounding the American treatment of this part of the population is woven throughout the story, allowing the reader to learn a great deal as the story progresses. The narrative is crisp and moves forward with an intense story told in short chapters. Parks keeps the reader wondering until the very end and offers up some hints and what might be to come in the ever-evolving battle between Gwen and her ex-husband. Parks has written another winner here and is sure to garner many more accolades for this work.

Kudos, Madam Parks for another wonderful novel. You never fail to impress me as I learn much about forensics from your unique experiences. 

Heart of the City (Ari Greene #5), by Robert Rotenberg

Nine stars

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

After much anticipation, Robert Rotenberg is back with his fifth novel in the Ari Greene series. Jam-packed with action, this crime thriller will have the reader flying through the pages with ease as the search for another killer commences. Forced to reinvent himself, Ari Greene is back in Toronto and working on a construction site. When he discovers the body of real estate magnate, Livingston Fox, Greene’s former detective senses kick into high gear. Detective Daniel Kennicott now heads up the Homicide team investigating the case and is the first to acknowledge that his former mentor seems unable to shake the skill of discovering dead bodies. As Kennicott begins his investigation, it becomes apparent that Fox was anything but much-loved in the community. Numerous people had motives to see him taken out, including a community activist who had butted heads with the man over many of his recent projects. Lurking behind the scenes is Alison Gilroy, a anonymous blogger and British transplant who is the child that Green never knew he had until his recent trip across the Pond. Alison’s work and sleuthing has put her in a precarious position, one that she is even hiding from her father. While Kennicott peels back the onion to discover the contrasting life Fox had in comparison to the rest of his family, the detective discovers that there might have been a secret in the works for an upcoming low-income housing complex. Could Fox have been turning over a new leaf in order to give back? Might Alison know more than she is telling everyone? Will Ari Greene be able to shed the past skirmishes he had with Kennicott and the Homicide Division too bring a killer to justice? All is revealed in this stunning piece that Rotenberg crafts with precision. Perfect for those who love a good Canadian crime drama set in the heart of the country’s largest metropolis.

I have long been a fan of Rotenberg and his work, so it pained me to wait so long between novels. However, the wait was worth it, as I found myself fully committed to the book and all the developments found therein. Rotenberg was faced with some significant decisions after Ari Greene was railroaded in the last novel. Having him return with Alison allowed for significant character growth, as well as tapping into that strong parent-child bond that is sure to develop. This offshoot, as well as Greene’s new post-Homicide life, fuel the narrative throughout and allow Daniel Kennicott to assume a more independent role, where he can lead the case in his own direction. The supporting cast of characters also present strong avenues to propel the narrative in numerous directions and are varied enough to keep the story interesting. The murder plot itself is intriguing, presenting the contrast between lucrative real estate deals and the needed housing complexes that the ‘common person’ can afford. Rotenberg’s development of this premise keeps the reader hooked and forging ahead in a story that offers little time for rest. Short chapters help to keep the pace alongside a wonderfully crafted Canadian feel to the narrative, while not getting too emotional or syrupy. Rotenberg is a master at his craft and while I understand he is otherwise employed during the day, I can only hope he has more story ideas that he can quickly get to paper for his adoring fans.

Kudos, Mr. Rotenberg for another wonderful piece. I have been keeping an eye out for your work and praying that you’ll show that Canada has a place in the crime thriller genre. You have outdone yourself here!

