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. 

Genesis (Dominus #0.5), by Tom Fox

Six stars

Fox presents readers with this interesting prequel to his full-length work, diving into conspiracies as they relate to the Catholic Church and the Vatican. After receiving reports of small donations going missing at a tiny parish church in Rome, Polizia di Stato assigns Agent Gabriella Fierro to investigate. Unsure of the importance of a few misallocated euros, Fierro nonetheless begins looking into the small parish and its priest, Father Alberto Agostini. Unbeknownst to Fierro, a former acquaintance has been dispatched to investigate as well, former priest turned journalist Alexander Trecchio. He appears at the church, creating a stir for Fierro, though neither is able to locate Agostini, who made an appointment with them both. Reluctantly working together, Fierro and Trecchio discover that many of the missing funds have a similar alphanumeric code build into their transactions, one that refers to something prevalent in the Scriptures; GENESIS. As they try to track down Agostini, the narrative offer a glimpse into a scene where a man is being tortured for information and another where a Cardinal in Venezuela is targeted for his views within the Vatican, both seemingly part of a larger issue that might tie-in to the funds. What is Genesis and how does using a small church in Rome to funnel monies play into the larger plan? Fierro and Trecchio must speak with Agostini to get some answers before the conspiracy has a chance to grow. However, those in positions of authority can sometimes lay their own traps within shell games, all in an effort to distract from a larger plan. Fox lays out this short story nicely to hint at what is to come and how Genesis might only be the beginning of a plot more sinister than anyone could have imagined. A quick read that piques at least some interest in the reader.

While I am always up for a good Vatican conspiracy thriller, presentation and layout are a must. Fox has the foundation for a great story to captivate the reader, but the way in which the story is told lessens that delivery. While there are some good characters, each with their own backstories and a connection between the two protagonists that is not fully explored, the narratives bounces from past to present to closer past and back to the present again, all in such a way that the reader is left somewhat confused and perhaps slightly irritated. Additionally, the resolution of the Genesis plot seems too basic or swift, though there is surely something afoot that arises in the final chapter of the novel. One can hope that Fox will use a full novel to explore more as it relates to the inner workings of this cabal and how their power could topple the upper echelons of the Vatican, adding politics to an already veiled system of power. There is potential here and the patient reader might just be rewarded, should they stick around a while longer.

Decent work, Mr. Fox. I am pleased to see some potential here and hope that it flourishes into something greater with this next novel. 

Trump vs. Clinton: In Their Own Words: Everything You Need to Know to Vote Your Conscience: A BookShot, edited by James Patterson and Denise Roy

Seven stars

** Pardon the excessive use of the colon, above. **

With the United States General Election on the immediate horizon, I felt it poignant to take a little while to look at this BookShot, a rare non-fiction piece edited by James Patterson and Denise Roy. It is entirely direct quotes made by the presidential candidates of both major parties, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Patterson and Roy divide the quotes into themes and then further break them down into smaller and more digestible sub-topics, all for the reader to synthesise. By offering their context, the reader can sometimes better place what is meant or considered by each snippet. Exploring these numerous topics, Patterson mentions in his editorial preface that he hopes to provide those who read this piece a better idea of those for whom they might cast a ballot on November 8, 2016. The world will be watching, though it is unclear if this collection will purify the waters at all.

