When No One is Watching, by Joseph Hayes

Seven stars

Joseph Hayes puts forth an interesting premise in his novel, which sees two men—once best friends—take drastically different paths after a horrible night. After winning a significant legal case, Blair Van Howe and Danny Moran are celebrating together, allowing the champagne and anything else to flow freely. It is at this party that Van Howe divulges that he plans to announce a run for Congress the following morning. On the ride home, Blair sits behind the wheel, while Danny is barely able to stay conscious, both highly intoxicated. A near miss on the road turns fatal when a family swerves and slams into a tree, eventually killing the driver. Panicked and with Danny unconscious, Blair checks in on the victims before fleeing the scene, knowing full well that this will ruin any political ambitions. With a history of drunken stupor, Danny is the perfect scapegoat for the accident and is left to face charges. Blair announces his candidacy and is swept away by the political machine, while Danny faces ruin and is subsumed by the guilt of tearing a family apart. Danny accepts guilt for everything, choosing to turn his life around after serving jail time, even though some who were investigating are unsure of the truthfulness of the narrative. Meanwhile, Blair’s meteoric rise to fame continues until he has his eyes set on the White House. A sure winner, it is only a matter of time before ‘President Van Howe’ will be elected, though begins making noise about the accident and what may really have happened. Two men, one night, a brutal crime. One has served the punishment, but will the real criminal ever be brought to justice? Hayes leaves the reader wondering in this thriller that evolves over a decade. A decent quick read for those who like novels where all is known, it is just a matter of getting from A to B.

I have read a few of Hayes’ books over the last while and enjoyed them all. The characters push the story in some interesting directions, forcing the reader to live through their lives in order to get to the root of the plot. While Blair Van Howe and Danny Moran open the novel as the purported protagonists, it is Moran who takes the lead. The reader is able to see his spiral down after a single night of drinking, where rock bottom has cost him everything. Saved by the help of AA, Moran is able to put the pieces of his life together, though he never forgets the pain he caused one family. Still, he has shouldered the blame for it all, not thinking twice about his former best friend, Blair. Hayes creates a soft and sweet character here, perhaps the vessel that all things can be right if you find yourself and something on which to connect, in this case, AA. Meanwhile, Blair rides success from a run for Congress, a gubernatorial race, and then sets his eyes on the one place every politician dreams of finding themselves, the White House. However, as clean a life as he has been known to have, that one secret in his closet may be come out at the worst possible time. He seems detached from it all, ready to let others clean up the mess and hope for the best. His rise is literally handed to him over a number of pages, with no development, leaving the reader cheated of what could and should have been wonderful development. Others grace the pages of this book and provide the reader with a decent push forward, though there is nothing that will prepare them for the final handful of chapters in the book, when things get real, while still lacking the needed grit with the fodder Hayes has in waiting. The novel has a great premise and decent delivery, but there was so much time spend on Danny ‘finding himself’ and so little on developing the Blair rise to power, something was missing, as if the political aspect was tacked-on later to give it more pizzazz, but was not polished properly. If it had to be done in a single book, there needed to be more meat throughout, as this one seemed to meander for a bit, push forward a number of years, and then slowly develop some grit with too few chapters to really make sense of it all. Hayes does well, but it lacked the knockout I know he can deliver. A decent read for a beach day or when the rains keep the curious reader inside.

Kudos, Mr. Hayes, for a great novel. It needed just a little more teeth to make this novel sensation.

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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Dark Fire (Matthew Shardlake #2), by C.J. Sansom

