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

Nine stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eight stars

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

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

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

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

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

A Long Time Coming, by Aaron Elkins

Seven stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nine stars

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

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

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

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

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

The Contest: The 1968 Election and the War for America’s Soul, by Michael Schumacher

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Michael Schumacher, and the University of Minnesota Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

While many will argue the importance of all elections in a democratic system, Michael Schumacher posits that the American Presidential Election in 1968 might have been the most important voting event in the country’s modern history. Held in the middle of the bloody Vietnam War, the election saw a true split in the American political psyche, dividing those in favour of the war and those wanting to get soldiers out of the region (likely more than either World War before it). With a sitting president who could not turn his back on America’s involvement, Lyndon B Johnson (LBJ) soon became tarred and feathered for allowing so many men to die in a military action that had no direct connection to the country he led. This pushed him to the brink and left him to wonder how he ought to handle the upcoming presidential election campaign. Schumacher argues that the electoral importance began late in 1967, when the likes of Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy agreed to challenge LBJ, feeling the country needed peace and should remove troops from the region. This divisive issue would soon snowball into disaster for LBJ, who took it upon himself to admit defeat and make the famous speech on March 31, 1968, where he refused to run for re-election. Schumacher opens the book with the narrative around this announcement and how those closest to him took the news on a decision that had been pondered but only decided that day. The decision opened the contest for the Democratic nomination, as well as solidifying some of the strong contenders within the Republicans. Schumacher spends an early part of the tome offering up mini biographies of the serious contenders within the Democratic Party (Vice-President Hubert H Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy), the Republicans (Richard Nixon, with a peppering of information on Nelson Rockefeller and Ronald Reagan), as well as an outsider Third Party candidate (Alabama Governor George Wallace), who sought to push for state-rights and push the election in the House of Representatives for a final decision. Armed with this knowledge, the reader can follow the push on into the primaries, where Schumacher lays out a succinct narrative of some well-established races within both parties in an attempt to solidify the nomination ahead of each party’s respective convention in the summer. Filled with detailed analysis of the political shoving and maneuvering, Schumacher explores how the candidates sought to win favour with the electorate and use the War to their favour, some vilifying LBJ while others trying to spin their own version of events and staying true to the country’s leader. During this time, three significant deaths cast a shadow on the primary campaign: the assassinations of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, as well as the wife of George Wallace, Lurleen. While the former two did stun the country, the third appeared to light a fire under Wallace in his attempts to promote segregation as a viable option. Schumacher then forges on and turns the focus to the conventions, where the party’s decision would have to be made. Miami Beach may have been smooth sailing for Nixon, but it was anything but a foregone conclusion. Armed with an unlikely vice-presidential candidate in Spiro Agnew, Nixon was ready to do battle and began his treachery in covertly tinkering with the peace negotiations to end the War. Meanwhile, all eyes turned to Chicago, where much disruption was expected (and found). Schumacher uses an entire chapter of the book to lay out some of the strongest forces in the groups protesting outside the convention and their push to disrupt the goings-on, more to speak out against the Vietnam War than the Democratic Party. Inside the convention hall, the political bloodbath was beginning, but it paled in comparison to the brutality on the streets. Democratic candidates struggled for control and tried to vie for last minute votes, which eventually gave Hubert Humphrey the nomination, while violence filled television screens. Schumacher juxtaposes the two ‘fights’ effectively and keeps the reader pushing onwards into the final step of the contest, the General Election. Here, Nixon and Humphrey traipsed across the country to secure votes, all while LBJ continued to waffle on how to handle Vietnam. Pushing for peace, LBJ soon realised that Nixon may have spoiled the Democratic Party with his own promises (much like Reagan would do a dozen years later in the campaign against Jimmy Carter). The last week of the campaign turned out to be the most exciting, as Nixon and Humphrey sought to secure key states, while Wallace pushed to spoil the Electoral College victory for either man. Once all was said and done, Nixon prevailed by just over half a million votes cast, proving to be a close contest and, in a way, Wallace did prove (Democratic) spoiler. Wonderfully written and paced, the book educates the curious reader who has a passion for history and electoral politics. I’d highly recommend this for anyone who has the patience to plunge into the inner workings of American political campaigns to see just how contentious they can be and why 1968 will likely be seen as one of the most important in modern American history.

