The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye (Millennium #5), by David Lagercrantz

Eight stars

Commissioned to continue the Millenium series, David Lagercrantz seeks to carve out his own niche while remaining true to Stieg Larsson’s foundation. Here, the reader remembers some of the issues that faced Lisbeth Salander, now sitting in prison for the computer crimes she committed. While on the inside, Salander shows her highly aggressive side as she protects a vulnerable Muslim prisoner who is accused of a murder, but espouses her innocence. When the prison gang leader learns that Salander will not back down, brutality seems the only option. That said, no one can tell when Salander will blow her lid and the damage that she’ll bring about thereafter, which leaves this leader rushed to the infirmary on at least one occasion. Salander has been doing some research into her past, tied to something called The Registry, an organization she remembers worked alongside her mother years ago. Turning to investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, Salander points him in the direction of an elderly lawyer who may possess a vast number of documents tied to her time with The Registry. When Blomkvist locates the lawyer, it is too late, as someone’s come to kill the man before he can reveal much of anything. When Salander is released from prison, she has numerous groups looking to exact revenge on her, from a devout Islamic community through to those who ran The Registry and cannot allow their secret to come out. Will Salander and Blomkvist learn enough to provide answers and discover just how deep The Registry goes and how many others might be suffering the consequences? Lagercrantz weaves not only a highly educational piece about genetics and human behaviour, but returns to Larsson’s intense style as the story morphs in wonderful twists that provide just enough angst to sustain the series’ trademark style. Series fans can breathe a sigh of relief that everyone is back on track and those who have an interest in the series can pick this one up to whet their appetites.

I will be the first to admit, I was in the minority when it came to people who was displeased with David Lagercrantz taking over the series. I have had bad experiences when authors take the reins from an author who is either deceased or has chosen to fade away. Larsson’s work is on a pedestal for a reason and when Lagercrantz sought to spin it his own way, I could not help but be upset. I was tentative in choosing to continue with the series, but held my breath after seeing so many positive reviews. I am glad that I did, for Lagercrantz has done a wonderful job working through threads in the series (namely Salander and Blomkvist), as well as injecting some interesting tangents in this novel, primarily building on Lisbeth’s twin sister Camilla. I will venture not to speak too much about the scientific or experimental aspects of the story, for fear some will scream ‘SPOILER ALERT’, but can say that I was quite curious to learn all about these studies from the past number of decades. The characters in the story are wonderfully crafted and quite unique, tapping into many aspects of the story. Lagercrantz keeps Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist as central, though many of the periphery characters also enrich the larger story. Salander receives some long-awaited aspects to her backstory, including discussion of her curious tattoo, which is finally addressed at length. Speaking of the narrative, it flows nicely, hampered at times with some translation issues that appear to slow the momentum, but there is an overall high quality to the story and its direction rarely wanes. Lagercrantz has some wonderful ideas that he weaves into the narrative and does not let up until the very end, permitting the reader to feel a strong connection to the overall themes the series has to offer. Readers looking for high quality writing need look no further, as Lagercrantz has compiled strong pieces from the Stieg Larsson playbook to deliver a knockout punch.

Kudos, Mr. Lagercrantz, for this powerful piece of writing. You’ve saved yourself in my eyes and I can relax that the following five novels in the series (if the original ten promised by Larsson remains the plan) shall blossom under your guidance.

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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To Kill The President, by Sam Bourne

