The Hanged Man (The Bone Field #2), by Simon Kernick

Seven stars

Simon Kernick is back with another thriller set amid the bodies of The Bone Field, where readers saw DI Ray Mason and PI Tina Boyd work together to discover the horrible collection of unidentified bones. Still baffled by their findings, Mason and his partner are called to a rural home, where a woman lies dead and a half-penned suicide note leads them to believe that her husband, Hugh Manning, might have decided to stay alive a while longer. The deeper Mason digs, the clearer the story. Manning might have been visited by others seeking to silence him once and for all. For what, no one is yet sure. However, when the first of the bones is attributed to a woman who was presumed missing, the case opens wide and Mason soon learns that Manning may be the key to the entire Bone Field case. With a ruthless gang looking for Manning, it will only be a matter of time before the case goes cold again, forcing Mason to take matters into his own hands. With the help of his current girlfriend, PI Tina Boyd, Mason pushes not only to protect Manning, but also to bring the killers to justice and identify all the victims in short order. Trouble is, the criminal element rarely play by the rules. Kernick does well with this sequel and keeps the reader enthralled until the final pages as the mystery developed throughout. Those familiar with Kernick’s work and fans of darker police procedurals will likely enjoy this piece.

I discovered Kernick last year when the debut in this series crossed my path. I remember being interested, though was not sure how I felt about the story. I decided to give this one a chance to see if some of the loose threads might be tied off and the level of mystery heightened. I am pleased I took the gamble, though there were times I felt things took a while to gather momentum. Kernick’s interesting plots leave me feeling that I will try some more of his books in the near future. DI Ray Mason is an interesting character, having invested much of his time in police work, but now tied to Tina Boyd, who has both sobered him and kept him always looking behind his back. While he is still reckless at times, he also loves to get to the heart of the matter in a sensible way, hoping to stay alive a while longer. Still, he struggles with a relationship and being close to someone else. Boyd, for her part, seems to feel the same (and I will admit I have not ventured into her series that Kernick has padded with numerous novels). The cast of secondary characters prove believable and help push the story along, though I did not find any of them shone enough to jump off the page. The story, veiled in the Bone Field mystery, was decent and showed just how jaded some in the criminal world tend to be and what lengths they will go to get what is needed. Filled with interesting tidbits that trace back decades, Kernick has done well here and keeps the reader wondering, which is the sign of a well-crafted novel.

Kudos, Mr. Kernick, for creating this timely sequel, as fans sink their teeth into this new series, which has much potential.

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

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Sweetpea, by C.J. Skuse

Seven stars

After having written a number of Young Adult novels, C.J. Skuse turns to her darker side in penning this piece, rich in angst and homicidal actions. Rhiannon Lewis hates her life and most of those who cross her path. Using a series of diary entries, she explores this hatred by tipping her hand to the reader. Many of her entries begin with a list of those she despises the most and why they rub her the wrong way. Be it people from the news, those at her place of employment, or people with whom she must interact in public, Rhiannon cannot let things flow off her back. As the narrative progresses, the reader learns that Rhiannon was once famous for being the sole survivor in a horrific attack on a daycare facility, though she suffered significant injuries. These injuries seem to have numbed her ability to truly care for others, while also helping to foster a sense of vigilante behaviour, which she uses to restore balance in the world. Rhiannon has many secrets, but none darker than the need to punish those who have wronged the innocent and to harm people who do not serve a useful purpose in her day to day life. The narrative is full of these struggles and the list of personal enemies that Rhiannon finds troublesome seems to grow as time passes. That being said, a personal event turns everything on its head and forces Rhiannon to reassess her life and the choices she’s made; a new feeling for this seemingly cold and emotionless woman. Whatever the struggle, Rhiannon Lewis will not be the same by the end, though no one can truly tell how she’ll turn out. Skuse offers a very dark and demented path through this novel, sure to interest those who enjoy personal struggle and protagonists with deep and homicidal secrets.

