Murder Can Be Fatal, Kevin Scott Allen

Seven star

First and foremost, a large thank you to Kevin Scott Allen for providing me with a copy of this novel, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always eager to get my hands on new authors or independent publications, I gladly accepted an ARC for this novel from Kevin Scott Allen. Laid out as a mystery, the story revolves around Igg Downs, a private investigator who has seen better days and finds himself in the middle of a dry spell. When approached to help a friend investigate a murder, our protagonist finds himself neck-deep in evidence but without a clear killer. All the while, a detective with the LAPD is trying to stir up trouble in the form of retribution. A decent read for those who like PI mysteries.

Igg Downs has had better days. Working as a private investigator, Downs is used to dead ends when trying to locate people or chase something down. However, he’s hit a dry spell with no clear end in sight. That could be why he reluctantly agreed to help with this new case, where a woman’s been murdered.

Wanda’s dead body is making Downs quite nervous, this being his first stiff. However, the potential for some income pushes him through as he tries to piece together what happened to her. Seeking to stay one step ahead of the LADP Homicide Detective is key, for more than one reason. It appears that Downs may have ruffled some feathers when he bedded the detective’s wife not long after she left her husband. This will surely add some complexities to the investigation.

While Downs follows the leads he uncovers, he comes upon more bodies, killed in brutal fashions. Could all the killings be connected, a means of shutting people up while the killer makes a break for it? While being bullied for his past behaviour and worrying that this paycheque might slip through his fingers, Igg Downs will have to act swiftly and identify the killer. Kevin Scott Allen does well with this, keeping the reader wondering with each page flip.

Kevin Scott Allen does well with what appears to be one of his first published novels. Pulling on a number of the needed ingredients for a successful publication, Allen keeps the reader enthused from the opening pages, Adding some great narrative twists to allow the reader to better understand Igg Downs, the reading experience is heightened. While I did find it difficult to connect with the flow at times, I can see how many readers will latch on this PI mystery and feel completedly at ease.

Allen keeps the narrative at the forefront of the story, permitting the reader to see things from a variety of angles at any one time. The story flows fairly well, introducing the reader to the protagonist in the opening sentences and not letting go until the final statement ends. The characters found herein prove not only to be realistic, but also well placed to better understand all aspects of the story. Allen uses some great plot twists to keep the story fresh and hooks the reader who is not entirely sure where things are headed. While I cannot put my finger on it, I found myself not as enthralled as I would have liked. The story seemed solid and the characters proved entertaining. It could be that I was caught during one of my more fickle reading and reviewing moments, but I do not feel this should reflect on Kevin Scott Allen’s abilities.

Kudos, Mr. Allen, on an appealing potential series debut. I am eager to see where you take things and how readers can enjoy more of your work.

Steal (Instinct #3), by James Patterson and Howard Roughan

Seven stars

In this third instalment of the Instinct series, James Patterson and Howard Roughan work together to develop a great thriller with a unique twist. Psychological at times with some gritty crime aspects, the collaboration works well, as the previous two novels did for those who took the time to enjoy them. Patterson appears to mesh well with Roughan, which is a pleasant surprise, as books bearing the former’s name flood the marketplace on a weekly basis. A worthwhile reading experience.

It was a shock to everyone who glanced at social media to see that Carter van Oehson planned to kill himself. Even his Abnormal Psych professor, Dylan Reinhart, was taken aback. Now, a whole day later, Carter has still not turned up, but neither has his body.

While the hunt is on, there is no trace of Carter, at least until his boat turns up on the water, empty and with no signs of a struggle. People begin to wonder if Carter went ahead with his vow or could this just be a means of getting some attention? While people speculate, one person is sure that there is something nefarious going on.

Carter’s father, Mathias von Oehson, is sure there is more to the story, wondering if his fame and popularity might be the reason for an abduction. There is a family secret that could be used as leverage, allowing whoever is behind this to blackmail the van Oehsons and cause chaos. Without being able to turn to the police, Mathias needs answers and knows just who to ask.

Dylan Reinhart is ready to assist, but had no idea it would mean being in the middle of such a massive secret. He’ll need every fibre of his being to locate Carter, but must also rely on his connection to NYPD Detective, Elizabeth Needham. Together, Dylan and Elizabeth turn over rocks and investigate clues that could lead them to Carter, or send them to the darkest parts of the globe where additional trouble lurks. A chilling story that Patterson and Roughan develop effectively, keeping the reader hooked until the final page turn.

