Ill Will, by Dan Chaon

Three stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Dan Chaon, and Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In my first attempt to decipher the writing (ramblings?) of Dan Chaon, I was left with a bitter taste I am unable to mask. This novel, set in both the early 1980s and 2012-14 tells of two sets of unsolved murders, which sounds interesting enough. The first centres around a young Dustin Tillman, who spends much of his time with his cousins and adopted older brother, Rusty. Being much younger than the other three, Dustin is not privy to their drinking, drug-addled states, or promiscuity as they explore one another. He is, however, able to see an odd nature in Rusty, whose previous foster placement ended when the house caught on fire and the entire family died. Recounting events that include Satanic Worship (an apparent buzz word in the early 80s), Dustin lays the groundwork for horrific possibilities. On the morning before a family trip, the youths discover that their parents have all been murdered, though the killer is not immediately apparent. Chaon has the reader meander through the story to learn that Dustin did, eventually, testify against Rusty, who was sentenced to thirty years in jail for the crime. Fast-forwarding to a more present time, Dustin is now a psychotherapist who has done some work with Satanic worship, but was eventually drummed out of that and now does some run-of-the-mill hypnosis and projection exercises. When a patient brings an elaborate theory about a serial killer who chooses young men as his victims, Dustin cannot help but scoff. But, the more they talk, the more the idea germinates and soon Dustin is out on the road trying to piece it all together. Dustin’s wife and two sons are left to wonder and go through their own tribulations, as the reader witnesses the evaporation of the family unit due to illness and drugs. With these two narratives running parallel, the reader is forced to make sense of what is going on, though there is little of a sensical nature. The premise is there, but the delivery, as strong as an over-boiled noodle. Beware readers who get caught up in the dust jacket summary, as I did. You are in for a flop!

I have always found author first impressions to be very important. If I cannot find a groove with an author after reading one of their books, I am usually leery to give them a second chance. This book has left me so confused with its lacklustre delivery that I am forced to question if Chaon’s past literary awards were delivered in error. As I mentioned above, the premise is sound, or at least it could be. Two narratives telling of two sets of crimes; a protagonist who lives through both sets of crimes at different points in his life; the struggle to determine if that past accusation was an error and who might have committed the crime. All in all, Chaon is sitting on a potential thriller goldmine. He creates some interesting characters and surrounds them with a few plausible scenarios. But then, he pulls out all the stops to ruin a good thing. Paragraphs and chapters that end in the middle of a sen (note: purposefully done to prove a point), chapters that appear as columns on the page with each stretching over four or five flips (in which the reader must then return back the pages to begin the next column), transition between 1983 and 2012-14 between parts of the book, but not flowing seamlessly. One might presume that Chaon used his past acolytes to publish this, knowing that his reputation would allow sales to skyrocket (the James Patterson Syndrome). Some who loved it may troll on this review and comment that if I could do better, why don’t I write a book. Alas, I am not being paid to write a book (or for this unbiased review), so I can hold those who do make a living of this to a higher standard. All around, a literary train wreck with toxicity spewing from all sides. Fair warning with flashing lights, bells, and blaring horns. Steer clear and find a better pick!

Oh, Mr. Chaon, one can only hope this was an one-off gaffe. That said, you surely did some literary bed defecation with this one.