I chose this book on the recommendation of a friend, who knows how much I enjoy a twisted tale. I was not entirely sure what to expect, but did hope for some psychological thriller that would keep me up well into the night. Instead, I pushed through this personal journal of a twenty-something woman who has a hit list a mile long and many deep secrets she wants to keep from others. Rhiannon is quite the repulsive character, particularly because of her attitude towards the outside world. As she mentions throughout the narrative, she has a ‘me’ side and a public persona to uphold, a difficult act to support through troubling times. However, her Dexter-like duality might serve to better underscore her struggles on a daily basis. The reader cannot help but feel a ray of sympathy for her, though surely dislikes her ongoing attacks on anyone who is not perfect. With a cast of varied secondary characters, Skuse is able to prop up her novel with a vast array of fodder to fuel Rhiannon’s fire, though no one can be sure when things will take a significant turn. The story itself is decent, though there are surely segments that drag and left me wondering how long it would take to push through. This is definitely not a fast-paced piece, nor is it something with mysterious crumbs left throughout the narrative. The reader must dedicate themselves to getting to the very end, where more surprises lie in wait. I am happy to say I made it, though the journey was anything but simple. Still, Skuse kept me wondering and guessing, with some significantly curious means of tying up loose ends by the final few entries.

Kudos, Madam Skuse, for a great piece, which differs greatly from your usual fare. I am eager to see what else you might bring up for publishing in the coming years. I know I’ll keep an eye open!

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

Jack the Reaper (The Hunt for Jack Reacher Series #8), by Diane Capri

Seven stars

Diane Capri has returned to add to her Hunt for Reacher series, taking a slightly different approach to events. After an explosion in a home, everyone is presumed dead, including the elusive Jack Reacher. FBI Agents Otto and Gaspar have been two steps behind him for so long and now, it would seem, things have gone frigid. However, after the controversial document dump, TrueLeaks, transcripts of a telephone call speaking of Reacher being alive and well, which means Otto and Gaspar must rush to New York to continue their investigation. All the while, General MacKenzie ‘Nitro Mack’ Parnell has come to learn of a sizeable amount of money being hidden away in an New York apartment, money that was tied to an operation he sanctioned years ago. Now, Parnell wants what he feels is his and will stop at nothing to retrieve it. Nitro Mack has a history with Reacher as well, someone who had little love loss for his superior while still serving in the military. As Agents Otto and Gaspar piece together a better understanding of what is going on with Reacher, they are soon following the track of Parnell’s mess as he hunts down the money. As more bodies pile up and the money is nowhere to be found, everyone begins to wonder if, like Reacher, it’s disappeared in plain sight. Capri does well to stand alone while keeping Reacher true to his nature. A decent effort that Reacher fans may like, though the series grows and stands on its own merits.

As she tends to do with each novel’s introduction, Capri pays homage to Lee Child and his creation of the Jack (none) Reacher character. She speaks of how each novel she writes parallels with one that Child has created, which allows the reader to read them one after the other and notice the chronological ties. I have never done so and feel that Capri’s work can stand alone, though the elusive nature of Reacher from Child’s novels is just as strong in this series. Otto and Gaspar remain central characters here and pose no threat to overpowering one another. Many of the past novels have developed their characters, but here, it would seem as though they are in neutral and the focus is strictly Reacher and Parnell. Capri’s glimpse into Otto’s personal thoughts and a run-in within her apartment is about as in-depth a character reveal as the story offers. The secondary characters, as with the mainstream Reacher stories, change each time, though they are well placed here to deliver a strong story. While the story was good and paced itself well, I found it difficult to affix myself to everything that was going on. I wanted to, as I love Reacher, but this piece seemed less focussed on Reacher and more on how the agents would eventually fall in line with Parnell’s antics. It could be an anomaly of the series and I will not rake Capri over the coals for my own sense of confusion. Overall, a decent effort and I am eager to see if she can redeem herself with the next book, highlighted at the end of the narrative.