Eight stars

Continuing this Tudor-era series, C.J. Sansom develops the foundation for what many will likely call a great set of historical mysteries. Still jilted after an awkward investigation for Thomas Cromwell, Matthew Shardlake is happy to keep his legal practice running with a handful of clients. However, when he is approached to defend Elizabeth Wentworth, Shardlake is not entirely sure he wants the case. Wentworth is accused of killing her cousin by pushing him down a well, but will not enter a plea. Rather, she stands silent, even when brought before the court. With a torturous punishment for not entering a plea awaiting her, Shardlake tries to get Elizabeth Wentworth to at least utter two words, to no avail. In a miraculous turn of events, the case reprieved temporarily by Thomas Cromwell himself, who seeks the assistance of his great investigator. Unable to refuse, Shardlake makes his way to see the King’s counsellor, learning that there is quite the scandal brewing. During the dissolution of the monasteries over the past few years, someone has found a small collection of ‘Greek fire’ a powerful weapon from centuries ago, so powerful that it is said to be able to burn on water. Shardlake is sent to retrieve the instructions to make this weapon, so that it might be presented to Henry VIII after he sees its public display in the coming weeks. Hesitantly, Shardlake agrees to act as emissary and makes his way to the countryside, where he discovers that the two brothers in possession of the Greek fire have been killed and their weapon is gone. What should have been a quick turn of events has since opened into a cataclysmic panic. While Shardlake and his newly assigned deputy scour the communities to locate not only the killer but this volatile weapon, his actual case takes on some interesting twists. While it would seem that Elizabeth Wentworth’s guilt was all but certain, Shardlake discovers something that could turn the case in her favour, but he needs to get her to speak. From investigator to target, Shardlake must dodge an unknown killer and their wrath while keeping the knowledge of Greek fire a secret from the general population. Even as things come to a head, major news comes from Court, something that could change England forever and leave many scrambling for cover. Sansom delivers another winner in this complex-thriller that never loses its momentum. Lovers of Tudor history and mysteries will likely want to add this to their collection.

This is sure to be a wonderful series in the making, though it is a deeper and more intricate type mystery than I am used to reading. Steeped in history and developments of the time, C.J. Sansom educates as he entertains with a narrative that is full of nuances. The story really kept my attention and I hoped to learn a lot more about Matthew Shardlake. The man may be simple in his desires, but Shardlake is far from basic in his presentation throughout the novel. Humbled by his hunchback, Shardlake is forced to deflect many who feel he could never make a name for himself, let alone be a successful solicitor. His attention to detail when it comes to the law is one thing, but Shardlake is happy to see many things that others miss when it comes to investigating, which creates a stronger and more complex narrative for the reader. One can presume that he is irritated at being constantly sought after by Thomas Cromwell, but there is surely a reason for this. I can only hope that future adventures for Matthew Shardlake will be as detail oriented, as I am looking forward to learning much about the man and his development. There are others whose presence throughout help enrich the story and keeps Shardlake from running away with the show. These characters serve various purposes and one can only wonder if they will reappear in future stories, as Shardlake’s interactions seem not yet finished. Sansom has a wonderful way of weaving his characters into a curious tapestry and will not simply allow for minor appearances. The novel is strong and well-paced, set against English history during a time when nothing stayed the same for long. Henry VIII is processing the demise of his fourth and trying to find a fifth wife, which proves to be an interesting backdrop for Tudor fans who are committed to this novel. Sansom captures these intricacies while offering a stellar mystery to keep the reader enthralled. I am eager that I gave the series another chance and want to find out where Sansom sees the story and his protagonist going in the next handful of novels.

Kudos, Mr. Sansom, for a wonderful continuation to the series. I have so much I want to learn and you keep me entertained throughout.

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

The Ripper Secret, by James Becker

Seven stars

Popular author James Becker (one of his many pseudonyms) brings readers an interesting take on the Jack the Ripper murders, injecting his own speculation into this piece of fiction. While traveling through Jerusalem in 1870, Charles Warren comes upon a spectacular find that will surely flourish in the right company. However, this menorah is anything but an innocent artefact, particularly when another man, Alexei Pedachenko, had hoped to take it for himself. Fast-forward to the streets of London in 1888, where Pedachenko has been able to catch up to Warren, who is now a commissioner with the Metropolitan Police. Rather than simply ask for the menorah, Pedachenko wishes to create havoc for the man who caused him such distress. After reading about the murder of a prostitute on the streets of Whitechapel, Pedachenko devises a plan that will not only get him the sacred menorah, but also push Warren out of his job. While penning notes to Warren under an alias, Pedachenko shows that he is serious, by killing women in the dead of night and leaving mocking notes. Warren is aware what is going on, but refuses o budge. As the spring turns to summer, the bodies continue and Warren is racked with guilt, but still unable to find it within himself to cede the treasured find. Pedachenko is happy to let the blood flow under the guise of Jack the Ripper, masking his crimes with all sorts of errant clues, all in the hopes of pushing Warren to the brink. It will be a game of cat and mouse, though Pedachenko shows no hint at ending his spree and Warren must decide how to retaliate. An interesting bit of fiction, which allows Becker to entertain rather than solely educate. Those who want a quick read may enjoy this book for its entertainment value.

