Dunkirk: Retreat from the Brink of Destruction, by Lt. Col. Ewan Butler and Major J. Selby Bradford (M.B.E., M.C.)

Six stars

First and foremost, thank you to Sapere Books for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Resurrecting a piece first published in 1950, this digital version allows the reader to connect with Lt. Col. Ewan Butler and Major J. Selby Bradford (M.B.E., M.C.) in their recounting of events leading up to and the hands-on activities during Dunkirk, an important military campaign in the early part of the Second World War. Told from the perspective of members of the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.), Butler and Bradford seek to recollect some of their memories so that the importance of Dunkirk is not lost on subsequent generations. The authors begin recounting their recollections of the B.E.F. as it traversed the French and Belgian territories, speaking less of the impeding German approach, but rather the soldier’s interactions with citizens in the various towns along the way. At times drawing parallels between the hospitality offered during the Great War and this conflict, the authors make mention of how welcoming the entire process appeared to be, though the looming defeat of the Belgian forces was never far from from narrative. The winter of 1939, which flowed into early 1940, led to a build-up of military conflict, with France becoming the new battlefield. Butler and Bradford recount the incoming Nazi armies and Air Force regiments targeting France and littering propaganda along the countryside. It seemed somewhat effective in leaving segments of the popular ill at ease about the Allied movement, even as the B.E.F. sought to support their French brethren. By the time military campaigns were in full swing, Dunkirk became the battlefield central to the Allied-Axis clash, at least as can be deciphered from the book’s narrative. An important early battle in the Second World War, Dunkirk proved a litmus test for both Nazi and B.E.F. soldiers, indicative of what would be a drawn-out war. Members of the B.E.F. offered their all (at times including their lives) to stave off the Nazi march to overtake Europe. Interesting in its approach, this is a short primer on the military morale in the region during 1939-40. The curious and attentive reader should be able to pluck out some interesting factoids and it is for those individuals that this book will surely be of greatest interest.

This is an interesting piece for the reader, on numerous levels. First, it was purposely written ten years after events to allow some time for history to settle. The authors explain this at the outset, in hopes of having a sobering view of events, rather than writing in the heat of the moment. Secondly, the book is a digitalized copy of the text from 1950, allowing yet another generation of readers to enjoy this piece with ease. On this note, I must admit that the language and delivery does not appear as dated as I might have expected for sixty-seven year gap from the original publication. The test of time has surely stood with this piece, allowing curious readers to feel completely at ease. The third area of interest is how one might label this piece of writing. It is not fictional (even though it has some dialogue at various points), and it is not entirely historical in its presentation. It is also not a journal-based storytelling of events for the reader to digest. Instead, it stands as a loose and somewhat entertaining narrative that pulls on memories, even if they are somewhat clouded by close to ten years’ delay. Historians may decry this as being a jaded account and surely it is a personal perspective told by two members of the B.E.F. However, I would not call this propaganda in the least. Let me be the first to admit that I was not entirely drawn to this piece, perhaps because it was not as hardcore historical as I might have liked, but I can respect this publication for what it is. I agreed to read this for the publisher and think that many might have a great fascination with this first-hand account. It just was not for me, at least at this point in time. I am sure there will be other pieces that will pull me in, but surely the publisher, keen on reissuing a piece from 1950, cannot be held accountable for the content of this piece. Anyone who has a great deal of interest in soldier accounts of war-time battles might find this a stellar piece and for them, I recommend this piece.

Kudos, Lt. Col. Butler and Major Bradford for your frank account of the events surrounding the British Expeditionary Force in the early period of the Second World War. I will pass the title along to others, who can laud your praises even more than I have been able to in this review.  