Kudos, Madam Capri, for keeping Jack (none) Reacher alive between Lee Child novels. You do well on your own and it shines through with each novel you produce in this series.

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

Steeplechase, by James Patterson and Scott Slaven

Seven stars

Returning for another collaboration, James Patterson and Scott Slaven have created this historical BookShot that will keep the reader guessing as time switches between two distinct periods. Steeplechase Park draws large crowds to Coney Island, even as far back as 1907. With the most exciting and innovative rides, crowds rush to enjoy their time and take in the atmosphere. Katie Silver has helped design much of the layout, unheard of at that time, though her reputation precedes her. Flashing forward to 2017, Silver wakes from what must be a very strange dream, as she can vividly remember herself on the grounds of Steeplechase one hundred and ten years before. As Head of Security, Silver has a lot of responsibility to keep the crowds under control and the patrons safe. However, a series of ‘accidents’ over the past few weeks has Silver wondering if she will soon have a job. As the story alternates between both times, Silver finds herself in the middle of a plot to take control of Steeplechase Park and wrestle it away from its current owners. Gangsters and low-lifes have plans that not even Silver can stop. Confused about these dreams and their meanings, Katie Silver must stop something from happening in the past so that it does not ruin things for her 2017 self. Patterson and Slaven have their work cut out for them in this piece, as they try to sell the reader on this piece of historical fiction. Some will surely enjoy it for its mysterious meandering, but I could not get a firm grasp of the story or characters depicting it.

Patterson and Slaven have taken things in an interesting direction with this piece. While I may not be the story’s largest fan, that is not to say that it was horrible by any sense of the word. I enjoy stories that transcend a single time period, but I felt I may have missed some nuances that could have helped strengthen this piece for me. Katie Silver was certain the glue that held this story together, though my missing something surely kept me from being able to enjoy either incarnation of her or the larger place she played in the story. Her dual roles surely provide both a beacon and foreshadowing for what is to come. Complemented throughout by two sets of secondary characters, Patterson and Slaven have helped to create a distinct narrative that tells of this amusement park and some of the tragic happenings that befall it over a century apart. The story seems decent and the delivery is strong, but I feel as though I missed something in receiving it, though it is entirely possible that I simply did not pay close enough attention. I have another BookShot with this duo to read and can only hope that we’re all on the same page with that one, before I pass judgement too harshly.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Slaven, for an interesting premise. I hope you find many fans who adore this, as it has potential.

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

You’ve Been Warned—Again, by James Patterson and Derek Nikitas

Seven stars

Back to try another Patterson-Nikitas collaboration, which pushes the BookShot into the realm of the paranormal. That being said, this one was at least palatable. Joanie Whitmore is dreading this Thanksgiving gathering in rural Rhode Island. Her family is quite pretentious and judgemental, just what she wants for her new fiancé, Nate. As they arrive in a storm, Joanie’s fears are soon substantiated, with a cold-shoulder greeting by her father and an equally stiff mother. As the storm gets worse, Joanie and Nate are unsure if now is the time to make their announcement, but with the wedding only a month away, they have little other time, if at all. When a knock comes at the door, a stranger appears, wondering if he might be able to use the phone, as his car’s broken down. Reluctantly, the Whitmores invite him in, only to discover that the phone lines are down, which is soon followed by all the power in the house. As Joanie begins to scour the house, she discovers that its history is anything but uplifting, having been where an entire family met their fate in a murder-suicide. Soon, members of the house begin to follow that same path adding a creepier element. This will surely be one Thanksgiving Joanie Whitmore will never forget, though it may also be one she never survives. Patterson and Nikitas fare well with this piece, though some of the paranormal aspects seem more subdued than one would expect in a short story. A well-crafted piece for those who like the genre and open-minded fans of the BookShot collection.