Unsolved crimes are always fun to think about and James Becker has added a little fuel to the fire. While neither purporting to have evidence about Jack the Ripper, nor wanting to discount much of the history that has been created, Becker develops this piece of fiction to suit his own needs and entertain the reader in equal measure. Charles Warren is a decent character, a man whose stubbornness and cowardice fuel a string of murders throughout 1888. While he watches London go mad with worry, he sits on the one thing that could stop the killings, waiting this murderer out while investigating through official channels. Alexei Pedachenko is a much more interesting character, seemingly fuelled by the desire for a sacred item and yet turning to murder to get it for himself. Both men offer an interesting push and pull, keeping the story moving without being all that sensational in their own right. The story was decent and full of what one presumes are factual bits of information about the killings. Becker has done well to educate the reader as they make their way through the story. That being said, I was a little put off that the idea of the Jack the Ripper murders surrounded a menorah and that revenge was the sole rationale behind it all, though I suppose stranger things have come to pass when it comes to motives. While surely not one of Becker’s stronger novels, it was a quick read and allowed me to fill some time between more stimulating undertakings.

Kudos, Mr. Becker, for a decent book that educates and entertains. I may have to look into another of your ‘alternate history’ stories, though might wait a bit before getting too committed to that idea.

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

Cold Kill (Steven Hunter #2), by James Becker (as Tom Kasey)

Eight stars

Long a fan of James Becker (which appears not to be the author’s actual name), I chose to read one of his earlier novels. Written under another pseudonym—Tom Kasey—the excitement did not wane whatsoever, allowing me to enjoy the reading experience. Steven Hunter is back, still seconded to the FBI but separated from the woman about whom he cares so much. Now in New Mexico, Hunter is sent out to investigate an odd slaying of a cow in a farmer’s pasture. However, when a human body turns up, all his focus shifts in that direction. The body of a young woman would be enough to raise a red flag, but when it appears her internal organs have been removed, things take a definite twist towards the bizarre. A few other cases that seem similar in nature lead Hunter and the local sheriff to feel that not only is there a serial killer on the loose, but that this person is harvesting organs. While many of their leads are coming up dry, Hunter refuses to toss in the towel. He looks towards those who might work in the medical field, especially with some of the drugs found in the system of the victims. When someone close to Hunter disappears, the case goes from professional to personal in short order, demanding results before scalpel meets skin yet again. Kasey offers up an interesting story that keeps the reader guessing in this criminal game of cat and mouse. Those who love a good procedural will surely want to grab this quick read, as well as readers who have enjoyed the work of James Becker (or his other pseudonyms) for many years.

The series is only two books to date, but the level of intrigue is surely high, taking the reader on an adventure that has little time to lose momentum. Much more compact than the debut, Kasey uses the novel to help add additional grit to his characters and create a mystery that will capture the attention of a wider audience. Steven Hunter continues to bring his British mannerisms to the story, as well as a gritty approach to crime solving. Less the police officer than a man who will do whatever it takes to solve a crime. Strong and determined, Hunter also has a compassionate side, wanting the truth for the victims’ families and his own peace of mind. His backstory is still somewhat shelved, but Hunter does offer a determination that appears to propel him through the story, leaving no lead blowing in the wind. Other characters help to develop this fast-paced novel, whose plot remains strong and quite focussed, though there is always room for a few tangents, when time permits. The reader will surely enjoy the banter throughout, though humour takes a backseat when dead bodies continue to appear. The premise of the book is great, highly tuned to a single storyline, for the most part. Kasey offers up a wonderful narrative that pushes forward and keeps the reader wanting to know more. His use of short and longer chapters pulls the reader into the middle of the story and leaves them hanging at various points, begging for ‘just a little more’, which is usually possible. I have enjoyed both novels in the series and am left to wonder, were these simply re-publications, or is there more to come from this author whose sub-genre branch-offs are as plentiful as the names under which he writes.

