The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty

Nine stars

A great re-read for this time of year. Here is my original review for your perusal.

WIlliam Peter Blatty’s groundbreaking novel caused many waves at the time of its publication, though it is thought that the accompanying movie might have been even more controversial. I chose to embark on this journey, more out of curiosity than anything else. Knowing the premise, I thought I would indulge before the season of ghouls and other spine-tingling things is fully upon us. Chris MacNeil is a screen actress and lives in Georgetown with her daughter, Regan. Quite the typical twelve, Regan enjoys some independence, but is happy to engage with her mother on a regular basis. When Regan begins to exhibit strange behaviours, Chris cannot help but seek out some medical advice, none of which yields firm answers. When the oddities begin to manifest themselves into verbal and physical attacks on others, Chris is left to grasp at straws and is pushed in the direction of a psychiatrist. The name she is given, interestingly enough, is Father Damien Karras. A Jesuit, Karras works in the parish just on the other side of the MacNeil home. When Karras agrees to come visit Regan, he is fearful, yet baffled as well, though will not jump to the idea of possession, even as Chris pushes for an exorcism. With no religious ties, the MacNeils seem highly unlikely to have a demon in their lives, but nothing else seems plausible. Karras takes an academic approach to the situation and, after numerous encounters with Regan and her alternate personality, he wonders if there might be something to this talk of demonic possession. Regan appears to have all the signs and exhibits numerous tendencies that Karras has found in scholarly articles over the centuries. With a desecration in the local parish church and the gruesome death of Chris’ friend, a local homicide detective is poking around, engaging with Karras at every turn, though no one freely shares the goings-on in the MacNeil home, which might explain at least part of these occurrences. After making his argument to the Church about the needs for some form of Catholic intervention, Karras proceeds to arm himself to enter Regan’s domain, ready to do battle with whatever is inside her. It is then that things take a turn for the worse and Karras’ entire being is tested. Blatty penned this sensational piece that, even close to a half-century later, will still send chills chills up the reader’s spine. Highly recommended for those who love a great thrill ride and can stomach some graphic descriptions and language.

In one of my previous reading challenges, I pushed members to compare a book to its screen adaptation, hoping to see the parallels and great differences. Having recently indulged in the cinematic production of this book, it is difficult for me to divorce the two, as they complement one another so well. I thoroughly enjoy watching this movie and have done so on multiple occasions. While it was produced in 1973 and some of the technology is understandably outdated, it packs a punch and was surely quite thrilling at the time. Damien Karras is a central character in the book and his presence is felt throughout, both through his personal struggles with his faith and the dedication he had when thrust into the middle of the demonic possession of a young girl. Karras begins as a distant figure, who struggles to come to terms with his mother’s illness and, upon her death, seeks to leave the umbrella of the Catholic Church. However, his character grows as he becomes a well-grounded scholar and seeks to understand what is going on with Regan MacNeil and her obvious struggles with mental stability. Chris MacNeil is also a key member of the story and her struggle to understand her daughter proves to be an ongoing theme the reader will discover. The angst and utter helplessness is something that any parent would struggle to accept, forcing Chris to turn to the experts, none of whom have the answers she wants. One cannot review this book effectively without mentioning Regan and the demon that appears to be embedded within her, as it is this that proves to offer the ultimate spine tingling. The struggles the young girl has and the demon displays push the book out of the realm of simple defiance and into an area not seen by many books of the time. The raw and unedited language proves useful—needed, even—to fulfil that complete sentiment of possession. Many readers may not like it, as I am sure scores found it problematic when the book was published, but it serves to take the book to a level that makes it all the more believed. A handful of other characters and a few interesting sub-plots keep the reader engaged and ready to see where Blatty is taking things. The story itself is quite well done and has been able to stand the test of time. While exorcisms are no longer commonplace, their allure has not diminished, be it in the published work or cinematic presentation. Blatty slowly develops the demonic aspect in such a way that the reader can see it creeping up and spiking at just the right moment. Layering the narrative with some key research, revealed by Father Karras, proves to substantiate the larger theme and keeps things from getting too fanciful. Those with a strong constitution and who can handle some strong language will surely find something in this book to keep them up late at night. I know I’ll likely put this on a list of books to read when I want a real chill, though will have to make sure the audio is not streaming when Neo’s around!