Bad Little Girl, by Frances Vick

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Frances Vick, and Bookouture for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In her follow-up novel, Frances Vick tackles some of the most troublesome areas of a well-organized society, the protection of the child. In her years as a teacher, Claire Penny has seen many children pass through the halls of her school. Some good experiences mix alongside those that are less than enlightening, but when it comes to young Lorna Bell, something deep inside begins to call out to Claire, even if it is hard to pinpoint the precise concern. After seeing young Lorna on the playground, isolated from the other children, Claire develops a particular curiosity that develops into a caring interest. Soon thereafter, Lorna finds herself in small bouts of trouble, be it teasing or stealing or roughhousing on the playground, which brings in a young mother, Nikki, to handle her daughter’s troubles. What follows are signs of continued alarm to Claire, but no one else will heed her requests to follow-up with the authorities. Claire learns of a home life that is less than ideal for Lorna and marks all over the little one’s body, but nothing can be done, at least by those with the power to remove Lorna from her family. By the time she turns ten, Lorna begins to forge a bond with Claire and a plot is hatched to solve everything. Just after Christmas, they flee the town for the Cornish seaside, where Claire hopes to keep Lorna from the family that does not care for her. Tragic news comes over the wire, but Claire still wants to keep Lorna protected and away from the bright lights, but is confused why no one has reported Lorna missing. While out in the seaside town, Claire and Lorna encounter Marianne, a writer-cum-dancer-cum-Jill of all trades. Lorna and Marianne soon begin spending time together while Claire is left ignored and constantly worried she will be discovered as having kidnapped Lorna. However, something begins to eat away at Claire, both related to the news back home and the connection that Marianne has made with Lorna. Before long, Claire is left to wonder if she, too, will be abandoned and Marianne will pick up as the saviour figure to Lorna. A gripping tale that takes some time to get going, but pulls the reader in soon thereafter.

Without a strong connection to Vick and her writing, it is somewhat difficult to judge the calibre of that which I have read. However, I find that first impressions usually go a long way for me and I can say that I came out of this reading experience with mixed feelings. I was interested in the premise of the novel from the outset and Vick is able to present it in such a way as to capture its essence, a struggle between one’s gut reaction and the rules of the system. The array of characters Vick uses conveys a decent cross-section of those who might be involved, from abusive parents to detached school officials and an overbearing (caring?) educator who wants it all to work out for the best. While the plot is strong in its intentions, I felt it took a long time to really get moving, longer than I would have liked even to lay the groundwork for the departure from the primary residence itself. However, once things got moving, there was a wonderful undertone to the story and hints throughout as to what might be going on. Vick portrays Claire, Lorna, and Marianne in a wonderful fashion and leaves the reader to wonder if the gut reaction they are getting as the story progresses could actually be true. Vick layers on more drama and a few twists to keep the reader from guessing too much before letting everything fall into place at the perfect moment. Working in the Child Protection field myself, I enjoyed the perspective offered and can empathise with Claire on many accounts. An interesting novel that I think could work well and drawn many people to it, given the proper approach.

Kudos, Madam Vick for a great story and interesting portrayal. While I cannot put my finger on precisely what kept me from loving this book outrightly, I know there is much potential and I will keep my eyes peeled for your next work.

New World Order: A Strategy for Imperialism, by Sean Stone

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Sean Stone, and TrineDay for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In his work that is as thought-provoking as it is full of rhetoric, Stone follows in the footsteps of his father and presents a set of ideas that might lead some to doubt his authenticity. However, with careful arguments and thorough sourcing, the patient and attentive reader might see how he could make his point with ease. The crux of Stone’s argument is that there has been talk of a New World Order (NWO) for decades and that America (or at least some of its most powerful political figures) have been falling into line, unbeknownst to the general public. This is not the NWO espoused by Bush the Lesser (43), who wanted America to lead the world in an ‘us versus them’ mentality that aligns with the faux-wrestling that “NWO” brings to mind. Instead, Stone argues that there has long been talk of a World Government with teeth that follows the structure of the British Commonwealth, where the centrality of the governing body is paramount, while a degree of autonomy and sovereignty exists for member-states. Stone argues that there have been Round Tables made up of scholars and political figures for decades, discussing issues like that and that there has been an ‘indoctrination camp’ where American scholars have been able to go to ‘learn and accept these tenets’, in the form of Rhodes scholarships to Oxford. While it might seem somewhat far-fetched, Stone presents arguments that FDR, Kissinger, and even Zbigniew Brzezinski (National Security Advisor to President Carter) fell into line with this mentality and long promoted it in speeches and published documents. While the League of Nations and the United Nations fell flat (for reasons best not addressed at length here), this NWO could work and has already made inroads into the America political system. Trade and shared markets have long been a part of the system (the US and Canada, the largest part of the Commonwealth, being integral trade partners while the US and UK have been closely aligned on political and market matters for decades) and the strong ties during WWII and the Cold War period helped solidify the Western Europe/America connection as well. Stone does not profess that the world will be under a single umbrella, or that the encroaching system will force the United States to stand alongside North Korea or Russia as brothers, but that there has long been a neo-imperialism taking place and that America is falling deeper in line. Well argued and thoughtfully presented, Stone is able to deliver his point with some degree of ease. While he says that the book serves the novice who is curious alongside the well-versed academic on the subject, I would venture to say the former might be out of their element with some of the nuanced arguments presented herein.