Kudos, Mr. Kasey, for another great novel. Whatever you call yourself, I am happy to keep reading what you offer up.

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

Trade-Off (Steven Hunter #1), by James Becker (as Tom Kasey)

Eight stars

Long a fan of James Becker’s work, I chose to read one of his earlier works. Written under the Tom Kasey pseudonym, that did not scale back any of the excitement that I have come to expect in the author’s work. When a body is discovered in rural Montana, local officials are baffled, less because of the murder than the fact that a human femur is lodged into the skull. Willing to admit that they are out of their depth, the FBI is called in to investigate. Agents arrive with a seconded Steven Hunter, who has spent much of his time in the British military, seeking to find answers. Nothing seems to be flowing as smoothly as Hunter would like, when he is alerted to another baffling case that involves women of a child-bearing age going missing in the region. As Hunter’s partner goes missing, he begins trying to get to the core of the matter, which appears to trace all the way up the chain of command. As Hunter uses his stealth and gritty determination, he soon realises that there is some project, code named ‘Roland Oliver’ taking place around Nevada, but is completely unsure what it all means. With a killer on the loose in the region and women disappearing as part of this project, Hunter will have to take matters into his own hands, or die trying. Becker offers up an interesting story that does not slow until the final page, keeping the reader in suspense throughout. Recommended to those who enjoy a great thriller, particularly fans of James Becker.

This was a great start to a new (albeit small) series by James Becker, who can always be counted on to entertain his reading base. Set entirely in the United States, the novel explores corruption at the highest level while offering a rural feel to the story not seen in many of his past work. The introduction of Steven Hunter is sure to keep the reader guessing what will come next. Hunter brings not only his British mannerisms to the story, but also his approach to police work. Add to that, a military background offers survival and covert skills that prove useful when being sought by the highest ranks of the US Government. Hunter leaves no stone unturned and shows that no one is beyond his target list, so long as it brings about a timely solution. There is much to this man and the reader receives only a glimpse in this first novel, but the tease factor is one that will surely help readers return for more. Other characters find their way into the story and help to offer a better all-around story by complementing or clashing with Hunter throughout. The reader will surely enjoy many of the plot lines that develop, especially with a cast of diverse characters to propel the story forward. The premise of the book is great, with a few storylines running in parallel throughout. The reader can feast upon them all or choose one to their liking, keeping the novel moving at a fast pace. With a killer on the loose and a government program running under the radar, Becker piques the interest of the reader from the outset, but does not take things in expected directions simply for the sake of it all. While I admit I was taken aback by one of the end results, Becker substantiated it enough to lessen my eyebrow raise. His use of short and longer chapters pulls the reader into the middle of the story and leaves them hanging at various points, begging for ‘just a little more’. I cannot get my hands on the follow-up novel fast enough to see what else is in store for Steven Hunter, as he leaves his indelible mark throughout.

Kudos, Mr. Becker, for another great novel. I can only hope that you’ll keep churning out ideas to entertain your reading base.

