The Bourne Initiative (Jason Bourne #14), by Eric van Lustbader

A painful four stars

Returning with another novel in the Jason Bourne series, Eric van Lustbader is back to extend a collection well past its ‘best before’ date. As Jason Bourne remains in hiding and mourns the loss of his friend, General Boris Karpov, he is targeted by his own country. A top-secret death squad is sent to kill Bourne and destroy the one item Karpov left him; a yacht. However, Karpov was not as stingy as one might think. The former head of the Russian FSB also created a cyber weapon he named the Bourne Initiative, trusting only Jason to control it. The Initiative, at full capacity, could strike terror into the heart of America, as it is designed and capable of ascertaining the president’s nuclear launch codes. With those codes, no one is sure what could happen, or how devastating the blowback might be. As Bourne learns of this ‘gift’, he realizes that his life is in an even more precarious position. Bourne is left to turn to one of his own enemies to ensure his own safety, alongside an operative who is anything but trustworthy. Bourne learns more about this Initiative weapon and what Karpov might have had in mind as he concocted the ultimate strike within American borders. Will Bourne allow the Initiative move forward, thereby placing the world in a state of dire volatility? Only time will tell, though even that is in short order. An interesting twist in the Bourne saga, though I am not fully captivated by the premise of this novel or the series continuation.

I will be the first to admit that there are times when a book simply does not connect with the reader. This is one such situation for me, though I fear that each book that van Lustbader adds to the Bourne series has been less than impressive and builds a stronger case that he ought to stop churning them out. In fact, as I have said before, it is perhaps time to let Jason Bourne head out to pasture and insist that van Lustbader turn to other projects. I simply cannot connect with Bourne, even though van Lustbader seems to have provided a decent premise for this novel. The characters are some that would appear enticing, though Bourne has left his espionage days behind and has become somewhat flat. Use of a Russian-based villain is refreshing, as it seems authors are still caught on the ISIS and Muslim-centred evildoers, which can only fan xenophobia. Even the plot, when reading the book’s summary, seems to be something on which the reader could grasp. Alas, I seem to have lost the ability to connect with any of it, as though the entire experience were Teflon and the entire novel slips away as quickly as it is delivered. I tried, but could not find myself latching on, no matter the time of day or activity undertaken. It is not the audiobook narrator, for I have much esteem for his work, nor is it that things were dull and one-dimensional, per se. There simply was a lack of anything that reached out and zapped me to attention. One can hope that other readers will find some solace in the plot and premise, but I suspect it might have something to do with the author. It is impossible to fill Robert Ludlum’s shoes and van Lustbader has never sought to utilise the Bourne we have all come to know in early novels. Sure, characters need to progress and become a little more…versatile, but this Bourne is not one I know or even one I want to know. Best to end things now and let Bourne enter obscurity on his own terms, rather than have scores of readers come to the same conclusions I have and risk tarnishing a character and author’s reputations.

Mr. van Lustbader, the time has come to let Bourne fade off your radar screen. Surely you have your own series to manage and the Ludlum Estate can survive off proceeds already in place.

The Templar Heresy (Chris Bronson #7), by James Becker

Six stars

After some delays to work on writing projects with some shared themes, James Becker is back with another Chris Bronson thriller. Tapping into Christian history and the symbols that have emerged through the ages, Becker entertains readers with this story while adding the thrill of the chase as two sides fight over the interpretation. Seeking a little excitement during his holidays, Chris Bronson accepts an invitation from ex-wife and best friend, Angela Lewis to join him on her latest archeological dig. He makes his way to Kuwait and is met at the airport, where Angela and fellow archeologist Stephen Taverner fill him in on their latest discovery. While out in the deserts of Iraq, they have come across some temple that has odd inscriptions on its walls. Bronson, always one to enjoy a mystery, agrees to come see them to determine if he can crack the code. However, as they return to camp, all that is left are a slew of dead archeologists, their bodies slaughtered and baking in the desert sun. The inscriptions have been chipped out of the walls, which only adds to the mystery. After deciding to flee the region and report what has happened when they are safely in the United Kingdom, Bronson leads the group back towards Kuwait. However, a band of thugs seems more than happy to exterminate them before they can reach their destination. Dodging bullets and trying to reach safety, Bronson, Angela, and Stephen are able to catch numerous last-minute flights around the Middle East before landing in Milan. From there, it is a simple trip to London and they will be safe. However, after splitting up from Stephen, Bronson and Angela learn that the thugs are still targeting them, having killed Stephen and left him for dead. Now, all eyes turn to these inscriptions, which Angela was smart enough to capture digitally during the excavation. As they begin to study the words and apply a few ciphers, there appears to be a larger mystery, one that includes (of course!) the Knights Templar. From here, Angela and Bronson must dodge the thugs as the race to uncover the mystery kicks into high gear. What the Templars may have discovered centuries ago remains highly thrilling even now. Bronson and Angela just may not live long enough to uncover the mystery for themselves. A decent story for series fans who have been waiting a while for the next instalment, complete with some seemingly sacrilegious speculations. There is even enough Templar flavour in the second half of the novel to appeal to thrill seekers who enjoy something a little more methodical. 

I have long been a fan of Becker and his work, having followed Chris Bronson through many an adventure. I will admit, though, that this novel seemed to lack some of the punch that I remembered from past stories in the series. During the Bronson reprieve, I have been following Becker as he delves into a Templar-based series and find the calibre of writing in this novel lacking significantly from those Templar stories, published as late as fall 2016. While Chris Bronson and Angela Lewis remain strong characters, it is as though the ‘cookie cutter’ race to solve a mystery was used here, allowing for no character development as individuals or jointly in their current platonic relationship. How Becker could have forgotten to add at least some fond memories his protagonists share baffles me, as they are forced to work so closely at hand. The thug characters continue to fuel the current “terrorist du jour” mentality, by tossing around ISIS images, though to some degree there is a sensical nature to the Muslim evildoer in this piece, which the reader understands better when they read the book. The plot is decent, though it is by no means original, either in Becker’s world or those authors who write about uncovering Templar secrets. I must comment here that the story, while fiction, could have been firmly rooted in reality, though I found the constant “let me just buy more airline tickets, hotels, and anything we need” highly unrealistic. Bronson comes across as being flush with cash and able to simply pull out the large sums of money while on the run. Again, I may be nitpicking, but this is my review and I can address issues that came to mind throughout the reading. All in all, a decent read, but surely not one of Becket’s best. I hope this was simply an aberration. 

Kudos, Mr. Becker for another Bronson-Lewis adventure. I know you have a Templar book soon to be released and hope you can use your successes there and allow them to return to this series in short order.

Broken Promises, by Nick Nichols

Six stars

After having this book recommended to me, I thought I would delve deeper into the legal mind of Nick Nichols. Having previously read one of his short stories, I was sure this would be a great legal drama, sharp and succinct as the reader holds on for dear life. Jack Adams is an Atlanta divorce attorney climbing the ranks of his firm in hopes of making partner by thirty-five. When two important cases fall on his desk, he can all but see the partnership solidified. One case proves challenging, with a woman bound and determined to take her husband to the cleaners for his adulterous ways. The other proves even more mind-boggling and Adams finds himself unsure how to react to the advances made by his client. What begins as simple flirtation soon turns into full-fledged scandal, as Adams is drawn into his client’s web. Learning her true intentions, Adams still finds himself violating ethical boundaries, which could cost him everything. A Bar suspension, a job in jeopardy, and personal ruin begin the downward spiral for Jack Adams, and yet this is not rock bottom. When something happens to his client, all eyes turn to Adams, though he professes that he is not involved. What follows might be the fight for his life, legal and otherwise. A interesting premise for a legal thriller that, unfortunately, does not past muster with this jury of one.

While others have offered much praise for this novel, I felt that Nichols missed the mark. He had all the essential tools in his quiver, but repeatedly fell short. The cast of characters was well constructed and varied, as were their backgrounds. This permitted the story to move forward, albeit limping on certain occasions. The premise was strong and Nichols did succeed in making divorce law something more than a mundane mud-slinging affair (no pun intended), but the way by which the narrative developed and presented the ‘spiral into disarray’ started a process of skimming the water, as if Nichols had much he wanted to address but someone was demanding the manuscript quickly. He rushed through the latter portion of the story and offered only the most superficial of courtroom or legal stories, where I could see much opportunity for dramatic flare. Tepid at best, I am left to wonder if an editor slashed and gutted the essential aspects to his work, as I have seen writing and a narrative exponentially better in his aforementioned short story. Perhaps a switch elsewhere will garner him better results (at least from me), if he is given the chance to flourish with another project.

A decent novel, Mr. Nichols that simply did not get deep enough or explore all the avenues at your disposal. Worry not, we all stumble at times. It is picking one’s self up again that separates the truly great authors from those destined for sub-par status. 

Taking the Titanic: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Scott Slaven

Five stars

In their first BookShot partnership, James Patterson and Scott Slaven use the voyage of the Titanic as the backdrop to their tale. As people of all classes and backgrounds prepare for the Titanic’s maiden voyage in April 1912, there were a few aboard who saw it is as opportunity to line their pockets. After leaving port en route to New York, Nigel Bowen (or a man choosing the pseudonym to cover his sordid past in England) lures the unsuspecting to gambling away large sums at the poker table, bleeding them dry after playing the role of inept card player. Meanwhile, a young woman who is just as much of a con agrees to a ‘marriage’ aboard and takes the name Celia Bowen, which allows her to use her nimble fingers to steal from the women on board, which harbouring a secret of her own back in England. While Nigel and Celia make quite a name for themselves on board, fighting and becoming the buzz on every deck, there is another heist in the making. All this while the boat strikes an iceberg. Before long the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic is taking on water and descending into the Atlantic. Readers will know of the scramble to board lifeboats, which is not lost in this narrative. Will Nigel and Celia be able to turn away from their scandalous pasts and work together? A lacklustre story that is not horrid, but surely goes to show that not all BookShots are equal in their levels of excitement.

Patterson’s BookShots idea has been working for close to a year now and his introduction of a number of authors has the potential to create new and exciting options. Slaven is new to the partnership scene and is sure to have tried to use the Patterson name to catapult him to success. While the story has some decent characters and a plot that is not awful in its development, there is too much history with the setting to effectively tell the story that Patterson and Slaven had in their minds. Much like the attempt of Leo DiCaprio to ruin the maiden voyage of the Titanic in that cinematic hot mess, this short story does little to respect the foundations set with sinking of the Titanic over one hundred years ago. Perhaps Slaven will return again and redeem himself, for it would be a pity to see him fail as he attached himself to the seemingly unsinkable world-famous author.
Decent work, Messrs. Patterson and Slaven, but it was not the best piece for me. I can only hope this was a partnership anomaly and that the next collaboration has more pizzazz. 