Camino Island, by John Grisham 

Seven stars

Back with another new novel, John Grisham seeks to expand his horizons with a story free of much legalese, but with the slightest hint of some criminal activity. A heist at one of Princeton’s libraries puts a number of original F. Scott Fitzgerald’s manuscripts in the hands of some career criminals. Quick-acting FBI agents are able to scoop up two of the five, but the others are still in hiding, along with the manuscripts. When one is rumoured to have surfaced at a small book shop on Camino Island, the FBI’s Rare Asset Recovery Unit pegs Bruce Kabel as being involved and plan keep an eye on his bookselling operation. Meanwhile, Mercer Mann is approached by a private security firm to help with the reacquisition of the manuscripts under the guise of writing her next novel. Mercer has struggled with her craft and is not sure she wants to play sleuth, particularly if it means returning to Camino Island, where she spent many summers with her grandmother. Taking a risk, Mercer agrees to open some old wounds and pretends to be writing, while surrounding herself with the local writing community. Slowly, Mercer begins building bridges with Bruce Kabel, in hopes of learning more about the manuscripts. However, as she grows closer to an answer, Mercer may have second thoughts of toppling all she has built in a short period of time. With millions of dollars on the line, Mercer must decide what is most important to her. Grisham shows that he has talent to pen novels that keep lawyers and the law outside of the narrative. Sure to appeal to a different group of readers, the story offers some interesting insight into the craft of writing the next ‘great novel’. 

I have long been a fan of John Grisham and his novels, having cut my teeth on his legal thrillers throughout the years. This story differs greatly from those and serves a completely different purpose. While the legal thrillers are usually quite sharp-edged, this book shows a much smoother edge to Grisham’s writing. The characters offer an interesting mix, giving the reader a great sampling of both mannerisms and characteristics that complement one another at times and clash at moments to offer some dramatic flavour to the story. One might say that the characters are a lot softer than Grisham usually presents, but the genre might play into that, alongside the intended audience. The plot and setting are also a much softer, transitioning from the rough and tumble heist at the beginning to the oceanfront setting of Florida, where the breeze and sand denote a more peaceful place for the book to develop. One also has a feel of more romance and emotional discovery in this book, where the reader is subjected to Mercer’s inner turmoil and portions of her self-discovery as she grows closer to the man she is supposed to betray. Its structure also left me a little baffled, choosing ‘chapters’ in what are surely part divisions and then chopping up the chapters into enumerated pieces, clearly of the usual chapter variety. I will admit that the book was well-crafted and kept the story moving forward, but I feel it tapped too much into sentimentality and the development of the author’s process than gritty legal battles and a dark exploration of the criminal element, which better suits Grisham as an author and my enjoyment of his stories. This book will surely create a stir, both good and bad, for the vast number of Grisham fans. I am happy to have offered my five Canadian cents and will watch as things transpire. 

Kudos, Mr. Grisham for another interesting novel. While it was not my favourite, your versatility shines through by penning this piece. I am eager to see how it is received.

Two From the Heart, by James Patterson (with Emily Raymond, Frank Constantini, and Brian Sitts)

Seven stars

It remains a gamble when a reader picks up something by James Patterson. Will it be a decent read or something that has been cobbled together to make a little pocket change? This pair of short stories seems to show some of Patterson’s great work and warms the heart in that sentimental and calming way.

Tell Me Your Best Story (with Emily Raymond):

Anne McWilliams has chosen to isolate herself on a sparsely populated island around North Carolina after a messy divorce. When a tropical storm hits, it destroys her most valued possessions: her home and the darkroom she used to develop her film. Seeing this as a potential sign, Anne packs up and decides that she is going to take a long and meandering road trip across the country, in search of the ‘best stories’ that people have to offer. She’ll write them down, add some photographs, and publish it for all to see. A wonderful idea as she sets off to see family and friends, but her final destination might be one that she least expected. While Anne has been so busy gathering stories, she forgets that she, too, has a story to tell. Hers is full of peaks and valleys, but in the end, it is heartwarming to see how far she has come in the past two decades.

Write Me a Life (with Frank Costantini and Brian Sitts):

During one of his periods of writer’s block, Damian Crane receives a truly unusual visitor. Tech-genius and billionaire, Tyler Bron, has an offer that Crane cannot refuse. Write him up a new life to contrast with the one he currently lives. Crane receives total control of how it will play out and will be rewarded handsomely if it can be executed smoothly. Bumbling to comprehend the task, Crane begins work on this new life for Bron, setting him down in the desert lands of Nada. It is there that Bron encounters an interesting collection of townsfolk and a complete divorce from his tech-heavy lifestyle. Bron must return to his roots and try to interact naturally, all while Crane continues to compose this story from his own ideas. As the piece progresses, Bron makes a few significant connections and learns the power of hard work, seeing its rewards in the eyes of those around him.

I was pleased to have taken the time for these two stories, which warmed the heart on this rainy day. Patterson has chosen well as he joined forces with these three other authors. I am always fickle when it comes to Patterson’s work and while this was not set in the genre I would not normally read, I did give it a try. “Tell Me…” had moments of sugary writing and I had to try not to roll my eyes, but then again, I steer away from Raymond’s romance work for the most part. “Write Me…” turned into something I found somewhat confusing, as the narrative turned into reality and yet was still coming from the pen of Damian Crane. I likely missed something while driving and streaming the audio, but the premise was worth the time spent. The characters were decent in their portrayal and fit nicely into the storylines. I would recommend it to anyone who needs some lighter reading for an afternoon or those who need it to bridge into something else, as I had happen to me.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson et al. for this interesting pair of stories. I can see much promise in these collaborative efforts and know BookShots are a wonderful way to leap into the fray, Messrs. Constantine and Sitts! Madam Raymond has already dazzled many with her efforts.

Environmentally Friendly: A Short Story, by Eliza Zanbaka

Six stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Elias Zanbaka for providing me with a copy of this short story, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Army veteran, Sargeant Major Bushnell, has escaped from a psychiatric facility and is on a rampage. Armed with a cache of weapons, he has his eye set on a specific target, but not one of the ‘garden’ variety. As the LAPD scramble to catch Bushnell, one of their own must try to reason with the vet before any more blood is shed. Sargeant Schaefer feels that he can make a connection with Bushnell, but must get inside his head before something rash occurs. The ultimate victim, Mother Nature, hangs in the balance and only Schaefer can stop the madness. Trouble is, he may not want to do anything at all. An interesting short story from Zanbaka that fills a coffee break period and leaves the reader wondering about the entire environmental lobby.

When asked to read Zanbaka’s short piece, I felt I did not have anything to lose. While I tend to find author solicited work on Goodreads to be less than provocative, Zanbaka presented a decent story. Veiled in a winding narrative and offering more subtle nuance than might have been helpful for me first thing in the morning, I was left waiting for a cataclysmic event to end the story. While this did not happen, the pace did keep me turning pages until the very end. After closing the book, I was forced to wonder… does it all really matter after all? To open this path of inquiry, Zanbaka has an interesting way of presenting his work, one that might work well for some readers. I count myself in the middle, still unsure what I think.

Kudos, Mr. Zanbaka for your efforts. I see some of my ‘Goodreads’ friends have already sifted through this and I hope more take the time to do so, if only to open their minds to a new way of thinking.