While this is a piece that provokes thinking from the outset, Stone is clear to lay the groundwork for those who seek to use his work and ideas as fodder to show how off the beaten path he might be. While some authors might relish being called ‘conspiracy theorists’, Stone seems to want his arguments not to fall on deaf ears. In that, he criticises those whose main goal is to toss academic epithets on this work or to call out those who practice psittacism and refuse to open their eyes to what is before them. The text reads fluidly for the most part and is substantiated with numerous citations and examples. While any piece of non-fiction, especially academia, can be spun to suit the writer, I can see some of the points that Stone is making without feeling that I am reaching to comprehend or swallow them. Where I do find myself wondering is in the inherent ‘betterness’ that comes from American politicians, leaders rather than followers. Alongside that, the newly minted 45th President of the United States has vowed to make it an ‘America First’ period before the country wakes from its horrible nightmare, leaving the reader to wonder how anything could ‘trump’ this mindset and see the country or its political elite turn towards something that does not allow the reins of power to rest firmly on Pennsylvania Avenue. All that being said, should Stone have as much credibility in what he says, I cannot help but hope that there is a chance that America will find itself tied to something larger and not entirely in its control, be it a World Commonwealth or some such political monster. It cannot be any worse than the current demon’s head atop the political Hydra guarding the palace until at least January 20th, 2021.

Kudos, Mr. Stone for providing me with some strong political and historical thinking. I love a good alternate theory and while you might be trying to warn the country of its demise, I applaud the possible future inculcation of a new and world-centric point of view. Just watch the country march in the streets when they find all this out, eh?! 

Snitch (Shea Stevens Thiller #2), by Dharma Kelleher

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Dharma Kelleher, and Alibi for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I recently discovered Dharma Kelleher and her biker thriller genre, which is as realistic sounding as it is entertaining to read. After some major dust-ups with the law and the local outlaw motorcycle club, Confederate Thunder, Shea Stevens has been trying to remain below the radar. Her focus has turned to running the Iron Goddess, a custom motorcycle shop, while juggling being a new parent to her niece. When a few people turn up dead after a night of partying, a new party drug cut with strychnine appears to be the culprit. Whispers point to a new female motorcycle club, the Athena Sisterhood, as being responsible for its distribution. Shea is forced into infiltrating the club to learn more, all part of a confidential informant agreement she signed to keep her out of prison. Faced with a significant dilemma, Shea must stomach that the Sisterhood is run by her ex, Deb Raymond. Hesitant, but knowing it is her only chance not to lose it all, Shea agrees to work with the police and worms her way into the Sisterhood. With their strong anti-misogynist views, the Sisterhood clashes with the Confederate Thunder over territory and the right to exist, leading to numerous violent encounters and significant bloodshed. As the number of drug-related deaths rise, Shea pushes harder to get into the middle of the Sisterhood, which leads to a blurring of lines with Deb and places Shea’s committed relationship on the ropes. Shea is aware that the Thunder are holding onto a significant amount of product and surmises that it might have been sold to the person responsible for adding the strychnine. The club clashes turn deadly and Shea must take a stand, which places her in a precarious position, trying to protect those she loves while revealing someone by the name of Bonefish, who is at the heart of the distribution. Shea’s work as a CI takes over and she begins to lose focus of what matter. What will it take for Shea to reach the tipping point and which ‘family’ will she choose? With powerful themes and significant undertones, Kelleher offers readers a powerful second instalment of the series.
My knowledge of outlaw motorcycle gangs does not extend past SAMCRO, though I felt as though I was in the middle of a realistic clash on the rough streets of Ironwood, Arizona. Kelleher surely uses some of her personal experiences to help shape the novel and its significant plot lines, much as she did when introducing the reader to the concept in the debut novel. A vast array of characters from various walks of life helps develop the numerous plot lines and creates the needed clash and banter that fuels this clash of wills. Shea Stevens has a convoluted past, as well as a present life that borders on the insane, both of which become clearer through the narrative and the situations into which the protagonist is put. While dealing with some fairly common themes in the mystery genre (drugs, violence, murder), Kelleher is able to spin things to keep them unique and fresh, which is highly appealing to the reader. Keeping the story fast-paced and developing twists throughout, Kelleher keeps the reader guessing until the very end and leaves the series with a few loose ends that can, one would hope, find some resolution in yet another novel. I look forward to seeing more work by Kelleher in the near future, as she has a strong handle on how to keep the reader fixated on the life of motorcycle outlaws.
Kudos, Madam Kelleher for a wonderful follow-up novel. I will be promoting your work to anyone who wants to give this new and evolving genre a try. Know you have a significant fan in me. 

