Girls of Brackenhill, by Kate Moretti

Eight stars

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

When seeking a story guaranteed to offer strong plot lines, stellar characters, and twists at every turn, one need look no further than the work of Kate Moretti. She uses these and other ingredients to keep the reader on the edge of their seat in her latest thriller, Girls of Brackenhill, where a woman is forced to return to her past in order to put her present in order. Recommended to those who need a surprise or two in their reading experience.

It was a call out of the blue that shocked Hannah more than anything. Her Aunt Fae had been in a horrible car accident and Hannah’s presence was urgently requested. Agreeing to take the six hour journey, Hannah and her fiancé make their way to sort things out, which includes time spent at the Brackenhill, an isolated piece of property that locals call a haunted castle, but Fae and her partner call home. Brackenhill has a long and sordid history as being home to many mysterious goings-on over the years, which may be why the locals have given it such an ominous reputation. It is also the last place Hannah’s sister, Julia, was ever seen.

Once Hannah learns and comes to terms with Fae’s death in the accident, she must determine how to deal with her uncle, who has been clinging to life for a long while and still lives in Brackenhill. Hannah agrees to stay at on the property to put things in order, though the past comes bubbling back to the surface. Over a number of summers, Hannah and Julia spent their time here, getting into teenage trouble and finding love. However, after Julia went missing, Hannah left and never returned. It’s been seventeen years, yet for Hannah it seems like yesterday.

When Wyatt McCarran arrives at the door, another layer of Hannah’s past comes crashing back. While Wyatt is now a police officer investigating Fae’s accident, he was Hannah’s first love and the boy who broke her heart. Awkward and yet trying not to let it engulf them, Hannah and Wyatt seek to put the past in order while also deal with the issues at hand. This is further complicated when a jaw bone is found on the Brackenhill property, leaving the possibility open that it could belong to Julia.

As Hannah spends even more time at Brackenhill, some of her troubled past comes to the surface and she begins to question much of her life over those summers. New mysteries emerge and Hannah is not prepared to ignore things, which proves troubling to many. Hannah learns more about some of the gaps she could not have understood as a teenager, though these prove to be more painful than she could have predicted.

Hannah’s troubles with sleepwalking return while she is at Brackenhill, causing her more grief than she could have imagined. While trying to settle her uncle as he slips into his final days, Hannah remains determined to discover what happened to Fae and how it may relate to Julia’s disappearance. Brackenhill may have a sordid history, but it is a handful of locals who hold the key to solving the mystery, each possessing their own piece of the puzzle. It’s up to Hannah to bring it all together before she falls apart!

Having read one of Karen Moretti’s novels before, I knew a little of what I ought to expect with this piece. That being said, there is a constant curiosity as to what the narrative will bring and how things will come together in the end. Moretti strings the reader along with some great work in two time periods, meshing them together effectively when needed to add impact to her work.

Hannah’s role as protagonist is obvious, but there is a lot about her that remains veiled in mystery. The reader slowly discovers what they need to know throughout the narrative, which splits between present day and flashbacks. This builds a solid foundation of backstory, though the gaps are plentiful and the reader is forced to piece things together for themselves. Hannah’s growth in the present time hinges on her understanding of that past, as she reestablishes old connections and tries not to let them cloud her judgement.

Moretti’s use of supporting characters helps solidify the strength of the novel, in my opinion. The two timelines can be difficult to juggle while also being essential to understand the central plot. These characters both support Hannah in her discovery, as well as impede her on occasion. Moretti creates great development for all involved and injects effective banter to offer depth to her plot, without confusing the reader with too many threads to manage.

The story works well and builds throughout, using the two timelines to weave a strong foundation. There are moments the reader is thrust into the middle of one mystery, only to find themselves learning about another. The intensity of the narrative never dissipates, which is fuelled by Moretti’s use of short chapters to keep the reader on their toes. There is no time to breathe, let alone put the book down, which adds to the book’s allure. Mysteries intertwine and a set of characters leave the reader guessing about how Brackenhill might tie it all together. Those familiar with Moretti’s work and curious readers alike will take something away from this book, likely solidifying their desire to find more by the author in short order.

Kudos, Madam Moretti, for another strong piece. I can rely on you to always bring something unique to my reading experience.

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:

Serial Killers at the Movies: My Intimate Talks with Mass Murderers who Became Stars of the Big Screen, by Christopher Berry-Dee

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Christopher Berry-Dee, and Ad Lib Publishers for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

There’s something about the chills that race down the spine when speaking about serial killers. While their actions may leave some feeling a tad ill, there’s that pull towards knowing more, at least for many of the people I know. Christopher Berry-Dee, an investigative criminologist who has spent a number of years studying and writing about serial killers, takes that knowledge to pen a book exploring how well serial killers are depicted on the big screen. Packed full of information and references, those who love the world of serial killers and true crime may want to give this tome a gander.

