Half-Built Houses, by Eric Keller

Eight stars

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

The next book on my independent author list included a courtroom drama with a twist. Set in Calgary, I hoped not only to become enveloped in the story, but also see some of the random mentions of my current city of residence. Charley Ewanuschuk has had a hard life, having been bullied throughout his youth in small-town Alberta before he was shipped to the big city by a less than loving mother. On an especially frigid winter night, Charley witnesses a woman being strangled before her body is left in the snow. Fleeing his squatter’s residence, Charley runs off before his conscience eventually leads him to Legal Aid. Seeking some legal advice as he knows he will somehow be a person of interest, Charley tells his outlandish story to struggling lawyer, Brian Cox. When the police come to investigate, they find clues that point to Charley’s potential involvement and he is eventually charged with the murder of Natalie Peterson. Turning mute, Charley is uncooperative, which leaves Cox to try piecing together a defence based on the shaky story he was told that first night. Meanwhile, Hugh Young lurks in the shadows, a successful businessman whose considerable wealth has become beneficial when it comes to cleaning up the messes left by his son, Jason. This time, Jason’s assault and murder of Natalie have forced Hugh to pull out all the stops. As long as Jason can remain calm and only answer the questions put to him, there is a chance that this homeless man, Charley, will be found guilty. However, as certain aspects of Jason’s narrative prove shaky, Cox receives new hope, but is it enough? A compelling story with a thorough legal plot, perfect for those who love seeing the courtroom in all its glory. 

When Keller reached out to me, he used the lure of Calgary to pique my interest. After starting the book, I would other aspects that had me hooked as well. I found the use of Calgary to be quite intriguing, peppering landmarks and street names throughout the story, though it was not a central focus of the narrative. Keller shows his superior ability to craft realistic characters who present themselves as both unique and yet believable in this type of story, which adds momentum as the story’s pace quickens. The reader learns much about the backstory of Charley Ewanuschuk, the determination of Brian Cox, and the slimy presentation of Jason Young, as well as the other characters that hold the larger story together flawlessly. Many writers will tell a legal thriller by showing the crime and how the authorities will pursue individuals until the accused can be found and (sometimes) sentenced for the crime. However, Keller takes things further, detailing the crime, the investigation, and then the courtroom developments, including the banter between Crown and Defence attorneys as they examine witnesses on the stand, all while not losing some of the out-of-court struggles that befall both sides during trial. Keller’s understanding of the Canadian legal process is notable and he paces the story perfectly without drowning the reader in minutiae. A powerful novel that tells multiple stories within its pages, Keller is certainly an author worth noting as the reader hopes to see more writing in the years to come. 

Kudos, Mr. Keller for this wonderful debut novel. Your writing style is refreshing and injects much life into the genre. I trust another legal thriller is in the works, taking us back to the gritty streets of Calgary.

The Black Book, by James Patterson and David Ellis

Eight stars

James Patterson has again teamed up with David Ellis, offering a wonderful standalone thriller that keeps readers on the edge of their seats and up late into the night. In a narrative set in the ‘past’, Billy Harney and Kate Fenton are hardworking members of Homicide in Chicago. While tailing a suspect, Harney makes the decision to raid a brownstone, which opens up a new and troublesome revelation; this is a brothel visited by the city’s rich and powerful men. During the raid, a ‘little black book’ goes missing, with names that could bring even more of the rich and famous to their knees or serve as strong blackmail fodder. All eyes turn to Harney, who must try to clear his name, when it is presumed he pocketed it. As Fenton begins a power struggle with her partner, Harney must find out who is trying to frame him, adamant that he knows nothing of the book. With the case against the defendants caught in the raid fast approaching, Harney works with a hot-shot prosecutor, Amy Lentini, to ensure his testimony is flawless. Her icy exterior soon melts and she turns up the heat with Harney, which only clouds both their judgements. In a parallel narrative, set in the ‘present’, Harney is found naked, in bed with Lentini, while Detective Fenton lays on the floor. All three have been shot and the two women are dead, with Harney clinging to life and a bullet lodged in his skull. As the story continues, it appears Harney is being blamed for the murder, unable to remember anything from the past as it relates to the lead-up to the shooting or anything he may have learned about the black book. As the reader braces for an ever-evolving rollercoaster ride, the story takes twists and turns with everything centred around a list of names and the people will do anything to hold all the power. A powerful thriller that shows Patterson has the ability to rise to the occasion, with the right author at the helm. Highly recommended to any who enjoy losing themselves in quality writing.