Eight stars

As Sam Bourne returns with another explosive thriller, he stirs the political pot and is sure to cause an uproar on both sides of the aisle. When the current President of the United States (POTUS) goes on a rampage in the middle of the night, he starts a chain of events that brings the world to within seconds of nuclear annihilation. This proves to be a major red flag for his Chief of Staff, Bob Kassian, who can see that his boss is flirting with absolute disaster. Added to that, POTUS’s Chief Strategist is a diehard supporter and is willing to spin anything in favour of the Leader of the Free World. Crawford ‘Mac’ McNamara is a take-no-prisoners and candy-coat nothing type of guy, whose brash comments in the West Wing have women diving for cover and others picking their jaws up off the floor. One of the few hold-outs from the previous Administration is Maggie Costello, ardent enemy of POTUS’s politics, but hoping to prove the balancing opinion from her perch in the White House Counsel’s Office. When the President’s personal physician is found dead in a Washington park, early signs point to suicide. However, Maggie’s sleuthing skills force her not to stand by waiting for answers, especially with all the inconsistencies. Further poking around leads her to uncover a plot to assassinate the sitting president, news that could change the course of the country. The more she learns, the further Maggie’s conviction that Bob Kassian is at the heart of things. As she tries to transmit the news to the authorities, someone is trying to silence her, which could spell disaster for all involved. With a trained assassin leaving digital breadcrumbs and preparing for the mission of a lifetime, Maggie finds herself persona non grata on the grounds of the White House. When all is said and done, it is not the act that proves most dangerous, but the spin taken by the likes of Mac that serves as the larger weapon. Bourne has done a wonderful job ruffling feathers in this poignant and timely piece, sure to cause much chatter amongst readers. Perfect for those who like controversial topics and fans of political thrillers.

It is likely the similarities to the actual situation in the United States that has everyone up in arms about this book. I have seen some folks scrambling to toss this book and Bourne under the bus, labelling him as a ‘crackpot’ and having ‘churned out this garbage in short order to prove a point’. However, it is this panic that has me wondering if Bourne hit a truthful nerve amongst this segment, worried they finally see the person they chose to back as the man he might well be. Removing the name and exact happenings, Bourne is able to play the Devil’s Advocate and permit fiction to spin the story in numerous directions. Some seem happy to toss out the epithets, but when things get a little too hot, it is time to vilify anyone who differs and paint them as a traitor or idiot. Bourne’s use of strong characters in this novel is surely one of the reasons it has rung true with many folks, from a POTUS who is off the rails through to a Chief of Staff unable to use political and sensible means to calm his boss. Maggie Costello makes her return in wonderful fashion, trying to crack the code and communicate her findings. However, Crawford McNamara provides the most insight into the entire situation here, forcing the reader to digest some of the ideas they may not wish to hear. Bourne uses Mac’s verbal tirades to posit that as much as Americans do not want to admit it, there may be a shard of themselves in this bombastic leader. Racist, pig-headed, refusing to accept other views… and yet, when push comes to shove, it was all through democratic means that this man made it to the White House. Spin or not, there were few legal ways to end the madness people rally against, but it is by no means easy, as Mac makes clear. The story itself is well-paced and keeps the reader wanting to learn more, though the horror of it all might be scarier than anyone wishes to admit. The themes are definitely not hidden, nor are the paths laid out before the reader. I can only hope that some will read this and see for themselves just what a mess things have become, without trying to toss the other side under the bus and point fingers. Bourne may be trying to say (from his British perch), “you got yourselves into this mess… now deal with it.” I would tend to agree, but is killing the man the only way to silence the incessant chirping (or, shall I say, ‘Tweeting’)?

Kudos, Mr. Bourne, for a riveting reading experience. I can only hope that you’ll keep your finger on the pulse and pen some more wonderfully written pieces like this for readers to enjoy down the road.