Cross the Line (Alex Cross #24, but should be #23.25), by James Patterson

Five stars

Patterson returns with another Alex Cross thriller, leaving series fans curious what is to come, especially after the high-impact ending of the previous story, a BookShot. As if nothing had happened at all, the story opens with Cross investigating an apparent case of road rage, a man shot and killed in his car. However, just as Cross is getting a handle on the situation, a call comes in, reporting an officer has been shot. Rushing to the scene, Alex realises that this is not only his former boss, the Chief of Detectives, but the mentor of his wife, Bree. The killer is out there, but no one is at the helm to guide detectives, until Bree is chosen for this illustrious job, now boss to the famed Dr. Alex Cross. While Bree is to wear multiple hats, she makes a decision on the killing to appease the brass, ignoring the instincts of her own husband. This puts a significant strain on the relationship and tears the Homicide Division in two, just at the time when unity is essential. A drug lab is attacked and many of those inside are left for dead, an apparent act by a group of vigilantes, which has Cross on high-alert. With no firm list of suspects and fluid motives, Cross must pound pavement and ask the right questions before more acts of retribution take place, while still letting the killing of the former Chief of Ds percolate in his mind. When more apparent acts of road age occur, Cross sees a pattern; expensive vehicles and people admitting they may have been skirting traffic laws. Could these killings be fuelled by someone who wants to enforce the laws of the road when no one else will? Pulled in many directions, Cross soon learns that the vigilante movement is stronger than he first thought and that there is a plan to deliver justice on a large scale, with Metro DC in the crosshairs. With all that is going on, one would think that Cross could not focus on his family, but a few issues on the home front force him to take a closer look and reinvent the foundation of the Cross family. An interesting premise for Alex Cross, though delivery seemed slightly strained for me.
I have long been a fan of the Alex Cross series, the only one that James Patterson has kept for himself. While I lamented some of his joint writing ventures, I could always rely on this series to deliver a punch. Perhaps that time has ended, for I felt this novel did not offer the excitement I had hoped. While Cross and the strong supporting cast continue to develop with their backstories, the cases are not pulling me in. Patterson litters the plot with a few cases and has the reader juggling them to keep things straight. Perhaps the best part of the story involves the personal strains in the Cross home, though I will not speak to these, leaving the reader to discover them peppered within the pages of this story. While there was nothing wrong, per se, with Patterson’s work, I could not find myself attaching or feeling any sort of compelling reason to read “just a little more”, as Patterson has always been able to do. Perhaps my mindset, but also likely that Patterson churns out so much that the quality has taken second place to quantity. I must address one thing that I pointed out in the opening, something that I know many series fans have been hoping to better understand. In the BookShot released earlier this year (Cross Kill, Alex Cross #23.5), there was an ending that offered a wonderful cliffhanger. I know many people commented on various sites about how Patterson might have to get the popular character out of the predicament in order to fuel a full-length novel. Without revealing too much, it was only when I opened the first few chapters of said BookShot after completing this novel that I realised that this novel (#24) is actually supposed to PRECEDE the BookShot. Call it poor labelling by the publisher or blame Patterson for not regulating things, the reader is still left to suffer. So now, series fans must wait to see if Patterson addresses things in a timely fashion or if we are to be considered dunces and expected to forget all that happened. Much like a bad season of Dallas in the 1980s. Interesting… but unfortunately baffling all the same.

Interesting work, Mr. Patterson, though I cannot praise you. Perhaps others will and I will give this another read down the road. While your BookShots are entertaining and your countless other series seem to churn out pieces, could it be time to halt the train containing your riches and focus on well-crafted books?

The Whistler, by John Grisham

Seven stars

In his latest novel, garnering many mixed reviews, Grisham seeks to offer readers yet another angle of the law in thriller format. Lacy Stoltz is gainfully employed with the Florida Bureau of Judicial Conduct, a branch of the state government tasked with keeping those who occupy the bench from stepping too far out of line. When Lacy and her partner, Hugo, meet with Greg Myers, he lets them know that he is acting as an intermediary for someone who has significant information on a corrupt judge, one Claudia McDover. Myers explains that McDover is apparently mixed up with a collection of men who call themselves the Coast Mafia, all of whom have pushed forward the building and maintenance of a casino, The Treasure Key, on tribal land belonging to the Tappacola. McDover and others have been receiving significant payments, contravening numerous laws. McDover is accused not only of ensuring that the casino moved forward, but oversaw a fabricated murder trial of one Junior Mace, a member of the tribe and strong advocate against the casino. With Mace out of the way, opposition by a segment of the Tappacola dissolved, paving the way for its construction and continued prosperity. With Treasure Key significantly in the black, McDover has been further compensated with a number of condominiums, another kickback for her steering judicial decisions in a favourable direction. Digesting all this, Lacy must await a formal complaint, understanding that it will rock the system if even parts of it can be proven. Myers agrees to get the wheels in motion, but warns Lacy about one Vonn Dubose, a member of the Coast Mafia and closely tied to Her Honor. Dubose has connections to men who could make people disappear or worse, which is why the actual whistleblower (or ‘Whistler’ in the vernacular) has yet to come forward themselves. Commencing her formal investigation, Lacy and her partner head to the tribal lands and begin asking questions about the casino and the trial of Junior Mace, who was convicted of killing his wife and close friend in an apparent fit of rage when they were found in bed together. Lacy learns that much of the testimony at trial was flimsy and that witnesses were given a great deal of leeway. While travelling home from their investigation, Lacy and Hugo are struck by a drunk driver, killing Hugo. In a coma for a time, Lacy is incapacitated and the investigation can go nowhere, the time limit for filing slowly ticking away. When Lacy is able to recover enough she has a newfound impetus to bring McDover down and have someone charged for killing Hugo. When Myers goes missing, Lacy realises that someone will stop at nothing to ensure this investigation withers on the vine and so she presses on, soon learning the identity of the Whistler. Now she has to protect this individual if she is to bring the full force of the Bureau of Judicial Conduct down on McDover, while using the additional resources of the FBI, who have jurisdiction on tribal lands when it comes to criminal matters. When the Whistler is apparently identified during monitored phone calls, Lacy must do all in her power to protect this person before all those who have the power to bring McDover down cease to exist. However, the Coast Mafia will do anything in their power to protect their greatest asset, the casino, and the judge who made it all come true. An interesting and unique take to the legal thriller, Grisham keeps the reader wondering throughout. 