I have often said that James Patterson’s writing has waned in the past few years, his lustre buried under many mediocre novels. However, when David Ellis comes to partner, their cooperation produces stellar writing and offers the reader a literary treat. While it may be a standalone, the novel offers an array of superior characters, wonderfully crafted to push the narrative forward without getting caught up in the minutiae. Working with the parallel narratives, Patterson and Ellis keep the reader guessing, while forcing a constant mental gear switch as the story develops, layering a revealed past with a present that is just as murky. If the reader can handle this mix, they are in for a punch to the gut during the numerous plot twists, which only adds the the overall flavour of the piece. Dark, but peppered with some dry humour to keep the reader smiling, Patterson and Ellis know the perfect recipe for a fast-paced thriller.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Ellis for joining forces again and showing that there is never an end to your abilities. I know I am in for a treat when your names grace the cover and hope to see more of your collaborative efforts soon.

Matchup, edited by Lee Child

NIne stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Lee Child (editor), and Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

When asked to take the editorial lead in the latest International Thriller Writers (ITW) anthology, Lee Child jumped at the opportunity. What might be daunting for some–herding twenty-two well-known authors together like feral cats–turned out to be a great pleasure for Child and, in the end, the reader. This compilation pits writers into teams of two to concoct a wonderful series of short stories. Each author was asked to bring their ‘A’ game and a favourite protagonist, in hopes that having to share the page (and the locale of each story), which ended up being a little more difficult than simply parachuting characters together. Child’s other hurdle was to place a male and female author together, a ‘matchup’ of epic proportions, to see how they could work together. The end result saw readers treated to the ‘what if’ of forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan working alongside ever-travelling Jack Reacher; bibliophile Cotton Malone living history and the standing stones through which Claire Randall met her beloved in Scotland; and Philly lawyer, Bennie Rosato, crossing paths with the King of Sarcastic Comments, John Corey. Where else would you find a Minnesota cop who wants to fish in the middle of a major crime bust at a cabin in Montana, or a woman who speaks to the dead through their buried bones outside of Alexandria? Child is able not only to find the ideal matches for this anthology, but also sends the reader into a tailspin as they are presented with a number of never before thought-out possible storylines. Child is masterful, though a great deal of praise must go to all who took the time and effort to pen eleven wonderful stories. Surely something of a summer gift for the reader to enjoy poolside.

I have always enjoyed collections such as these, especially when the ITW gang comes out to play. There are so many out there and since the genre is so wide, one is never entirely sure what to expect. Child presents these stories in no particularly themed order, but the end result turns out to be something that is high octane from start to finish. While I tend to gravitate to the crime and legal thrillers, there are many that push outside of my comfort zone, though I cannot find a single story that did not captivate me, even when the narrative flirted with the paranormal. I have a large ‘to be read’ list, but reading these stories has left me wondering if I ought to check out some new authors and their characters, as they intrigued me, even during the brief encounter of a short story. Pitting sub-genres against one another and character professions that were sure to clash, these authors ironed out the difficulties and left the reader with a polished product, perfectly balanced and ready for easy literary consumption. While I could have read these stories for hundreds of more pages, I realise that there is a limit to the number of submissions and authors used, though I am eager to see what is next for the ITW in the years to come.

Kudos, Mr. Child, et al. for such a great anthology. I am hooked to these collections and love the cross-section of story writer that emerges from these classic matchups. Please keep sharpening your skills for the next editorial call out that is sure to arise.