A Deadly Betrothal (Ursula Blanchard Mysteries #15), by Fiona Buckley

Seven stars

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

Fiona Buckley returns with her Elizabethan sleuth, Ursula Blanchard (now Stannard), in another murder mystery. While in the countryside with her manservant and groom, Ursula pays a visit on two close friends. During the visit, a teenage boy goes missing and there are strong suspicions that something nefarious is afoot. Amidst trying to find young Thomas Harrison, Ursula is summoned to Court where she is to meet with Queen Elizabeth to discuss a matter of some importance. At the age of forty-six, the monarch remains unwed and with no children, something that remains the fuel of whispers around the Court and onto the continent. News of a potential suitor has arrived, a French prince who has become enamoured at the sight of Elizabeth’s sketch. However, many are leery of this union, for reasons that include marriage to a Catholic and trying to produce an heir at her late age. With Mary Stuart keeping a close eye from afar, no one wishes to put the monarch in any position that might cost England the Throne or the Protestants control of the country. Returning to the estate, Ursula is forced to weigh her options and devise a way to influence Elizabeth one way or the other. During a trek in the forest, she comes upon the body of Master Harrison in a tree and a clue leases her to suspect someone of the crime, though they have conveniently made themselves scarce. While attending a banquet related to the potential future marriage of Queen ELizabeth, many guests fall ill, Ursula included. Could this be an unlucky bout of food poisoning, or is something try to remove all opposition to an English-French alliance through marriage? An interesting addition to this series that seems to have developed significantly throughout, Fiona Buckley has been able to keep readers hooked with interesting branch-offs that work as effectively today as in the late 16th century. Wonderfully quaint for readers who enjoy a little whodunit with their fish pie and tankard of ale.

I have never read the Ursula Blanchard series or any other Fiona Buckley writing before this book. Parachuting in at the fifteenth instalment might seem a little silly, but galley reviewing can sometimes be a sacrificial experience. Buckley tells the story in an effective manner, keeping the era in check while her story remains sharp enough to pull readers in. The characters seem realistic and could have been pulled from scenes of The Tudors, offering up their own individual flavour alongside a wonderfully regal-driven plot. Ursula Stannard herself (someone I mentioned I knew nothing about) has rich character development up to this point, including an interesting connection to the reigning monarch. Other characters keep things moving along and add just the right amount of intrigue. The story itself is decent, splitting between the counsel Ursula is to give the Court and this mystery that develops in the countryside. I would not call it high-impact mystery storytelling, but the reader can find the clues scattered throughout the narrative and piece things together in n effective manner. With enough drama to lure the the reader to keep pushing forward, the story offers up all it promises, a decent mystery set in Elizabethan times. I would likely poke around to find some early Ursula Blanchard to see how things started, though I am not yet committed to a fourteen-book binge to catch up to this point.

Kudos, Madam Buckley for this curious piece of writing that pulls on history and mystery in equal measure. My interest in piqued, if only to discover some of the revelations that Ursula let slip in the narrative. 

Trap the Devil (Dewey Andreas #7), 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.

Ben Coes brings Dewey Andreas back for yet another explosive thriller that will have series fans sitting on the edge of their seats. During an FBI operation in Toronto, a group is seen entering a local mosque and killing everyone inside; their intent, to rid the world of Muslims under any circumstances. This foreshadows a larger and much more ominous plan that could soon play out within America. Meanwhile, Dewey Andreas is still trying to come to terms with everything that happened on his last mission, forced to synthesize his thoughts and actions with a psychotherapist. While the recommendation is that Andreas take some time off behind a desk, he negotiates a calmer mission, sent to France to protect the Secretary of State during a tension-filled secret meeting. The Secretary is visited by a woman who delivers an explosive terror plot, though Andreas cannot make it back before someone is sent to assassinate the Secretary. By the time he returns, Andreas learns his gun was used in the killings and he is detained. While being interrogated, Andreas must do all he can to get out and catch the killer, suspecting that elusive woman he saw in the vicinity. After organizing an escape, Andreas begins his hunt for the truth, but INTERPOL’s release of his prison escape alerts the world to his status and presents his key enemies with a chance to locate him and end his life once and for all. With key the deaths of key political figures imminent, Andreas must work within the CIA and use his own intuition to find those who plan to overthrow the country’s stability. Andreas has enemies coming from all sides, leaving him to fight both those known and unknown to nullify the plot before it is too late. A wonderfully fast-paced thriller that will keep series fans begging for more and could easily lure new readers into starting this fabulous series.