Without delving too deeply, the academic in me must offer a few caveats to this collection. First and foremost, quotes can be highly misconstrued when they are taken out of context. Anyone reading one-liners can develop a certain view of any person, which might not reflect who they are as a person. Should anyone choose to cut and paste a number of the phrases I use in book reviews alone, I could really be in trouble with the outside world. It is all about context. Secondly, the editor’s pen and cutting room floor must not be taken out of the equation. While I am not trying to vilify Patterson or Roy, their personal viewpoints will bleed through the quotes they wish to include in this collection, as well as those whose impact were left as scraps or afterthoughts. No sane person can read or listen to every possible sound byte or piece of writing that relates to these two candidates. Therefore, the reader is expected to place their trust in the editors that the collection is comprehensive, which is impossible to do. Lastly, one can only wonder if this collection will sway anyone. It is quite well presented and offers some key aspects of what the electorate ought to think about as it relates to a Commander-in-Chief, but I would be remiss if I felt this was the ultimate guide that all Americans ought to read ahead of casting their ballot. It is more entertainment for those who wish to approach it. Whoever is chosen on November 8th, they will have much to do and I can almost guarantee the mud will fly, even after one side concedes to the other.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madame Roy for this collection. I cannot offer praise, for it does not lend itself to being persuasive one way or the other. That said, your dedication in gathering these quotes deserves at least a small golf clap.

Dating (The Ladybird Books for Grown-ups Series), by J.A. Hazeley and J.P. Morris

Six stars

Hazeley and Morris offer a sarcastic spin to the apparently highly popular Ladybird children books, surely familiar to those in the United Kingdom. Presented with the most tongue-in-cheek comments on the dating world as interpreted through sketches from actual Ladybird books, the reader is able to see just how silly things can get in the world of dating and how mockery or ‘taking the piss’ can inject humour in a sometimes highly aggravating process. 

There is little need to analyse or synthesise the book, readable in a mere 5-7 minutes, other than to say, sitting down to read it will surely leave the reader wanting to find the others in the collection. That is, if the intended humour can be found in these written words.

Kudos, Messrs. Hazeley and Morris for this lighthearted look at dating and all its permutations. Take the piss out of any subject and you’ll be sure to have a great following.

The Searcher (Solomon Creed #1), by Simon Toyne

Six stars

Returning to begin a new series, Simon Toyne offers readers an interesting story and a mysterious protagonist, free of significant backstory. A man wanders along a deserted road, shoeless and confused. He has little knowledge of where he is, who he might be, or where he’s been. Arriving in Redemption, Arizona, the man soon realises that he is Solomon Creed and came from the direction of a plane crash, still smouldering on the outskirts of town. He has a book in his possession, a memoir of the town’s founder, given to him by one Jim Coronado. Creed has no idea what connection he has to Coronado, but seeks to begin piecing things together, if only to alleviate his sense of confusion. Meanwhile, the aforementioned plane crash seems to have taken the life of a young man, a drug dealer who has ties to a Mexican cartel. As the reader soon learns, the town’s authorities have a similar connection with the same cartel and have been acting as an entry point for drug distribution. However, someone is surely responsible for this crash and the cartel’s kingpin will not stand to see his son die for nothing. As Creed learns more about Jim Coronado and his connection to a town secret, he realises that he must act to blow the whistle on the corruption before he, too, is silenced, and the illegal activity continues to prosper. Toyne returns with another novel seeped in religious symbolism, equally as unique as his past collection of novels. A hit or miss for readers who may have an affinity for Mr. Toyne’s past work.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the previous books Toyne wrote, this one fell flat for me. The premise is one that usually pulls me in, a Reacher-esque novel where the reader is introduced to many characters, some of whom work with the protagonist while others seek to stymie his progress in unravelling what is going on. I could not find myself developing a connection to Creed or the story in general, even with some of the mysteries Toyne plants in his narrative. The ever-present town history told through the eyes of Redemption founder, Reverend Jack ‘King’ Cassidy, in the form of a testament of sorts did not succeed in yanking me into the intricacies of the story’s progression. The symbolic use of ‘J.C’ is not lost on me, but the religious undertones were not as captivating as in many other stories. I must admit that the writing was strong, the characters had some depth, and the narrative kept a decent pace, but that did not seem to be enough this go round. Some might welcome this new series with open arms, but I think I may give it a pass, unless I find myself in need of a filler or choose to forgive and allow Toyne to ‘redeem’ himself.

Decent work, Mr. Toyne and I hope you garner a large following with Solomon Creed. Alas, I won’t be one rushing out to see if he tries to be the new Jack Reacher.