The Fix (Amos Decker #3), by David Baldacci

Seven stars

David Baldacci surfaces with another Amos Decker fast-paced thriller, keeping readers hooked from its explosive start through to the final, lingering sentences. While walking outside the FBI’s Hoover Building, Amos Decker witnesses a woman shot in apparent cold blood before the shooter turns the gun on himself. With the environs in shock, Decker uses his eidetic memory to capture the scene before reporting to his FBI Task Force. Usually handed cold cases, the team turns its attention to the murder of Anne Berkshire at the hands of one Walter Dabney. What might have led Dabney to gun down a substitute teacher who volunteered at the local hospice? It is only when they dig further that the extent to Dabney’s problems arise. Formerly employed with the NSA, Dabney appears to have amassed much debt and has been borrowing to pay it off? That being said, Decker is left confused when the DIA (Defence Intelligency Agency) begins poking around and tries to take control of the investigation. Using his synesthesia and hyperthymesia, Decker is able to help the team explore deeper motives and potential witnesses, which open new avenues of investigation. With no clear backstory on Anne Berkshire, might she have been hiding from a less than stellar past? Could Dabney’s attack on her could be the tip of something larger and much more sinister? In D.C., nothing is as it seems, leaving Decker to hope he can get to the root cause and bring closure to the Dabney family, whose shock grows with each new piece of information. Well paced and sure to keep most Baldacci fans pleased until the final page-turn. 

I have long been a Baldacci fan and find myself still hooked after this novel. Amos Decker stands alone when compared to other thriller protagonists on the market today, making the series novels highly interesting and entertaining. Baldacci has brought another wonderful plot to the forefront and spun a tale that keeps the reader on their toes, while also injecting the perfect number of twists. Steeped in political struggles of the day, Baldacci turns to a mix of the Middle Eastern and neo-Cold War clashes, without instilling too many stereotypes within each chapter. Strong returning characters provide the reader with a foundation on which to base their expectations, permitting growth and sideways development. While Decker’s backstory has been revealed in the previous two novels, there are moments of reflection that provide new insight for the reader. Peppering new characters and leaving the door open for their return again allows Baldacci to offer great subplots, injecting humour into what is normally a darker subject. All those who grace the pages of the book can stand well on their own and mesh well with some Decker’s quirks, paving the way for a great story that can be devoured in short order. Baldacci continues to shine in a genre that has long been supersaturated, though I will admit this was not his absolute best work. I have seen some fans who have shared a less than exuberant sentiment when they completed the novel. One might posit their issue is rooted in the lack of synesthesia-based writing, which left them a sense of being cheated. However, I cannot speak for them or their personal struggles with the story. There is always room for improvement and Baldacci shows that he, too, is fallible.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for keeping the series strong and the stories sharp. I look forward to each new book you have and can assure you that I remain a fervent fan of all your work. 

War Cry (Courtneys # 14), by Wilbur Smith (with David Churchill)

Eight stars

Building on his multi-generational Courtney family saga, Wilbur Smith crafts a new story that shifts focus on the Kenyan-based group, led by Leon. After the tragic death of his wife, Leon is left to raise his precocious daughter alone. Saffron Courtney’s determination and refusal to let anything stand in her way shows how much of the family blood flows through her veins. Sent to study at a reputable boarding school in South Africa, Saffron learns the ropes as Leon tries to resurrect Courtney Trading, which had been paralyzed by the global downturn of the Depression. Working with his three brothers, Leon pitches an idea to turn things around, leaving at least one with a sour taste in his mouth. In an alternate storyline, the reader learns of Gerhard von Meerbach, who grows up in his brother’s shadow and has yet to fully accept the new Nazi regime that has taken Germany by storm. The reader is reminded of the von Meerbach family’s ties to the Courtneys, which was fleshed out fully when last Smith wrote about this wing of the family. As both Saffron and Gerhard grow older, they cross paths and soon find a connection that would stir up many emotions in their respective families, though about which both young characters are temporarily unaware. As the winds of war begin to blow across Europe, the Courtneys and von Meerbachs choose their sides, though both families have porous aspects of their familial foundations and support leads both clans to find the traitorous blood. Saffron shows that she is determined to craft an Allied victory through any means necessary, putting country before her own safety. Gerhard is also willing to show a softer side, though it might cost him his freedom and eventually his life. Using the African continent as a backdrop and some of the regional battles as a historical narrative, Smith is able to forge a story rich in delivery and yet devastating in its discussion of the War. Smith’s continuation of the Courtney saga is fortified by a wonderful narrative and well-developed characters, pulling on the lush fruits of this complex family tree. Well suited for readers who are familiar with the entire Courtney series, but equally as entertaining for anyone who picks the book up to begin the magical journey.