Berry-Dee pulls not punches throughout the book, making it clear to the reader that not all serial killer movies get it right. By that, he means that some are complete flops in their delivery, while others seem quite outlandish or poorly depict the killers they are supposed to represent. This is a problem for true fans of the genre, as a great serial killer is one who is not only a master at their crimes, but who can scare the reader/viewer with ease.

In his study, Berry-Dee explores some of the big screen’s best-known killers and tries to hash out some of the real life influences that may have led to their depiction. Few can fault the emergence of Hannibal Lector or Norman Bates, though there is more to them than the creative minds of the authors who put them in a book. They were an amalgam of some great killers over time, though rarely can a literary or cinematic killer be attributed to a single person, sometimes for legal reasons. Berry-Dee draws some wonderful parallels and invites the reader to sit back as he presents what knowledge he has on the subject.

There are some great interpretations of notorious serial killers who make it directly onto the big screen, including the Zodiac Killer and the antagonist from Se7en. These killers emerge as both creepy and downright geniuses, leaving the reader to wonder where the writers came up with such a great idea. The former was, surely, a killer of some regard in the 1960s and 70s, though they have never been formally named or caught. There is a significant psychological aspect required to pull the viewer in, rather than a great deal of gore and death.

Berry-Dee is also first to point out the poorly devised cinematic presentations when it comes to serial killers, those who were either shortchanged when their stories made it to the screen or a delivery of their crimes was somehow lost in translation. Berry-Dee models himself as quite the critic and can see a dud a mile away, choosing to point these out repeatedly for the reader. While Ted Buddy and John Wayne Gacy were chilling killers of the 1970s, when someone chose to depict their kills for a viewing audience, it was either too cheesy or simply a boring rendition, which lessens the impact and keeps the reader from feeling what really happened.

Christopher Berry-Dee surely knows what he’s writing in this piece, taking the time to extract the truths or tie-in some of the research that he was able to complete. There is a strong narrative in the opening few chapters, as he tackles some of the best known serial killer movies (series, actually). He builds up the discussion of both the film and the true events, drawing the needed parallels for the reader to digest, then leaves it for some quiet contemplation before moving along to the next topic of discussion. This is helpful, particularly those of us who are not fanatics, but simply fans of the dark and macabre world of serial killers. The book began with some great chapter lengths and discussions, though this petered off, as I will mention below. With lots of outside references, the curious reader can surely find more to whet their sadistic appetites, which is always helpful.

If I had to offer a critique the book, it would surely be that Berry-Dee seeks to pack too much into the tome, offering as many killers as he can, rather than going into great detail with a handful. By the middle o the book, he offers an ‘intermission’ section, where some editorializing can occur. Thereafter, it seems to be a rush of movies and short commentaries as the book must fill a quota of pages. I would much rather have felt an impactful collection of strong movies with thorough analysis, rather than a few pages here and there of some films who have either made it or fell short.

Kudos, Mr. Berry-Dee, for this interesting look at the world of serial killers on the big screen. You reference some of your other work regularly, which I will have to explore, when time permits.

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

Hidden in Plain Sight (Detective William Warwick #2), by Jeffrey Archer

Nine stars

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

Jeffrey Archer returns with another stellar novel in the William Warwick series. Taking readers back to the glory days of the 1980s, this police procedural is sure to impress many, particularly those who have a great affinity for Archer’s Clifton Chronicles.

William Warwick has been given a rare treat at work, a long overdue promotion to Detective Sergeant. However, with this comes a move to the Major Drug Squad for an intense case that could bring much notoriety. Large amounts of heroin have made its way into London, a drug that has crippled 1986 England and sent waves throughout the Metropolitan Police. 

Warwick’s promotion brings a new member to the team, DC Paul Adaja, whose interest in getting things done helps pave the way to a successful addition to the team. Working through the handful of confidential informants (CIs) at their disposal, Warwick and the team learn that there is a weekly meeting that could garner a great deal of potent arrests, though the location of the Viper remains a well-guarded secret. Through a series of mad car chases, working off crumbs of CI intel,  Warwick is none the wiser when it comes to landing this big fish, but refuses to give up too swiftly. 

On a personal note, Warwick and his fiancee, Beth, are eager to share their nuptials, planning a small ceremony that turns out to be anything but calm. Well-known criminal mastermind, Malcolm Faulkner, makes his presence known and tries to destroy any credibility Warwick might have, though the power of love appears to prevail.

When news comes that Faulkner is about to receive a shipment of drugs that could end him away for the foreseeable future, it’s all hands on deck to make the bust. Faulkner cries foul and does anything he can to keep the changes from sticking, though the prosecutorial team is none other than Sir Julian and Grace Warwick, the father and sister duo of our beloved William. The case proceeds and the jury is empanelled, leaving the courts to decide the fate of Faulkner once and for all.

When Warwick discovers where he can find the Viper’s Nest, he’s quick to rush in that direction, though it won’t be a peaceful arrest by any means. Casualties could be massive as these are the roughest of the rough, Warwick will soon learn that this is the least of his concerns. Entertaining throughout, Archer shows that he is still at the top of his game.

I have long been a fan of most anything that Jeffrey Archer puts to paper, having amassed a large quantity of high quality novels. This new series, which is actually the collection of writing referenced repeatedly throughout the Clifton Chronicles, may be set in the 1980s, but can easily hold the attention of the dedicated  thriller fan.

William Warwick returns and plays a wonderful protagonist. While he is a sensible cop, his outgoing nature endears him to many. Always looking for the next big break in a case, Warwick works his magic in ways only Jeffrey Archer could connive. With his strong ties to family and his workplace, Warwick’s character develops throughout this piece and there are hints that he will have to branch out in the upcoming novel, as he is sure to take on a new role or two.

Archer does well developing some of his secondary characters as well, who surely help enrich the story in many ways. From the others in the Warwick clan to those who work within the Met, each flavours the narrative effectively and advances Archer’s ever-developing plot. While some are recurring characters, there are a handful of strong one-timers, all of whom keep the reader entertained throughout.

The book proves highly entertaining, advancing the series well while keeping things highly realistic. Set in the late 1980s, Archer uses this backdrop to develop a strong story with numerous plotlines that are sure to keep the reader guessing. There is not a ‘dated’ feel to the book, though surely the lack of technology mentioned is sure to be noticed by those scouring the narrative. Archer uses his wonderful style to take the reader on this twisted journey, as they lose themselves in the strong narrative. With decent length chapters, Archer uses his style to inject detail into the story, leaving the reader to picture things as they occur. Cliffhangers throughout and some great subplot development that makes wishing for the next book all but essential.

Kudos, Lord Archer, for another success. I can’t get enough of your books and look forward to the next publication.

Please have a look at my review on the Mystery & Suspense site, where many other reviews and information can be found.

Review: Hidden In Plain Sight

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

Nothing Good Happens After Midnight, Jeffrey Deaver (editor)

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jeffrey Deaver (editor), and Suspense Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I have always found that you can discover the true mettle of an author by how well they can handle writing with strict parameters. Jeffrey Deaver tosses the challenge out to twelve other authors (as well as himself) to pen a short story apiece with a ‘late’ or ‘midnight’ theme. Each entry in this collection differs greatly from one another, with a stellar collection of published authors offering something for the reader to enjoy. A great collection of pieces that read with ease, perfect for those who are familiar with the authors or enjoy something a little shorter.

There is such a great cross-section of ideas in this collection that each reader will surely find something to their liking. Some will likely flock to Alan Jacobson’s piece about a death row inmate who may have some key information about a copycat. Others will enjoy Kevin O’Brien’s recounting of a man who hates technology, while still others may find the antics of Linwood Barclay’s piece about a graveyard shift at a newspaper something that tickles their fancy. Each piece is unique and entertaining in its own way and Deaver ensures there is no repetition at all. Quick reads on their own or a decent binge of shorter writing for those who wish to indulge. Whatever your fancy, watch out, as you’ll surely be sucked in, much like some of the characters in Deaver’s own entry in this collection.

The short story allows little time for character development, even if it is an offshoot of a series some will know well. Jeffrey Deaver does well at finding some wonderful contributors whose styles and abilities are surely second to none. Each story contains some strong characters, a few who are part of a larger series, others dreamt up for their debut in these pages. At approximately the same length, each story used plots and developments effectively, though uniquely, begging the reader to choose some of their favourites. With some strong writing overall, this is a collection not to be missed and I would love to see more of this in the future, as I know Jeffrey Deaver has created some wonderful and witty writing projects for many in the genre before.

Kudos, Mr. Deaver and your twelve other contributors, for a great collection of stories that really get to the heart of the midnight hour.

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

The 10 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time: Decoding History’s Unsolved Mysteries, by Brad Meltzer

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Brad Meltzer, and Workman Publishing Company for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

One would think that I might tire reading about conspiracies, as we are in the midst of some doozies in the form of COVID-19 and the 2020 US Presidential Election. That being said, when I noticed Brad Meltzer was putting something together, I could not help myself. A longtime fan of Metlzer’s fiction work, I was eager to see what he would uncover, which might prove to be highly entertaining and easier to digest, while still being non-fiction. Likely pleasing to many who love conspiracies, but perhaps a little too primer for my liking.

Brad Meltzer has spread himself out greatly over the last number of years, including a television project called Decoded, which explores conspiracy theories. This book is almost a published account of ten of the largest conspiracies that Meltzer and his team discovered. They look at John Wilkes Booth’s life post- Lincoln assassination, a supposed gold cache still hidden throughout the US as part of a Confederate stockpile, and even the truth behind what’s actually going on in Fort Knox. Meltzer and his team offer some interesting theories, seeking to balance them out for everyone to feel appeased, without getting too meaty in their analysis. Tossing out a few more, which include Roswell and Area 51, as well as the JFK Assassination, Meltzer and his team seek to win over a larger audience by pulling back the proverbial curtain and tossing out many ideas that could hold some truth to them. Interesting, for sure, but not what I would call a compelling read for me.

While I have never had an issue with Brad Meltzer and his writing, I may stick to his fiction going forward. While I love his inquisitive mind and how he could likely weave it into a great piece of fiction, I found this too ‘made for television’ to really hold my attention. It read almost like a script for one of his shows (admittedly, I have not seen it, so I cannot speak with confidence). The theories are sound and the proof seems plausible, but this is a primer and I needed more meat. I have been forced to digest so many conspiracies of late (see above) that I want proof and not just supposition. Presented well, this will appeal to those who have a strong love of Meltzer’s television work and I applaud him for targeting his audience. For me, just not a stellar piece.

Kudos, Mr. Meltzer, for a great effort and some significant work. I hope many find something they enjoyed herein.

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

Invisible Girl, by Lisa Jewell

Eight stars

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

In a story that pushes the reader to ask how well we really know someone comes this thriller by Lisa Jewell. Told from numerous perspectives, it is a piece that races along, offering insights and misdirection in equal doses. Daunting and spine-tingling from the get-go, this is a ‘jewel’ in the genre.

As the novel begins, Saffyre Maddox lays the groundwork for herself and hints at an as-yet undisclosed ‘horrible event’, which saw her spend a significant amount of time in therapy. She appears quite private, but has a secret that has pushed her to self-harming, something her therapist is trying to better understand.

Meanwhile, Roan Fours is a successful child psychologist with issues outside the practice. His wife, Cate, is hyper vigilant about Roan’s every movement, after a marital issue that appears to have involved another woman. Now, Cate surmises that Saffyre might be making a play on her husband, when a mysterious card arrives on Valentine’s Day. Could this be a new round of panic for Cate?

All the while, Owen Pick’s life is falling apart. A geography teacher who’s been suspended after some complaints by students, Pick has little going for him. A virgin and living with his aunt, Pick presents as quite creepy and socially awkward. He happens to be a neighbour to the Fours family, where the teenage girl reports creepy feelings when making her way home from the Tube one night. There have also been a number of sexual assaults in the area, which puts many on high alert.

When Saffyre Maddox goes missing, the last person to have seen her is Owen Pick. With his past, Pick is a likely candidate for having done something. He is known to gawk and his past sticks to him like an indelible letter.

As the story progresses, the reader sees the narrative peel back many layers and shines the light on a potential few who may want to see harm come to Saffyre, as well as insights by the victim herself. The plot thickens and the chill factor arises, leaving the reader to guess until the final reveal.

Having never read Lisa Jewell before, this was an interesting sampling of a new author with a large following. While I have read many thrillers, Jewell presents a unique perspective that had me curious from the outset. I wanted to know more and can only wonder if many of the other novels follow this successful recipe.

It’s hard to choose a single character to place in the role of protagonist. Jewell offers many through a rotating narrative in the novel. At times, Saffyre takes the central role, offering the reader an in-depth look at her personal struggles. This is contrasted by both Cate and Owen perspectives, both of whom have their own pile of issues. There is a peppering of backstory and some character development throughout, allowing the reader to get a better understanding of all the players in this complex story. Jewell does well keeping all her characters working together to build up a stronger story, with numerous subplots advancing simultaneously.