Ben Coes has the ability to craft a strong political thriller without getting caught up in all the fodder that seems to be a common theme within the genre at present. While ISIS was once the buzz topic, a shift to explore the other side, homegrown terror cells to rid the world of Islam seems to be a new take and one that works well for Coes as he places Dewey Andreas in the centre of the firestorm. Andreas is a complex character, a tough exterior that acts to protect a man who has suffered much loss. Adding an interesting cast of characters to complement and offset Andreas, Coes has been able to keep the flow of the story strong and the plot from lagging. Speaking of plot, the story moves forward on many levels simultaneously, with Andreas in the crosshairs as he tries to foil a plan that could change the entire political landscape in one afternoon alongside the race to exterminate a woman who has all the secrets garnered from an overheard conversation. The reader races through the short chapters to find out just what awaits, unsure if Andreas might have finally met his match. Coes shows why he is the master of his genre as he crafts the perfect summer novel that will leave readers looking over the shoulder at every turn. 

Kudos, Mr. Coes for another sensational piece of work. I will surely be promoting it to anyone who might want to inject a little thrill into their reading. 

Two Nights, by Kathy Reichs

Seven stars

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

Kathy Reichs is back with another thriller, though it is not of the forensic variety. Sunday “Sunnie” Night lives an isolated life after leaving the Charleston PD under a cloud of scrutiny. She is happy being off the grid and living alongside nature. When she is approached with a chance to get back in the game, Night remains somewhat skeptical, but takes a gamble and heads to the mainland. There, she meets with Opaline Drucker, a rich socialite who wants answers related to the murder of her daughter and grandson, as well as the disappearance of her granddaughter. The payout and the chance to call the shots are too alluring for Night and she agrees to explore this case, which takes her to Chicago. There, Night learns that the murders took place at a Jewish Girls’ School when a bomb detonated. Setting out some feelers, Night must try to ascertain who is behind this and how she can trap them, where the local cops failed. After discovering a few digital breadcrumbs, Night becomes enmeshed in a game of cat and mouse, almost losing her life. However, she is able to trace some of the bombing events to a larger group, a collective who sport a double-J tattoo. Travelling from Chicago to Los Angeles and eventually into the Old South, Night will stop at nothing to get answers. Layered with in the narrative is a side story about how Night got her name and the personal struggles she faced at a formative time in her life. An interesting story that will have some readers on the edge of their seats while others might be praying that Tempe Brennan will soon reappear.

I am of two minds about this book. I applaud Reichs for venturing out of her comfort zone (Tempe Brennan and anything VIRALS), which has given her the chance to create a new and highly curious protagonist. However, I also have such a deep appreciation for Temperance Brennan that I find it hard to step away from that character or at least not to draw large comparisons. The premise of this story is strong and the development of Sunday Night is also done with considerable delicacy. As I mentioned before, it could be that she contrasts so much with Temperance that has left me leery to latch onto her. The story moves along effectively and flows with ease, though I did not find myself as ensconced as I would have liked. I sought something stronger and deeper, rather than bouncing from one side of the country to the other before landing in Kentucky for a terror-based standoff. The banter between characters was decent enough and the backstory that Reichs provides could bear some fruit, but it did not capture me as wholeheartedly as I would have liked. Overall, this is a decent book, but I regret to say, it pales in comparison to the forensic gems I am used to finding when Kathy Reichs is at the helm.

Kudos, Madam Reichs for stepping away and allowing your readers to see another of your layers. I know some authors like to be known not only for a single character, but you have done so well that perhaps Reichs and Brennan will forever be intertwined.