I have long enjoyed and respected John Grisham for his varied stories as they relate to the law. While I have struggled with some of his more recent novels, I think that might have something to do with the nuanced aspects of the legal world being explored, rather than diminished writing capacity on the part of the author. As always, Grisham uses a wonderful collection of characters from many walks of life to flavour his story effectively, as well as another southern locale to keep things close to home for him. What I found lacking was something I cannot place; as if the Grisham Spark was missing. The story flowed well and the narrative did not drag, but I was not captivated as I had been in earlier novels, which might have something to do with a lack of ‘David versus Goliath’ mentality that Grisham used to inject into his stories. While there was certainly a Good versus Evil theme to the book, I lacked a connection to the story that I often find when exploring the world of John Grisham. I have seen others review this book and offer similar sentiments, so I know that I am not alone. How to give insight to those who will read this before choosing to read the book, that is something with which I struggle. However, veteran Grisham fans such as myself know when something is off and won’t stand idly by chalking it up to just a poor effort. I will admit, reading the prequel to this story, ‘Witness to a Trial’, did offer some interesting insight into the capital case of Junior Mace that plays a key role in the larger complaint against Claudia McDover. I am happy I took the time to do so and found it helped in that regard. Still, one can hope that this does not become the norm, where Grisham slides into James Patterson’s mentality and rests on his laurels to make millions while churning out less than his best.

Kudos, Mr. Grisham for a good book. That je ne sais quoi seems to have been lacking, which I hope can be found by the next publication. I know your loyal fans will forgive you for it… once.

The Bourne Enigma (Jason Bourne #13), by Eric van Lustbader

Six stars

In his effort to elongate the Jason Bourne series, van Lustbader continues to steer the protagonist in ways Robert Ludlum would likely never have dreamt or possibly wanted. In this ‘lucky’ 13th instalment, Jason Bourne is approached in Frankfurt with a present from a close friend; a coin, etched with a curious rebus. Upon arriving in Moscow, Bourne sets out to attend the wedding of a close friend, General Boris Karpov, who is a high-ranking official in the country’s FSB. Before Bourne has a chance to inquire about the coin Karpov sent him, the General is garrotted outside his wedding reception. FSB officials are prepared to arrest Bourne for the murder, as he found the body, though the elusive ‘man of mystery’ asks for a short reprieve to prove that he is innocent. Embedded in the wound is a gold Star of David, one that Bourne recognises as belonging to Israeli Sara Yadin. While Bourne’s past is somewhat fuzzy, he is well aware that Yadin is a Kidon assassin using the name Rebeka, though he cannot understand what reason she might have for killing the General. While pondering this, Bourne is left to wonder if the man for whom he has been searching over the past little while, Ivan Borz, might be responsible, and if this coin could play into the murder. Finding himself headed to Cairo in search of Borz, Bourne locates Yadin, who denies being behind the killing, but does admit her Star has gone missing. They begin examining the coin in Bourne’s possession and wonder if it might hold the key to Karpov’s murder. After coming head to head with Borz, it appears they have the assassin before them, but there is something even larger afoot; something that involves The Sovereign, the respectful name of the current Russian President. Once Bourne and Yadin are able to decipher the rebus, they realise that The Sovereign has been siphoning money from a secret account to terror cells, distracting the world from his own plans of renewed imperialism. Unless Bourne can stop the money train, world leaders will expend all attention and energy to fighting the likes of ISIS while Russian forces exact brutal takeover manoeuvres in hopes of recreating a 21st century USSR. Is this one mission Bourne will have to admit is too much for him to handle? Series fans may find much excitement in van Lustbader’s latest instalment, though purists may cringe or turn away.  