Jewell does well juggling the various perspectives in this piece, keeping plot lines clear and characters stories from blurring. The reader does need to remain attentive throughout, keeping everything straight, though the pieces do eventually fall into place with ease. Chapters of various lengths help move things along, bundled together to offer significant advancement for one character before moving on to another. A clipped narrative and cogent dialogue help pull the reader in and turn this into a page turner that will have the reader wanting to burn the midnight oil, if only to learn Saffyre Maddox‘s fate. I’d try another Lisa Jewell novel, given the opportunity.

Kudos, Madam Jewell, for this insightful novel. You have me curious about what else you’ve written, as I can see you have a significant fan base.

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:

Shadow Sands (Kate Marshall #2), by Robert Bryndza

Eight stars

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

Adding to his successful new thriller series, Robert Bryndza delivers another Kate Marshall novel that will keep readers turning pages well into the night. Not only is the plot one that has great potential, but the characters come to life in a mystery that spans many years. Recommended to those who know and love Bryndza’s past work, as well as the reader looking for high quality police procedurals.

Kate Marshall is a former cop with the Met who’s been trying to reinvent herself. A full time lecturer who went out on a limb as a private investigator, Marshall keeps herself busy and away from some of the vices that cost her custody of her son years ago. 

When Kate and her son, Jake, go diving in the Shadow Sands reservoir, they find more than they bargained for. The body of Simon Kendal is drifting deep in the water, covered in various scratch markings. After calling the authorities and being interviewed by DCI Henry Ko, Marshall and her son continue on with their lives, unable to do much else.

When Marshall’s approached weeks later by the boy’s mother, she listens to the impassioned plea of a woman who needs her help. While the death was ruled an accidental drowning, something does not add up for Marshall, who pulls some strings and has a medical examiner review the notes. The oddity is there in black and white, leading the police to reopen the investigation. A quick arrest of the boy’s camping companion all but puts the case to rest.

While Kate and her university colleague (and sometimes investigative assistant), Tristan Harper, discuss the case, they wonder if Shadow Sands could be as dangerous as past media accounts suggest, where a number of people have drowned over the years. Tristan meets a new professor as part of his daily work and learns that she has an interest in Shadow Sands as well, based on some of the urban legends. Magdalena Rossi and Tristan seem to hit it off and he begins to wonder if there might be a link to the aforementioned drownings.

While Magdalena is out furthering her research, she is attacked and taken captive by a man who seeks to drug her and let her “touch the stars”. The disappearance is noted by others and Tristan is concerned that something might have happened. Working with Kate, they try to retrace her steps, only to learn that there have been other disappearances around Shadow Sands, as well as a few bodies that emerged decades ago. When one victim speaks of getting away from an attacker, Kate and Tristan take her word for it. No one else is keen to listen, including DCI Ko, who had her locked away in a psychiatric facility for months.

As Kate wonders about a killer around Shadow Sands, she also has to worry about crooked cops, yet again, who may be trying to sweep this all under the rug. It will take all her skills to find Magdalena and get to the root of these past disappearances, all while dodging those with the power of the force behind them. What’s out there and how can the cops turn a blind eye?

Robert Bryndza has kept his fans enthralled with a previous series that took crime investigation to a new level. Now, with this series, Kate Marshall is trying to fill some large shoes and doing well. Only two books into this series and Bryndza has already done a masterful job of things.

Kate Marshall is a great protagonist, balancing a busy work life with a personal history she would rather forget. Her life at the Met was going so well, until an affair with a superior (while learning he was a serial killer) turned all that on its head. She battles the bottle and lost her son because of it. However, even as she has put police work behind her, Kate has it in her blood and helps as she can. Her off the cuff investigative work keeps her busy and the reader can see her passion blossoming in this second novel, with more to come.

A great set of secondary characters keeps the story on point. With Tristan Harper’s return, the reader is able to learn a little more about him. There are some poignant moments in one of the subplots that enrich the larger story and keeps the reader connected to him. The entire cast does well and propels the narrative forward, in a case that spans decades, with much to hide. 

Bryndza dazzles readers with this piece, offering great plot development throughout the novel. The story takes many twists, growing from the location of a simple body during a dive into a larger mystery and an apparent serial killer. The narrative builds throughout, as the reader is pulled deeper into the story. The subplots that occur throughout help the reader to see the larger and more personal side of those characters to take centre stage. 

Bryndza offers a mix of chapter lengths, helping to push the story along and then keep the reader hooked with more detailed aspects of the case at hand. All this is done with such ease that the reader soon finds themselves devouring the story and losing track of time. This is the sign of a superior novel handled by a great writer. I can only hope that Robert Bryndza’s next Kate Marshall thriller packs just as much punch. 

Kudos, Mr. Bryndza, for another stellar piece of work. Fans, new and longer-term alike, will find something  worth sharing with others.

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.

Review: Shadow Sands

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

The Ice Killer (DI Barton #3), by Ross Greenwood

Seven stars

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

Returning for the latest (and last) in the DI John Barton series, I turned to Ross Greenwood and this gritty police procedural. Known for writing the dual narratives of cops and killers, Greenwood seeks to pull readers onto the streets of Peterborough and tell a tale. While the delivery is there, some may say it lags a bit. Decent enough to keep my interest as the trilogy comes to an end!

After convalescing from injury during one of his recent cases, DI John Barton is thrust into the chaos that is known as Major Crimes in Peterborough. His first day back sees Barton sent into the DCI chair, replacing his superior who has taken maternity leave. Now, DCI Barton not only has to learn the ropes of the job, but also help hone the next generation of inspectors to see how they might make the leap into a more independent role within the police department.

Elsewhere, Ellen Toole is struggling to stay afloat. Her mother is ill and there is little that can be done. Working her dead-end job, Ellen does the best she can, but cannot help wishing she had it better. After her mother’s death, Ellen slips into a state that sees stress levels mount and self-care dwindle, which fuels poor judgment and a return to some of her old ways. As Ellen’s choices blur, so do some of her inhibitions and she finds herself engaging with people from her school days. This has violent and deadly ramifications, which only trigger Ellen’s mental health issues.

Acting DCI Barton seems to be making headway in the department, hoping to forge a new path all his own. When the team are called out to the scene of a triple murder, things look fairly gruesome. However, these are by no means salt of the earth people, leaving Barton and his team to wonder how much of an effort must be put into the investigation. Still, there are dead bodies and some video to indicate that a burly man might be behind it, so it is worth at least giving it all a try.

After Ellen lashed out at some of her old mates, she tries to justify the act as defence against rape. She cannot believe that she’s acted so harshly, but holds firm that past treatment led to this and kept her from being able to hold her temper. Ellen appears ready to take back her life and right all the wrongs that befell her, not caring who stands in her way. Medication be damned, she refuses to let herself be subservient to anyone!

Acting DCI Barton learns of a DNA hit that might help lead the team towards the killer, though it is familial. This takes the case down some interesting rabbit holes, as they discover the hit belongs to a man who had a psychotic break and turned his rage on others. Could this trait have been passed along to his offspring? Barton hones in on one Ellen Toole, but has little to concretely connect her to the case. He wants to walk a fine line, knowing that if the team strikes too soon, it could mean ruining the case and leaving them with nothing.

As Ellen comes to terms with what she’s done, she is not prepared to go without a fight. Her own mental illness and recent revelations about a past that was anything but calm leaves her ready to scapegoat anyone she can in order to stay two steps ahead of the cops and a certain arrest. What happens next is anyone’s guess. It’s up to the courts to decide, if it ever gets that far!

I have come to enjoy the past novels in Ross Greenwood’s series. This one worked well for me, though I did have a sense that there were some drawbacks that kept me from enjoying it as much as I would have liked. Decent characters and a plot that had potential buoyed the novel, though series fans will have to think on it a but before committing themselves to praising this piece. Not sure this was the series swan song Greenwood may have wanted.

DI John Barton returns for another decent protagonist role. He slides into his new job with ease and is able to keep the reader interested with everything that he has going on. His personal life seems to be reflected a tad more in this piece, though his rise in rank does see him less prominently displayed in this piece. There is some development of his character, but nothing stunning, which is somewhat saddening, as he ends the series back where he started.

Greenwood offers up a decent number of strong secondary characters, including Ellen Toole. Each brings their own flavouring to the story and keeps the reader entertained throughout. I did enjoy learning about their personal struggles and development, some of whom have played key roles in the past two cases, while others are new to the scene. Greenwood paints the Ellen story well here, tossing in those who shaped her as a person and it helps to see how her downfall was a long road to despair.

I must compliment Roos Greenwood for tackling the thorny issue of mental health well throughout this piece. While many convicted criminals do suffer from some form of mental health, it is also something many in the general public have to face daily. While there are dark and menacing sides, Greenwood tries not to tie mental health with criminality. He also tackles the inherited argument of mental illness and whether a parent can pass traits on. Interesting internal discussion for any reader curious enough to pick up the thread.

