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

Eight stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

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

Eight stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

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

Eight stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The World Played Chess, by Robert Dugoni

Eight stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Odd Numbers, by J.J. Marsh

Seven stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

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

Eight stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Missing Hours, by Julia Dahl

Eight stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

1979 (Allie Burns #1), by Val McDermid

Eight stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Denial (Jilly Truitt #2), by Beverley McLachlin

Nine stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: