Blood Kills (Angelina Bonaparte #4), by Nanci Rathbun

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Nanci Rathbun for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having devoured the three previous novels in this series in order to reach this ARC, I was pleased to get my hands on the latest instalment of the Angelina Bonaparte mysteries. Nanci Rathbun continues to develop a great collection of novels built on the tenacious PI Angelina Bonaparte, working around Milwaukee and helping those in need. Counting down the last days of her forced separation from a lover, Angie has ordered a special piece of art to commemorate their reunification. When she arrives to collect it, she discovers the artist’s body in his shop. One thing leads to another and his seedy past comes to light. Hired by a fellow business owner to get to the bottom of things, Angie has an eye on the likely murderer, but needs to connect the dots, as more bodies pile up. This will be one case that requires additional caution to keep her alive! A great addition to the series for fans of Rathbun’s work.

Angelina Bonaparte (add the ‘tay’ on the last syllable if you want to save a punch to the mouth) has been in agony since she and her lover, Detective W. T. “Ted” Wukowski, have been forced apart by Milwaukee PD brass. However, the days are dwindling down and she has a special treat in store for him, aside from the usually flirtatious lingerie she flaunts. While visiting a local metalsmith to collect a piece, she discovers Mick Swanson’s body. Some preliminary sleuthing provides some insight in the form of a letter from Swanson himself, pointing the finger at his own cousin.

While the murder has rattled Angie, the local business owners in the cooperative are equally jarred, worried that the recent violence will cause sales to plummet. One such owner, Debby Hill, admits that she is also Swanson’s executor and worries that she will be targeted. Angie agrees to take her on as a client and they begin to unravel the darker side to Michael (Mick) Lebedev Swanson, whose service in the Russian military opens up new and troubling facets to the investigation.

When Angie and Wukowski get an MPD reprieve on their complete separation, they are able to work together, albeit in a strained fashion, on the case. Detective Wukowski provides some added insight that Mick’s DNA was found at the scene of an Illinois politician’s murder, citing that the metalsmith was actually involved in the Bratva, the Russian Mob. Realising that she will make no headway with her paramour, Angie is forced to take matters into her own hands.

More bodies pile up and Swanson’s own attorney is attacked, with the probate documents stolen. Whatever Swanson has on his cousin must be significant and rests primarily on their time in the Russian Army during the invasion of Chechnya. Angie discovers that there is some family history here that could be playing into the larger motive for murder, but worries that it will all be erased before she can get to the bottom of things. Racing against time and tossing caution into the wind, PI Bonaparte will have to take some risks to bring the truth out, much to the chagrin of hard-headed Detective Wukowski. Will there be a romantic reconnection after all?

I enjoy binge-reading a series, as it permits me to explore the plots and character development on a deeper level. When handed this ARC, I chose not to dive right in, but rather get an understanding of the series and all that Rathbun had done to date. I am pleased that I did, as it permitted me to connect better with Angelina Bonaparte, though I admit it took a while. While I was not entirely hooked by the debut novel that Nanci Rathbun offered readers, Angelina Bonaparte‘s unique approach did eventually sink in for me, giving me a deeper appreciation of her style and I was rather excited to get my hands on this novel.

Angelina Bonaparte stays the course as a strong protagonist, forced to take on a great deal yet again. While there are some moments of familial backstory peppered throughout, the main focus appears to be character development, both professional and personal. Bonaparte is a risk taker, but she appears to ground most of her actions on fact-finding and strong sleuthing. Pulled into the case, she uses many of her connections in the field to reveal truths, though her stubbornness does sometimes lead to some hot water moments. Flirty and focussed on rekindling her love affair, she has her moments of cringe-worthy saccharine one-liners, but those are par for the course.

Rathbun continues with a strong collection of secondary characters, many of whom she admits come from people she actually knows. Those who grace the pages of the book help push the story forward and keep the reader entertained throughout. While there are always criminal elements in the novels, much of the plot development comes from understanding various angles these seemingly minor characters provide the story, only adding to the greatness of the overall piece. Rathbun has some recurring characters and a bunch of new faces, keeping the reader intrigued while learning what’s going on as well.

I can finally admit that Nanci Rathbun’s novels are growing on me. While it took me some time to find my niche, trying to wrap my head around this middle-aged PI‘s obsession with undergarments, the fact that there is a strong thriller is not lost on me. The book added some grit and looked again into some recent history to add a depth and flavour to the plot, while keeping the action coming in each chapter. Rathbun’s writing is engaging throughout, usually able to steer away from predictability, though there is an undertone of slight hokines, which works in this regard. There’s a decent balance of short and longer chapters to whet the reader’s appetite throughout, with wondering pacing. I enjoyed the mix of backstory from previous novels and the newness of this mystery, a great balance that is sure to keep the reader wondering what’s to come. While it was an advantage to binge the series, I know I will have to wait for a while now to see if Angelina Bonaparte is back with more Milwaukee fun!

Kudos, Madam Rathbun, for a winner. I am glad I took the gamble on the series and feel you have a fan in me!

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

The Magdalene Veil (Magdalene Chronicles #3), by Gary McAvoy

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Gary McAvoy for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always eager to get my hands on anything penned by Gary McAvoy, I was pleased to be handed an ARC of his latest novel, the final in the electrifying Magdalene Chronicles trilogy. While Father Michael Dominic and Hana Sinclair have been busy uncovering old biblical-era mysteries, there are some who want the secrets and possessions all for themselves. In this last piece, an old relic appears to have fallen into the hands of the Nazis, stowed away for decades. Now, a group seeking to revive old Aryan roots wants to utilise the artifact to create new and impactful change to the world. In a piece that spans two continents, McAvoy takes readers on his most intense journey yet. Perfect for those who have devoured the previous two novels, as well as the reader who needs a book that is unputdownable!

On his way to his execution, Jesus was stopped by a woman who helped wipe away his blood and sweat with a veil from around her head. Thankful for the act, Christ does so before being led to Calvary for his crucifixion. The woman, a devout follower, passes the veil along to Mary Magdalene, who ensures it is placed within the tomb where Christ is buried. When his disciples find the tomb empty three days later, there is the veil, complete with a facial outline of Jesus.

During the era of the Nazis, this veil was touted to be exactly what they needed to push forward and seek to vilify the Jews even more. When the veil was obtained by Heinrich Himmler, he made sure to stow it away in a secret location and left a riddle so that the next generation would be able to find it, though not with any ease. His plan was surely to revive the Aryan race through its most prominent member, Christ himself.

While in France for some educational purposes, Father Michael Dominic is approached by a young man purporting to be in possession of some significant information that could be of interest to the Vatican. Dominic soon learns that there is a diary of Heinrich Himmler that could reveal something significant. The young man, who admits his grandfather was a high-ranking Nazi who fled to Argentina, wishes to learn the secrets in the diary and perhaps uncover what is said to be a relic from the time of Christ.

Never one to turn down a historical mystery, Father Dominic broaches the subject with his friend, Hana Sinclair, whose job as a journalist is rooted in uncovering mysteries of all kinds. Working together, they locate the diary, which leads them to Argentina. They learn of a group, the Ahnenerbe, who pose as a social group, but have strong ties to Nazi-era membership. Whispers about possible neo-Nazi revival cannot be dismissed either. When Dominic and Sinclair are able to piece together the riddle left by Himmler, they learn that the secret, the Magdalene Veil, is hidden in an old German castle that was once a Nazi training ground.

Keen to retrieve the article for the Vatican, Dominic and Sinclair make arrangements to have it removed and brought to the Holy See. However, there are some who want it for themselves and will stop at nothing to retrieve it. When it falls into the hands of the Ahnenerbe, they hope to use it for their own means, as they develop a Kinderklinik, a place to foster a new era of neo-Nazis under the radar, while also using new techniques to begin genetic experiments. With the Veil in their possession, this group has plans to extract something and turn the Church on its head, while reviving old sentiments that will surely tear the post-War world apart anew.

While Father Dominic and Hana Sinclair are held captive, they learn that a high-ranking Vatican member might be pulling the strings to allow this power play, which could only ruin centuries of Church control of the message. It will take much determination and some key messaging to foil the plot and key the Magdalene Veil safely in the hands of those who cherish it, and wish to keep it secret once again. An explosive end to the series, but which direction will it take and how will the world change when all is revealed?

I stumbled upon the first book in this series last summer and could not put it down. When Gary McAvoy reached out to me to read the next two novels, I pushed all my other reading commitments to the side so that I could dive right in. I was thrilled and devoured the stories, as they tell such an alluring tale, so much so that I was up well into the night to flip pages and discover what was to come of the protagonists. It is that sort of story and a series not to be missed by those who love biblical mysteries of a kind.

Father Michael Dominic reprises his role as protagonist and does a masterful job. While his backstory is left mostly in the previous novels, the reader can see great development of his character throughout this piece. There is a gritty determination throughout, as he mixes his archivist past with a penchant for being a sleuth. His connections serve him well throughout this piece, though it is a sense of wanting to protect the Vatican that shines through, pitting secrets against keeping the peace for the Church.

McAvoy creates strong supporting characters throughout, using many of those who grace the pages of the book to connect the dots in history, as well as the revival of the neo-Nazi movement. There is a richness, not only in the characters, but also the history of which they speak, which flavours the narrative effectively and conveys the seriousness of the mission at hand. Spanning three eras, these characters tell a story that will pull the reader deeper into the plot as all is revealed in a timely manner.

The story was perhaps the more electrifying of the three novels, putting a sense of urgency front and centre. McAvoy’s ability to spin a tale is second to none and there were times I wished I had binge-read all three books back to back, if only to reconnect with all the nuances that appear in the text. However, this book packs enough punch and history to have kept me intrigued throughout. McAvoy uses short chapters to keep the reader propelling forward, peppering in history and anecdotes throughout to assuage the curious while still keeping a degree of mystery. The narrative moved at breakneck speed and there is little time for the reader to relax, as the story is not one that meanders at any point. McAvoy’s use of local language (Spanish, German, etc) helps to inject a sense of realism to the story, leaving the reader to feel as though they were right there. While things do come together in the end, it is the sense of panic and ‘what could be’ that keeps the reader wondering well after closing the book’s cover. McAvoy does ensure that those who wonder where fiction and fact come together are calmed with an Author’s Note to discuss it all. I can only hope that McAvoy has something similar for his next writing assignment, as I am hooked and want more of this sort of novel.

Kudos, Mr. McAvoy, for another stunning piece. With the trilogy done, I can only hope people will hear of these books and discover Father Michael Dominic for themselves. I am sure your fan base is about to swell very soon!

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

Crucible of Fear, by D.W. Whitlock

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and D.W. Whitlock for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always eager to try something away from my usual genres, I agreed to read this ARC by D.W. Whitlock. The novel poses as a thriller, with a strong tech undertone, perfect for those who like exploring the darker underbelly of online cyber crimes. When an advertising executive is targeted, his life is turned upside down and he soon realises that nothing is off limits when it comes to getting a pound of proverbial flesh. Whitlock leaves the reader thinking throughout in this chilling tale of tech-based blackmail.

Dante Ellis thought that he had it made. A successful advertising executive whose career was still climbing, Ellis was sure success was in his back pocket. When he receives an odd text message one morning, he’s not sure if it is a threat or some joke. However, things soon spiral out of control and Ellis is faced with some chilling realisations. Someone is prepared to go quite far to flex their muscle and bury Ellis’ reputation at the same time.

As the story progresses, the reader is introduced to a number of other characters, all of whom are met some some similar, if less intrusive, attacks on their lives. The perpetrator is soon identified as the faceless ‘Dark Messiah’, showing that nothing is off-limits when technology is used. Through the seemingly harmless use of a dragonfly drone, Dark Messiah is able to keep an eye on those it targets, stirring up trouble or nuisances at the click of a button, with its drones always on scene.

While Ellis continues to get wrapped up in the sticky web that is spun around him, Dark Messiah ups the ante and targets the younger generation. A single parent, Dante Ellis soon has to worry about his daughter’s safety, as Dark Messiah crosses the line and targets the young girl. Her life on the line, Ellis is left to do whatever is asked of him in order to ensure his daughter’s safety.

Who is this faceless entity that calls itself Dark Messiah? What is the reason for targeting these seemingly unconnected group of people? All is revealed in a chilling story that D.W. Whitlock presents to the curious reader. This is one debut that will have many flipping pages well into the night, if only to see who is behind all the mayhem, all while peering around, looking for dragonflies or other ‘watchful eyes’.

I liked the dust jacket blurb of this piece and was sure that I would get sucked in by D.W. Whitlock’s story. While the book started with a bang and never gave me time to breathe, I am not sure I was as sold as some. The piece clipped along and left me wondering throughout, but it was also not as gripping as I would liked. However, I cannot place my finger exactly on what was missing or might have been a means of solving this reading dilemma.

Dante Ellis is surely the central protagonist in this piece, though the story does offer a large collection of characters with which the reader can connect. Ellis finds himself on full display, his life and reputation slowly torn apart throughout the piece. There are glimpses of backstory needed to fill in the gaps of the narrative, though it is the development (or dismantling) of the character that remains the core of the novel’s impetus as it relates to Ellis. The reader finds themselves trying to piece together who or what might want to target the ad executive, while feeling some degree of sympathy for his continual downfall. Whitlock does well to create this connection for those who enjoy linking themselves to characters.

There are plenty of characters and subplots for the reader to enjoy throughout this piece. While the early portion of the novel presents them as unconnected, there is a sense that Dark Messiah has a purpose. The villainous antagonist is ever-present throughout, providing the reader with something to dislike as the story progresses. That being said, there is surely a degree of respect for the evil doing, represented by the seemingly innocent dragonfly drones.

I liked the story to a degree, but was not sold entirely by the plot. As I mentioned above, I cannot pinpoint what was missing, but there was a disconnect that I desperately wanted to see throughout the novel. The premise was sound and the narrative kept moving along nicely, but I could not find myself fully enthralled or connected with what continued to occur. That others loved the piece is no surprise to me. Whitlock has a knack for writing and his crisp chapters pushed the story along with ease. Offering multiple perspectives proves refreshing and adds a layer of ominous sentiment to the overall delivery; that it is not a single person—Dante Ellis—who is suffering at the hands of this faceless entity. I’d likely read something else by D.W. Whitlock down the road, just to see if it might be me and my current mindset that left me less than fully committed.

Kudos, Mr. Whitlock, for a strong debut. I can see many who will thoroughly enjoy this piece, though there needs to be a balancing out. I suppose I am one who offers that, in review form.

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

Triple M Murder (Jack Calloway Book 1), by Carmen Cady

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Carmen Cady for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

While police procedurals and mysterious thrillers flood the fiction marketplace, Carmen Cady has been able to find a unique angle in this series debut. Jack Calloway is not only a private investigator and criminal profiler, but has a past that sets him apart from many. Few are aware of his great secret, something Calloway hopes will not change in the near future. When a serial killer stalks Seattle, Calloway is brought in to assist with the investigation, only to discover something sinister that floors him. A chilling start to what could be a great series. Recommended to those who enjoy unique takes on the crime thriller.

Jack Calloway has had a great deal of success as a freelance private investigator and criminal profiler, so much so that his name is bandied around many police organizations. His impetus comes from the fact that his family was murdered by a sadistic killer years ago, forcing him to hone his skills to find justice for all. When he is called to assist on a spree of killings in Seattle, Calloway returns to a city that holds many recent memories. Working alongside a forensic tech with whom he has a romantic history is daunting enough, but having to report to a detective who has no love loss for him makes things all the more difficult.

On the surface, the case appears somewhat cut a dry; young women have turned up murdered in Seattle. It would seem there are similarities in their age and the fact they all used a dating app, something that does not leap off the page for anyone. However, Calloway discovers some peculiar clues at the scenes, things that do not add up. Stymied, but not yet ready tho give up, Calloway follows his instincts and tries to make sense of it all.

While he’s trying to come to terms with his colleagues and they past they share, Calloway wrestles with another secret, something far darker and much more troubling. He has a long history—literally—and soon realises that the killer may have been targeting him for more than a few months, baiting him to get involved in the action. It’s soon apparent that Calloway could be a suspect in the killings, based on his connections to them, albeit in a vague manner. He must use this unique approach to his advantage in order to make sense of the victims, the killer, and the direction in which the crime spree will turn, all while trying to clear his name and hold onto the secret that could ruin it all.

Working the crimes without revealing too much about himself, Calloway tries to piece it all together and bring the killer to justice. However, there are delicate aspects that must be handled and clues that cannot be revealed to the general public, for fear that Calloway’s personal life comes to the surface. That would destroy everything, from his credibility through to his lifestyle. There is a killer on the loose, someone who has lured Calloway into this trap and must be stopped, after centuries of evil doing!

Carmen Cady does well to intrigue the reader with the premise of this story, without making things too supernatural. I choose not to reveal too much, permitting the reader to delve deep and see what they think. While the premise—killer must be caught by the protagonist—is traditional in nature, there are aspects to the story that make it a unique and curious read. Cady may be on to something here, if she can keep the momentum.

Jack Calloway is a great protagonist, revealing much about himself throughout the story. While he is a top-notch private investigator, there are personal aspects to him that come to the surface throughout this piece. Both his personal and professional lives come under scrutiny in the novel, with the reader receiving a front row seat to all the action. His secret remains his own, though Calloway will have to face many a demon throughout the story to make sense of what is before him, which only thickens the plot.

Cady offers up a wonderful cross-section of characters in the piece, each working in their own way to advance the plot. There are many subplots that develop, allowing Cady to hone her characters effectively and flavouring the narrative throughout. Calloway’s past and present are on full display here, with many complementing his character in their own manner.

The story, while not entirely unique in its approach, is great as the layers are peeled back. Cady knows how to build up some tension between her characters and uses plot to advance the story. The narrative, working in a number of time periods and through the eyes of numerous characters, proves strong and does not lose the momentum throughout. A mix of chapter lengths proves the perfect tease for the reader, goading them to keep going in order to piece the mystery together. There are many aspects to the story, appealing to a large audience, though their underlying truth about Jack Calloway drives the story along, forcing the reader to wonder just how long his secret will remain his own, and how that could turn the series on its head.

Kudos, Madam Cady, for an intriguing series debut. I will have to keep my eyes open for more of your work in the coming years. Jack Calloway certainly has me curious, as does his backstory!

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

Capitol in Crisis, by Kathy Roy Johnson

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Kathy Roy Johnson for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

With an aptly titled book, Kathy Roy Johnson rushes onto the scene and makes her presence known. Johnson pens a fresh type of thriller with a political spin, making Capitol in Crisis one that many readers can enjoy without the vile imagery of a mob ransacking the heart of American democracy and an authoritarian leader inciting insurrection to hold onto power. Johnson focuses on a crisis inside the Capitol building when an explosion rocks the tunnel between the House and Senate sides, as well as the rush to assess damage and free those who are trapped. Anyone looked for a wonderful thriller with strong characters need look no further than this stunning debut novel.

Everything was quiet that morning on Capitol Hill, with coffee brewing and legislators preparing for another day. When an explosion rocks the inside of the building, no one is more concerned than Simone Perez, Architect of the Capitol. Worried that this might have been something planned ahead of time, Perez scrambles for answers, as everyone wants to know what is going on. With sparse information, Perez is able to ascertain that it was likely an explosion tied to the installation of a new power grid and not the act of a terror group, but that is the only relief that is to come anytime soon.

Initial assessments show that the tunnel connecting the House and Senate sides of the building is blocked by debris from the explosion and two men at the epicentre are trapped as well. Amidst those trapped in the tunnel is Addie Hutchinson, proprietor of the small café in the basement, as well as a handful of customers who were there at the time of the explosion. Addie is raising her three grandsons alone and has become like a mother to most everyone on the Hill, especially those who need their morning caffeine fix.

Simone Perez works quickly to assemble a committee of people from all aspects of Capitol life and some emergency groups, hoping to assess the damage and come up with a plan to rescue those who are trapped. This includes briefing the press and keeping them up to date on the progress of any efforts to end this catastrophe.

Working in harmony, various people develop plans to help those who are trapped and come to the aid of families who are seeing things unfold on their televisions. The pressure to communicate with those trapped falls on a maintenance worker by the name of Rob Tate, whose personal demons rise to the occasion and seek to deter him from his mission. Keeping things calm on the political side is Speaker of the House, John McIntyre, who wants nothing but the best and to be kept in the loop.

A harrowing rescue plan is put into action and the world waits as things inch closer to a successful end. However, when someone makes a major miscalculation, new problems arise and Simone Perez can only watch in shock as everything they have tried to do comes to a halt, with new and unforeseen dangers shocking those in the know. There are people on both sides of the collapse praying for answers, none more than the three grandsons of Addie Hutchinson, who have lost everything already. It will take a monumental effort to save the Capitol, but the strength of honest unity might actually propel them to some feasible answer.

When I saw the dust jacket blurb of this piece, I was not entirely sure what to expect. Admittedly, the title of the book caught my eye and I could not wait to read it. I pondered if Kathy Roy Johnson would put her spin on a terrorist plot to attack Capitol Hill or if she mighty have been foreboding the attacks that did occur on January 6, 2021. Yet this was a piece that might have been filled with politics, but its flavouring was completely different, allowing many to find themselves drawn into the middle of the piece.

There are many central characters in his multi-perspective piece, but Simone Perez would likely stand out as the strongest protagonist. It rests on her shoulders to handle the explosion and how to organise efforts to help those who are trapped. As an architect, she knows the technical side of the collapse, but she also exhibits a personal passion for those who are in trouble. This shines through as the piece progresses and keeps the reader hopeful that there are answers to help everyone involved. With hints of her backstory, Johnson paints a warm and caring woman whose emotions run high with the crisis in full swing.

Johnson is able to utilise her strong character development capabilities to craft strong support for her story and the plot. The story explores the lives of many, united by the tragic events on Capitol Hill, and each person has their own perspective that come to the front while things progress. From young children who seek their grandmother, to the press who are there to cover the story, through to the politicians who seek normalcy and to get the agenda moving, there is a personal touch on every page. The book shows hints of the political, but it is more the politics of family and community that shine through, something rarely written about in fiction about the seat of American democracy!

The book starts off strong and yet keeps the reader in the dark about what is going on. The explosion envelops those on the Hill from the opening pages and questions arise as to its origin. Rather than being terror-driven, the story is about hope and communication, with a strong narrative and a handful of well-crafted characters. Johnson uses mid-length chapters to propel the story forward and keeps the reader in the forefront of the rescue mission, as well as the personal stories of those who are most affected. Kathy Roy Johnson has developed something here that is bot addictive and free of the profane, sure to attract a larger group of readers. This may have political undertones, but it is not a political thriller. Those who love rescue stories will find something in it, as well as the people who like the buzz of Washington. I can only hope that Johnson will write more about those people she introduced here, as I am eager to see a political thriller utilising her writing abilities and the backdrop of the Capitol!

Kudos, Madam Johnson, on this riveting debut thriller. I cannot say enough about it and hope you’ll come up with more, as I am eager to queue up to read whatever you publish!

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

When a Rook Takes the Queen, by Edward Izzi

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Edward Izzi for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Edward Izzi is back with another explosive thriller set on the streets of Chicago. The highly controversial mayor of the city has been assassinated in her backyard and the media circus is only beginning. Alongside the hunt for a murderer, a keen reporter trips on a connection between a local crime boss and an highly activist priest. Might there be something there that no one’s yet realised? Izzi spins a tale like no other in his latest thriller, When a Rook Takes the Queen, that is sure to captivate the reader’s attention.

In the heart of the summer, a gunshot rings out and Chicago Mayor Janice Kollar lies dead in her garden. A controversial politician in her own right, Kollar had many enemies around town, on both sides of the law. However, it’s an investigation the CPD rushes to begin. With such a list of suspects, it will be hard to pinpoint who might have wanted the city’s first openly gay mayor lying in a casket.

As the story hits the wires, Chicago Tribune reporter, Larry McKay, rushes to make sense of it all and begin following leads. While the murder attracts a great deal of attention, McKay learns of a weekly chess match at St. Simeon’s Church between Fr. Colin Fitzgerald and organised crime boss Anthony ‘Little Tony’ DiMatteo. This baffles McKay, as Fitzgerald is known to be a staunch political activist and a former grand chess master. What business he has with a powerful mobster seems to make little sense. A few calls ruffle some feathers, but McKay is not dissuaded from proceeding.

Inside these weekly chess matches, it would seem ‘Father Fitz’ has been able to serve as a new family consigliere, providing inside and guidance to Little Tony in an advisory role. Their discussions look to how one might control the powder keg that Chicago is becoming with the murder of Mayor Kollar, turning to force and violence to quell things before a new incarnation of Black Lives Matter comes to fruition.

As McKay digs deeper and peddles his views to a fellow television reporter, his life is in danger. This unlikely ‘Chicago Gambit’ want nothing more than to silence McKay and keep their association off the radar. McKay cannot back down, especially with a killer still out there. What happens next is anyone’s guess.

Edward Izzi does a masterful job tying in his thrilling political story with a criminal angle. Adding his usual flavourings of organised crime and the Catholic Church, the story gains momentum throughout and keeps the reader guessing how all the players will turn the plot throughout the piece. As always, there are some wonderful twists that only Izzi can deliver in his great style.

While the story is split between a number of storylines, Larry McKay does appear to hold firm to the role of protagonist. His gritty style and unwillingness to bow to the pressure only adds to his character. I admit, if he was a character in a past Izzi novel, he was minor, so I have little backstory for him. However, he grows on the reader with ease and is able to make an impact throughout with great development. His interactions with others, both major and minor characters, helps create a story that does not stop until the final page turn.

Izzi has always used an interesting technique for his secondary characters. As I have mentioned in past reviews, Izzi positions minor characters to have their time in the spotlight before fading away. Some are mentioned in passing and receive their cameo in a novel, only to slink back away, while others prove prominent and are paid lip service in subsequent novels. Here, there are a number of ‘has been’ prominent people who receive mere mention, as well as a few heavy hitters whose presence makes the book what it is. Izzi’s ability to use this technique, which I have seen elsewhere done almost as effectively, provides a standalone option for his novels, while luring fans to stick around and read them all, to tie the threads together.

The book itself was well paced and full of exciting plot development. While there are Catholic and organised crime themes throughout, their stereotypical presentation does not turn this into a mob novel. The story flows well, with a strong narrative that keeps the reader moving along. Short chapters can easily be devoured, allowing things to develop quickly and remain intense throughout. Edward Izzi is an author I only recently discovered, but I cannot get enough of his books. It could be the stories, the writing, or the ease of flow. Whatever that might be, I love when I see that another is ready for me.

Kudos, Mr. Izzi, for another winner. I am excited to see two more books in the pipeline and will gladly clear my schedule when that time comes!

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

A Cold Day for August (Detective August Miller #1), by Charles Prandy

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Charles Prandy for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always up for a good police procedural, I eagerly reached for Charles Prandy’s latest book A Cold Day for August. A detective works a baffling case where young women keep turning up murdered in various ways. With little to go on, Detective August Miller tries to follow up on the few leads presented to her. However, there’s something in her past that has her feeling a little off-kilter and may impede her usual clear headedness. A great start to what looks to be a new series, prefect for those who love a thriller with many twists.

Detective August Miller is a well-established homicide detective in Maryland. She’s called out to handle the discovery of a young woman’s body, apparently murdered by strangulation. With few leads, Miller must try to piece together the final night of the victim, in hopes of discovering the killer’s identity. While things seem to be leading in a certain direction, she encounters a few dead-ends, which only creates layers of frustration.

When another woman is found, this time drowned in a lake, Miller works even harder to piece the crimes together. Might there be a serial killer out there who is targeting young women for reasons as yet unknown? It’s also got Miller worried that someone from her past, her sister’s killer, has come back to resume his obsession.

While working these murders, Miller is called out to what seems like the suicide of an older gentleman. However, something is not making sense, leading Miller to think that there was some foul play. Could the case be tied to her two female victims?

With all this going on, Walter Presley, popular crime author, is going through his own issues. An admitted voyeur, Presley has been having a hard time pushing his urges down. He’s fixated on a new woman and ends up sneaking into her house on a whim, but has little interest other than spying on her. However, she’s gone missing and Walter cannot decide if he ought to come forward and help the authorities. His chance encounter with Detective Miller does not go well and a last-second decision puts him at the top of the suspect list. A killer is out there and Detective August Miller will have to find them before the victim count rises even more.

While I have never read anything by Charles Prandy, this book alone makes me wish I had. There is so much in this book that kept me wanting to read more, with a captivating writing style and a plot that never lost its fast pace. It was quite the experience learning about August Miller and her complex past, something I hope Prandy expands into a series of some length.

August Miller comes off as a strong protagonist, complex and yet easily relatable by the reader. She takes her work seriously and has no issue standing firm against the pushback she gets from her male colleagues. Her grit and determination propel her to never stop asking questions and trying to reveal truths that seem to elude others. Her personal struggles related to the murder of her sister seems to fuel Miller’s determination to help others, no matter the cost.

Prandy has a lot going on in this book and keeps his subplots developing with a strong supporting cast. While there were times that it was hard to keep track of everyone, Prandy keeps the characters evolving and intriguing, sure to help the reader want to know more. Be it the banter between Miller and the suspects or some of the lighter interactions in other chapters, Prandy uses his characters well to push the novel along.

I have read many crime thrillers and police procedurals over the years, some of which I found to be highly intriguing. Prandy opens his novel with what looks to be a killer’s journal, which had me hooked. I needed to know more and the story only got better from there. With a distinct narrative and strong dialogue, Prandy keeps the reader in the middle of the action. His short chapters not only propel the story forward, but forces the reader to push for “just a little more” before they put it down for a time. I was all-in from the early chapters and wanted to know more. By the end, I could only hope that August Miller might come back for another few cases, as she has something about her that remains unresolved. I’ll definitely add Charles Prandy to my list of authors to watch.

Kudos, Mr. Prandy, for a great novel. I will have to look into some of your other series, hoping they are just as good.

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

The Injection, by D.L. Jones (and Devante Cresh)

Six stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and D.L. Jones for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Intrigued by the premise of his latest novel, I turned to D.L. Jones’ The Injection for something that straddles the medical and psychological thriller genres. When a pharmaceutical product shows interesting results in animal trials, it is used without being fully vetted on a man with an as yet unclear agenda. The results could be problematic, particularly when further lab tests show unexpected side effects. Jones keeps the reader guessing in this piece that has some great moments, though is mired in a sluggish narrative.

Tracey Jones has been hard at work on Hypo, an injection that could revolutionise the pharmaceutical world. Working to augment the actions of the hypothalamus gland, this drug allows the user to utilise sheer determination and strict focus to complete a task, dulling the pain and leaving the skin more resistant to injury. Its testing on mice is going well, though coming off the drug has the user entering a long and fitful slumber, likely as a form of recuperation.

When Tracey reaches out to his college friend, Chauncy Peters, the reaction is one of only slight trepidation. Chauncy and his wife had a run-in with Tracey back in college, something that helped fuel an exceptional thesis, but left the Joneses feeling betrayed. While Chauncy is eager to see his old friend, he has other things on his mind. His electronics shop has been the subject of a number of break-ins of late, which had the cops involved. The only other event in town that rivals the break-ins would be the number of week-long kidnappings taking place.

After Chauncy and Tracey spend some time together, they find themselves caught in the web of these same kidnappers. Tied-up and likely to be held for a while, Tracey talks about an experimental drug he’s been working on, Hypo. With some samples on him, Tracey and Chauncy inject themselves and show great force. They are able to escape, though the after effects leave both feeling completely drained.

Chauncy is shocked by the abilities this Hypo has on him and accepts a number of vials to use at his discretion. Tracey leaves town and returns to the lab to see how things are progressing. While Chauncy comes to terms with what has happened to him, he uses the drug’s determinative effects to help overcome an issue getting his wife pregnant. While she loves the vivaciousness her husband shows, Mrs. Peters comes to resent his aggressive side, something she shares repeatedly with a friend.

As Chauncy continues to use the drug to solve his everyday issues, Tracey learns some troubling news from additional trials, primarily that aggression is heightened to homicidal levels after prolonged use. Once Chauncy discovers a secret his wife has been keeping from him, he acts in the only way he knows how, though is clueless to the aggressive trigger he’s set off inside himself.

As the world seems to have turned against him, Chauncy Peters takes matters into his own hands, only to realise that he’s been played yet again. His aggression sees him get into trouble with the law. Blinded by rage, the truth spirals out of control and Chauncy has lost his ability to regulate. All from a simple injection!

Having never read any D.L. Jones before, I was eager to see if this might be an author I would add to my list. I enjoyed the dust jacket blurb for this book, which left me wondering how things would play out. However, even with such an intriguing premise, the narrative delivery offered some issues that left me feeling cheated and out of sorts.

Chauncy Peters serves the story well, not only as an unwitting test subject for a new drug, but as a local businessman who wants to help his community. He loves his wife and wants a family, though seems distracted by some of the things that he has going on. When introduced to Hypo, it takes over his world, much as illicit drugs might form an addiction. Before he can regulate himself, Chauncy is fixated on the effect the drug has on him and lets it overtake him. Struggling to find a calm balance, Chauncy becomes the author of his own demise, unable to allocate blame where it is needed.

Jones uses some interesting supporting characters to develop his story, some of whom serve their purpose well, while others are truly as flimsy as they present themselves to be. The story works well with some of the core secondary characters, though there are a few plot lines that were likely created solely to substantiate the use of other names that pepper the pages of this book. I can see what Jones was trying to do with some of his minor characters, but could have used less of their flighty interactions.

While I cannot fault the core idea of the story, I found the delivery to be full of issues. The narrative was not as crisp as it could have been, at times recounted in a 1920s dark sleuth mystery, complete with “Girl, if only you…” and “Gosh, ….” I sought grit in the writing and got moments of pablum. Even the rage Chauncy Peters showed throughout was diluted to the point of being unbelievable in the present day. There were some narrative twists, which did work well and the chapters were short enough to make me want to forge ahead, but I worry for readers who are expecting something sharp and edgy, based on the summary. While not a book clinging to life-support, some readers may call out a Code Blue to resuscitate the narrative from its 1920s shell!

Kudos, Mr. Jones, for a valiant effort with a strong premise. Perhaps your work with your own alter ego left you divided in how to present this as top of the genre. I may come back for another try of a different publication, when time permits.

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

Stolen Truth, by Henya Drescher

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Henya Drescher for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Eager to get my hands on a great psychological thriller, I turned to Henya Drescher’s Stolen Truth, which documents a woman’s struggle to find her missing husband and newborn when no one believes her. The story touches on a number of chilling themes and kept me reading into the evening as I sought to piece the underlying story together. Well worth a look by interested readers.

Bree Michaelson wakes in a haze, unsure what’s going on. She realises that she’s slept for hours longer than she ought to have and yet her newborn, Noah, has not woken. When she goes to check on him, he’s not there. In fact, there is no sign of him whatsoever, including no baby clothes, furniture, or photos. Bree’s husband, Todd, is also gone, without a trace.

In a state of panic, Bree calls the police and demands that they come help. While she waits, the reader learns through Bree that Todd was a very secretive man and forced her to cut ties with everyone she knew, friends and family alike. Noah was also born to a midwife, Connie, who had been staying with the couple. She, too, is missing.

When the local officer arrives, he does a cursory look, but nothing is adding up. There is no sign of anyone ever having lived there with Bree. The officer agrees to make some calls, but can promise nothing. Bree begins to question everything around her and cannot understand what’s going on. She remembers being pregnant and has the leaking breasts, as well as loose stomach, to show for it.

As Bree begins an investigation on her own, she discovers that no one wants to help and that her own family does not believe her. Having been isolated from everyone, she does not appear to have anything to show for her time with Todd and Noah. The more she asks questions, the fewer answers emerge.

Coming to terms with her own mental health issues in the past, Bree must try to convince herself that she is not fabricating all of this, but an inexplicable victim. Bree will need to turn to the most unlikely source for help, as they may just be her last hope to prove that she’s telling the truth. Then again, what she discovers is equally as baffling!

Having never read anything by Henya Drescher before, I was eager to check out her writing. The premise of the story had me curious and I was hooked from the early chapters. Watching Bree Michaelson appear to swim upstream to prove herself is a wonderful theme throughout this piece, while the reader questions what us real and where the mind of a traumatized woman has filled in the missing pieces.

Bree Michaelson is a wonderfully complex character, whose story emerges throughout the development of the narrative. Not only does she have to deal with a baby who has gone missing, but she questions everything about the man who got her into this mess. Where does truth end and fallacy begin? Bree’s sordid past makes it harder for others to trust her, though she is determined to prove that she is of sound mind and that someone’s targeting her for reasons as yet unknown.

Drescher does a wonderful job with her supporting characters, offering the reader a glimpse at a fabulous cross-section of people who help enrich the story. While some add only a small piece to the larger puzzle, others know Bree well and help coax out information key to the reader’s better understand of what’s taking place. The banter and interactions add much to the story and help make the plot even better.

The premise of the piece may not be entirely unique, but it was developed in such a way as to pull the reader in from the opening pages and leave them wondering. The latter portion of the book alone takes the reader down quite the rabbit hole, bringing things together in ways that few could have ever predicted. All signs of a masterful writer that can keep the reader from standing on solid ground.

Drescher uses strong writing to string the reader along, setting the scene and then opening up many of the story’s hidden doors as the plot develops. This serves to keep the reader open their toes and guessing, even if the most likely answer is right before them. Use of different chapter lengths serves to keep the reader from getting into too much of a lull, mixing up the short bits to keep the momentum going and then adding longer an more detailed portions when the information is such that one has to keep going to see how it will play out. Strong characters and a narrative that takes things in many directions keeps things fresh throughout while always leaving the reader wondering if they missed something obvious, a la Sixth Sense. Drescher is masterful in her storytelling and I can only hope to find more of her work in the coming years.

Kudos, Madam Drescher, for such a captivating piece. I will be sure to recommend others try this novel to see what they think for themselves.

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

The Shelton Mill, by Elaine Gavigan

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Elaine Gavigan for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Looking for something a little more conspiratorial, I turned to this novel by Elaine Gavigan. The Shelton Mill offers readers a glimpse into a story that explores how greed and political corruption make for strange (and usual) bedfellows, leaving the ‘little gal’ to push back and fight for the truth. A decent read, though not as stirring as I would have hoped, given the dust jacket blurb.

Ellen Larkin enjoys working as an investigative reporter with the Boston Chronicle and has been compiling information on a major story about kickbacks in the construction industry. However, due to a massive diminution in advertising revenue, she’s handed a pink slip by the newspaper and sent on her way.

Her dreams of a Pulitzer dashed and a bank account on fumes, Ellen is forced to look for work. While her reputation precedes her, she knows that a job in journalism is a lofty ask so quickly agrees to a position at Gargantua, a recruitment company that has been siphoning the aforementioned advertising dollars from the Chronicle.Things are a tad strange when she arrives for an interview, but Ellen chalks it up to her own paranoia.

With Gargantua located in the Shelton Mill, a piece of property with a long history all its own, Ellen knows that she’s in for an interesting work experience. Early in her training, she comes across something that leads her to believe that Guarantua’s tied in with the construction scheme she had been investigating. Might her time here allow Ellen to covertly gather intel for the story of a lifetime, positioning her to be brought back to the Chronicle and offered a Pulitzer?

As organised crime in Boston is as intense as ever, with both the Irish and Italians happy to stick their fingers in as many corrupt pies as possible, Ellen will have to be attuned to those who may wish to silence her. One wrong move could ruin her chances and leave her footing in the Charles River, another crime statistic the Chronicle may not even cover!

While this appears to be the first published novel by Elaine Gavigan, there is a great deal of potential. The ingredients are there for something gripping, though it takes a little time for the narrative to heat up to the point that I was fully committed.

Ellen Larkin serves as a decent protagonist for this piece. Her dreams of reaching journalism’s elite halls may not have yet been realised, but she knows her stuff. With an interesting backstory, she puts all her efforts into earning her paycheque by being intuitive and gritty. Struggling to make ends meet, she does all she can to keep the money coming in and yet she cannot help but feel she’s owed something.

Gavigan uses a large array of characters to keep the story on point, pulling on Boston’s varying cross-section of cultures and socio-economic groups. Many of those who grace the pages serve to push the story along, though there are ties when things lag and I might have sought less backstory or tangential character development. Still, there’s something intriguing about her character choices, all of whom complement one another as the piece progresses.

The premise of the story worked well for me, with corruption embedded into the core of the city’s largest construction project, The Big Dig. While things started off well, there was a point when I was waving my hands in the air to get back to the central theme of the story and lessen Guarantua’s superficial public persona. Gavigan knows how to writer and can set a scene effectively, but it lacked the needed momentum for me to remain hooked with the plot.

Shorter chapters worked to keep me pushing onward, but I needed something more to hold my attention, rather than tap my finger as I tried to keep my attention focussed on the next major reveal. I’d likely return for another novel, as Ellen Larkin has some sass worth seeing developed on another occasion.

Kudos, Madam Gavigan, for a great debut (I presume) novel. You’ve got some talent that needs a little developing for greater success.

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