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

Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake #1), by C.J. Sansom

Eight stars

In the debut novel of this Tudor-era series, C.J. Sansom lays the groundwork for what could be a great set of historical mysteries. After King Henry VIII enacted the dissolution of all monasteries across England, Thomas Cromwell sent commissioners out to ensure the rules were followed in short order. After one such man, Robin Singleton, was reported slain at the monastery in Scarnsea, Cromwell calls for an investigation. Turning to Matthew Shardlake, Cromwell entrusts him with returning after having located the killer and finishing the work that Singleton could not. Shardlake makes his way to Scarnsea, in hopes that this will be a quick legal matter, but soon discovers that there is more to the monastery than meets the eye. While a killer is on the loose, there are other matters that require his attention, including struggles with the transition to the Church of England and with the personal lives of those who work inside the monastery’s walls. Shardlake must also come to terms with the means by which Singleton was killed, decapitation by sword, and stifle the memories of seeing young Anne Boleyn executed not long before in that manner. As Shardlake inches closer to finding the killer, more bodies turn up, leaving him to wonder if this is a single killer or a group who have been targeting individuals for a variety of reasons. Pressured to return to London, Shardlake realises how life outside the big city differs greatly from monastic life, though murder knows no different. Sansom does well with this first in the series, keeping readers curious about what is to come. Recommended for those with a love of all things Tudor and readers who enjoy a well-balanced mystery.

I admit that I struggled trying to read this book years ago, such a shock to many that ripples appeared across those who follow my reviews. I decided to return to see if Sansom might have grown on me, which I must admit must have happened. The story kept my attention and I was curious to see where Matthew Shardlake would go to find a killer out in the country. Shardlake is an interesting protagonist, even for Tudor times. A solicitor by trade, Shardlake is known less for his legal mind that the significant hunchback he possesses. This feature has led many to comment on his abilities, as though posture denotes the ability to compute information. Shardlake may have been sent by the Crown to investigate, but he shows that he is able to explore matters at his own pace and with an attentiveness that gets things done. He is sly and astute without being offensive, particularly towards those who are already on edge. There is surely much more to learn about him, which will come in the next few novels. Others prove wonderful additions to the story, including monks, monastic assistants, and even members of Court who seek Shardlake’s quick responses to get to the bottom of events. Sansom weaves them all together wonderfully and pushes to develop key relationships throughout that will help propel the story forward. The premise of the novel is strong, set against the events in English history that brought Henry VIII much power of the monasteries in his attempt to weed out those who would speak against the Church of England. With the execution of Anne Boleyn and the most recent queen dead in childbirth, there is much going on, even behind the scenes. Sansom captures this while offering a stellar mystery to keep the reader enthralled. Full of information and small details that grow as the narrative develops, Sansom thrusts his protagonist into the middle of it all, while also offering up base reactions to the dissolution of the monastic life, important at the time, though rarely reported. I am eager to see where the series goes and am pleased I took the time to return to the piece. I will try things by audio, as it may have been my trying to trudge through the book alone that left me soured the first time I tried to digest the plot.

Kudos, Mr. Sansom, for a wonderful beginning to a series set during one of my favourite times in history. Let’s see what other mysteries await and how Tudor life will shape it.

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

Consequential Damages, by Joseph Hayes

Eight stars

Returning to discover more by Joseph Hayes, I tripped upon this legal thriller that pulled me in from the opening pages. Exploring personal growth and the rigours of a courtroom drama, Hayes offers the reader something that will resonate long after they finish the final page. Jake McShane is a hard working law student at Stanford, striving to make the most of his education. When the tension all but eats him alive, it is a chance encounter with a medical student that shows him that there is a little more to life than meets the eye. After graduating, Jake finds himself returning to his native Chicago to practice, seeing some of the old drama he left behind when he moved West, but also finding it refreshing to be back where it all began. When his friend and former employer is sued for sexual harassment, Jake must watch from the sidelines as things go horribly wrong. Prosecuting the case is a former law school classmate, Rick Black, whose ruthless ways leave Jake feeling highly agitated. After a few years have passed, both Jake and Black find themselves on opposite sides of a large class-action lawsuit. With fierce determination, both sides push to win at all costs, though only one will stay within the lines of what is legal and ethical. Seeking retribution for the past, Jake must decide how to tackle Rick Black’s antics both inside and out of the courtroom. It will be up to the jury to decide which man has done all he can for the client. Hayes does a masterful job pulling the reader into the middle of the stellar thriller. Not to be missed by those who enjoy the law’s murkier side, or readers who may have read some of Hayes’ other work.