I admit that my previous attempt with this collaborative team proved to be a disaster of epic proportions. Perhaps it was that the story rang truer as a psychological thriller than completely paranormal, but it might also have something to do with the fact that I was less on edge while reading. Joanie Whitmore’s character serves the story well, pushing it in many directions as her emotions seem to shape the way the narrative turns. There are times of high drama and others of absolute fear, which are usually seen effectively through the filters Joanie presents the reader. While a short piece, the secondary characters and the interactions they have with our protagonist prove key to pushing the narrative away from a simple A to B scenario. From loving fiancé to standoffish father to this mysterious stranger who appears at the door, all of these types of characters pepper the narrative in interesting fashion. The story was fairly strong and the reader can lose themselves in the slow development of the plot, but there comes a time when things take a turn away from the normal and into a realm of pure oddity. Still not my favourite genre of BookShot, but it’s growing on me.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Nikitas, for this better effort. I can see some stronger potential with this and hope you’ll keep working together to hone your skills as a team.

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

Stingrays, by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski

Seven stars

James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski team up for this interesting BookShot that explores a crime during a party weekend in the Caribbean. When the Stingrays are hired to explore the murder of Paige Ryerson, they must use all their grit and determination to bring the killer to justice. Killed in the Turks and Caicos, Ryerson was partying with some friends and simply disappeared. When Matthew Quinn and his Stingrays arrive, many of the players involved in the party scene that Ryerson frequented have reason to want her dead. The various Stingrays sift through the evidence and point fingers, though some of these leads turn cold as soon as they’re explored. From a corrupt cop to a playboy with a yacht, and even the captain of the sea-faring vessel, many people recount their various tales of seeing Paige Ryerson, but all promise that she was alive and well. It’s a race to get the answers, and someone’s holding out. With time ticking away, Quinn and his team must make a move and trap the killer, before they get away with the ultimate crime. Patterson and Swierczynski create this interesting piece that is sure to keep the reader intrigued as they speed through the story. Not my favourite BookShot, but this one had potential.

As with any short stories, BookShots can be hit and miss, interesting some readers while others raise their eyebrows and move on. I was not disheartened by this piece, but did not feel the connection to it that many others may feel, which only goes to show that my unique interests differ from those of other BookShot lovers. The characters were not all that intriguing to me, though they surely did offer some interesting insight into a cross-section of the population. Presenting a handful of potential murderers, the authors let the reader see some of the interesting parts about their lives. Same goes for the Stingrays, all of whom bring something to the table that might interest the reader, given the proper inclination. The story was nothing special for me, which I feel might relate to the fact that I could not connect to the Stingrays. Had I felt more of a connection to the sleuths, I might have found something in their tracking down a killer and become more invested in the story. It was not horrible, though I am not sure I’d race out to read another BookShot of the same premise. Patterson and Swierczynski provide the reader with some interesting aspects in this story, though I did not find myself enamoured. Perhaps it has to do with my not feeling my greatest, but I could not connect with this piece on any level.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Swierczynski, for a decent piece of writing. While I am not hooked, that is not to say that others will not enjoy what you had to offer.

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

The Exile, by James Patterson and Alison Joseph

Seven stars

One advantage to James Patterson’s use of collaborators is that he is able to present stories set all around the world, permitting the reader to experience new authors and locales to pique their interest. In this BookShot, Patterson brings Alison Joseph on board and shifts the focus to rural Ireland. While living in London, Finn O’Grady receives a panicked call from Bridie O’Connor, a friend from back in Galway. She explains that the old tale of the Green Man has merit, as her son saw him the night before. Out of her mind, Bridie will not accept no for an answer, pushing Finn to cross the Irish Sea to offer his assistance. While he wants to help, Finn is hesitant to return to Ireland, having been chased away when he served on the police force. The narrative explores the case that ended Finn’s police career, the rape and murder of Bridie’s teenage sister. Finn sought to crack the case wide open, disbelieving that the man who admitted to the crime was actually guilty. Trying to shake the stigma, Finn turns his attention to Bridie’s concerns around the Green Man. Well aware that the tale is simply folklore, crafted by Bridie’s grandfather many years ago, he seeks to show this to Bridie, who refuses to listen. When members of her family are found murdered, Bridie renews her feeling that the tale holds a degree of truth. Forced to cross paths with old enemies and the police chief who banished him, Finn tried to rectify that lingering case, while dispelling the Green Man tale. A killer is surely on the loose, though no one can quite be sure who it is or why to resurrect the myth. An interesting BookShot for those who enjoy the international experience, though it did not have the punch I sought to find it thoroughly enjoyable.