While I find James Patterson’s excessive publications too much to handle, particularly when I seek a decently penned book, I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Working alongside Howard Roughan, Patterson has developed a decent series that has potential. While the book had some slow moments, the narrative carried things effectively through to the stronger segments of the story. I am keen to see if there is more collaboration by this pair, be it with this series or elsewhere.

Dylan Reinhart and Elizabeth Needham have grown throughout the series, both personally and professionally. While they try to keep work and personal lives separate, there are times when things blur together, leaving the reader to wonder what might happen. Both have strong development throughout the series, though I did not feel as connected to them in this novel. They are worthwhile characters with much to offer, leaving me to wonder what’s next for this duo.

James Patterson has so many collaborators with whom he works, it is hard to keep them straight, as well as which offer high caliber writing. Based on my reviews from the past books in this series, as well as though that have his name attached, Howard Roughan is one of the ‘decent ones’. The narrative of this book worked well, though there were a few slow moments that left me tapping my finger as I sped through the chapters, though the overall experience was worth my time. Short chapters, what I consider Patterson’s trademark, worked well to keep the momentum going and left me able to focus on the endgame without getting too caught up in the aforementioned slower segments. A decent plot kept me curious and some characters served to flavour the writing in ways that made it a little more enjoyable. As I said before, I am eager to see what else is to come with this series.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Roughan, for a decent read. Eager to see what you have coming out soon.

Splitsville (Splitsville #1), by William Bernhardt

Seven stars

Eager to try the newest series by William Bernhardt, I turned to this debut novel. Always one to push the limits of the law, Bernhardt delivers something exciting and full of thought-provoking writing. Kenzi Rivera has something to prove, both to herself and those around her. When she was passed up for promotion within the family law firm, Kenzi uses that to propel herself into a worthwhile career. When she is approached by a young scientist to help win a custody battle, Kenzi puts her all into the case. Things take an interesting turn and Kenzi is soon defending her client in a murder trial, which will surely push everyone outside their comfort zones. It’s a trial like no other for Kenzi and her client. Bernhardt delivers a curious series debut that will have readers eager to forge onwards.

After being passed over for a promotion within the family law firm, Kenzi River is furious. She’s an established divorce attorney, used to fighting for her place as a lawyer and woman. She’s ready to make an impact, though Kenzi is never sure what’s waiting around the corner.

When Kenzi is hired by a young scientist who wants to win back custody of her daughter, the case proves more complicated than meets the eye. Kenzi’s client is involved in a religious group with some dubious stances, including tattoos and domineering hierarchies. Kenzi is ready for a challenge but this might be a little too much.

After a major fire in town leads to a woman dying in the blaze, all eyes turn to Kernzi’s client. It would have made things much easier for her, though Kenzi thinks that there is more to the story, including the possibility of being framed to smear the custody case. Kenzi has no experience in criminal law, but will have to learn swiftly, as she’s being pulled into the middle of a life or death case that could put everything Kenzi knows on trial as well. A great story that has more twists that the reader might expect at first glance.

Having long been a fan of William Bernhardt and his books, I was intrigued to see this latest series. There’s something alluring about the story and Bernhardt weaves a curious tale that is sure to pique the interest in the attentive reader. With a strong narrative and some unique characters, Bernhardt uses his strong abilities to keep the reader on their toes throughout this legal thriller that is more than it appears to be on the surface.

Kenzi Rivera is a great protagonist with a great deal to prove. She’s had a great run as a lawyer, but is not happy when her father overlooks her abilities and offers managing parter to someone else. Keen to prove herself, Kenzi uses her experience as a divorce attorney to help those seeking to fight for custody for their children. She’s a single mom as well, which helps Kenzi understand her clients’ need for clear answers throughout the process. When Kenzi is pushed to the limit, she does all she can to help a desperate client, which includes working parts of the law she’s never practiced. There is a lot more to learn about Kenzi, which may come out as the series progresses.

In this series debut, William Bernhardt finds new ways to tap into unique aspects of the law, pushing characters well outside their comfort zone. With a strong foundational narrative, things progress with ease, keeping the reader on their toes throughout. Decent characters flavour the story as well, leaving the reader to find some to whom they can relate as the story progresses. With a mix of chapter lengths. Bernhardt pushes the reader to forge ahead throughout the reading experience. Bernhardt has done well in the past to create wonderful stories with unique legal angles. I can only hope that, should I invest more time in the series, I will see the same things for myself.

Kudos, Mr. Bernhardt, for an intriguing series debut. I will have to look deeper into the series to see how I feel about it all.