Kudos, Mr. Blatty, for keeping me enthralled throughout. I may have to check out some more of your work in the coming months, as you sure know how to tell a story!

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

Later, by Stephen King

Seven stars

When it comes to Stephen King, few expect to find something straightforward and easy to digest. Such is the life of a man with a million ideas, racing from one side of the page to the other. While King certainly stands alone in the genre, he can sometimes come up with some gems that stick with the reader for years to come. Other times, it seems as though he simply needs to open up his head and get the idea out, a sort of mental spring cleaning. This piece appeared to be somewhere in the middle for me; entertaining with a slice of ‘well then’.

Jamie Conklin wants to grow up as normally as he can, though that is is not in the cards. His mother is raising him alone and struggling each step of the way, though provides the best she can for Jamie, even with the secret the young boy possesses. While it’s to remain a secret, Jamie can communicate and visualize those who have passed on.

This proves to be quite troubling for Jamie, as he cannot turn it off and on, but rather must live with the consequences on a daily basis. As Jamie inches into adolescence, the skill gets even more intense and he’s pulled into a scenario where his abilities could help others, while ruining himself at the same time. Jamie’s got to master the art of developing the skills without letting it subsume him.

After someone on the NYPD learns of Jamie’s ability, it could be a major benefit, particularly with a killer on the loose. Could Jamie lead the authorities right to the doorstep, using the ability to speak with victims in order to ascertain who’s behind the killings? Anything’s possible when Stephen King’s at the helm!

I have usually enjoyed reading Stephen King’s work, more because it is varied and one never knows what is waiting around the corner. His vast array of ideas and characters makes any read something unique and highly unpredictable. However, I cannot connect with every story or plot, making some pieces less alluring to me than others. I find myself in a grey area here, not sure what I thought or how to react to the experience.

As with many of the characters King develops, Jamie Conklin was an interesting individual with his own backstory and quite the active life. He’s seen a lot for a kid and does not hold back when speaking to the reader. The maturity he possesses is great, though it is matched with some bombastic and outlandish choices, some of which leave him in a great deal of trouble.

Those who have read a fair bit of the Stephen King collection will know that he rarely enjoys being succinct. Adding tangents upon tangents, King can spin a tale into a massive tome or take the reader down what appears to be a rabbit hole, only to turn it into the main theme of the novel. Doing so can create odd narratives that appear out of nowhere, as happened at times in this book. I sought something a little more straightforward, but got this. While there was strong narrative progress, it just did not go in the direction that I wanted and left me hoping for more. What that ‘more’ is, I cannot be entirely sure, but it is an itch that has not been scratched. King’s prose is strong and creates vivid images in the reader’s mind. Those who are new to King will have to learn that patience is the greatest tool in order to find answers within his stories.

Kudos, Mr. King, for an interesting take on the ‘child with powers’ theme. Not one of my favourites, but I applaud the effort.

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

Shutter, by Melissa Larsen

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Melissa Larsen, and Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Melissa Larsen brings much to this debut novel, taking the reader on a curious, as well as eerie, trip through the mind of a film director with a mission. A young woman has her sights set on making it big and heads to New York, where she knows but one person. After being introduced to a mysterious film director, Betty agrees to be cast in the leading role of an upcoming film, not entirely clear what it will entail. Later learning that this is an ‘act natural’ film, Betty soon discovers there’s more to it than she thought at first, pitting actors against one another, especially those unaware that the camera is even rolling. Well-paced and chilling at times, Larsen shows in Shutter that she has what it takes to stand above many in the genre.

It’s been a rough few months for Betty, which is why she has decided to flee her small California town for the bright lights of NYC. There, with only one childhood friend to call upon, Betty tries to make it big. She’s soon introduced to Anthony Marino, a film director with a new idea. Marino feels that Betty could be the perfect fit for his new project, but he is not yet ready to share any of the details.

Travelling up to a small Maine cabin, Marino, Betty, and a few others prepare to shoot the film on-location. It happens to be the Marino family cabin, where Anthony spent much time as a child. Betty is told that the film with be without script or actual direction, more an ‘act natural’ idea, where cameras are always rolling, hidden in rooms, on trees, and many other places. It is supposed to be a chance for everyone to just be and let the story evolve.