The Bone Field (The Bone Field Series #1), by Simon Kernick

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Simon Kernick, and Random House UK for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Bringing his Ray Mason character back for a new round of police adventures, Simon Kernick has a recipe for success with the plot of this novel. During a holiday in 1990, a young woman’s body goes missing in Thailand, never to be found. With nothing on which to go, life continues for everyone, including the seemingly distraught Henry Forbes, boyfriend to the victim. Twenty-six years later, Forbes has information about his missing girlfriend and reaches out to DI Ray Mason, citing that the body is in England and the killer is part of a large group that have many sinister plans. While Mason and Forbes are meeting on the sly, a group attacks the house and leaves Forbes dead, with Mason only just able to escape. His superiors are furious but also baffled when they discover the body, as well as that from another cold-case from around the same time. DI Mason is put in touch with a private investigator, Tina Boyd, who was also contacted by Forbes, and they begin piecing together what might have happened and who could be behind the murder decades ago, as well as the recent attack and murder of Forbes. Mason remembers an occult symbol on Forbes’ arm and seeks to determine if it is a solid clue. Just as the authorities are honing in on a viable suspect, Mason makes an error that has fatal consequences, which has him suspended. Refusing to give up, Mason works with PI Boyd to trace the events of Thailand and before to determine who might be trying to exact revenge all these years later. What they discover shakes them to the core and leaves the door open for scores of other potential victims. Kernick offers readers a powerful and well-paced story that could flourish into an intriguing series, should the author desire.

This is my first time reading anything by Simon Kernick and I found it highly entertaining. While I might usually read a series in order (meaning I might have secured and read the first Ray Mason novel to get sufficient context), I did not feel lost or out of place by entering at this stage. Kernick develops a few key characters in an effective manner, particularly his protagonist. Mason is a complex police officer, whose past on the Force has been anything but smooth sailing. Added to that, his traumatic childhood, which helps coax out certain dramatic portion of the narrative, as well as allowing the reader to forge an instant connection. The premise of the story is interesting as well, though it was not as ‘captivating’ as some of the dust jacket narratives might have led me to hope. Murders, especially cold cases, can have a wonderfully complex nature, leaving the detective to pull at any strings and chase many paths, some of which lead nowhere. While I was not up late into the night, wondering what could be waiting in the next chapter, Kernick has developed a strong foundation, should Mason and PI Boyd return for another instalment. I will keep an eye out for it, in hopes that the impact is as effective. 

Kudos, Mr. Kernick for this entertaining piece of writing. I see you have a lot of other books in your collection, which might be something for me to explore later on this year.