Fear No Evil (Alex Cross #29), by James Patterson

Six Stars

Just as readers sometimes find themselves in a rut, the same can be said of authors who try to churn out something worthwhile. Many who follow my reviews will know that I have a love/hate relationship with James Patterson and his novels that appear to sell based on his name, rather than on any level of quality. I came into this book knowing that the Alex Cross series was one that had not been sullied with subpar writing or delivery. However, after reading this book, I am beginning to wonder if Dr. Cross may have overstayed his literary welcome and ought to hang up the cuffs for good. I could not connect with the book, the characters I have come to love, or even the action. Others may disagree, and I welcome it, but I am left wondering if it’s time to stop and let others fight crime. One of the cornerstone series for James Patterson, this one may have finally lost its steam and needs to be shelved for good.

While I usually offer a detailed summary of the storyline for other reviewers to enjoy, I can’t be bothered today, preferring to offer a quick summary of my sentiments so that I can move along. Patterson resurrects an old nemesis of Dr. Alex Cross’ and places the detective in the middle of a serious manhunt. Cross is his usual go-getter self, swooping in to help as best he can, while also rescuing his wife from danger as she investigates something over in Europe. The tension and action that is usually built up with short Patterson-esque chapters is gone, leaving the reader feeling flat and underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, there is action and some heart-thumping suspense, but I did not feel the push to keep reading well into the night or caring much about what was going on. I need that on occasion and this novel did not deliver.

While some authors can use their name to sell a book, I cringe at that, as the reader is left wondering if the quality is there. With another Cross novel on the horizon, I can only hope this was a stumbling block for Patterson (or if I am just out of sorts with my reading these days), and that Cross can return to his earlier glory. That being said, thirty novels may be a sign that Cross should enjoy time with the family and let the likes of Bennett and Boxer, other stalwart Patterson detectives, take the reins and keep things going. But, what’s do I know, right?

Kudos, Mr. Patterson, for finding new ideas to challenge your protagonist. It just did not impact me as I had hoped.

2 Sisters Detective Agency, by James Patterson and Candice Fox

Seven stars

Working together yet again, James Patterson and Candice Fox present a standalone thriller with all the ingredients for success. Two unsuspecting women are thrust together and find themselves in the middle of something truly terrifying, only to learn that there are even more layers yet to be seen. Rhonda Bird is not naive in the least, but is truly shocked to learn of the fallout of her father’s death. She travels to Los Angeles and learns that she has a sister, one who is not used to following rules. When they get tangled up in tracking down a crew of privileged teens, the end result is nothing less than horrific, particularly when one of the group’s victims seeks revenge for what’s happened. Patterson and Fox show that they have some magic within them, using this piece to prove it once again.

Rhonda Bird is a juvenile public defender, working the system as best she can with clients who feel they are untouchable. When she receives news that her estranged father has died, she agrees to go to Los Angeles to handle some of the paperwork. It is only then that she realises something truly baffling, she has a half-sister. Baby Bird is an entitled teenager who does not like to follow the rules, making it even more difficult for Rhonda to take control of the situation. If that were not enough, they girls’ father was no longer the boring accountant he presented himself to be, but a private detective with an active business.

While Rhonda tries to digest all that is put before her, Baby wants nothing more than to keep living the life she’s been streaming online. This includes interactions with other privileged teens. When one acquaintance comes for help, he soon discovers that he does not want to involve Rhonda in what’s going on, leaving Baby somewhat concerned.

As she’s used to prying information out of teenagers, Rhonda soon discovers that the boy is part of a gang of youths who target those in need of a message, roughing people up and causing havoc wherever possible,. Their leader, a psychopath if ever there was one, relishes the power they have been able to exert and cares little for the fallout. As Rhonda and Baby resurrect their father’s agency to work the case, they find themselves enmeshed in trying to bring this group of youths down, knowing little of those that have been victimized.

What begins as a hunt for a group of entitled brats soon takes a darker turn, as one of the victims, with a sordid past of his own, decides to take matters into his own hands. With a killer lurking in the shadows, Rhonda and Baby will have to watch their every move, sure that no one is safe or can be trusted. Rhonda may have wished she never answered the call that brought her to L.A., but now that she’s here, it’s all hands on deck to protect a sister she never knew she had. A decent crime thriller that had its moments of intrigue.

I have come to enjoy both the collaborative and individual work of James Patterson, as well as Candice Fox. They have been able to create some fascinating characters, plots, and novels that usually leave me flipping pages for hours at a time. While I applaud the ideas, this book did not grab me as much as their previous work, though there were moments of intrigue and captivating writing. The jury is still out on this one and I am left to wonder if this is a new collaborative series in the making.