Being a political addict, I could not give up the opportunity to read this book when I discovered it. This being the fiftieth anniversary of this election, I allowed myself to be enthralled with the way in which Schumacher delivered s much information in an easily digestible fashion. The book is divided effectively, giving the reader much context as to how and why 1968 was such a political powder keg in the United States. Beginning with the important LBJ speech, Schumacher offers key themes that would return throughout the campaign, namely: the War, infighting about America’s presence in Vietnam, and the segregated states. He then pushes into the primaries, which splintered the country further before turning to the conventions, where America’s youth took centre stage, outside the political event proper. Schumacher turns the final campaign into a succinct narrative, as though all the glitter of 1968 ended once the bloody streets of Chicago had been cleaned in late August. I felt a significant shift towards an anti-climactic ending of the book, which forces the reader to skim over the last few months and not find that last push towards a defining end to what was a strongly worded build-up over four hundred pages. One might argue that the intensity was gone (and the book had taken up so much to that point), forcing a quick end so as not to lose the reader. If I could extract a single, overarching sentiment that Schumacher offers in this piece, it would be just how destructive and divisive the election became for America. Politicians and the electorate alike found themselves deeply divided on the issue of the Vietnam War, which also helped fuel a generational divide in the country, where young and newer voters turned to protest in order to make themselves heard. Tearing at the familial fabric would surely alienate many at a time when parents were trying to make sense of their ‘liberated’ children and Americans watched revolutionary demonstrations on television, seeking to push the American state to its limits. Filled with significant detail, Schumacher left me feeling as though I were right there and wanted to know more, the key to a successful piece of writing. I could not ask for a better introduction to the 1968 campaign than with this book and will surely sift through the biographical notes to find further pieces to whet my appetite.

Kudos, Mr. Schumacher, for a brilliant piece. I will check to see what else you may have published, as I found your writing to my liking and your delivery engaging.

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

The Night Ferry (Konrad Simonsen #5), by Lotte and Søren Hammer

Eight stars

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

Another intriguing novel in the Konrad Simonsen series that sees many twists baffle the reader from the opening paragraphs. When a mysterious man slips onto a canal boat, he appears to have a mission. By murdering many of the adults on board, he seems pleased to slip away by plunging into the water. Seeing the small boat in distress, a larger ferry approaches, but is unable to its course, adding to the carnage. Chief of Homicide Konrad Simonsen and his team are assigned the case, soon rattled when they learn that one of their own is amongst dead. With sketchy witness statements and video coverage of the canal boat’s time on the water, Simonsen zeros in on one man with a past in Denmark’s military services as a likely suspect. Extrapolating the service record of one Bjørn Lauritzen, the Homicide Squad notice that he spent time in Serbia and Bosnia during the mid-90s, a time when the Yugoslav Civil War was in full-swing. Lauritzen’s apparent contact in Denmark may have helped grease the wheels for numerous horrible acts against a cultural minority, something the military will not discuss and stonewalls when it comes to offering up any documentation, even at the highest levels. Simonsen moves quickly to push his investigation to its limits and is able to garner a significant amount of evidence, ensuring the case goes before the courts. Once the legal process commences, there are some loopholes left open and the outcome is anything but certain. Simonsen cannot let this killer slip through his fingers, but the evidence speaks for itself. Might there be another way to ensure justice is served? The Hammer siblings are known for their dark and highly confusing thrillers and this is one of the best. Fan of the series will flock to this, hoping to sift through much of the intense narrative and see Konrad Simonsen rise to the occasion once again.