The Princess Diarist (Memoir #3), by Carrie Fisher

Seven stars

In the final of her short memoirs, Carrie Fisher turns her focus onto the inevitable Star Wars franchise and her memories from being on the set in 1976. As the book opens, Fisher lists a number of memorable occurrences from the year, all of which made the filming of a low-budget space fantasy film pale in comparison, or so it would seem. While she does not mention it explicitly, years of excessive drug use and electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) surely scrambled some of the memories and would make them less than pristine. However, Fisher mentions discovering the diary she kept while working on set, which jogged her memory enough to explore many of the events from that spring. While she was the daughter of the famous duo, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Carrie was still forced to go through the rigours of auditioning for roles and emerge with less than stellar results in the early days. She began her cinematic life with a small role in Shampoo, a film written and starring Warren Beatty. Fisher recounts a fairly odd interaction when she, as a mere seventeen year-old, was ogled by Beatty as he decided if she ought to go bra-less on set for her one scene. From there, it was trying to sell herself for either the role of Princess Leia in Star Wars or Carrie in the eponymous film based on the Stephen King novel. George Lucas, a seemingly mute troll, saw much potential in Fisher playing Leia and so began the journey. What some have come to find as the most revealing portion of the memoir (and to which Fisher admits she waited forty years to share) is an extensive discussion about off-screen interactions between Fisher and Harrison Ford. Feeling that four decades is enough time to have held back and fearing the affair could be smeared if revealed after her death (does anyone else notice the coincidence?), Fisher discusses a kiss in the back of a production car between Ford (thirty-four) and herself (nineteen), that led to a weekend of sheet wrinkling passion and was repeated throughout filming. Fisher wrestles with admitting that Ford was married and eventually surmises that it was likely more loneliness than a true connection between them, which is further substantiated when Fisher adds a collection of her diary entries that shows the infatuation she had for Ford. These entries from her teenaged self are offset with a collection of sentiments having fermented for four decades, which makes what happened in 1976 seem less scandalous to the reader. Fisher ends the memoir with some memories of trying to ‘sell’ this film that seemed to be doing so in its own and begins what became a massive science fiction franchise, alongside the rollout of trying to keep her stardom alive alongside interactions with many a quirky fan. An interesting, though very topic-specific, final memoir in the Carrie Fisher collection, the reader can bask in much of its raw honesty alongside a number of humorous anecdotes.  

I suppose I would call myself a fan of the Star Wars films, though I am by no means one of the hardcore variety. I did find some of these behind the scenes stories to be highly entertaining and did enjoy Fisher’s take on her interactions with Harrison Ford, though do not feel it was either as scandalous or as significant as some might find. While it was insightful to learn that Fisher felt so strongly for her co-star, there came a time when the actual journal entries became too much. It became all to apparent that Ford and Fisher were on different planes (might I say ‘galaxies’ and not have a symphony of eyebrow raises?), where the young Leia was awestruck by the suave Solo. These entries were well presented, though they soon became filled with poor poetry and supersaturated in angst. I digress, but a large portion of this piece focussed on that interaction and the fallout of their (love) affair. Fisher’s insights have me wanting to learn more about the backstories of Star Wars production, perhaps away from the sexual escapades of its prime actors, though Fisher does keep things discrete and professional while not denying the feelings she had at the time and recollections of them all these years later. Throughout all three pieces, I have come to realise that Fisher is a wonderful wordsmith, delivering humour and passion with so many verbal alternatives that the reader will see that this high-school dropout surely learned a great deal in the School of Life. Perhaps more of a tell-all than past memoirs, Fisher offers more seriousness than her usual humour in this instalment, unfortunately the last.

Kudos, Madam Fisher, for all the honesty that you explored in this final collection of memories. You will be missed and your name will forever rest in the minds of many as Princess Leia, though one can hope the moniker of ejaculatory assistant fades in time.