I am a fan of Ireland and was hoping to envelop myself in this wonderful story when I learned of its setting. There was something within the reading experience that left me less than drawn to the story or its characters, though I cannot put my finger on the specific issue. Patterson and Joseph create a strong character in Finn O’Grady, offering up significant backstory and present character development in this short piece. Finn struggles with trying to find truth in a community where lore and secrets prove a stronger reality. Having struggled with trying to find justice for Bridie and her family, Finn returns and wants to set the record straight. The story offers a number of secondary characters to help to prop-up this flashback-filled piece, though I was left slightly more confused and irritated than pleased with all the names that crossed the page. It was as though Patterson and Joseph wanted to bite off more than they could chew in this short story, forcing the reader to juggle names, places, and crimes in short order. The story was decent, filled with Gaelic phrases and hinting at some of the mystery that Ireland has always given me, though the true cultural sentiment was not as strong as I might have liked. I sought something with fewer threads to tie-off and more small-town feel to it. This story seemed to be all about past grievances and a character stain that Finn O’Grady wants to scrub away, with short chapters that created a jilted narrative. This may be one time that Patterson’s trademark writing style did not work for him. I applaud Patterson and Joseph for trying hard to tap into this fictional experiment and can see some strong foundations for a decent story, though I was just not feeling it. Call it my first let-down in this month of BookShot reading.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Joseph, as you sought to push BookShots into the Irish countryside. Alas, I am not sure if a few pints of Guinness and a re-read would make the story any better for me.

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

The Lifeguard Lawyer, by James Patterson and Doug Allyn

Seven stars

In an attempt to try something different, I’ve decided to open 2018 with a month of BookShots (or as many as I can handle until I go mad), those short stories thrillers that James Patterson began overseeing a few years ago. With piles of them at my disposal and more coming out each day, there is never a lack of them to pique my interest. Adding Doug Allyn to the mix will allow me to start the year with a new collaboration team and hopefully lead to many new and wonderful discoveries. Brian Lord has returned to his childhood community of Port Vale, where he is hiding from a recent traumatic event. It has only been a few days since his fiancée was blown up in a car bombing and Lord is one of the prime suspects. A former Assistant District Attorney, Lord is now working on the other side of the aisle, defending clients who surely have checkered pasts. After a heroic rescue at the beach, where Lord briefly returns to playing the role of his teenage job as a lifeguard, he is no longer able to hide from the spotlight and must answer questions surrounding the fatal explosion. Might one of Lord’s past clients have had a beef with his work, or seek to quiet a snitch from proceeding with their case? After being terminated for conduct deemed problematic with his current firm, Lord is out on his own, still with a handful of clients that no one else wants to touch.He’s happy to work with the authorities to find the person responsible for the bombing, but must also protect some of his own clients, both from self-incrimination and sleazy former spouses. In the meantime, Lord seeks to return to his job as a lifeguard, tired of the three-piece suits that muzzled him for so long. There, he meets an old friend and they take quite the walk down memory lane, revisiting unfinished business. Now, it is time for Lord to find the bomber before he, too, is killed, forever silencing this maverick legal mind. Patterson and Allyn craft a decent story that entertains for the duration of the piece. BookShot fans can praise this as one of the better stories in the ever-growing collection that seems to have no end. Hey, at least I will have fodder for the entire month!