While I am no Scandinavian police procedural or dark thriller expert, I have read my share over the last number of years. Of all the authors I have encountered, Lotte and Søren Hammer are surely the most convoluted and tangential in their delivery, while keeping the story impossible to put down. While some may dislike this style of writing, much of the story develops under the surface and the attentive reader can adjust to extract all they need to help piece together the elements of the crime. Konrad Simonsen is often front and centre in the series, with his development usually building as the narrative progresses. However, Simonsen seems almost to hover and remain stagnant (at least as it relates to character revelations) in this piece, allowing some of his other Homicide Squad to grow. With the loss of one member, there is a void left in the team and certain individuals flirt with the possibility of being added in subsequent novels. The plot itself is serpentine, beginning with the murder aboard the boat but soon pushing away, as though this local killing spree is only a cover for the larger story. The Hammers do not refute this, as the story morphs into something all about the murderous rampages in the Yugoslav Civil War, though it is the nuances and connections to other countries that keeps the reader intrigued. I applaud the Hammer siblings for this tangent, as it offered up more intrigue than a local mystery might have done, forcing many characters to expand their powers beyond that of the streets within Copenhagen. There seems to be some social commentary woven into the narrative, such that the reader can parse through what is being said and take a stand for themselves. I found it quite interesting, though I can see how some readers might prefer an ‘A to Z’ story whose focus is the slain group aboard the canal boat rather than in the Eastern parts of Europe. I can see that there is much to be done by the Hammer siblings and can only hope the series has enough steam to keep churning out wonderful books.

Kudos, Madam and Mister Hammer, for another wonderful novel. I can see that translation into English has not lessened the impact of your work and hope its quality remains high.

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

Formula of Deception 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.

Moving away from her Gwen Marcey series, Carrie Stuart Parks intrigues readers with this standalone novel that is sure to send chills up the spine. Murphy Andersen is hiding in plain sight in rural Alaska, worried that the serial killer likely responsible for her sister’s disappearance might soon find her. Creating a backstory so as not to alert anyone, Andersen sells herself as a forensic artist and has been brought in by the Kodiak Police Department to sketch some memories of a dying man. These sketches are to represent five bodies the man found a decade ago on a remote island. When Andersen and a crime technician make their way to the apparent crime scene, weather works against them and they narrowly escape with their lives. Soon thereafter, people with whom Andersen has recently had contact end up murdered and her home is torched. Might this all be coincidental or is there someone trying to send a message? As Andersen remains convinced that she will get to the bottom of her sister’s disappearance, she is also working this cold case, where she discovers potential ties to a World War II extremely covert mission. While she is worried that her identity and past may soon be revealed, Andersen cannot be deterred from doing all she can to solve these two Alaskan mysteries. A well-paced thriller that keeps the reader’s attention. Recommended for those who enjoy a police procedural with a twist!

I have long enjoyed Parks’ forensic artist series, as it tackles crime fighting from a unique perspective and helps educate the reader on some of the major aspects of the author’s other career. This move away from the series allows Parks to expand the foundation of her writing, adding a younger and less jaded protagonist. Murphy Andersen proves to be an interesting character, though the intensity of her backstory is diluted as she tries to help with the cases at hand. Parks has done well to introduce a number of interesting supporting characters, many of whom complement Andersen well, though not as well as some of those Parks has created in her aforementioned series. The plot has some interesting aspects—a serial killer, five mystery bodies, a military mission— but I found the entire experience not to be as intense as I might have liked. I was able to read the book with ease, though found myself lacking a connection to much on the page. It might also be some of the psychological aspects and internal conversations that Andersen seems to have, but I felt it lacked the punch Parks usually brings to her novels. The premise is sound and the historic happenings, be they real or fabricated, offered the reader something interest to ponder as they make their way through this piece.

Kudos, Madam Parks, for a decent addition to your writing repertoire. While not my favourite piece, I can still see some of your high-calibre writing that hooked me a while back.