Without Warning (J.B. Collins #3), by Joel C. Rosenberg

Nine stars

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

Rosenberg returns with another powerful political thriller, the final instalment of this trilogy, that takes an interesting spin on ISIS and Western reactionism. J.B. Collins, War Correspondent for the New York Times, remains skeptical of the US Administration’s plan to combat ISIS, as Abu Khalif, its purported leader, remains at large. Khalif and ISIS have perpetrated major and catastrophic attacks against infidel states and US-backers, culminating in the kidnapping of the American president and a massacre during a major Middle East peace summit (both of which occur in past novels, familiar to the series fan). With the State of the Union Address hours away, US President Harrison Taylor dismisses concerns Collins raises about Khalif and ISIS as a whole. Taylor wonders if he ought not to rescind his offer of a Presidential Medal of Freedom to the acclaimed journalist. When the Capitol is attacked during the Address, all hell breaks loose and Collins soon learns that ISIS has struck again, but on a much larger scale. Seeking to get away from the violence and drama, alongside an inability to stomach the lies Taylor seems to be spinning to the American public, Collins eyes a return to Maine with his brother, Matt. As they travel, a personal tragedy befalls them and Collins learns just how inept the Administration has become when it comes to ending the reign of terror that ISIS and Abu Khalif have over the world. Could the answers be in the Middle East, where American allies can fight a war against this radical and apocalyptic Islam? Collins seeks to reinvent himself and must decide if he can take up the torch, using his own set of allies to help topple ISIS at its heart before the world must fall on blended knee and admit defeat to the terrorists. With a sensational culmination to a stunningly realistic series, Rosenberg shocks readers to the core. This story and the complete trilogy offer a poignant and blunt narrative, weaving through fact and plausible fiction. A must read for those who love political thrillers and can stomach mild Christian inculcation. 

I have long been a fan of Rosenberg and his political fiction. This is the third series I have devoured as quickly as the novels come off the presses, all using a strong biblical undertone paired against current events in one of the most unstable political powder kegs. Rosenberg gathers a wonderful cross-section of characters, pulled from key states that propel the story forward and seem plausible in the fight against ISIS. Additionally, injecting realistic political and religious impairments brings a whole new level to the character interactions and places reality that much closer to the reader’s grasp. While ISIS remains the buzz word in the news today and seems to permeate thriller novels to no end, I never tired of hearing Rosenberg’s spin. I have mentioned how the same drivel bores and irritates me, Rosenberg’s angle is not only refreshing, but more realistic than some secret operative mowing down anyone who utters ‘Allah’ before ‘Hello’. Those familiar with Rosenberg’s novels will know that he has been found to offer eerie foreboding buried within his novels, perhaps tying all the pieces together as his protagonist is known for doing in this book. To treat Rosenberg’s work as pure fiction is to ignore the nuances and attention to detail the author places as he pens his plots. The writing style is some of the best in the genre and the short chapters offer readers a wonderful ability to get hooked and beg themselves to read ‘just a little more’ as cliffhangers grow exponentially. While I am not a fan of ‘in your face’ Christianity, I have become immune to some of it in Rosenberg’s stories and dodge the born-again land mines that emerge throughout. Rosenberg knows what he is doing and readers should flock in his direction, if only to learn about the Middle East and its political importance on the world scene.

Kudos, Mr. Rosenberg. You have done it again with a powerful political thriller series that has me so captivated. I have promoted you and your work to as many people as will listen. This novel proves yet again that my recommendations are well founded. 

The Devil’s Prayer, by Luke Gracias

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Luke Gracias and Australian eBook Publisher for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Luke Gracias offers readers an interesting novel that seeks to mix the foundations of religious belief–both the goodness of a god and evil of its great nemesis–with the human understanding of bartering for a particular outcome. By placing these themes within a modern setting, the reader is better capable of understanding the story and relates with ease. After an eerie preface, the novel opens in a small Spanish town, with one Sister Benedictine trying to locate The Devil’s Bible, which contains a prayer that appears to hold much importance. After copying a few pages of the prayer, in complete secret, Sister Benedictine is able to hide it away with a journal of her own within her convent before being chased by a group of monks wielding swords. Trapped in a bell tower, Sister Benedictine takes the only path she has and ends up hanging from the bell’s rope, in an apparent suicidal act. On the other side of the world, Siobhan Russo learns that her mother has died in Spain, after abandoning the family for six years. While Siobhan is curious as to what happened to Denise Russo (the actual name of Sister Benedictine) all those years ago, she is unsure what to expect. Siobhan’s sister, Jess, wants nothing to do with her mother, though Siobhan feels she owes it to the entire family to explore what might have happened. Travelling to Spain, Siobhan is granted access to a vault where her mother held some key documents she willed to her eldest daughter. Siobhan receives the journal, which her mother called The Confession, and agrees to read it in order to learn more about what happened all those years ago. This confessional journal dates back to the early- to mid-1990s, when Siobhan was a young girl. Denise Russo was a single mother who tried her best to raise a daughter she loved more than life. After a traumatic event, Denise made a deal with a truly diabolical man, who forces her to trade Siobhan’s safety with a pledge to commit numerous crimes. Feeling that she had no choice, Denise is led down a path of truly alarming proportions, but never strays from the promise she made. As Siobhan reads of these events and the eventual birth of her sister, all becomes a little clearer while also extreme muddled. An ancient sect of red-clad monks remain on the lookout for Siobhan, forcing her to remain in hiding and return to Australia with a secret that could tear her family apart. Her arrival opens new and horrific possibilities, just as Gracias keeps the reader in suspense with a major cliffhanger. A wonderfully crafted novel for those who love an evolving and dramatic narrative that takes twists as it tries the reader’s personal faith.