The story itself had moments of brilliance and others that lagged. There was a strong underlying plot, which permitted the reader to see both the killer and the hunt for her developing simultaneously. This developed in short, alternating chapters that kept the book’s momentum and offered varying sides of the same story arc. However, even with these ingredients, there was a sluggishness to the piece that I could not shake. Greenwood’s use of the ‘know who we hunt for’ has worked well in the past, but seemed to come up short. I found the story dragged at times and I just wanted the Ellen-Barton clash to occur, leaving the courts to offer the final verdict and see if there were twists therein. Perhaps it was just me, but this story seemed much longer than it needed to be and kept the reader tapping their finger between page turns. With the end of the trilogy and Greenwood promising a fresh standalone next, this may be a chance to tap the refresh button and explore new areas of the genre.

Kudos, Mr. Greenwood, for a valiant effort. I’m keen to see if things continue with this series and how you’ll take the piece in new directions, should some of the feedback mirror my own.

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

The Water Tales: Ten Life Lessons from My Water Buddy and Family, by Dr. Michele Wise Wright

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Michele Wise Wright, and Carpenter’s Son Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In an attempt to expand our horizons, my son (Neo) and I decided to read this collection of brief stories together. The Water Buddy and Family are apparently the creation of Dr. Michele Wise Wright and help children better understand the importance of water, as well as the key body parts that promote a healthy lifestyle. In this collection, Dr. Wright focuses on the importance of water in the world, as well as within the body. She explores how diverse the body’s intake of water can be, from creating a stronger immune system to aiding in blood circulation and keeping the brain lubricated. These story focus on real-life issues that children have, as well as discussing what certain triggers might be saying, as though the young reader should be able to see the signs. Each story focuses on a single part of the body, something Neo found especially helpful as we made our way through. Easily read in an evening, as we did, Dr. Wright puts it all out there for readers and adds some wonderful illustrations to keep things stimulating.

While I was not sure what I ought to expect from the book, I was pleasantly surprised to see that both Neo and I could read and ask questions of one another throughout. Dr. Wright boils things down well and keeps the jargon simple, yet does not make things too simplistic. While I am not familiar with Dr. Wright’s work or the website to which the Water Buddy and Family play a key role, I can see the book as being a great part of a larger education factor in promoting healthy living for young people. With stories that can usually be read in under five minutes, there is not a lot of filler to get to the point of what Dr. Wright is trying to say. This is key for young people to stay interested. Neo seemed to find most parts educational without getting preachy, which is another key factor for success. Neo and I agreed that we will have a look at the website to see if there is something there we can learn. Here’s hoping other children follow suit and help create a new generation of healthy kids!

Kudos, Dr. Wright, for an interesting book that is geared at keeping children feeling happy and healthy.

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

Traitor: A History of American Betrayal from Benedict Arnold to Donald Trump, by David Rothkopf

Eight stars

I have decided to embark on a mission to read a number of books on subjects that will be of great importance to the upcoming 2020 US Presidential Election. Many of these will focus on actors intricately involved in the process, in hopes that I can understand them better and, perhaps, educate others with the power to cast a ballot. I am, as always, open to serious recommendations from anyone who has a book I might like to include in the process.

This is Book #5 in my 2020 US Election Preparation Challenge.

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

The hurling of invectives towards the current President of the United States is surely nothing new, though the degree to which it is done seems to have reached new highs of late. David Rothkopf, former editor of Foreign Affairs, takes things even further by calling POTUS a traitor, as he sifts through some of the actions undertaken in the lead-up to the 2016 election and into the presidency. Rothkopf seeks not only to offer this, but presents a book in which he compares Donald Trump’s actions to others in American history who have been given the moniker ‘traitor’ to see how The Donald matches up. What arises in the analysis is both interesting and, at times, a tad unnerving. Still, it does leave the reader with a great deal about which to think!

Rothkopf pulls no punches and dives right in, exploring how some targeted George Washington as a traitor before the ink reporting his first inaugural message had dried. He was seen as too soft when it came to appeasing a declared enemy, though nothing came of it, even as impeachment was suggested by some. The actions of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee during the Civil War were also highly traitorous, turning against the Republic and seeking to tear out apart for racial means caused significant wounds to America and left it in tatters, before an assassination plunged a dagger into any hope of a smooth reunification. While Rothkopf does not make direct parallels between the unrest that continued to simmer and the issues with the new social movements today, there is a faint call that this might be the case. The onset of the Cold War brought a new and sinister enemy out, namely the Russians. As Rothkopf argues, this led to a new round of traitors who sought to appeal to the enemy and sell America short. There are some strong ties between those who were discovered, tried, and convicted with the current president, though it would seem that many within the Trump inner circle refuse to see the parallels, hiding behind their own sentiment that this is all fabricated. However, while all these traitors differ from Trump in the role they played within the country, there is a section of the book that brings it all home, tying Trump in with his fellow traitorous presidents who stared down the barrel of impeachment.