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

The Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washington, by Charles Rosenberg

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Charles Rosenberg, and Hanover Square Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In this novel of alternate history, Charles Rosenberg asks the reader to ponder what might have happened if the British Crown had been able to get their hands on General George Washington and bring him to justice in an English Court. In the dead of night, off the New Jersey coast, Colonel Jeremiah Black undertakes his ultra-secret mission. He has only one chance to succeed and many have put their trust in him. Making his way ashore, Black begins a journey that will see him play the role of a disaffected Colonial soldier, inching closer to his ultimate prize. Striking at just the right moment, Black is able to capture General George Washington and take him aboard HMS Peregrine for the trip across the Atlantic. While the journey is slow and laborious, Washington is not yet panicked, sure that he will be treated as a prisoner of war. However, Black has his orders and while he would have rather put a bullet in the military man, he hopes for long-term praise when they reach the English Coast. Meanwhile, news of Washington’s capture reaches the king, as well as the British Cabinet. George III is beside himself with delight—perhaps fuelled by his insanity?—and is prepared to levy charges of high treason, which will lead to a gruesome form of execution, one the monarch is sure will make an example of Washington. Panicked, the Continental Congress of the American States sends its ambassador plenipotentiary, Ethan Abbott, to negotiate terms and bring Washington home safely. However, Britain does not recognise the Congress or any of its officials, leaving Abbott neutered and unsure what to do. After some smooth talking, Abbott is able to communicate with the prisoner, who is prepared to face his indictment, but demands an American represent him in court, even though some high profile Brits are prepared to step up for the cause. Enter Abraham Hobhouse, whose work in a small firm has been anything but remarkable up to this point. When he is approached to represent General Washington, the chance to change history flashes before Hobhouse’s eyes, though the notoriety might also turn sour should he fail. Armed with the most significant case of his career, Hobhouse must cobble together a case to defend a man who does not deny his charges, though remains firmly rooted that the Colonial cause was just and that he led a necessary rebellion. All eyes turn to the London court prepared to hear the case, where history hangs in the balance. Rosenberg proves adept at entertaining as well as educating his reader in this wonderfully developed story that asks ‘what if’ in relation to one of America’s founding historical moments. Recommended for those who love history and its alternate possibilities, as well as those who enjoy a unique legal thriller.

Having never read Rosenberg before, this was a delightful introduction to an author with a vivid imagination for alternative history. When I first saw the title, I was immediately drawn to the book, as it sought to posit a significant change in paths to one of the central pieces in early American history. Might Washington’s capture and guilt have deflated the American States and left the English to run roughshod in the colonies, locking them into a horrible situation? Additionally, how would both sides negotiate through international law, sovereign state interaction, and during a state of war? One can only imagine in this well-paced piece of historical fiction. The characters used throughout help the story to progress nicely at different points. Rosenberg uses not only time-centred dialogue and settings, but also brings the characters to life as they seek to find a balance. The reader can feel right in the middle of the action, particularly throughout the lead up and into Washington’s trial. Rosenberg uses a mix of short and mid-length chapters to push the story along, keeping the reader wondering what is to come and how it will resolve itself. This constant pace keeps the narrative crisp and the plot from getting too bogged down in minutiae. Perhaps this is why the story seems to read to swiftly and with ease. As things built, I could find myself curious to see just how far Rosenberg would take things, having literary freedoms under the umbrella of alternate history. The final product is definitely worth the time spent and keeps the reader engaged until the very end.

Kudos, Mr. Rosenberg, for this interesting piece of American history. I will be certain to check out more of your work and keep an eye out to see what you might have coming down the pipeline.

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

A Steep Price (Tracy Crosswhite #6), 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.

Presenting yet another stellar novel in the Tracy Crosswhite series, Robert Dugoni has not disappointed his fans whatsoever. While trying to come to terms with her pregnancy, Detective Tracy Crosswhite has yet to tell anyone, save her husband and partner, Kinsington Rowe. An added stress befalls Crosswhite as she is forced to testify in an important case that has many within Violent Crimes hoping for the best. When she returns to Seattle PD after a day of testifying, Crosswhite discovers a new detective assigned to her team, one who knows more about her than she’s comfortable admitting. Has her pending maternity leave been leaked to her Captain and is this new woman her permanent replacement? Before Crosswhite can get too wrapped up in the drama, she’s alerted to an ‘all hands on deck’ call, where two of her fellow teammates, Del Castigliano and Vic ‘Faz’ Fazzio, are out dealing with a shooting close to a playground. The victim, an advocate for cleaning up the neighbourhood of its drug and prostitution. Might someone be trying to execute their own vigilante justice to silence a do-gooder? Crosswhite is also called down to Missing Persons by a fellow detective, one who has a bad feeling about a case that’s just come up. Kavita Mukherjee, a college graduate from a traditional Indian family has up and gone missing. Her roommate and close friend has called it in, as it is so unlike Kavita to disappear. As Crosswhite takes on the case off the books, she learns that the Mukherjee family’s traditional values go so far as to want Kavita to marry and start a family. With little to go on, Crosswhite turns to a technological angle in order to seek answers. With these two cases gaining steam, the reader is pulled in deep to Dugoni’s masterful storytelling where no one is safe and no topic seems off limits. Brilliantly done and sure to appease series fans, as well as those who love a good America police procedural.