Truth be told, I was mesmerized by Hayes novel all about a wall on the US-Mexico border and could not fathom that he could write another piece with just as much impact. I was wrong, as this is another piece that inches the story along while getting the reader to commit from the start. Jake McShane is quite the character, totally focussed on his studies in the opening portion of the book, so much so that life is passing him by. After seeing the forest for the trees and marrying the one woman who could jolt him out of wasting his life, Jake finds himself back in Chicago where he seeks to remember life before law school. The backstory and character development come together nicely here, intertwining together and providing the reader with something relatable throughout the novel. Others grace the pages and find ways to advance a wonderfully balanced plot, tapping into the law and life on the streets of Chicago, without straying too far from the central tenets of the book. Interesting in its structure, Hayes (again) develops the young version of his central character over the first third of the book, peppering the narrative with the struggles of youth that might not seem relevant, but becomes essential to understanding the entire piece. From there, Jake moves into the world of the law, not what is found in textbooks, but on the streets and in the courtroom. There is little time to falter, as the law never sleeps and is always evolving, no matter who is at the helm. Hayes helps the reader discover this while developing a strong story. Mixing the short, teaser chapters with longer and more developed ones, the story progresses at breakneck speed before culminating in a major discovery that will solidify the entire legal battle. One can only hope there is more to come, for Joseph Hayes is a man with talent that readers will not want to dismiss.

Kudos, Mr. Hayes, for such a refreshing look at the law and the individual. I am glad that I stumbled upon your work!

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

Crown Jewel (Simon Riske #2), by Christopher Reich

Eight stars

Christopher Reich returns with a new Simon Riske novel, sure to dazzle the reader with this high-speed thriller set in Europe’s poshest domains. When Simon is approached to help foil a major cheating ring at a high-end casino, he jumps at the opportunity, not least because the mission has him going to Monaco. Wanting to mix a little business and pleasure, Riske decides to enter himself in a car race, rubbing elbows with some of the richest men who have a need for speed. While casing out the baccarat tables in Monaco, Riske thinks that he has uncovered a high-tech scheme that is draining the casino of millions, though must collect enough information to substantiate his claim. During some of his down time, Riske encounters Victoria ‘Vika’ Brandt, a blue-blood who is trying to come to terms with the death of her mother. While Vika is certain it was no accident, the police refuse to hear of it, claiming suicide. Riske cannot help but put himself into the middle of things and is soon trying to make the needed connections. When Vika is attacked, Riske will stop at nothing to bring the perpetrators to justice, a band of Eastern Europeans who are as cutthroat as they are ruthless. Working to track them down, Riske makes some interesting discoveries in the casino investigation, which could open up more danger for everyone involved. There’s another piece to the puzzle, one that Riske has not factored in, but could bring the entire investigation crashing down before him. Reich has outdone himself with this one, sure to please those who are fans of his work.

I have long been a fan of Christopher Reich and his work, which pushes the reader well outside the box they may be used to when reading thrillers. The novel and its characters provide much entertainment, while also educating the reader about the lifestyles of the rich. Simon Riske is a wonderful protagonist, still new to the scene and therefore leaving much for Reich to develop. Once a criminal himself, Riske has been able to turn towards the good and serves as an investigator with the intuition needed from a past life in a gang. His attention to detail and ability to make himself blend in prove highly effective, but he is also one who is susceptible to the wiles of beauty and speed, though not always at the same time. His grit and rough edges help to develop a man that many on both sides of the law would not want to cross, though some will test this theory. Vika Brandt offers a refreshing counterbalance to Riske in this piece, at times playing the hapless heroine, but also a woman who does not see herself as royalty, even though she has a title. Together, they are able to open new pathways in the investigation, though there is certainly some chemistry between them that cannot be discounted. Others who find themselves peppered across the pages of the book help to develop a stellar thriller, with their various backstories and desired outcomes, usually clashing with the protagonists. The story is strong, taking the reader in a few directions without appearing fractured or out of sorts. The action is fast-paced and continues to grow as the narrative builds, keeping the reader wondering what is awaiting them in the next chapter. Reich has a handle on this genre and continues to impress. I can only hope there is more to come in short order!