Shockaholic (Memoir #2), by Carrie Fisher

Seven stars

In the second of her short memoirs, Carrie Fisher returns with more anecdotes and funny stories that come from her life. Again, Fisher opens with the disclaimer that she underwent electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), which erased some of her past memories. She explores ECT a little more for the reader, both its origins in pre-WWII Italy and her own experiences with the treatment. ECT remains, as Fisher describes it, as a last-ditch effort to rid the mind of those looming clouds of depression, where psychotherapy has not worked and medication would only increase the ever-present fog. Fisher considers it a ‘blast of the cement walls of the brain’, which does a marvellous job while leaving some memory loss as a byproduct. Fisher also explored a number of personal struggles that befell her throughout life, especially those she did not discuss in Wishful Drinking. Due to her depression and the traumatic experience of losing a close friend, Fisher turned back to drugs and became unable to properly raise her daughter, Billie. This strained their relationship to the point that Fisher found herself in that horrible cycle of self-medicating to ease the pain of causing her daughter increased angst. Further chapters explore an extremely frank and acerbic exchange with Senator Edward Kennedy in the mid-80s while on a blind date with another member of Congress. The banter proved highly amusing, though Fisher recounts that she was not sure what to make of this man. Fisher also had a close relationship with Michael Jackson and spends much time defending him and offering a personal plea that Jackson was not the pedophile that many made him out to be, while acknowledging his relationship with children was anything but mainstream. I am not entirely convinced, but that is for another review on a entirely separate day. With Elizabeth Taylor as a close friend to Jackson and also one of Fisher’s former step-mothers, the memoir does come full circle to discuss Eddie Fisher and the relationship he had with his daughter. Sometime strained and inevitable quite irregular, Carrie Fisher does open up and speak honesty of the man, adding her own degree of heartfelt sentiment. Another interesting piece that offers more stories outside of the famed Star Wars tales, Fisher entertains readers looking for a little humour and insight without the weighty narrative of a substantial memoir or autobiography.

While I had little interest in her two novels, veiled memoirs of sorts, I find when Fisher steps out and tells the stories about her own life, they hold more impact for the reader. Less a tell-all than a means to give the reader a better understanding of her life, Fisher uses humour and the bluntness that she was in a drug-addled state for much of these years to recount poignant vignettes that made her the woman she became. Perhaps one to be someone centric and drop names throughout, Fisher does not appear to do this for the sake of fame, but to better explain some of her views on the Hollywood and New York communities. Not hiding behind her famous parents, but also not using them as a crutch to excuse her behaviour, Fisher offers readers a ‘behind the curtain’ look at the world she lived. Told with honesty and candour, the reader cannot help but appreciate her efforts between laughing at the antics that appear on the printed page.

Kudos, Madam Fisher for not trying to candy-coat things for the reader or those with whom you have crossed paths over the years.

Wishful Drinking (Memoir #1), by Carrie Fisher

Seven stars

Turning to the first of her short memoirs, I was faced with some of Carrie Fisher’s most interesting sentiments and humorous anecdotes detailing a life about which I knew very little. Fisher adds as an opening disclaimer that she underwent electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), which erased some of her past memories, so things within these pages might not be as clear or succinct as their actual occurrences. Born in the worst possible situation, the offspring of two Hollywood stars, Carrie Fisher found herself in the middle of the most complex family tree imaginable. With Eddie Fisher (an apparently famous crooner of the 1950s) and Debbie Reynolds (famous Hollywood starlet at a young age) as parents, Fisher was forced to live in their blinding glory and make a name for herself. However, as with many star-studded couples, her parents moved on to bigger and better things, leaving her as a child of divorce. Does she use this excuse to explain away her decision to turn to drugs and alcohol? Not at all, or at least no more than any other child. Fisher tells of a life both in Los Angeles and New York, following her mother along her successful but fading career before she ended up on the set of Star Wars at nineteen and carving out a name for herself. This single character (Princess Leia) has permeated Fisher’s very being and she was forever unable to shake its presence. Pulling out some stories about her interactions with George Lucas to explain why wearing a bra on set would not make scientific sense, her brief marriage to Paul Simon, and eventually marrying a man who got her pregnant and eventually announced that he was gay, Fisher takes the reader through a whirlwind tour of some of her most memorable moments, all surrounding an ever-increasing dependence on pills, psychiatrists, and flashes of fame. An interesting smattering of thoughts and memories, instilled with enough humour to leave the reader feeling this is an extended comedy dialogue, Fisher presents something to tide the reader over between larger and more substantial reading assignments. Funny for what it is, but not a stellar piece for those seeking an in-depth exploration of Carrie Fisher’s life.