This being the first piece of writing I have ever encountered by Luke Gracias, I was unsure what to make of it. While the opening few chapters took a little time to grasp me, by the time the story entered ‘The Confession’ section, I was completely hooked. Gracias pulls on many time periods and uses strong characters to tell his story, layering both the narrative and character development throughout. His use of strong religious history plays perfectly into the larger story and, should it hold some degree of truth, the reader must wonder about this darker side of religious acceptance. Whereas many will turn to the god of their choosing and make promises for specific results, could the same not be done in the face of a diabolical being, the antithetical deity? Exploring the role this character played in shaping history, Gracias forces the reader to shelve their preconceived notions and potentially accept that there is an evil pulse that is steering world events alongside the goodness of some Higher Being. The powerful and plausible story is accentuated with the lengths to which a parent will go to save their child and face the consequences of their actions. Told primary to convey the life and times of Denise Russo, the addition of Siobhan and, to a lesser extent, Jess, allows Gracias to paint an extremely disturbing picture while flirting with safety for those who are not entirely ready to let go of their belief in goodness.

Kudos, Mr. Gracias for this stellar piece of work. I cannot wait to see what other ideas you have percolating for your growing fan base.

Field of Fire (Jericho Quinn #7), by Marc Cameron

Eight stars

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

In his latest Jericho Quinn novel, Cameron takes readers back to the frozen tundra of Alaska for an explosive thriller. When a deadly nerve agent is released at a high school football game in Dallas, all fingers point to a branch of ISIS, especially with the perpetrators dressing the part. The President’s National Security Advisor calls on Jericho Quinn and others within the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) to stop the threat before it blossoms. Chatter links the gas, called New Archangel, to a Russian chemist, Kostya Volodin. During a trip from his homeland to Alaska, Volodin and his daughter, Kaija, have apparently sought to defect. Before everyone can be properly sorted, Volodin and Kaija disappear and are hiding. Russian officials are seeking to find their rogue scientist before he can release any more news about the gas. The narrative exposes that it is the Russians who are responsible for the gas and its attacks, with primary blame falling at the feet of the Black Hundreds, a terror organization seeking the purity of Russia. Quinn is tasked with finding Volodin within Alaska while Jacques Thibodaux and Ronnie Garcia, two others from the OSI, are sent to New York, where the scientist’s son has apparently been sent some of the New Archangel by accident. An attack in Los Angeles makes the mission even more important and shows that the next attack could happen at anytime, anywhere. While Thibodaux and Garcia team up with an old friend in NYC, Quinn is set to work with Thibedaux’s cousin, Specal Agent Khaki Beaudine of the FBI as they travel through Alaska seeking out the senior Volodin. Quinn’s mission takes them into the tundra, involved in a winner-takes-all game with a Russian sniper, known locally as Worst of the Moon. Needing to secure Volodin as soon as possible, Quinn and Beaudine soon discover that some will stop at nothing to keep them from completing their mission. They traverse cold and open tracts of land to find Volodin, only to discover that Anchorage might be the location chosen for the next attack and that someone close to Volodin could be masterminding the entire Black Hundreds. While Thibodaux and Garcia seek to infiltrate the underworld to keep the gas out of the hands of anyone in the Big Apple, Quinn will use all his strength and determination not to fail, though every man has their physical limits. A wonderfully fast-paced story that turns the cat and mouse game into one of bear and seal. Series fans will surely enjoy this story while newcomers will likely become hooked and clammer for the rest of Cameron’s work.