I have a love/hate relationship with James Patterson and these Bookshots, though this does seem to be a decent piece of work, which allows Allyn to shine. The premise is good and the piece seems to flow effectively, based on the large number of characters who add their own flavour to the narrative. Brian Lord receives a decent backstory, as well as some redeeming characteristics as the story progresses, which allows the reader to build a bond with him throughout. He is not, however, the world’s more endearing lawyer, nor does he come across as one that I would want to read about for a full-length piece. Patterson and Allyn develop him just enough to forge a connection and pepper in some interesting secondary characters to keep the story interesting. Forcing Lord to process his feeling for his decently deceased fiancée alongside a teenage love interest allows the reader to see some of his more vulnerable aspects, though there is little time to truly tap into his sentiments for either woman. The array of other characters are interesting and serve their purpose, though I am not seeking anything too detailed or to have them grace the pages of another BookShot. The story in general has some strengths, as Lord wrestles with his life and work, while also trying to synthesise the recent bombing. Things move along effectively, and come to a head as Lord must make a decision about his life, with a lukewarm epiphany on which the reader can grasp. The story served its purpose and was entertaining, which is surely the premise of all BookShots, even those who test the waters ahead of new Patterson series.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Allyn, for presenting this well-developed piece I would read more of your collaborative work in BookShot form and will keep my eyes open for anything coming down the pipeline.

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

End Game (Will Robie #5), by David Baldacci

Seven stars

David Baldacci is back with another in his hard-hitting Will Robie series, which matches an impactful thriller with some social commentary. After a harrowing mission in London, Will Robie is summoned to see the new Director of Central Intelligence. He’s met there by his sometimes partner, Jessica Reel, who has just come off her own mission that ended quite poorly. Together, they are informed that their handler, Roger ‘Blueman’ Walton, has gone missing during his annual vacation to Colorado. Armed with respect for their superior, Robie and Reel make the trip West in hopes of piecing this mystery together in short order. When they arrive, the two find themselves in the middle of a backwoods quagmire. The town is run by a tiny police force and populated by two distinct organizations: a collective of Neo-Nazis and a New Age group who refer to themselves as the King’s Apostles. As the investigation gathers steam, it is soon discovered that Blueman was well known in these parts, though his actual work was a complete mystery to the locals. Learning of a troubled childhood, Robie and Reel discover new respect for the man who has been leading them on numerous missions. After a significant run-in with the leader of the Neo-Nazis, Robie and Reel are barely alive, but must pick up the pieces and forge onwards, trying to locate a handful of prisoners who have gone missing. Robie and Reel soon discover that there is another group who find themselves hiding out in Eastern Colorado, armed with their millions of dollars and secretive condominiums in former military outposts, awaiting the End of Days. There are more questions than answers, leaving Robie and Reel to wonder if this mission might be beyond their capabilities. With little time to ponder what the future holds, Robie and Reel must act now and sort out their past connection later. Fans of the series will surely flock to this piece, which does not let-up until the very last page. Baldacci at his best and most energetic.

I have long enjoyed Baldacci’s work, even though he seems to keep his fans dangling by creating and then shelving a series just as it gains momentum. I have often wondered if he intends to create some series that meshes some of his most beloved characters together, though I am sure trying to juggle that many plots could prove too much of a pain. For this novel, there is decent character development in the two protagonists, though their progression differs greatly. Robie, who has always been seen as a cold and calculating assassin, seems to be trying to foster something with his partner, though she is slow to pick up on his subtle hints. The rugged man who beds the helpless woman is not missing from this book, though the reader is surely wondering if Robie and Reel will ever master the art of sharpshooting Cupid’s arrows, rather than dodging them. Reel is still a slow to emerge character for me, whose past is a jumble and present seems quite focused on the mission. She has a weak side, but does not reveal it easily, though when she does, it almost seems a let-down. Together, the sexual tension seems almost unbearable, but it does not detract from the plot and cutthroat nature of the mission. The story is strong, as can be expected with Baldacci. And yet, I was not pulled to the edge of my seat through each chapter. I could see things playing out and was impressed with the pace and forward movement, but cannot say that I was kept up late into the night reading or wondering. I enjoy Baldacci and his series, but can only hope that if he is losing his passion for these two, that he will tie things off and turn his gaze onto his well-developed newer series, which also packs a punch.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for keeping your readers happy by writing so well. I hope you have more magic in store, though I am never sure in which direction you will take things.