I was happy to have secured a copy of this latest book in the series and even more impressed that its focus was in the 20th century. I have found that Smith’s additions to the series are weaker the further back in history the story delves, while the closer to the central South African storyline proves most effective. Smith has been able to effectively weave the story of this large family by branching off and building on loose threads left in the narrative, without losing the impetus for the larger story. As with many of his tales, Smith has a wonderful handle on the narrative and use some strong characters to tell the story of love, history, and determination. As Smith tends to be constantly crafting his Courtney series, it would be helpful to focus on one direction (time era), permitting the reader to better understand what to expect. While this might be an editorial decision, bouncing from 17th century adventures on the high seas to this powerful Second World War tale proves to be a ‘stop-start’ in the reader’s ability to understand the flow of the story. I find it harder to develop a bond with characters if I have to wait eight years to see them again (as in this story and the last time we met Leon, etc). Perhaps I pine too much for the ‘series one and two’ Courtney stories, where there was a significant build-on of the characters, always moving forward. By the time ‘series three’ arose, we were bouncing back in time and trying to hash out some of the ancestral aspects of the family, thereby losing the momentum that Smith had so effectively developed. Smith leaves some great storylines unfinished and there is hope that future novels might address this. I can only hope that Smith will continue to control the stories, though I have come to see that he has contributors and authors who have taken over writing for him, which lessens the impact of the larger Courtney saga. One can hope that more generations emerge, enriching the experience both for the reader and Smith personally.

Kudos, Mr. Smith for a great addition to the series. I can only hope that you have a few more ideas in mind, especially in the latter generations of Courtney family members. 

Marcel Malone, by Lew Watts

Seven stars 

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

Working through my pile of independent author reads, I came across this book by Lew Watts. He kindly asked me to take the time to read and review the book, though I had no idea what to expect beforehand. It did push me outside my normal genre, but I strive to open myself up to new and exciting topics. Dr. Vera Lewis is a successful therapist in the DC area, whose interesting cross-section of patients offer the application of many therapeutic techniques. One of these patients is Marcel Malone, an accountant by trade who has forged a close relationship with Vera, while they tackle building his interpersonal skills through social interactions with strangers. During their sessions, Marcel introduces Vera to poetry, something he has been able to use as a form of communication and therapeutic release. Their sessions turn from strict question-answer banter to a varied collection of poetic expression that Marcel has found helps him with self-discovery. Vera soon finds herself interested in the poetry and begins her own journey of expression and analysis. The novel offers a constant development/regression as it relates to life at home for Vera, where she must face her husband, Raymond, who is a lobbyist and appears to place much focus on clients while leaving his wife find solace in drink and solitude. While exploring poetry in its many forms, Vera and Marcel develop a non-spoken bond that surpasses therapeutic discovery, whereby the reader might see it as an infatuation on the part of the therapist. As Marcel tackles some of his deeper issues, he drifts away, leaving Vera to forge her connection through random poetic texts and the odd letter, while also forcing her to turn inward and discover an alter-ego. Finding her own voice in poems, Vera takes hold of her life and makes some life-altering decisions, returning to her roots. A book that opens the mind of the patient reader, Watts is able to capture this story through prose, poetry, and a therapeutic analysis of the human spirit. Recommended for those looking to find a gem in the vast array of busy-body fiction on the market today. 