Kudos, Mr. Reich, for another winner. You know how to write thrillers that take the reader to far-off locales without losing them in the process.

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

Night (Commandant Martin Servaz #4), by Bernard Minier

Eight stars

Fans of Bernard Minier are in for a treat with the release of the latest translated novel in the Commandant Martin Servaz series. A great psychological thriller that taps into the darker side of the genre, this book offers some wonderful twists and ties-off some loose ends that have been left in past novels. When Kirsten Nigaard is call out to the scene of a crime in rural Norway, she can only hope it will be a simple solve. An officer in the national major crime squad, Kripos, Nigaard comes upon a woman who was murdered atop a church alter. Some of the preliminary clues point to a suspect aboard a Norwegian offshore oil rig, necessitating a visit in poor weather. Nigaard works through her investigation, locating the likely culprit, though he slips through her fingers. Nigaard tosses his room, finding a number of photos of a man who appears to be a police officer in France, as well as a photo of a young boy, marked with ‘Gustav’ on the back. It would seem Nigaard is off to France to expand her search. Meanwhile, Commandant Martin Servaz is working a case with his team when he is serious injured on the job. Shot in the heart, Servaz almost dies, but not before causing series physical damage to the suspect. As he convalesces in hospital, Servaz is made aware of Kirsten Nigaard’s arrival, seeking to better understand why he might be featured in the aforementioned photo collection. Servaz pieces a few things together and realises that his long-time arch-nemesis, Julian Hirtmann, is back, lurking in the shadows. It is likely that this Gustav is Hirtmann’s son, potentially the offspring of a past captor he held, who happened to be Servaz’s love interest. Ignoring medical advice, Servaz works with Nigaard to locate Gustav, who has been attending school in the community. There are some disturbing ties to Hirtmann, something that Servaz cannot ignore. The hunt is on for Hirtmann, as Servaz seeks to bring him to justice with the help of his new partner. However, this game of cat and mouse is complicated when someone has been trying to frame Servaz for another crime, forcing additional delays. Using young Gustav to coax Julian Hirtmann out of the shadows, Servaz can only hope that this will be his chance to bring a serial killer to justice. However, there are significant factors complicating matters, things that Servaz could not have predicted, but should have expected from his arch-nemesis. Many lives hang in the balance and pride cannot play a deciding factor. Minier brings readers another wonderful novel that is as exciting as it is dark. Fans of Commandant Martin Servaz will want to get their hands on this one in short order.

I stumbled upon this series when I was on a binge of international police procedurals penned in languages other than English. The series gripped me from the outset and has only become more entertaining the further I go. The fact that this is a translated piece does not play a factor, as the narrative flows as if there were no linguistic impediments whatsoever. Commandant Martin Servaz proves to be a character who continues to develop throughout this series, building on both how he continues to grow and some of the backstory the reader discovers. Servaz has seen much in this series and experienced even more, allowing readers to sympathise with the man as he seeks to chase down one of the worst killers Europe has ever seen. As Servaz tackles complex cases that put him in danger on a regular basis, he does not stand down. The introduction of Kirsten Nigaard offers series fans a look at a new face in the investigative service, bringing her Norwegian background into the middle of this complex narrative. The contrast between the two protagonists and their policing techniques offers the reader a wonderful comparative opportunity. Nigaard has her own story and the reader is sure to find a connection to her throughout, though it is her interaction with Servaz and others that proves the most interesting. Others, including Julian Hirtmann, grace the pages of this novel, offering a well-developed plot and adding flavour to an already wonderful series. The narrative pushes forward with a few criminal plot lines that develop the further the story progresses. Servaz finds himself in the middle of a few investigations, though could not have predicted some of the twists that befall him. These unpredictable parts of the narrative offer the reader some wonderful aspects to help strengthen the series and leave even more questions by the end. Minier is a masterful storyteller and the reader is able to discover the depths he will go to provide a stellar novel for his adoring fans.

Kudos, Monsieur Minier, for a powerful novel in this splendid series. I just wish I did not have to wait so long for the next novel to make its way into an English publication.