A few years ago I went on a Jason Bourne binge, reading the entire collection to that point. Some may remember this venture and how I saw a significant turn away from the Ludlum Bourne when Eric van Lustbader took over. This continues and, while the stories on their own might hold the reader’s attention, I feel they are not upholding what Ludlum created. Far be it from me to lament times past or previous incarnations of characters whose entire being is embedded in a bygone era, but I simply find myself unable to be drawn in by the ‘new’ Bourne or the adventures crafted by van Lustbader. The characters in this story are varied and, in true Bourne series fashion, offer both those who fill the upper echelons of ‘good’ and evildoers. The author is able to spin backstories of both individual characters and how Jason Bourne fits onto their larger radar. While early novels were always about Bourne staying one step ahead of the law and government agencies (a la Jack Reacher), it seems he is now on more of an international spy/sleuth kick (a rougher Cotton Malone). The story weaves its way across continents and develops plots that have agencies battling one another, forcing Bourne to choose his loyalties, which could be of some interest to the dedicated reader. However, I find myself less than enthralled or captivated by this and sensed myself drifting mentally at times. Why do I keep reading whatever van Lustbader churns out when it comes to this series? Perhaps I find myself wanting to simply finish that which I have started, in honour to Robert Ludlum. Still, there comes a time when things have outlived their usefulness. Could this series be ready to end anytime soon? For the sake of purists, one can surely hope, though van Lustbader has at least one more book coming. 

Thank you for your contributions, Mr. van Lustbader. Jason Bourne has grown and developed, but perhaps his ill-fitting britches are indicative that he needs to hang up his amnesia-riddled personality and retire.

French Kiss (Detective Luc Moncrief #1): A BookShot, by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo

Six stars

Patterson and DiLallo team up again for the first of (at least) a trilogy of BookShots involving Inspector Luc Moncrief. On loan to the NYPD from Paris, Moncrief cut his teeth in the French capital chasing down murderers and uncovering major drug crimes, though has been relegated to some clean-up work in New York. When his partner is killed while working undercover, Moncrief must deliver the news to her family and is then tasked with solving the murder. Katherine Burke, dubbed ‘K. Burke’ by Moncrief, has two years experience as a detective and is paired with him to offer some NYPD insight to this recent transfer. While investigating a high-priced prostitute angle, Moncrief is handed some more devastating news. It appears that this is not a killer seeking to scrub out hookers, but one who has Moncrief in their crosshairs, killing those close to him to offer personal grief and angst. Moncrief convinces his superior that he must return to Paris, where he will likely uncover a vendetta buried in his old case files, bringing Burke along to assist. When they arrive in Paris, Moncrief is able to show Burke a little more about the city and some of the accolades he earned while making Paris a little safer. After Burke is attacked and almost killed, Moncrief uses his French intuition and heads to one of the notorious French prisons to find the killer, or at least the man calling the shots. A tepid piece, though it did flow easily, which is key for any BookShot.

When I heard that there would be a trilogy of these short stories, I was curious, having seen some of Patterson’s past work with DiLallo and the larger BookShots collection. What could have been highly entertaining and adventurous (a la Private) turns slightly melancholy at times, as though Moncrief’s character wants the reader to feel that French laissez-faire attitude. There is a mystery and it does turn out to have ties to Moncrief, though the narrative seems less captivating than I have seen from the authors (or even BookShots) before. There could be some decent character development in the next two stories and some banter within this tale does keep the reader wondering what might transpire, but I did not feel the spark, which is essential in these short stories, where there is little time to meander. The jury’s still out and I will see what is to come in the next instalment, due out during the holiday season, before I decide if Moncrief needs to go into la poubelle!

Decent work, Messrs. Patterson and DiLallo on this BookShot. As I said, I shall reserve judgment until I have seen your next BookShot.