I entered this read slightly hesitantly, particularly since my last independent author read ended in a cataclysmic mess. One surely cannot judge a book by its cover or dust jacket summary. I found myself curious about the therapeutic aspect of the story from the beginning, having read a number of novels with a counsellor-based protagonist. When Watts introduced some of the poetry and embedded extensive verse throughout, I began to worry, as I have never been one to find much pleasure in analysing this form of expression. As Ver and Marcel discover the latter’s speech patterns influenced by iambic pentameter, I found myself pacing and beating every sentence he uttered, driving myself mad as I scoured for the iambic flow before I began to dissect my own verbal presentation. However, Watts soon distracts the reader with other interesting therapeutic and poetic notions, steeped in academic and literary roots which are referenced in the narrative. The cast of characters found within the novel helps to push the story forward, offering a variety of individuals whose traits complement one another in certain spheres while they clash and created some needed conflict. Social, professional, and familial connections all emerge within the story and provide the reader with the opportunity to play armchair therapist, if only for brief moments. Vera’s growth is readily apparent throughout, though the reader might find periods of stagnancy, causing them to curse the protagonist into finding the epiphany and moving forward. One thing of note that Watts utilises in the novel is a journaling style over formal chapters, pushing the reader to see the world solely through the eyes of Dr. Vera Lewis. The reader will only discover an alternate angle by peering into the thoughts of others when Marcel Malone’s journal is quoted during a key point in the story. While this offers a somewhat centric flavour to the story, Watts makes it work and the reader comes out of the experience with a stronger understanding of the struggles presented throughout. A well-paced piece that shows both the author’s attention to his readers and has me wanting to see what else Watts may have to offer. Definitely expanded my horizons without pushing me too far out of my comfort zone.

Kudos, Mr. Watts for this great novel, with multi-faceted explorations. I enjoyed your presentation of a number of area of interest/expertise that you possess without inculcating your readers with an excessively academic primer.

The Lost Order (Cotton Malone # 12), by Steve Berry

Eight stars

Returning with another Cotton Malone thriller, Steve Berry never ceases to impress, embedding fact and fiction throughout a fast-paced narrative. Malone finds himself out in rural Arkansas on a mission, tracking down a small collection of gold. Hired and sent by someone other than the president, Malone’s still loosely working for the Magellan Billet, a covert part of the Justice Department. While cracking a code engraved on one of the majestic trees, he is attacked and questioned by a gentleman who calls himself the Sentinel, part of the long thought defunct Knights of the Golden Circle. Malone soon learns that the Knights trace their roots to the Confederacy and are charged with protecting small caches of gold and stones, which lead to a larger treasure, scattered across the South. Back in Washington, the Billet’s overseer, Stephanie Nelle, is meeting with a senior official with the Smithsonian Institution, only to be shot and left for dead. There appears to be a connection to the Knights and the Smithsonian, though it is not entire clear at the time. Former US President Danny Daniels is attending the funeral of a lifelong friend and senator, where he discovers that the widow and the Speaker of the House of Representatives might have been involved in some nefarious dealings, yet another branch of the Knights’ larger plans. Daniels accepts a position that will permit him some inside information at the congressional level, though he must not tip his hand too soon. While Malone seeks to better understand the workings of the Knights of the Golden Circle, he learns that a recent schism may have led to the recent attacks on Nelle and the kidnapping of Billet member (and Malone’s love interest) Cassiopeia Vitt. It would appear that someone wants the treasure to push forward a constitutional convention, one that could change the face of the United States while others within the group are fine keeping the riches hidden until the time is more propitious . While Cotton is seeking to quell the rogue branch of the Knights, Danny Daniels must rest the power held by the Speaker before major (though entirely legal) power changes to vest all formal congressional powers on the lower house, thereby nullifying the Senate’s role in the legislative branch of the government. A killer is loose, lives hang in the balance, and Cotton Malone may be the only person who can intercept those bent on causing chaos, all while learning that one of his ancestors may have played a central role in the Knights. Berry weaves a wonderful story together and will not let up until the reader is fully engrossed. Perfect for fans of the Cotton Malone series as well as those who love a good mystery seeped in historical significance.