Betty is tasked with becoming Lola, a young woman with no clear backstory. She must also develop immediate chemistry with her leading man, Mads. While this may be the goal, Betty finds herself constantly drawn to Anthony, which will make building proper chemistry a little harder. Still, Betty is trying to come to terms with the literal and figurative transformation into Lola, its importance as yet baffling.

When Anthony announces that there will be a stalker element to the film, he introduces a new face, Sammy. This is a childhood friend of Anthony’s and an unknowing addition to the film. While Sammy appears inquisitive on the surface, he begins to gravitate towards Betty in odd ways. It is only then that the truth about the Anthony-Sammy connection is revealed, as well as the essence of Betty’s transformation into Lola. What’s not yet clear is what will happen when all these elements are put together in a bucolic setting, with the cameras rolling non-stop.

Melissa Larsen does a great job in her storytelling, pulling the reader into the centre of this piece with unknown elements coming together at just the right pace. With little revealed at the outset, the mystery is as present for Betty as it is for the reader. Slowly, things become clearer, which does not always make for a smooth ride for anyone involved. It permits a handful of key twists throughout the piece to shape a narrative that gains momentum with each page turn.

Betty is a great protagonist, in that she offers much to the story on both a personal and ‘professional’ level. Her desire to flee home is apparent throughout, as the reasons come to light throughout the novel. Her thirst for escape is only heightened when she feels that she can transform into a new woman by taking up the film project. However, while Betty would love to forget herself, it is not the change into Lola that fuels what she had in mind. All that being said, there is a great deal going on, none of which Betty could have predicted from the outset.

Larsen offers a number of intriguing secondary characters throughout the piece, all of whom bring something to the table to flavour the story effectively. While some complement Betty, others serve as obvious roadblocks to impede her natural growth. The underlying Anthony-Sammy storyline comes to a head and adds a needed depth to the plot, though things are less than smooth from thereon in. Larsen is able to portray the likes of Sammy, Anthony, and even Mads as different yet all tied together in one form or another. This keeps the reader entertained and curious about how the chemistry will develop, much like actors working on a script with the cameras rolling.

For a debut, I was quite impressed with Melissa Larsen’s efforts. While there were some small bumps, the overall experience was one that I enjoyed and would do so again without a second thought. The narrative flows well and gains momentum at just the right pace, with characters offering something to the experience without stealing the spotlight. Save for the opening chapter, each part of the book is short and keeps the reader wanting to know more, which is matched with an eerie plot that injects twists and confusing at key points. Larsen’s great use of dialogue keeps things feeling natural, which is an interesting parallel with the actual premise of the book, where the characters are to ‘be themselves’ while the cameras roll onwards. With a chilling end, Larsen leaves the reader wondering and thinking well after turning the final page, which is the essence of a strong thriller.

Kudos, Madam Larsen, for a great start to your writing career. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store when next you publish!

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

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/shutter/

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

21st Birthday (Women’s Murder Club #21), by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Seven stars

The latest in this long series by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro offers readers something intriguing and somewhat unique, though twenty-one instalments can sometimes breed repetition. Full of minor character development and some fast-pace criminal work, the Women’s Murder Club has a new case that will pull all four of them in, using their specific skillsets, to catch a serial murderer. When a young woman and her daughter are reported missing, the husband is the prime suspect. While he has an alibi, others in his circle also turn up dead, leading the DA to move ahead with charges. The suspect decries his innocence and points the finger at another man, who apparently has a long history of murderous behaviour. It’s up to Sergeant Lindsay Boxer to turn over every rock to see if the lead comes to fruition. A decent addition to the series, which has surely shown its ebb and flow, though fans of the Club may want to check it out.

Cindy Thomas noticed the post on her news blog and knew it would be trouble. Even after taking it down, Cindy thought about the disappearance of Tara and Lorrie Burke, a 20 year-old and her infant daughter. When Tara’s mother arrives at the San Francisco Chronicle to follow-up, Cindy cannot shake the distraught woman’s pleas for help. Tara’s husband, Lucas, is the prime suspect and appears to have quite the hold on his young bride. Trying to appease the woman, Cindy calls in a favour with SFPD Sergeant Lindsay Boxer, who agrees to poke around a little.