Justice Burning (Darren Street #2), by Scott Pratt

Eight stars

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

I have always loved Scott Pratt’s work, as he is able to get to the core of the issue while entertaining those who love a good legal story. Returning to add a second novel in this new series, Pratt reminds readers of Darren Street, who has been out of jail for two years. Falsely convicted after being framed by a vindictive D.A., Street found himself in the depths of despair while fighting for his freedom. During his incarceration, he encountered a man who sought to kill him, but who had the tables turned. Now, with Street free and back in Knoxville, retribution is on its way. Street learns that his mother’s home is targeted and destroyed by a massive explosion, killing her and leaving only a pile of smouldering ash. Street focuses the hated he has for the perpetrators and chases them down, killing them in a bar in West Virginia. However, Street does his best to cover his tracks, not wanting to serve any time. With this taste for revenge, Street turns his sights on some other miscreants who have done him harm and has them expunged. While he remains one step ahead of the authorities, his luck can only last so long. His son is pulled from his life, a new fiancée begins to wonder about his sincerity, and Street finds himself unable to ignore the devil on his shoulder. Every decision must be masterfully timed, but even the most wily criminals slip up, especially when they have help with their crimes. When will Street make that glaring error or push someone to rat him out? Pratt shows that he can keep readers hooked without all the fancy legalese in this novel that excels without trying to do so. Perfect for fans of legal and crime thrillers that seek to tackle the gritty rather than the silky side of the law.

Scott Pratt has proved himself to be a master in his own right. Seeking to get to the heart of the story, he offers up a wonderful cast of characters. Full of flaws, these men and women show off their true colours and allow the reader to relate. Struggles with love, life, and compassion come to the surface, while that evil vigilante spirit with whom everyone struggles emerges throughout the story. From there, a plot that feeds off the first novel and flourishes again here, Pratt does not seek to layer the narrative with high brow legal discussion, but rather a more realistic element. The ‘Clever Felon’ tactic serves this novel well, leaving the reader to potentially cheer for evading the authorities. However, one cannot completely condone the behaviour, especially as Street seems to be fuelled by his need to set things right in his own mind. Quick-paced, the story gains momentum in the early chapters and does not let go until the very end, using cliffhanging moments or ideas to push things forward. Chapters that flow easily through the reader’s fingers turns a quick reading session into hours of pure enjoyment. Pratt continues to show his fan base that they have chosen well in turning to him for their thriller fix.

Kudos, Mr. Pratt for another stellar piece of work. I thoroughly enjoy whenever I learn you have been hard at work and hope many others share my eagerness for whatever you publish.

Watch Me Disappear, by Janelle Brown

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Janelle Brown, Random House Publishing Group and Spiegel & Grau for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Turning to a new author, I wanted to see what Janelle Brown had to offer in this interesting story that explores the family unit and its dynamic when a significant piece is missing. After Sybilla ‘Billie’ Flanagan goes missing during a solo hike, her immediate family is left to wonder what happen, while never giving up hope. Billie’s husband, Jonathan, is left to wonder about his wife, entering a state of numbness as he goes through the motions of a memorial when she is seemingly dead. Adding to his confusion, Jonathan must juggle his teenage daughter, Olive, who is determined not to shut the door on her mother, wondering if she will walk through the door at any moment. When Olive begins having some visions of her mother, she holds out that Billie is alive and just away from them, either by choice or having been kidnapped. This lights a fire under Jonathan, who has been filling his time writing a memoir of life with Billie Flanagan. When Billie finds some information about Billie on her computer, this opens new potential pathways that go back three decades and the breadcrumbs that Jonathan follows leads him to believe this might have been something orchestrated. However, there is nothing to substantiate any of this, save for a gut feeling and a daughter whose focussed seems stronger than ever. Where is Billie Flanagan and was her disappearance something that had been in the works long before that hiking adventure? Brown offers up an interesting spin on a much-used plot, allowing readers to weigh the strength of a family’s determination to find what belongs to them. An interesting read for those seeking something more emotion-based than a thriller or crime story.

This is the first piece of Brown’s work that I have tried, which has left me a little on the fence. I was expecting a high-powered mystery, with characters that sought truth and sifted through lies. Brown works hard to create these characters: the lost and drifting Jonathan, his eager and determined Olive who is suffering the loss and her teenage epiphany, and the ever-elusive Billie, who comes to life in the stories that are told and through the other two characters. Brown serves to deliver the Billie persona through the ever-winding memoir on which Jonathan has been working and the increasingly vivid images that Olive develops. With a story that could have delved deep into mystery, Brown presents something that is more worthy of an emotional journey and one in which all the characters find and lose themselves at the same time. I found myself begging to find something on which I could grasp during the first portion, but by the end, the twists had me highly impressed as the narrative took me in directions I was not sure I would have originally liked. A journey full of mystery after all!