As with many Berry novels, there is nothing off limits in the narrative. Shifting through time and working with little-known facts, Berry creates a story that keeps the reader wondering. The Magellan Billet has seen its usefulness wax and wane throughout the series, though Cotton Malone has never become tiresome. Working through the Civil War era and the spy rings that accompanied it, Berry resurrects some ideas tied to the Confederate cause as well as diving headlong into a better understanding of the Smithsonian, which is a vast array of museums and facilities that seek to educate and impress. Berry sifts throughout the historical record to teach the reader while proving to be adept at entertainment. Longtime series readers will have grown fond of certain characters and it is noteworthy that Berry has found a way to keep them present and relevant, as well as finally (!!) revealing the ‘long story’ behind Malone’s nickname. While there is little time to rest throughout the tale, Berry takes the time to point out facts and fallacies, especially to those readers who choose the writer’s cut of the audiobook. Certainly an advantage over the always anticipated Writer’s Notes that Berry includes in his novels. A wonderful addition that enriches little known pieces of US History and political developments that could be useful today.

Kudos, Mr. Berry for another wonderful book. I love how you are able to mix history, politics, and thrilling chases all into one, while keeping a realistic balance. I look forward to all you have in the works, as I praise your published books to all those who will listen. 

The Thirst (Harry Hole #11), by Jo Nesbø 

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jo Nesbø, and Random House Canada for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

The reader can always expect a treat when Harry Hole re-emerges on the written page. Nesbø’s latest novel is no exception. While Nesbø has taken his protagonist on many a wild ride, there is always something sinister and dark that pulls the reader (and the jaded murder detective) back into the mix. As the novel opens, a woman is on a date in a local watering hole, having trusted the swipe-match benefits of Tinder. When things do not go as planned, she returns to her flat, seemingly alone. However, someone lurks in the shadows, attacking her before leaving a dead body with a distinct mark. When Oslo Police begin their investigation, they cannot help but wonder if this mark, along the neck, could have been left by… a vampire? When another body turns up and there are no concrete leads, a familiar name begins being bandied about as a possible lifeline to solving the case. Harry Hole is now an instructor within the Police College, happy to lecture and discuss the former profession that brought him much satisfaction, but also fuelled his worst nightmares and led to his downward spiral into a personal abyss. Agreeing to run a parallel investigation, Hole begins looking into the murders, which hold a very unique and possible fetishistic curiosity. As Hole digs deeper, his recollections of being a part of the police return, more intense than ever, though he also cannot dismiss the angst brought on by certain of his colleagues. When a personal emergency strikes, Hole must find the time to piece of the shattered pieces, which not letting the case disintegrate. A suspect comes to mind and Hole does all he can to bring them to justice, entering a violent confrontation. The evidence is all there, as Hole learns more about the dark world of vampirism. However, with such an open and shut case, questions remain as to whether the hunt for answers and the prime suspect will survive the ‘light of day’. A powerful thriller that steeps a narrative in the usual dark aspects. Nesbø fans will devour this piece and there are sure to be new fans coming out of the woodwork. 

I have long been a fan of the European mystery and thriller genres, specifically those which emerge from the Scandinavian countries. I find that they are not only better crafted, but offer the reader a richer sense of the narrative while filled with dark twists. Nesbø has proven that he not only has a handle on the genre, but that he is able to push his protagonist well past the point of no return. As Harry struggles, the reader follows suit, wishing for some happy outcome, only to be led away from the easy solution. Nesbø tells a dark story, tapping into the still-buzzworthy ‘vampire’ theme, but does not inject that Hollywood flavour, choosing instead to flirt with the obsessive dark side of bloodlust and all things ‘haemo’. While the reader synthesises this, Nesbø pushes past storylines into the present piece and forces the reader to balance multiple tasks. Rich in its character development as well, the reader draws close to some individuals who grace the page, while hoping others will meet their match. I remain in awe of the high calibre of the writing, especially as the story has been translated into English. I have often commented that if the piece can hold strong after it has been linguistically altered, imagine the force behind the original Norwegian presentation.

Kudos, Mr. Nesbø for another impressive novel. I have a die-hard fan and you are still able to push me in directions I could not have seen coming. 