With little to go on and no sightings of either Tara or Lorrie, Boxer must bide her time. Her background into Lucas Burke shows a reputable English teacher with no criminal history, though there were a number of calls to the police, which Tara dismissed as soon as anyone arrived. Still, Boxer has an itch that there is more to the story. She learns that Burke may have been stepping out on his wife with a teenage student, which does raise a few flags, but nothing criminal, yet.

When the body of Lorrie Burke is found along the shore, the case gains some momentum, especially when it appears the infant was smothered. However, Tara remains missing, which only adds to the mystery. A few more bodies emerge, all tied to Lucas Burke in some way, and the case begins to build. It is only when Tara is found murdered in her car, which had been dumped in the ocean, that Lucas Burke’s guilt appears all but certain. Even with an alibi, this is not something that can be dismissed as coincidence.

While Lucas Burke is brought it for questioning and arrested, he makes an explosive accusation, that his father is likely behind the murders. Evan Burke is a former Green Beret and may have been behind the disappearance (and murder?) of his own wife and daughter, as well as a string of others over the years. Lucas is certain he has resumed hunting for victims, but with little to substantiate it, the DA moves ahead with murder charges.

When the case goes to trial, ADA Yuki Castellano is set to take first chair. She has her own theory, one that she has shared with fellow Women’s Murder Club members, Boxer and Thomas. Still, Yuki will do things by the books and try to get a conviction on the evidence she has before her. Boxer works the Evan Burke angle, which has her racing to Vegas to track down the man and investigate the accusations. While there, things get dangerous for Boxer and her temporary partner, as they corner the elder Burke as he works his magic on a young woman.

With Yuki forging ahead in court and Boxer gathering evidence, it will only be a matter of time before Lucas Burke’s fate is determined. It will take all members of the Women’s Murder Club working together to solidify the truth, however murky and convoluted it might be. Then again, the Club has never sought to do things the easy way. An interesting addition to the series that reads well and shows that the collaborative effort of Patterson and Paetro appears to work well.

I have been a fan of the series from the start. This is one of the few Patterson collections that has been able to stand the test of time. While I am coming to see that some of these series may have lost their earlier momentum, there are moments of brilliance here, even as things wane. I have always wondered about rejuvenating things with a crossover between Alex Cross-Michael Bennett-Lindsay Boxer, still feeling it might do something for all three protagonists. Still, this book works well and could be read as a standalone, though I never counsel that in a series, as the reader misses so much peering only at a snapshot.

Lindsay Boxer’s character development ended long ago, even though motherhood always adds a new layer to her backstory. She is gritty and shows that she is able to work in any environment, something that is changed throughout this piece. Adapting as best she can, Boxer never loses sight of what matters, justice for the victim, and makes her mark repeatedly throughout the book. While the series may be getting a little old, Boxer’s abilities remain on point throughout.

The other members of the Women’s Murder Club also have their own moments of glory, though Boxer does rise to the protagonist role with ease. Each has a backstory and some development to offer, complementing the SFPD sergeant throughout. The handful of other key characters emerge throughout the story and offer the reader something intriguing to enjoy. There is no lack of action and suspense woven into the characters or their actions, though few standout as being remarkable.

The story was decent, as many have been in this series, though there was no shock factor. It’s a race to find the truth, muddled with accusations and false leads. Boxer and the rest of the Club try to work their respective angles, sometimes stepping on one another’s toes, but always able to find something worth discussing at their regular meetings. The story flowed well and the narrative kept its momentum throughout. Patterson’s trademark short chapters keep the reader pushing through, as I did yet again. Decent characters, believable scenarios, and the trademark connection to a specific number from the title, this is a series that has lasted over the years. I just wonder if the zenith has been surpassed and it’s time to sail into the sunset, making way for something fresh… or at least the aforementioned crossover.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Paetro, for another decent addition to the series. While I know you are likely a novel or two ahead in the series, I would suggest heeding my idea. I know other series fans have echoed what I said… and it could really inject something into all three series.