I have long admired Dugoni and his work, which seems so easy to read, no matter its length. He has mastered the art of character development, both looking forward and through well-woven backstories. Tracy Crosswhite may hold the name for the series, but it is not only her struggles with motherhood that finds its way into the narrative, but also the familial issues of another detective, who must face life-altering news. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The adage fits perfectly into this novel, as Dugoni seeks to add depth to the series and its characters, which is readily apparent to series fans. The narrative pushes forward and keeps the reader involved throughout, mixing longer chapters to develop plot lines as well as shorter ones, presenting cliffhangers and parachuting new twists into an already compact story. Dugoni never stops, though the reader need not feel tired or mentally exhausted, but rather astonished that so much of the book as progressed as they are lost in the story. One can only hope that Dugoni will not tie-off the series in the near future, as I know many who have come to love these novels and all that he has to offer.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, as you offer up yet another winner. I love all your ideas and can only hope that the novel plots keep coming to you as you put them down.

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

Gate 76, by Andrew Diamond

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Andrew Diamond, and Stolen Time Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

What at first seems to be an airline disaster thriller soon takes on a life of its own in Andrew Diamond’s latest novel. While waiting to board his flight back to DC, Freddy Ferguson notices another passenger in queue at Gate 76, a flight soon departing San Francisco for Honolulu. This passenger, a fairly attractive blonde, seems distraught and slips out of line at the last minute, rushing to board another plane. As Ferguson lands in DC, the news is full of reports of that Hawaii-bound flight, which blew up soon after takeoff and killed all those on board. Ferguson and the Private Investigation firm for which he works is soon hired by the airline to look into what might have happened. Even with a baggage handler in custody in San Francisco, something does not seem right, especially since Ferguson saw that woman acting oddly. Ruled one of the dead passengers, Ferguson knows this woman, Anna Brook, may hold the clue to better understanding what actually happened and who is to blame. Sifting through all the paperwork and following up on leads sees Ferguson chase down a tangential idea to the heart of Texas, where things take an interesting turn and leave him wondering if he can penetrate the layers of red tape put in place by the Feds. Might there be something more sinister than an act of terror? Ferguson may have bitten off more than he can chew with this case, as he battles his own personal demons from the past. Diamond offers readers an interesting thriller that evolves continuously. Recommended for those who like a little mystery with their high-paced thrillers.

This being my introduction to the world of Andrew Diamond, I was not sure how I would react. The dust jacket blurb had me hooked and the novel began well, developing not only the backstory of Freddy Ferguson’s rough life before becoming a PI, but also some of the more personal aspects to the man’s life that shaped him. Diamond creates a number of interesting characters that could, should he choose, be the foundation of an entire series. The uniqueness of some central characters mesh well and give the reader much to hold their attention, though I will admit that the story does develop in such a way that there are numerous individuals who emerge and whose storylines must be followed, causing a degree of confusion at some points. Working with a mix of short and longer chapters, Diamond pulls the reader into the middle of the story and develops the plot effectively, creating both the slow revelation and the cliffhanger moments in equal measure. I enjoyed Diamond’s varied nature when it came to presenting the narrative and the twists taken to get to the final outcome, leaving the reader to piece the entire case together over the span of the book. These twists keep things engaging and free from a predictable outcome. I’ll surely read another Andrew Diamond novel, given the chance to do so.

Kudos, Mr. Diamond, for this wonderful piece. I hope some of your other pieces are just as exciting and that you’ll consider bringing Freddy Ferguson 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