Some might wonder why I am reading Carrie Fisher after I panned her two novels so recently. I knew what I was getting into with this book and it delivered precisely what I expected. While I might have preferred something more linear, I found myself interested in all the adventures, follies, and downright stupidity that crossed Fisher’s path. I knew her only as Princess Leia (though I was not one to plaster posters upon my wall) and so all of this proved both intriguing and even a little entertaining. Fisher does not try to gussy up her writing or her stories. They are precisely as she remembers them, though she does remind the reader of her ECT throughout the piece, which acts as a means to understand some of the more random commentaries found herein. Engaging and even a little provocative, Fisher serves her purpose by presenting this piece, the first in what became a series. We shall see what else comes to pass as the Force flows through me for the other two memoir-ish publications.

Kudos, Madam Fisher for entertaining and intriguing me. A nice appetizer before I delve into a month of hard-going biographies

The Christmas Mystery (Detective Luc Moncrief #2): A BookShot, by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo

Seven stars

In this follow-up BookShot, Patterson and DiLallo bring Detective Luc Moncrief back to work alongside Katherine “K.” Burke on the streets of New York. While their assignments vary, from undercover shoppers in Bloomingdale’s to stakeouts waiting for the next “chalk drop” in the dingy streets of the city, Moncrief and Burke are always ready for a new adventure. News comes down the line that there is an art gallery that has been stiffing its patrons, selling them knock-offs at prices for which the original masterpieces might sell. Moncrief uses his connections in the art world to peer deeper into this, with Burke happy to play along, doing so more effectively than anyone might imagine. When one of New York’s finest, Ramona Driver Dunlop (Baby D to her fans), is murdered, Moncrief and Burke begin investigating, soon learning that she, too, has been a victim of forgers. While the case plays out, Moncrief receives a call from Paris with some sad news. In an attempt to support him, and on the insistence that they both take some time off after the murder investigation, Burke accompanies Moncrief to Paris. There, much is made of the news and Moncrief tries to unwrap the mystery of his feelings for K. Burke in the City of Love. Could Burke and Moncrief have Christmas chemistry? A BookShot that rebounds, at least partially, from the previous let-down in the series. This is a quick read and should keep any reader occupied long enough to digest such a large and festive meal before breaking out the sweets.

As with any BookShot, there is a gamble and a balance in trying to make it all work. Patterson and DiLallo offer up a decent story, though it is a little light on the mystery and drama, while plunging a little deeper into the personal sentiments of Detective Luc Moncrief. I found the crime-based portion of the story to be somewhat predictable and less than captivating, though perhaps this was a cover the authors had for eating up page counts before delving into the Paris angle and final BookShot in the series. I am curious to see how things will resolve themselves, on both sides of the Pond, and to see if this mini-series can end with a bang rather than a dreary collection of angst-filled sentiments by Moncrief towards Burke. Perhaps I am too used to the quick pace of a Patterson mystery, but this set of characters seems locked into something bridled, even in their banter with one another. There are moments of excitement, for sure, but it is as if Patterson and DiLallo are holding back, from what I have seen in each of them previously. One can hope that the pep is back, for this team has churned out some successful stories before.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DiLallo for soldiering on, though I can only hope you have something riveting to complete the BookShot trilogy. Moncrief has potential and seems to have some NYPD tendencies. Show them off or ship him back!