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

Game Knight: A Novella, by Andrew Mayne

Seven stars

Having discovered and enjoyed a number of Andrew Mayne’s other books, I thought that I would give this novella a chance. I had a gap in my reading schedule and needed something to tide me over for the day. This book, a thriller of sorts, takes the reader into the odd world of medieval knights and sword-wielding foes. A young man wakes up and is unsure what’s going on, as a man is trying to kill him. He takes the opportunity and slays the man, only to have all the evidence disappear. A few more events occur, in a similar vein, leaving him to wonder if this is a cruel joke or some sort of drugged out game that someone’s playing. It may be of interest to other Mayne readers, but I really could not connect.

Kevin Miller regains consciousness mere moments before axe-wielding man decapitates him. Dressed in chainmail and donning a sword, Kevin does all he can, killing his attacker, unsure of his identity or how things progressed to this point. After Kevin helps a woman free, she assaults him herself and flees. It is only later, when the police saw Kevin in his garb, that he admitted what happened, even though it sounded equally troubling.

With no body to speak of, Kevin has no idea what’s going on or who is behind it. Odd things happen on a few more occasion, in the same vein, leaving him to wonder if his new meds have been spiked or the whole thing is a sick joke. However, the injuries he has suffered are not fictitious and he cannot explain it. However, there is surely some puppet-master out there, somewhere.

As I mentioned above, I am truly a fan of Andrew Mayne and at least two of his series. However, when I chose to read this novella, I had to second guess whether it was Mayne who penned it. The depth, the intrigue, the nuances… all of them were gone and I was left with something less than enticing. Thankfully, I did not begin my Mayne reading adventure here, or I may not have discovered some of the true gems out there.

While the writing was decent and the story had promise, I could not connect. It might have been the Kevin Miller character, the premise of the novella, or the lack of magnetism towards the plot. Whatever it was, I was not a fan. Thankfully it was short and I can use it as a blip on the reading radar, as I prepare to dive into a full-length novel soon. All I can say is that this is not the Andrew Mayne that I have come to know, so don’t use this as a proper baseline.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for the attempt to push outside of your usual writing zone. It did not work for me, but others may really enjoy it.

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

The Soul-Breaker, by Sebastian Fitzek

Seven stars

After enjoying my first venture into the world of Sebastian Fitzek, I thought that I would return with something equally chilling. Another psychological thriller that appears to have divided the reviewing world quite effectively. A mysterious person kidnaps women and leaves them in a state worse than anyone can imagine, psychologically empty and apparently soulless. Now, in a psychiatric facility, the perpetrator is loose and there are plenty of victims on which to ‘feed’. Souls will be broken, but will anyone be able to put them back together?

A spree of three missing women who turn up in a catatonic state, each with a riddle. They were not killed or raped, or even tortured, but one dies soon after being found. The psychopath who did this appears to have pushed them into a vegetative state, more chilling than anything seen before. It’s all the rage across Germany and yet no one has any answers.

Labelled ‘the Soul-Breaker’ by media outlets, this person lurks in the shadows, awaiting their next victim. After being transported to a psychiatric clinic in a snowstorm, the Soul-Breaker is set to strike again, unbeknownst to those inside. With a handful of patients and staff locked in, it will not only be a battle to protect those who are trapped within, but a race to neutralise this psychopath before more souls are lost and additional damage is wrought.

Add to this, another narrative that includes a group reading the summaries years later, under lose medical watch. Might the Soul-Breaker case be one that will be studied for years by those in the field, or is this just an experiment performed on clueless students?

I needed a little something to bridge my audiobook listening selections and thought this short novel would do just the trick. Using the Audible dramatisation, I figured the story would come to life for me. It did, to a degree, though I appear not to be as riveted as some who got their hands on the actual text. Fitzek does well with the premise, offering something eerie and chilling, though perhaps my listening as I did what I usually do while streaming an audiobook lessened the impact. All that being said, I liked it for the most part and will surely listen to more Fitzek to see if I can continue to enjoy his work.

Kudos, Mr. Fitzek, for another good publication. While I have only the Audible dramatisations to use as reference, you do seem able to really offer a chilling tale with a number of key characters offering varied perspectives.