Godforsaken, by Tarryl Janik

Two fizzled-out stars

First and foremost, thank you to Tarryl Janik (through a friend) for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

With a few independent books that have been offered to me by authors through Goodreads, I wanted to take some time and read them, before posting reviews. They may not get the publicity of other writers, but deserve some recognition. Jack Warren has little in life about which to be happy, explaining why he has a revolver pressed to his temple as the book begins. A deputy in the Waushara County Sheriff’s Department, Jack breaks from his suicidal thought processes to investigate the disappearance of Jessica Mills, a local teenage girl. With only a few clues, Jack must assess the scene and try to piece together her last moments with others. On a tangential narrative, an archeological expedition in Guyana uncovers some highly troubling discoveries with sacrificial elements of the most graphic nature, which seems out of place at the time, but finds its place as the story progresses. The narrative returns to offer the reader a glimpse into the last night of Jessica Mills’ freedom, full of sexual exploration and disappointment, before eventually leading to her capture by a silhouetted individual. When Jack comes across a friend he hopes will be able to offer some insight into Jessica’s disappearance, he is attacked by a mysterious woman in the shadows, maimed to the point of requiring medical attention. It is here that the story takes a turn, when a nondescript room tucked in the corner of the hospital reveals added alter sacrifices and medicinal reincarnations that perpetuate a zombie state. If the review reader is grasping at straws to collect some form of narrative thread, reading this piece is like blindly hanging from said threads in a torrential downpour. A troubled publication, the reader must take a gamble as they sacrifice their sanity, time, and mood to finish.

I have always been taught not to say anything if there is nothing good to be added to the discussion. With that in mind, let me dig and find something positive worth exploring in this book. The text is organised in coherent paragraphs and pages (lacking horribly inane columns), which is worth one star. One would presume this is a freebie star, but in some of the recent books I have come across, traditional text presentation is never a foregone conclusion. The second star is surely worthy for great use of the English language, showing that Janik has a grasp of how to weave the words together in any effective and comprehensive fashion that makes sense to the adult audience. With these two stars in the book’s quiver, we embark on what might be the miraculous search for a third star, or how we cannot lose the two previously ascertained praiseworthy traits this book possesses. Moving forward, things take a turn for the worse or at least inch towards literary disaster. While the words are clear, the story begs for an editor. If one was used, said person should immediately return the funds they were paid and march through the town as they are shamed for horrible work. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are haphazardly used and, on occasion, their disappearance ruin what might have been a passable plot. One might turn to me and ask that I cast the first stone if I am so perfect. I do not seek perfection, though I should expect some degree of clarity on the parts of both the author and editor to clean up the draft and show honour and respect in the published work. This is not Harper Lee’s resurrected second manuscript from a few years ago, whereby the world accepted it without a red pen touching the page. It is an insult to the reader to seek their money and time while not putting in the conscious effort to produce one’s best work. Janik seeks to provide that flashy distraction to the aforementioned abyss by opening a medical terminology text or thesaurus and peppering the narrative with fancy words, as if to beg for the literary equivalent of a golf clap. ‘Well done, sir!’ If the characters worked in the medical profession or counselled those with numerous philias, phobias, or isms, the reader might accept these words as useful, but it does little to distract the intelligent reader from what is going on. The gratuitous and seemingly inexplicable use of sex in all its forms to fill pages and bestow forms of orgasmic delight for the minor characters leaves the reader wondering if there will be some epiphany in the narrative that pulls all this ejaculatory blather to a head (pardon the pun). It occurs in almost every chapters and adds nothing to the larger story, save to promote disgust and ‘strokes’ (again, sorry for the pun) the author’s ego to have devised every euphemistic penile reference that a second-tier romance novelist would veto. Janik shows only that his academic success (discussed on the author blurb) is surely diluted as he remains trapped in the mentality of a sixteen year-old boy, giggling with the ways he can under-impress the reader. I am not Freud, so I will not draw cigar parallels. What began as a mystery quickly slips away and turns into something without a genre, though seeks to introduce sex to distract from its dissolving plot. Might this distraction attempt be a theme all its own in the book? The reader may prepare to celebrate the end of this short novel, only to be greeted with a TO BE CONTINUED final page. As if there is need to contemplate the next move. Most will rush for the closest door and run into the hills. Then again, might there be those with literary masochistic leanings?

Good luck, Mr. Janik. I do not pull punches and set the bar high for authors. You have a sequel and seem to have some followers, but do not fold up the tent on your academic endeavours just yet. 

Environmentally Friendly: A Short Story, by Eliza Zanbaka

Six stars

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

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

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

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