Chaos (Kay Scarpetta #24), by Patricia Cornwell

Seven stars

Having reached the impressive milestone of twenty-four Kay Scarpetta novels, Cornwell takes readers on another journey into the fast-paced life of this popular medical examiner. While attending a seminar in Cambridge, Scarpetta is told of a complaint called into the police for disturbing the peace, apparently involving an argument she had with her assistant. Detailed information knowable only to someone who was close at hand, Scarpetta is baffled as to who might be lurking in the shadows and what the rationale could be for such a false report. She is left to think back on the odd messages received from one ‘Tailend Charlie’, a cyber bully that has both her and her techie niece, Lucy, completely baffled. While dining with her husband, FBI Agent Benton Wesley, both receive calls that pull them away from their date and to handle leads in their respective jobs; Wesley a heightened terror alert for the Boston area and Scarpetta to attend the scene of a potential homicide. Scarpetta is met by longtime friend and colleague, Pete Marino outside the restaurant, where they begin piecing together the narrative. After receiving an odd call from INTERPOL, Marino is told of the homicide of Elisa Vandersteel, who works in England. What does not make sense is the fact that INTERPOL was tipped off and took an active interest before the local police have investigated and liaised. Marino and Scarpetta head to the scene, where twin girls apparently found Vandersteel, though they are less than clear in their statements. Racing against the clock, Scarpetta is still hoping to welcome her sister who is flying in from Florida, but has had to pass that along to Lucy. Tailend Charlie continues to send messages, some in Italian, offering shreds of information from Scarpetta’s past that only one or two people could know. During the examination of Elisa’s body, there appears to be signs of an electrical shock that knocked her from riding and Scarpetta realises that she met the young woman earlier in the day. Trying to synthesise what might be going, Scarpetta deduces there might have been a shock from a lightning strike, though the night was free of any cloud cover. With no firm leads, Scarpetta receives a call that her mentor has died after a freak accident, which derails her already fractured concentration. Things continue to take many twisted turns, leaving Scarpetta to have strong memories of her long-time nemesis, Carrie Grethen. How does all this fit together and could someone else be targeting Scarpetta in an attempt to impress Grethen with a degree of psychopathic tendencies? All builds up to a grand finale, where Scarpetta and Wesley come to terms with the series of events that have plagued them, only to leave readers with a stunning revelation that will change the scope of the Scarpetta series for the foreseeable future. An interesting instalment to the series that might leave regulars scratching their heads or tossing the novel down in frustration. 

In a twist of fate, I have read and reviewed a number of series whose length opens the discussion about the usefulness of character longevity. While Kay Scarpetta is a character whose day to day activity is not physically taxing to the point of running her body ragged, series followers will have seen her go through many transformations, both in personal life and the workplace. A character that goes through so much change is sure to become somewhat stagnant without an author at the helm who can rejuvenate the backstory and keep things moving forward. Cornwell has done well with Scarpetta and has kept her from becoming too aged or even losing the lustre of her abilities. However, the writing in his novel showed that the case at hand played second fiddle to an ongoing flashback narrative and one that forced regular readers to pound their heads into the wall. I have always found that if a reader chooses to parachute into the middle of a series, they should leave confused and without a strong connection to the protagonist. However, Cornwell spent so much time rehashing the entire backstory of Dr.Kay Scarpetta and how each character tied to her, back to the early days, that I was left to ask, ‘when will be focus on the case?’. The case was present, though took closer to 70% of the novel to have the esteemed doctor arrive on the scene. Then, in an interesting spin, the entire case, investigation and determination of what happened flowed down like an information avalanche in order to tie things off. Fearing I might offer too much, I must also say that while the key characters were as strong and present as always, the constant reappearance of Carrie Grethen makes me feel as if Scarpetta wanted to tie every case she works to Grethen and all over evildoers must, in some way, be pawns in her game of chess. It gets tiresome and led me to beg Cornwell to have someone cut Grethen’s throat once and for all, watching her bleed out before dropping her in a vat of acid. Kill her once and for all… let’s find new case and new villains with no ties to anyone else. Let Lucy focus her attention elsewhere, have Scarpetta not look over her shoulder… and let the bodies be tied to actual cases that attract the reader’s attention, not something tech-based that pushes the parameters of reality. While Kay Scarpetta does not track down terrorists or have her life threatened as she is beaten up and captured in some Uzbek cave, her time as an effective character might have come to an end at twenty-four novels. Ok, I’ll push the soapbox away and hush now, or at least until the next annual release of Cornwell’s Scarpetta. 