$10,000,000 Marriage Proposal: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Hilary Liftin

Six stars

James Patterson joins forces with Hilary Liftin for this quasi-romance BookShot that remains at least somewhat digestible for the reader who does not fancy the gushy genre with Adonis-like men affixed to the cover. A billboard appears in Los Angeles, sporting the following message: “WILL YOU MARRY ME FOR $10,000,000? CREATIVE, OPEN-MINDED BUSINESSMAN WITH LIMITED TIME AND DESIRE TO PLAY THE FIELD. THIS IS A SERIOUS PROPOSAL.” The story focusses Suze Lee, Caroline Fried-Miller and Janey Ellis, exploring their individual interpretations of the proposal and roles they play upon agreeing to participate in the process. Cynical, they each bring their own flavour and perspective as the screening moves forward, none of whom are sure they have what it takes. When all is said and done, surprisingly, they end up as finalists vying for the heart (and wallet) of this mystery man, which has helped them all boost their egos, while remaining true to their own beliefs. The final process moves away from a competition and towards a heightened degree of honesty as the reader can only watch until the final ‘rose’ is handed out. Perhaps a winner for some, but I would not propose anything like this for someone looking for a thrill-filled BookShot. The only use your left hand will have is to strike your forehead repeatedly or wave to speed-up finishing the story.

Truth be told, I knew what I was getting into when I read the title of the book. I did not expect anything high-impact or thrilling, nor did I feel I would leave this book feeling uplifted or enthralled to look for more Patterson-Liftin collaborations. I needed something to bridge my time between novels and this fit the bill. The story has ‘reality show’ reeking from it and even one of the characters posits that the idea would be perfect for the small screen. The three ‘main’ characters had enough of a backstory to give them a little depth, but I was not drawn to any of them, nor was the collection of secretive antics enough to make me want to know too much about this ‘Mr. Moneybags’. The narrative was decent, though when I compare it to many of the Patterson BookShots I have read up to now, it dragged and got tiresome quickly. What started out as something full of curiosity turned into a sappy mess the further I read. By the final chapters, I think Patterson and Liftin expected the reader to have an epiphany about the importance of finding that person to love. Alas, it got too hokey for me, but, as I mentioned above, it served the purpose I knew it would going into this experience. For that, I cannot fault the writers too heavily.

Well done, Mr. Patterson and Madam Liftin for succeeding in what your sought to do. Not my kind of story, but I hope there are those out there who love this kind of thing. The entire BookShot Flame genre attracts a certain type of reader, which may be the demographic that flocks to this.

The Witnesses: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois

Six stars

In another of the BookShot short stories, James Patterson and Brendan DuBois craft an interesting tale that will keep the reader wondering until the closing chapters. The Sandersons have been temporarily relocated from their California home to the small community of Levittown, New York. Their neighbour is leaving nothing to chance as he sits in his wheelchair and gawks at them, spinning outrageous tales. Inside their home, the family is miserable; unable to communicate with the outside world or connect to something as rudimentary as the Information Highway. It all stems from their recent time in Tunisia, where Mr. Sanderson was on an archaeological dig as part of his ongoing scholastic work with Stanford. Was something unearthed that was best left interred? Or, could it have been Mrs. Sanderson, whose experience writing guidebooks led her to snap some photos of a meeting she was not supposed to see? No one is sure, but their security agent runs a tight ship and they are herded around like cattle. There is a hit put out on the Sandersons and a trained killer is slowly pulling together leads to find them. After a single mishap, beacons are alerted on both side of the law and it’s a rush to get to Levittown to deal with the breach. Who gets there first is anyone’s guess, but either way, the Sandersons won’t be around for any town bake sales this autumn. A decent story that glides along well enough to keep the reader entertained and turning pages.

While not my first BookShot, this was the first collaboration between Patterson and DuBois that I read. The authors take an interesting premise, a family in some form of witness protection, and spin it into something a little more enticing. The nosy elderly neighbour with a history of police work, sure that ISIS has moved in next door; the hitman sent to get rid of the target as smoothly and efficiently as possible, but who encounters some roadblocks; and the agency that vows protection covering its assets as best it knows how. While the story did flow well, I was not left with an indelible feel for any of the characters or felt compelled to crack the mystery behind the central protectee, though it was interesting to see in the end. The pace was quick enough and the varied characters offered something to keep the plot moving. Would I read another of their literary concoctions? Likely, but I am not shifting this to the top of my BookShot favourites list.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DuBois on crafting this short story. I look forward to see what you both can do in the future, either in the BookShot world or independently.