Rhonda Bird proves to be a gritty protagonist in this piece, offering up her no-nonsense side with capable mind throughout. I was intrigued to see the balance of her professional and personal life, as it came to light throughout this story and could only wonder if Patterson and Fox had more in mind for her in upcoming novels. Strong-willed and ready to make a difference when it counts, Rhonda must also juggle being a quasi-parent to her new half-sister, more trouble than it is sometimes worth.

I spent a great deal of time thinking about this book, trying not to compare it to others I have read of late, or even the past collaborative submissions of the authors. I am almost certain that it is tough on writers who have had success to always achieve the same standards in their novels, as readers come to expect stellar work. Patterson and Fox are great writers on their own, and together, but this one did not resonate for me as much as I would have liked. I needed something grittier, darker, with more seriousness and complexity. Instead, I got some teenage vapidness mixed with amateur sleuthing on a case that did not fully captive me. This is nothing against the authors or their hard work, as the narrative flowed pretty well and the chapters moved things along. I simply felt that there was a disconnect with the plot and what I needed at the moment. Perhaps the next one will be a return to their old ways!

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Fox, on a valiant effort. I know what you can do, so there is no point bemoaning or panning this one blip.

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

All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque

Eight stars

Please enjoy the review after my annual re-read of this classic for this time of year!

LEST WE FORGET

This enthralling novel by Erich Maria Remarque provides the reader with a stellar look at a soldier’s life during the Great War. Told through the eyes of a young German soldier, the story pulls the reader in and personalises events in such a way that it almost seems palatable, without justifying or downplaying the atrocities at any point. All Quiet on the Western Front is sure to stir up emotion in those readers who have an interest in military discussions, as well as those who love war-time history.

This is the story of Paul Bäumer, a nineteen year-old fighting for the German Fatherland in France during the middle of the Great War. Having signed up voluntarily alongside a number of his classmates, Bäumer hoped things would be as exciting as they sounded. All that was dashed after the weeks of basic training, in which the young men are broken down and put through their paces before being tossed on the front lines, where the beauty of nationalism is replaced by the horrors of death. Now, these young men live in constant physical terror as explosions rock their every night.

The story explores the trials and tribulations the war brings to those who witness it first-hand. Bäumerl finds himself fighting to justify his presence in France and tries to survive on poor rations, barely enough for survival. He also witnesses how decimating the war can be, when only a handful of his training class survive after a short stint on the front.

Bäumer is also forced to sober up to the realities of life, which turns sensitivity on its head and permits pragmatism to surface. After a soldier dies in front of them, the fight is on for his supplies, something the surviving soldiers need more than the corpse. This creates a refreshing look at life and the lessons that come with it, leaving manners back in Germany when every day could be your last.

There are moments of harrowing action, as Bäumer accompanies the others to lay barbed wire and finds himself trapped under artillery fire. Scared and pinned down, the men talk about their own thoughts about how the war could be more effectively fought, as well as what might have changed the minds of the politicians who are sitting in their ivory towers, far away from the bloodshed.

When a bloody battle with enemy leads to men being blown apart with severed limbs and torsos, Bäumer sees the most gruesome part of the war, something that he was not told about when first he agreed to serve. Rats feast on the dead and Bäumer expresses a sense of being animalistic, trusting his instincts alone to save him. The casualty list is high and Bäumer tries to erase what he’s seen when he is given leave and encounters a few French girls, eager to help him forget.

Bäumer takes some extended leave to return home for a family visit. He feels like an outsider, unable to discuss his trauma with anyone. His mother is dying of cancer and she hopes that he can be proud of what he is doing, but wants him to come home as soon as possible. This surely pulls on his heartstrings and Bäumer is left to wonder what the fighting will really do, as he cannot be with family when they need him most.

After witnessing the horrors of a prisoner-of-war camp, Bäumer is determined to help bring the war to an end, vowing never to be captured or enslaved by the enemy. The months push onwards and the German army begins to lose control of its fate. Bäumer watches his friends die in combat, eventually leaving him as the only one left from his original class. By the fall of 1918, Paul Bäumer can see the end is in sight and hears much talk about an armistice, which would bring the bloody war to an end, something he’s wanted ever since arriving at the Western Front.

Erich Maria Remarque does a masterful job painting the image of war and how it truly gets into the pores of those who are fighting on the front lines. It is less about strategy and troop advancement than the blood and gore faced by those young men who were pulled from their schools in order to fight for their country. While many in the West see the Germans as the evildoers (in both World Wars), Remarque offers this wonderful look at the war through the eyes of one man, to show that there was nothing but pure fear within him. No matter whose sides was right, young men perished without knowing what they were trying to do. Their task, kill or be killed. Their horror, to be maimed or brutally injured. All this comes to the surface throughout this piece, which will surely shock the attentive reader.