Kudos, Madam Brown for an great book. I think I may come back to see what else you have to offer sooner than later.

The Lake (Konrad Simonsen #4), by Lotte and Søren Hammer

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Lotte and Søren Hammer, and Bloomsbury USA for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

The Hammer siblings return with another novel in their highly successful Konrad Simonsen series, recently translated in English. With the dark undertones of a well-crafted Scandinavian thriller, the story pushes the reader to the limits, while also leaving them demanding more! As the story opens, three individuals are travelling through the forested areas of Denmark, as if on a mission. Dense trees and shadowy lanes lead to a secluded cabin, where something sinister is about to happen. A young African woman is led to the cabin and a crime committed. However, something goes wrong and she dies. Her body is tied to a large stone and left to sink in the middle of the lake, where nature takes its course. It is only when parts of her are found months later than the authorities arrive, eventually creating national headlines for bumbling the case. Konrad Simonsen and his Homicide Team are called in from Copenhagen to take over, while media outlets continue to feast off some of the bad press that has sullied the case to this point. Slow and methodical, Simonsen begins to explore what may have happened and tries to put a face to the victim, which is harder than it seems. From there, it is trying to locate a missing person report or some way of tying this woman to a social network. No leads leave Simonsen and the rest of the team scrambling. However, there are some concrete solutions that come out of the cabin and its surrounding area, which takes the Homicide team into the dark world of rape and eventually the seedy domain of sex trafficking. Meanwhile, the perpetrators hide away in plain sight, protecting the vast empire that keeps the world of sex trafficking in business. Someone reaches out and begins a blackmail scheme, as though they are fully aware of the horrible things that are going on and wish to bring about their own form of revenge. While Simonsen gets closer to an answer, questions arise as to how this could all be tied together and how deep the trafficking goes. Is it just the depraved that come to the well and seek this form of gratification or are there others, more ‘mainstream’ faces that dabble, as long as the price is fair? There is no justice for the victim and no family that mourn her, but Simonsen will stop at nothing until the culprits are caught and face the ultimate price. The only question is, does he have the determination to keep going? A powerful thriller that pulls the reader into a dark corner and explores sex trafficking at its most deplorable, but with so much social commentary that the reader will not be able to help but join the conversation. Perfect for those who want a deeper and more complex story in a game of cat and mouse.

I have long been a fan of the Hammers and their delightfully dark thriller series. As I have said numerous times, reading Scandinavian thrillers takes the story to an entirely new level, with complex storylines and thoroughly intriguing ideas that are handled with aplomb and a depth with which I do not find in North American novels. Add to that, the translation that is required to bring me an English language version. If things remain at such a high calibre outside of the story’s original language, I can only imagine how powerful they are in the original Danish. The Hammer siblings also push the story further by using their well-honed collection of characters, each with their own backstory. Konrad Simonsen continues to lead the group, though has to struggle with some of his own past issues and the restructuring that his team has undergone, both due to his own issues and a case that went horribly wrong and left one member on the brink of disaster. Simonsen uses all he has to take the story in ways that the reader cannot help but follow, though they are fully aware of the flaws that the character possesses. As with many of their novels, there is a strong social commentary threaded into the story, which adds a dimension that cannot be missed. Be it the sex trafficking industry, the covert use of au pairs from another part of the world, or even the fact that some of the upper crust in Denmark are using this service without batting an eye. The Hammer siblings also pull in the discussion of shifting the blame on ‘paid sex’ away from the prostitute and solely onto the john, which seems to be happening in some of the surrounding countries. It leaves the reader with much to contemplate and perhaps shed the past concerns over the issue before delving into open-air discussions with others. These are strong issues and should be addressed, which are also handled in a serious and forthright manner by the authors. There is no better way to entertain and educate than to place a story on such precarious places and the Hammer siblings do it so well.

Kudos, Mr. and Madam Hammer for another sensational story. I know we English folk are still a few novels behind your Simonsen series, but I am eager to get my hands on more, as you push things to the limit and force me (and other readers) to confront some of the seedier aspects of life.