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

The Russian (Michael Bennett #13), by James Patterson and James O. Born

Seven stars

Michael Bennett is back for his next case, lucky book number thirteen. In the capable hands of James Patterson and James O. Born, Bennett is ready to face off against another wily killer who stalks New York City. However, this one has a different motive and a larger kill area than many others who have crossed Bennett’s path. With his massive brood at home and a wedding on the horizon, Bennett will have to push the distractions aside and focus on catching a ruthless killer. A nice addition for those who enjoy the Michael Bennett series, though not as sharp as some police procedurals I have read lately.

The faint sound of wedding bells seems to pervade Michael Bennett’s every thought, as the big day approaches. With ten children, one grandfather, and a fiancée at home, he has a great deal to juggle. Add to that, a new partner learning the ropes of Homicide, and Bennett has little time to collect his thoughts.

Bennett is soon called to the scene of a brutal murder, one in which the victim’s body is not only slain, but her eye eviscerated. Bennett has not seen something like this in a long while, which can only mean that this killer has something to prove. The murder is similar not only to others in surrounding boroughs, but also other cities crisscrossing America.

All the while, Daniel Ott watches as New York panics. He knows what he’s doing and chooses to push people to the brink. Anyone who disrespects him has a chance of being his next victim; he’s that easily swayed. Between his kills, which he is sure will baffle the NYPD, he makes regular calls back to his family. A wife and two young girls have no idea what he’s doing and hope to see him soon.

Bennett makes little progress on the case until he finds something that ties all three cities together, a computer system update ordered by numerous companies. While everyone remembers a single tech, Ott was so forgettable that no one can recall a physical description. However, Ott knows Bennett and is preparing to derail the detective and the investigation long enough to flee the city and find new victims.

As with most series that extend past a handful of books, things can get a little stale without new plot lines and story arcs. Patterson (with Born in the later novels) has continued to push Michael Bennett to find killer that lurk across the five boroughs, rarely leaving the confines of NYC. Still, there are moments when readers will likely enjoy Bennett’s work, but things appear to be dragging, in my humble opinion.

Bennett returns as the series protagonist, still juggling the usual mix of personal issues and professional responsibilities. While he is well past backstory, Bennett is always evolving, if incrementally. His upcoming marriage has him a tad nervous, though he knows that he’s madly in love. Working with a new partner forces Bennett to be more open with his views and help teach the next generation of Homicide detectives. Gritty and ready to break down any barriers, Michael Bennett shines as best he can with a killer out for blood.

Patterson and Born develop a decent supporting case to push the story along. While it can be hard to find unique approaches to killers, the collaborators do a decent job of spinning the Daniel Ott backstory to offer a fresh approach. With some decent recurring characters and new faces, the story stays somewhat fresh and intriguing, though the sharp edge is gone from both the plot and the characters.

It could be the format of Patterson’s work that breeds a less than chilling approach to the series as it sticks around, something that Born does not see when he collaborates on standalone novels. There’s just something lacking in these latter books that was there in the early stories, though I cannot put my finger on it. Patterson is apt for selling books because of his name, rather than content, as I have bemoaned before, though the issue cannot be placed solely on Born’s shoulders. With short chapters, the story does move forward and keeps the reader guessing, even if it is not a piece that forces late night page flipping to determine how things will end. I wonder if Michael Bennett, like his DC counterpart Alex Cross, might want to look for new adventures. That said, I am still hoping that Patterson can create a Bennett-Cross-Boxer collaborative effort that would pull all three of his successful detectives into a single case crossing multiple novels and keeping readers scrambling to read them all in succession. Then again, that might be too much to ask… or is it?

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Born, for keeping things going. You work well together, though I wish there was something a tad grittier in your collaborative efforts.

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

Spin (Captain Chase #2), by Patricia Cornwell

Seven stars

Master storyteller Patricia Cornwell is back with the second book in her Captain Chase series. Pulling the reader into the middle of a cyber-tech thriller, Cornwell uses the exciting world of space and the threat to NASA as a whole to keep readers on the edge of their seats. Building on the momentum from the opening novel in the series, Quantum, Cornwell utilises her masterful way of developing a plot to make Spin a novel that is a must-read for those who love her style.

A member of the US Space Force, Captain Calli Chase is following up on a lead involving a murder at a NASA testing facility. Trapping in the middle of a snowstorm, Chase finds herself feeling testy and significantly on edge when she is targeted by a potential killer and saved only when her twin sister, Carme, appears out of nowhere.