There are many characters whose lives progress throughout the book, though I will not list them. Remarque seeks more to tell a story of the war through their experiences than to inject a deeper plot with the Great War as a backdrop. The horrors of war spill out from every page, as well as the senselessness of men who could barely shave being the pawns of an international political disagreement. This theme is echoed throughout, in twelve strong chapters. While many will likely turn away from the book because they disagree with war or have ‘read too much about it’, I would encourage everyone to give it a try to see just how deeply it affects you. Especially with November 11th just around the corner!

Kudos, Mr. Remarque, for this sensational piece that had me enthralled throughout. It has stirred up some real emotions within me.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

  • Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae

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

The Privilege (Joseph Antonelli #9), by D.W. Buffa

Seven stars

D.W. Buffa is back with another legal thriller, sure to pique the brain of those who have followed the Joseph Antonelli series with any regularity. While there is a great deal of courtroom drama, the bulk of the book also tackles legal and societal theory, both looking deep into the past and towards the future. Buffa take the reader on quite the journey, at times getting a little preachy and esoteric. Some who can see through this can enjoy another legal thriller, but I worry many will get lost in the minutiae of the discussions, which might sour them to the overall experience.

Joseph Antonelli has quite the reputation in the legal world, both within San Francisco and elsewhere. He’s never lost a case that was his to win and has few ticks in that unfortunate box at all. His latest client, Justin Friedrich, will soon be convicted for a crime he did not commit. All the evidence points to Friedrich shooting his wife aboard their yacht and it’s almost time to end proceedings. However, someone soon approaches Antonelli with an offer.

James Michael Redfield runs a tech company with experience in artificial intelligence. When Redfield speaks privately with Antonelli, they enter into a loose lawyer-client relationship, complete with retainer. The privilege from this transaction forbids Antonelli from speaking about what comes next, as Redfield hands over the gun and a receipt to prove Friedrich’s innocence. What could Redfield want and why did he wait so long to exonerate an innocent man? Antonelli is eager to discover this, though is sworn to secrecy, under the privilege requirement.

When another high-profile murder occurs on a university campus, Antonelli is pulled into the middle of it and is again defending an innocent person, with Redfield working in the background and promising that he can solve it all, in due time. Antonelli is unsure of the web in which he finds himself and can only imagine that he’s a pawn in a larger game. While the privilege will not protect any future crimes, Redfield has said nothing conclusive and is still using the privilege to keep Antonelli on a short leash.

As the legal manoeuvrings continue, Antonelli tries to see what Redfield is doing and the sort of game he finds necessary. It seems that the trial is the thing that Redfield wants most, the situation that helps prove his larger theory, which has ties to artificial intelligence. Antonelli wants no part of it, but is as much a victim of it all as those he represents to ensure justice. A complex story that shows Buffa has layers to his meanings. Perhaps a little too much for many, though.

While I have loved D.W. Buffa’s writing and all he stands for, his legal thrillers are surely the best of all his books. That being said, he usually uses the courtroom as a stage and shows the wonders of the law through the interaction of both sides and the jury as a central arbiter. This novel took things away from those actors and left the reader to ponder the Socratic methods of law, justice, and philosophy. While it was intriguing to get to the root of it all, things could likely have taken less of a dense road to success.

Joseph Antonelli is still a masterful character and shows his abilities throughout this piece with ease. However, there was something that seemed lost, as much of his magic was not convincing a jury of his client’s innocence, but rather swimming in the complexities of legal theory, philosophy, and being stuck in a madman’s web. Antonelli does well when he can see forward, but there’s something impeding him throughout this book, which lessens his impact overall.

While I like a book that makes me think, I believe Buffa went a little too far here, perhaps forcing series fans to dig through what they are using to finding in order to discover the legal gems they seek. Those who pick this book up out of the blue (I have never understood those who do not start a series at the beginning) will likely be lost and really lose interest before long. It’s too bad, as Buffa has much to offer, with longe and detailed chapters that accompany a strong narrative. However, I can see the density being a turn off for some. I persisted, mainly because I know the power of a Buffa novel. I am not sure many would have the same fortitude and this novel was not a true reflection of the rest of the series.

Kudos, Mr. Buffa, for one of your thinking novels. I appreciated many of the life lessons you offered, even if things were a little much at times.

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

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