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

Dracula The Un-Dead, by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt

Seven stars

As All Hallow’s Eve approaches, I chose another story with eerie undertones, though this one is sure to stir up some controversy. Serving as a sequel to the classic original, Dacre Stoker works with renowned Dracula historian Ian Holt to bring this continuation of the story to life in fine form. It is now 1912, twenty-five years since Count Dracula has crumbled into dust. Can this have been long enough for those who were directly involved in the hunting to have shelved their memories and moved on? Dr. Jonathan Seward, who was instrumental in the original chase has turned into a washed-up medical professional, addicted to morphine and chasing demons all across Europe, nothing like his mentor, Abraham Van Helsing. Young Quincey Harker, born in the final pages of the original novel, has been sent to France to pursue his legal studies, but is drawn into the world of stage acting. Quincey is further impressed when Shakespearean actor, Basarab, takes him under his wing. When Quincey stumbles upon a stage-play version of Dracula, directed by Bram Stoker himself, he begins to learn some of the long-buried secrets his parents kept from him. Trying to digest it all, there seems to be a presence in and around London, as the original collective who stayed Dracula meet their ends in horrific fashion. Meanwhile, 16th century Countess Elizabeth Bathory has returned to wreak havoc on those seeking to explore the Dracula question a little more. Bathory has a long history with the Romanian prince and may hold the answers that others seek, though she is more interested in new blood to satiate her extreme hunger. What’s brought Countess Bathory back to visit those whose adventure a quarter-century ago rid the world of blood-sucking evil? With a new collection of characters and tapping into Holt’s expertise in the field of all things Dracula, Stoker does well to carry the torch for his great-granduncle and entertains curious fans throughout. Perfect for those readers who enjoyed the original Dracula and who can accept applying some of the history of this Romanian prince, alongside a continuation of a classic piece of 19th century literature.

I have heard it said that one ought never mess with the classics, which is why parody pieces get a major eyebrow raise from literary purists. However, this piece that seeks to act as a sequel to Bram Stoker’s classic, not only grounds itself in seriousness, but also has the blessing of the Stoker family (and was penned by a descendent). Stoker and Holt look to progress the entire Dracula story by adding backstories to the well-established characters who brought to piece to life, as well as adding fresh angles to Dracula in this follow-up.The eerie nature of the original piece is replaced by a history that permeates the narrative, allowing the patient reader to discover much more and delve deeper than the late 19th century novel permitted. The story itself differs greatly from the original, not only because it is told in true narrative (as opposed to journals and letters), but also serves to provide cameos for many famous individuals (Bram Stoker and John Barrymore, to name a few) as well as pulls on some of the history of the original novel’s reception and development into a stage-play. Ian Holt’s influence can also be seen, as the story pulls on numerous Dracula stories from centuries ago and where Stoker may have developed his ideas for this vampire that became the go-to reference for all blood-imbibing creatures. Some of the narrative and historical assertions do keep the reader wondering, but it is difficult not to downplay the tidbits as being wrapped in a way to fill cracks that time has not caulked. As I mentioned above, some purists will scoff at this book simply because it seeks to build on a classic that can survive on its own. Others will mock it for lacking the same flowing prose or spooky foresight. While I will not engage in trivial banter about this being ‘allowed’ or not, I will say that Dacre Stoker’s piece served as a wonderful complement to my recent reading of Bram Stoker’s classic. I will add both novels to my annual Hallowe’en reading list and hope others can enjoy this piece for what it is.

Kudos, Messrs. Stoker and Holt for entertaining and engaging me at times as I made my way through this novel. I know there are massive footsteps to fill, even to stand alongside the classic novel and I applaud you both for the effort.