Before Calli knows what’s going on, she’s drugged and whisked away to a facility, where she is given more upgrades that she knows how to process. Emerging as a sort of Bionic Woman, Captain Chase is now armed and ready to work at new levels, as she seeks to assemble all the pieces to help her crack the case wide open.

With everything literally at her fingertips, Calli is tasked with locating a young boy who has hacked into NASA and procured a special computer chip, one that could have significant consequences if it falls into the wrong hands. While the lad denies being guilty of anything, the jury is still out. With this chip, control of the internet and other significant technologies could be changed forever. Calli learns that one woman, Neva Rong, has sinister plans when she gets her hands on the chip and will stop at nothing to get it.

As tensions mount, Chase will have to protect the boy and try not to show her cards before it’s time. Rong’s power has already been seen, as she is likely the culprit behind the murder at the NASA facility. Rong’s power in the aerospace world and connections all the way up the political ladder makes her even more deadly, while Chase seeks to reveal all before it’s too late.

There is no doubt that Patricia Cornwell did extensive research for this book, having proven that she understands the topic throughout both novels. She is also not one to slowly offer what she knows, for spoonfeeding has never been what she does best. That said, it is also not presented in a condescending manner. Rather, space becomes exciting in this tech-thriller, for those who have a penchant for all things scientific.

Calli Chase is a likeable character, or so it would seem. She is on point when it comes to her navigation throughout the book and she handles much of what is tossed before her. While she wrestles to understand how she fits into the larger picture, Calli does well to dodge the major issues that occur throughout this piece. The reader will find her learning much about herself, as well as a past she did not know existed.

Cornwell does well to develop a number of other characters throughout the piece, keeping them all complementary of Captain Chase, but never putting the protagonist on too high a pedestal. Cornwell develops her characters to entice the reader, contrasting well with one another at various points. The reader can learn much about the story and Captain Chase through those who cross her path throughout this piece.

While many have come to know Patricia Cornwell for her Kay Scarpetta character, this is far from that domain. While both women thrive on action, Captain Calli Chase is nothing like literary predecessor. Cornwell has taken things in a significantly different direction here and thrives on making waves in a new and exciting domain. Some will love it and others will likely find it too ‘techy’ for their liking. The writing is comprehensive and the plot is somewhat easy to decipher. However, if the reader’s interest is not space, technology, or artificial intelligence, this book may implode before the plot is able to capture their attention. With mid-length chapters, Cornwell develops her story well and tries to keep things on the level, but it missed the mark for me, in that I could not find myself wholly invested. I enjoyed parts of it, but felt out of my element in others. Still, it was a decent effort, even if it’s not entirely my sort of book.

Kudos, Madam Cornwell, for a great leap away from the type of writing I have come to expect from you. While it did not engage me as much, I hope you find many fans and keep your readers guessing where things are headed next.

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

Deadly Cross (Alex Cross #28), by James Patterson

Seven stars

Alex Cross is back for yet another adventure along the streets of D.C., which means James Patterson has been at it again. When the former wife of a high-ranking politician turns up dead, Cross is on the case. He’s also working with his partner to discover who’s been kidnapping and murdering a number of young women. This is sure to be one summer that will keep Cross busy. A decent addition for series fans, but there’s something lacking in this latest novel.

Alex Cross loves nothing more than spending time with his family, but when work calls, he knows where he’s needed. The former wife of the current vice-president has been found murdered and Cross is willing to step up to help. It would seem that their past acquaintance is not going to help as much as Cross had hoped, as tabloid journalists try to use it to smear her and leave Cross in an awkward position.

While working that case and taking direction from the Chief of Detectives—Cross’ own wife, Bree Stone—Cross and his partner, John Sampson, begin working on a series of kidnappings of young women. What’s worse, some of the women have turned up murdered, leaving little doubt that there’s a serial killer on the loose. Cross and Sampson begin a thorough analysis of the case, but a personal tragedy strikes, sidelining the affable Sampson.

As Cross splits his time between cases, he’s not getting the traction he had hoped, which is causing a significant amount of pressure up the chain of command. Bree is feeling the heat from her own superiors and loses it at one point, wondering if police work is really for her. It’s no easy decision, but, like Cross, family comes before the badge.