The story is by no means unique, but Jericho Quinn does not seek to be completely one of a kind. However, it is not only the handful of strong characters that keep the novel pushing forward so effectively, but the attention to detail and drawing the reader in from the get-go that strengthens the narrative. While Cameron places his protagonist in a situation that might breed something repetitive, the use of Alaska and its barren hinterland served as a unique approach, especially when venturing into field traumatic medicine and tactical sniper calculations, allowing the reader something new to digest. Add to that, Cameron has seen that the ISIS and Islamic terror cell is becoming overdone in thrillers and shifts his villain base over to the emerging (and re-discovered?) Russian criminal, who drives home ruthless hatred for capitalist America and new-found money to fund such act of significant damage. Surely there is something beneficial in that as the majority of writers continue to flog an idea developed fifteen years ago. Keeping some of the wonderful dialogue and unique settings for his novels, Cameron delivers another decent piece that should appease readers without lulling them into any form of repetitive normalcy.

Kudos, Mr. Cameron on another successful novel. Jericho Quinn has a lot to offer and you’ve left much to be discovered or expanded upon, when time permits.

Dominus (Dominus #1), by Tom Fox

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Tom Fox, and Quercus (US) for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

As if heeding the call of reviewers and fans after his initial short story in this series, Fox delivers in spades, again diving into conspiracies as they relate to the Catholic Church and the Vatican. When a stranger appears inside St. Peter’s Basilica, everything seems to stop. The Swiss Guard fall to their knees as the stranger approaches, allowing him to pass and approach the Pope, crippled and wheelchair-bound his entire life. In an event paralleling happenings in the New Testament, the Pope rises and is able to walk when summoned to do so. Thereafter, the Supreme Pontiff ushers this man away into his private residences to talk and espouse the miracle that has just taken place. As amateur cellphone footage of the event begins blasting its way online, former priest-cum-journalist Alexander Trecchio is assigned the task of trying to determine what happened within the Vatican and pinpoint the identity of the man of mystery. No one is talking and no leads are forthcoming, forcing Trecchio to turn to his own research. After tracking down two academics who, through the world of the 140 character rebuttal, have been speaking out against the miraculous events seen by most of the world, Trecchio ventures out for answers. Before he can arrive to speak to them, both been brutally murdered. Unsure where else he can turn, Trecchio contacts Inspector Gabriella Fierro of the Polizia di Stato, a former romantic interest and partner on another Vatican-based investigation two years before. While Trecchio is sure there is something that is being covered-up, Fierro is shackled by her superiors and told not to investigate whatsoever. However, she agrees to meet Trecchio and they commence their own sleuthing, not deterred when they become targets in a high-velocity shootout. Suddenly, a collection of blind children are spontaneously able to see and a group of terminally-ill cancer patients show no signs of disease moments after the Pope speaks publicly of his healing. Pundits the world over are convinced that this ‘stranger’ must have some power, with miracles cropping up since he his initial appearance. One final event, a dead girl coming back to life, divides the world; divine acts or complete hoax? Meanwhile, Global Capital Italia’s CEO, Caterina Amato, sits in her offices, surrounded by a cabal of men who seek to capitalise on all these events, hoping to penetrate deep inside the Vatican to its most vulnerable core. Trecchio and Fierro soon find a link between the miracles and a powerful arm within the Vatican, hoping to unveil it, but Amato will stop at nothing to ensure her plan comes to fruition. As the race to reveal truth becomes central, Fox takes the reader through a fast-pace exploration of the inner workings of the Holy See and attempts to place faith and proof under the proverbial microscope. A fascinating thriller that will pull readers in from the opening pages, Fox delivers and shows his potential as a first-rate writer in the genre. 