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

The Seventh Commandment, by Tom Fox

Seven stars

After a successful trilogy that encapsulated some interesting Vatican happenings, Tom Fox is back with this captivating novel that seeks to shake religion to its core once again. Something was surely wrong when the Tiber River began to run blood red. This was only exacerbated when gunmen opened fire in crowds across Rome, leaving many dead. Dr. Ben Verdyx, employed in the Vatican’s Secret Archives, is taken from the street, unsure what his captors have in mind. Dr. Angelina Calla, a tour guide in the city, is also taken, from another part of the city, and ushered off to the same mysterious location. It is only when they come face to face that their past connection becomes apparent. Calla was a doctoral student whose expertise in Akkadian, a dead language from Babylonia, and Verdyx is fluent as well, perhaps the only two who can help with the current conundrum that has hit the news. Swiss Guards have been sent to keep Calla and Verdyx contained as a mysterious tablet has been unearthed. Written entirely in Akkadian, the tablet speaks of a number of prophecies set to befall the area, the first of which is the river of blood. While Calla seeks to parse through the rest of the message, she becomes aware that Verdyx seems less surprised by the message. Might he have something to do with all of these goings-on? Meanwhile, the narrative explores a group of men, headed by a Belgian tough-guy, who seem to be plotting a way to bring attention to the vulnerability of the Church and susceptible aspects of the general public. Working together, they may be able to meet their final goal in short order, as long as nothing goes awry. With each hour, more of the prophecies comes to pass, leaving Calla and Verdyx to wonder if the seventh, and ultimate, prophecy will occur, which forebodes great evil. Fox pulls on his vast knowledge of the Vatican and surrounding area to fan the flames and add an element of suspense. Crime thriller lovers who can stomach some religious intrigue will surely enjoy this, particularly if they have raved about Fox’s previous series.

There is nothing like reading a book that seeks to poke even more holes into what has become a teetering foundation. While I respect much of the Catholic Church, many of its solemn aspects have taken a beating, as well as its secrecy. Fox seeks to dispel them and add his own mocking undertone, though respectfully. Calla and Verdyx prove to be two interesting, and yet different, characters. Fox does offer some backstory to them both, revealed at different times in the novel. The Akkadian connection is surely the primary aspect that ties them, but it is their teamwork that seems to work well. I hoped Fox would not turn things too sugary and find that the time they spend together turns romantic and therefore becomes a hero story. The reader can decide what they think about this as the chapters flow. The secondary characters, specifically those who have an ulterior motive, prove to be decent, though I glossed over much of their storyline, finding it weak and less than compelling. The evildoers need not be cackling in the background, but I like to see some bloodthirstiness or diabolical endgame. I found things a little too predictable for me. The story has interesting aspects, though I felt it a little clunky as well. Without giving away too much, while I enjoyed the tablet and prophecies, revealed only by those who can speak this ancient and long-dead language, the flip side left me feeling that things were a little too cat and mouse. Fox has a great premise here and could surely have worked hard to foster a stronger connection with the race to reveal (with his two experts), but it seemed to be more a ‘wait and see, then panic’ situation than ‘try to stop it beforehand’. Again, perhaps I am being overly critical, but I felt the story kept me interested just more than superficially, devoured more because Fox can write and propel things than the content. Will Vatican conspiracists rush to read this book and enjoy the outcome? Perhaps, but I think it is more a social commentary on the direction of religious trust and faith in this time of individual thought. Could a series of plagues be awaiting those who do not trust entirely in the Church? I suppose only time will tell!

Kudos, Mr. Fox, for this entertaining piece. I will surely read more that you write, when that day comes. I like your enthusiasm for all things Vatican and your style does hold a certain allure.

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