After Cross finds himself in rural Alabama working some leads, he learns something that could solve the case that has those on Capitol Hill buzzing. It could be a red herring, but there’s no time to leave anything to chance. What Cross learns blows the case wide open, forcing everyone to question what they know and who they can trust.

Back in D.C., it’s anyone’s guess who could be killing young women, but Sampson bounces back, using work as a salve, and discovers a few breadcrumbs of his own. With so much set to chance in the Cross sphere, solving these cases might help with what’s on the horizon.

I have long enjoyed the work of James Patterson on this series, one of the few that he has kept for himself. While Cross does not seem to lose his finesse, there’s something about this book that left me less than fully enthralled. I have mentioned it before and will do so again, might it be time for Dr. Alex Cross to hang up the cuffs and let others handle things?

Alex Cross returns to reprise his role as protagonist, though there is little backstory or actual development to be had. Cross lives for the moment, watching his family continue to grow and the cases pile up. He’s still likeable, works hard, and loves his family. I guess I expected something new to rejuvenate him as a character all his own. I did not dislike him whatsoever, but there’s something lacking that left me almost indifferent throughout the novel.

With a core of close knit supporting characters, Patterson does well to keep the large story arc going. There are the requisite new faces who appear to keep the cases flowing well and leave the reader with others to explore. A little backstory appears here and there, but the reader gets much of their narrative development with the police work that is being done throughout the book.

I always find it hard to stay loyal to a series when things seem to taper off. Not that this collection has fallen into horrible disarray, but it lacks what it once had, hardcore crime work and cliffhangers that leaver the reader wondering. Patterson is able to keep his protagonist moving and guessing, though there is a lack of spark that I remember from earlier novels. Surely, Cross is aging and his family is getting more independent, but if that means it’s time to fade into the sunset, let’s take that route and move along. Other series that have lasted this long have their protagonist moving into retirement. I wonder if this is an option that Patterson’s considered. Not that he’s not busy enough overseeing others writing books with his name on it.

The writing itself is still fairly strong and the story he’d my attention throughout. I was eager to see how Cross would handle things and was happy to see the narrative’s momentum did not lag. Short chapters kept me pushing ahead, wondering what was to come next, though I was not as riveted as I would have liked. Those who have dedicated themselves to the series may also see the writing on the wall. I’ll keep reading, but I can only hope that Patterson ties things off with dignity for this long-serving detective, and we don’t have him perishing in an alley, blood pooling around him.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson, for keeping Alex Cross going. Perhaps it’s time for a mega crossover (with Women’s Murder Club and Michael Bennett) before calling it a career for the Metro detective.

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

Liberal Privilege: Joe Biden and the Democrats’ Defence of the Indefensible, by Donald Trump Jr.

NO STARS

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

This is Book #19 in my 2020 US Election Preparation Challenge.

I sought to read some books on both sides of the political spectrum, in hopes that it would enrich the challenge experience for me. Unfortunately, this backfired with this book, in the largest possible way. While I had hoped to get a strong and complete argument from the right about how things have been going well and what we have to look forward to, it was a hot mess from the get-go.

Imagine holding a voice-to-text app up to either Donald Trump and then publishing what spewed out of their mouths. This book is just that, full of rants and non-sensical blather about a variety of topics. Toss in a few slanderous comments and curse words and you have the entire book. This is not a book seeking to explore America from the right, but rather a smear campaign in the shadow of the worst president America has seen. It was painful to read… oh wait, I bailed after the first chapter because my head hurt so much.

I am all for books and self-publication. I applaud those who seek to use their own blood, sweat, and tears when it comes to getting a book to market. However, in the case of this book, it speaks volumes that it was published by Donald Trump, Jr. No one else would touch it! And.. the audiobook was read by Donnie’s own girlfriend (something he repeats throughout the portion I could read while dry heaving). If this is not a red flag, I am not sure what could be.

For those of you who want to try something that has no merit and little substantive value, go ahead. I cannot believe I am saying this… but I may actually need to find Lou Dobbs’ book. It CANNOT be worse than this one!

Kudos, Matt Pechey, for suffering through this pile of steaming Trumpism.

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