I love a good Vatican conspiracy thriller, as I mentioned when reviewing Fox’s previous short story. Where there were significant issues with presentation and layout before, this story rectifies that and offers readers something substantial on many levels. Fox takes a strong foundational premise and develops it in numerous ways. The characters are strong, stemming from the two protagonists whose backstory is fleshed out a little more. Working with Trecchio and Vierro, the reader develops a necessary connection, while also remaining piqued by this stranger who appears from nowhere. While it may have a slightly predictable spin, the strong and devious antagonist also helps keep the novel’s pace moving and forces the reader to wonder just how deeply this ‘plan’ runs to infiltrate the Vatican. Fox uses a strong narrative and credible dialogue to propel the story forward, while also honing the short-chapter technique that fits perfectly with the numerous cliffhanger moments embedded throughout. Alongside these ingredients for a great thriller, Fox presents the reader with the inevitable religious/faith spin, while also pushing a ‘seeing the light’ moment, but does so in a relatively tame fashion, keeping those from all (or no) faith bases appeased enough, understanding full-well that the Catholic-centric nature of the discussion is expected. Fox developed a wonderful full-length novel in this story, picking up many of the loose threads left dangling in the prequel. Can he follow this great piece with another winner? We shall soon see, as the sequel (also a short story) is next on my reading list. 

Kudos, Mr. Fox for a great book. I am pleased that I gave you a second chance to redeem yourself and show your true colours.

Fatal: A Novel, 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 book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Lescroart has made a name for himself, publishing over twenty legal thrillers with his collection of interconnected characters in the San Francisco area. Keeping with the Bay Area in this standalone novel, Lescroart shows readers why he remains a powerful writer no matter the characters he uses. After meeting at a dinner party, there appears to be a strong magnetism between Kate Jameson and Peter Ash. Kate finds herself acting out of her norm and lures him to a local hotel under false pretences. Defying his gut and normal practice, Peter allows himself to be seduced and their dalliance ends up weighing heavily on them both. Peter begins a life of philandering, as if his encounter with Kate has made him forget his wife and twins back home. Kate, too, has started to act odd in the eyes of her husband and children, as though the guilt is eating away at her. Out one day with best friend and SFPD Homicide Inspector Beth Tully, Kate is about to admit her deep secret, when the restaurant in which they are dining is attacked and scores are injured. Six months later, Beth is recovering slowly after being shot during the attack and Kate has made a significant recovery after slipping into a coma. Beth is alerted to the apparent murder of a man whose turned up in the Bay, one Peter Ash. As Beth and her partner begin trying to dig into the life of this man, the secret that seems to have pushed Kate and Peter to become shells of their former selves has begun leaking out, which leaves the list of potential suspects in Ash’s murder mounting. While this case preoccupies her, an act of kindness in another homicide opens up a connection to a distant witness, one that will open social pathways for he. Struggling to find out how she can help, Beth must not lose her momentum on this current homicide. While she remains unaware of Kate’s dalliance, Beth’s investigative memory will soon push her to ask those awkward questions to anyone who may know about Peter Ash and his less than stellar extra-curricular activities. When two others with a tangential connection to Ash die, presumably suicides after they are wracked with guilt, Beth may have found her murderer, which allows her to put the Ash case to rest. However, as Lescroart has taught his readers over the years, nothing is ever cut and dry when it comes to homicide. A wonderful novel that entertains as much as it does impress long-time fans and is sure to lure a new set of fans with ease.

Lescroart has become so synonymous with Dismas Hardy and the collection of other characters that I am not sure if this is a refreshing change or has me pining for more off-colour humour. The story was wonderfully laid out, offering a mystery woven into the plot line that eschews little judgement for the affair. How two people’s lives can change so dramatically and affect so many based on a single decision is surely front and centred throughout the story, though the characters chosen offer such a varied reaction that Lescroart need not worry about his story losing momentum throughout. It clips along with ease and the shift of protagonists is done without so much as an awkward bridging, though the homicide investigation does take front and centre, alongside the personal plight of a brief case Beth handled in the early part of her introduction to the story. Lescroart writes what he knows, at least from a San Francisco point of view, and this affirms the greatness of his story. This novel does take some getting used to (at least for long-time fans), as the other shoe does not drop until late in the game, leaving the reader to guess at suspects and keeping any courtroom drama from anywhere in this story. That said, it is perhaps this difference that keeps readers hooked and goes to show Lescroart’s versatile nature.  

Kudos, Mr. Lescroart on another success. I was so pleased to be able to see a different side to your writing, though I am still pining for more Dismas, Abe, and the rest of the gang.