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

Pet Sematary, by Stephen King

Eight stars

It is always an exciting adventure to read some of Stephen King’s horror-themed works, as they tap into some of his darker side and fill the narrative with wonderfully tangential material. Dr. Louis Creed takes a new job in a Maine town, uprooting his family from their Chicago home. As the Creeds arrive in town, they soon realise that there is more to the house than meets the eye. After meeting the neighbour, Judson ‘Jud’ Crandall, the family agrees to allow him to give them a lay of the land. Jud has lived in his house all his life, upwards of eighty years, so he is well-versed about all the local lore. While warning the family of the dangers of the local highway at the end of their property, he speaks of the local cemetery that many of the children have been using for their pets, hidden up amongst the forested area. Dubbed the ‘Pet Sematary’, this burial ground has many a non-human member of families as far back as can be imagined, with grave markers etched by innocent hands. However, there is something about the area that cannot be properly explained. When Louis heads off to work at the university infirmary, he encounters a young man who has devastating injuries and blames the ‘sematary’, though Louis is sure there is more to the story he is not being told. When the Creeds, sans Louis, head back to Illinois for Thanksgiving, the patriarch holds down the fort with the family cat. Over the holiday, devastating news comes of the cat’s demise, having been hit by a truck. This forces Louis and Jud to make their way to the sematary to lay the feline to rest. When the cat reappears, inexplicably, a few days later, Louis is sure it has something to do with the sematary. Jud admits that there is something to the mystery, as pets seem to resurrect themselves and return to their masters with no logical explanation. Refusing to share anything about the cat’s death, particularly since it has returned, Louis and the family continue living their peaceful life. When an accident sees the young boy die on the aforementioned road, the Creeds are paralysed by grief. Louis cannot wrap his head around it and turns to his wife, who is completely out of commission. Knowing the powers of the pet sematary, Louis must decide if he can risk moving his son’s body from its final resting place to the sematary, knowing that this could rejuvenate the clouds of depression that have started rolling in. Still, there is the x-factor of the unknown, which could trump any goodness that might return. Louis stands at a crossroads, wondering what to do, while keeping the secret of the pet sematary. Bone-chilling in its plot development, Stephen King shows that he is the master of his genre and can pull readers in with his well-paced narrative. Recommended to those who love a good story of thrills and dark plots.

With the recent movie re-release of this classic Stephen King novel, I thought it would be best to try this book before deciding about the big screen. While I was never one who read King in my youth, I have discovered just how addictive his novels can be, given the time to enjoy them. King has a way with developing complex storylines and intricate characters in parallel, enriching the reading experience for those with the patience to wade through his longer novels. Louis Creed is a wonderful protagonist, who has seen a great deal in his life. When he meets Jud Crandall, Louis finally understands what it means to have a great father figure as well as a loyal friend. While Louis is unease about the move to Maine from the early days, he discovers the nuances of the community and the dark secrets about this pet sematary. Offering the reader some insight into the struggles of his family politics, Louis serves as a wonderful guide on this monumental journey. Jud Crandall is one of many great supporting characters, serving as the community’s backbone and lore teller, which serves Louis well, while also leaving him worries about what he might have done by accepting work in Maine. King’s use of a large number of characters serves to enrich the story and offers complex development at every turn. Characters develop throughout and their lives mix effectively, serving to entertain the reader, as King is prone to do. As with many of King’s novels, the story twists and turns, meandering from one topic to the next. While this may be a criticism when lobbed at some authors, King is able to entertain the reader along the way, keeping them transfixed along the journey. I find that the plot develops on its own, inching forward at a pace the reader might not notice at first glance. It is, however, this journey that makes the reading experience all the better for the attentive reader. With regular mention of small things from past (and future) novels, King masterfully weaves his tale while offering nuggets of a deeper social commentary, this time about death and the loss of a loved one. Those who have the patience for such a novel will surely find much in these pages. As with most novel/movie-tv series adaptations, I would recommend reading the book before turning to either version of the cinematic experience.

Kudos, Mr. King, for reminding me just how much I like reading your work. Enthralling until the very end.

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