Kudos, Madam Cornwell for another interesting addition to the Scarpetta series. I hope others will see some of what I do and this helps shape your approach to future publications.

Woman of God, by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Seven stars

The Patterson-Paetro partnership returns with a one-off novel that seeks to explore faith, religion, and the strength in both that one woman possesses in the modern world. Brigid Fitzgerald has been working in South Sudan, serving as a doctor and trauma surgeon in a war-torn corner of the country. After the medical facility is attacked by guerillas, many are slaughtered, including the local priest and Brigid’s mentor. As she struggles to come to terms with this, Brigid, too, is attacked and left for dead. She sees a collection of visions and is left to wonder if she is communicating with God. Brigid wakes in an Amsterdam hospital and learns that she has been brought back from death and from thereon in has an odd and strengthened communication with God, from visions to complete conversations. As Brigid’s life progresses, she continues to have a strong connection to God and uses this relationship to shape the lives of those around her. Tragedy offsets triumph and Brigid learns that God’s decisions are not always pleasant, though there is surely a larger plan to which she is not always privy. After forging a friendship with Father James Aubrey, they weather a scandalous event and find that the Roman Catholic Church remains rooted in its archaic ways. Platonic ties soon turn romantic and Brigid works with Aubrey to create the Jesus Mary and Joseph (JMJ) Movement; a church seeking to modernise some Roman Catholic views as they relate to worship and those who are welcome in the flock. Of course, traditionalists rage against such blasphemy, though Brigid and Aubrey refuse to stop preaching. After a blessed marriage and birth of a daughter Aubrey and Brigid face yet more tragedy, enough to turn anyone from God. Brigid is now head of a movement, one that seeks compassion and openness, while there are still those out there seeking to rid the world of her proselytising. The rumbles of the JMJ Movement continue, with churches popping up all over the world, and leads to an audience with His Holiness, Pope Gregory XVII. What follows is a powerful narrative that turns the foundations of modern Catholicism on its head. An interesting read for those with open minds and seeking to explore the parameters of individual faith.

The premise of the novel is surely grounded in something other than most Patterson fans might expect. While crime and legal dramas have filled bookshelves, there is a softer and more wholesome story found within the pages of this novel. What Patterson and Paetro seek to offer the reader is an exploration of one woman’s faith and struggles that surround it, while also examining the delight that can come from such a connection. One might also say that the authors are depicting Brigid as a modern-day Job, testing her faith with innumerable hurdles as the chapters progress. While the argument towards strength of faith is key, there is also a strong undertone that remains highly critical of the Roman Catholic Church and its principles. All this develops and digresses throughout, complete with a Conclave that emerges with Brigid on the lips of many cardinals. Putting aside the ignored rules and regulations surrounding this, the soft and dramatic events leading up to this are meant to touch the heart of the reader, while pushing them towards hoping that Brigid can shepherd in change. Using a plethora of strong characters, the authors develop a strong protagonist that sees the story take many twists before its ultimate set of revelations. While the story is strong for its messaging, I found it hokey and even melodramatic in spots, with a narrative that gets gushy and eve smarmy. However, it does what it seeks to do, push women and the Church to the forefront, while also allowing the fairer sex to hold the reins during numerous crises of faith. For that, Patterson and Paetro cannot be faulted. Well-crafted for those who want a break from Patterson’s tepid writing, which exemplifies that Paetro is able to save yet another story from ruin. 

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Paetro for this book that touches the heart and soul of many. While I was not moved to speak out, I enjoyed some of the less than subtle attacks on the Holy See’s arcane views.