There is no greater power that the people hold over their Commander-in-Chief than to impeach. As America is a representative democracy—and I am not going to offer a political science lecture here to explain all the terms—it is through members of Congress that the people’s voices are heard. Presidents Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Donald Trump all faced investigations into their actions that could be deemed as traitorous, making the comparisons both apt and worth exploration. I acknowledge (as does Rothkopf) that Bill Clinton was also investigated, but find his lying less a traitorous act than a stupidity and attempt to hide his libidinous ways. Johnson sought to sow renewed distrust in the newly reunited Union and was punished for his crimes, only to have the vote fall short in the Senate. Nixon’s lies and deception proved to be too much for him and Congress as a whole, particularly as he continued to obfuscate the process inherent to weed out issues. This was the last time both parties could agree on something so egregious and would have acted accordingly. While the Articles of Impeachment were just as strong for Trump, it would seem that partisan politics blinded the people’s representatives, ignoring the traitorous actions of the sitting president and hoping that it would all go away in time for the electorate to return the Republicans to office this November. Rothkopf makes some strong arguments and comparisons between these three presidents and how the House of Representatives sought to brand them as traitors, even if there was a sense of partisanship. It’s up to the reader to decide if any of this holds water, though one cannot sweep it all under the rug and pretend it does not exist.

In the closing chapter, Rothkopf ties everything together with a set of broad pronouncements, ones that hold firm to the vilification of Trump as a traitor, while also spreading some of the blame around. He posits that it is not only the man at the centre who is the problem, but also those who serve as blind sycophants. While officials within the Administration ought to be doing their jobs, they choose to protect Trump and encourage his behaviour. The protective check of Congress is also lost—at least in the powerful Senate—when drunk partisanship supersedes protecting the people from a tyrannical leader. This not only poses to be a problem for now, but permits a precedent that could have long-lasting fallout. However, by then, things could be so dismantled that it would take years to fix them, long after many who sit and preen are dead. Rothkopf seeks not to paint a dystopian view of America, but feels compelled to act as a herald to what lies ahead, offering the elector the chance to stand up and have their voice heard, for what it is worth. It is not enough to cut the head off the Hydra, but requires getting to the core of the issue and stopping it, while baffling what led the country down this path so swiftly and completely. Therein lies the rub and it’s definitely something that will require some academic analysis by historians. A sobering book for any with the time to pay it some attention. Recommended to those who enjoy a look at history and modern politics, as well as the reader with the astute mind to synthesise the theses presented.

While it can sometimes be harder to read a book that comes out in his opening pages to offer such a strong and negative approach to its theses, I found that David Rothkopf tried his best to prove a point. Working backwards, from convicting Trump as a traitor and then showing how he compares with others in history proved to be less effective than letting history speak for itself and then comparing Trump to these actions thereafter. The first part of the book proved to be a little ‘toss it all on the wall and see what sticks’, but once the narrative got moving, I could see that a great deal of effort had gone in to proving a strong set of core arguments. Even as a believer in the traitor argument, I felt that certain parts were a little too ‘look at me’, even as they made total sense. This is one of those times when personal sentiments can blind a writer from trying to let their reader connect the dots, much like those on the other side try to ram ‘no collusion’ down the throats of many, rather than presenting some valid points and leaving it open to interpretation. While that is the case, the research done and presented in this book is second to none, serving to educate the reader throughout the highly detailed discussions. The chapters clearly presented the arguments sought and built on one another effectively, culminating in the analysis of the theses and providing a clear idea as to how bad things truly are at this point. On the verge of being academic in nature, the book is at least one that will likely appeal only to those whose passion for the discussion is high (I am one of these people), this does not lessen the work put into Rothkopf’s work. He pulls no punches and gladly flays many within the Republican Party, including Cabinet officials who are supposed to act for the country, but serve to protect Trump and suckle from the teat to keep themselves from being guillotined by The Donald. While it seems pretty clear that there have been some traitorous activities committed and that President Trump has knowingly done these things, it is up to the American public (and the hackers on both sides) to decide what happens next. One can only wonder what might happen in a legal and judicial arena, should Donald J. Trump leave office. But, that’s a story for another day and perhaps could be the focus of David Rothkopf’s next book!

Kudos, Mr. Rothkopf for providing readers with some great moments in history that elucidate traitorous activities. One can only hope your views are not drowned out as the election inches forward. With time running out, will there be a chance for more traitorous acts to take place?

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