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

Fifty Fifty (Detective Harriet Blue #2), by James Patterson and Candice Fox

Nine stars

Candice Fox has teamed up with James Patterson again for the next instalment in the Harry Blue series, picking up soon after the cliffhanger of the series’ first full-length novel. Harriet ‘Harry’ Blue has a lot on her plate as a Detective Inspector within Sydney’s Sex Crimes Unit. However, nothing could prepare Harry for the arrest of her brother, Sam, as the Georges River Killer, perhaps one of Australia’s most sinister serial murderers. Sam professes his innocence and Harry cannot help but come to his aid. One morning, outside the courthouse, Harry loses her cool and pulls a stunt that places everything in jeopardy, including her career. Sent away to rural Australia again, Harry finds herself in the middle of nowhere, Last Chance Valley, to be specific. While driving his route, a trucker found a red backpack with an interesting personal journal inside. It lists a plan to wipe Last Chance off the map, alongside its seventy-five (yes, 75) residents. Harry works with the only cop in the town and receives a rude welcome when a bomb explodes and kills the former Chief of Police. Harry seeks to take charge, but its elbowed out of the way by Counter-Terrorism Task Force member, Elliot Kash. After some chest beating, Harry and Kash are able to come to some sort of agreement, albeit a fragile one. Back in Sydney, Harry’s partner, Detective Edward Whittacker, is trying to keep an eye on Sam’s trial, where some of the evidence is not making sense. On the day of Sam’s arrest, a new victim was taken, Caitlyn McBeal. While she does not meet the victimology of the others killed by the Georges River Killer, a university student got away and saw the killer grab her. McBeal is being held and may hold the key the entire case, though there are no solid leads. Whittacker is joined by a less than noble ‘Tox’ Barnes, who will stop at nothing to prove that Sam’s been framed for the crime. As Harry gets sporadic updates, she continues to seek answers about the journal and revels in the information it provides. Her interviews lead her towards a teenager with little to lose, who seems to be typecast as a terrorist because of his ancestry. While Harry is not entire sure which was is up, she’s come to realise that Last Chance Valley is a place where dreams die and differences spark retribution. As she seeks to obtain answers, someone is targeting her and starts putting the end plan into motion. Splitting her worry for Sam and the residents of Last Chance Valley down the middle, Harry will have to focus in order to bring justice for at least one of the cases. A wonderful follow-up story that keeps the reader hooked until the very end, Fox and Patterson prove to be an explosive team as they continue developing this new and exciting series. Fans of Fox’s work will see her flavour in the writing and likely enjoy it, though anyone who finds pleasure in a police procedural will likely applaud the effort.

From a kernel developed in the BookShots collection of short stories, Fox and Patterson come together for a wonderful early start to this series. Their writing styles have similarities, though I feel a strong thread of Fox’s writing in this story, set throughout Australia. Harry Blue is a tough character to crack, though she is revealed throughout the narrative, which offers both her empathetic side and a significant backstory offered in pieces throughout. Complemented by the likes of others, the story takes on a life of its own through the narrative, which seamlessly switches between the two locales and fleshes-out characters for the reader to love (or hate)! The story is well presented and while there may be some flights of fancy, it remains a firmly rooted piece of fiction that dedicates much of its time to the deserted areas of Australia, positing how this distance from ‘city life’ might create an odd persona for those living in Last Chance Valley. Fox and Patterson keep the intensity high as they allow the reader to see things through the eyes of the Georges River Killer, though are careful not to tip the narrative into revealing too much at once. The pace is great and the short chapters, for which Patterson is known, fuels an intense read that does not stop until the final cliffhanger. Brilliant in its execution, one can only hope that Patterson and Fox will continue their partnership, but also realise if Harry Blue is suffering from burnout, when the time comes.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Fox, for keeping me curious about what is to come. You work magic together, as well as showing you can stand alone and present great thrillers, given the time and effort.

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

Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley

Nine stars

With only days until All Hallow’s Eve, I chose to indulge in another story of a seasonal creature while also dabbling into the world of a literary classic. Mary Shelley’s story of Frankenstein poses less the spooky and bone-chilling tale that it has received in subsequent permutations, but rather serves more as a warning in regards to scientific exploration. The novel opens with a set of letters by Captain Robert Walton to his sister back in England. Captain Walton is travelling through the Arctic to further his scientific appetite. The captain and crew notice a large creature travelling over the ice and eventually stumble upon a nearly-frozen Victor Frankenstein, who tells the story of his scientific struggles and tries to dissuade Walton from any such pursuits. From there, the narrative shifts to Frankenstein’s story, who was encouraged by his parents to explore the world of science and nature. Armed with the knowledge of the ancient natural philosophers, he takes this passion with him to university in Germany, where he is introduced to more modern ways of thinking. Grief befalls Frankenstein after his mother’s death and he turns to science to assuage him, discovering how to bring the electricity of life to that lacking its spark. Creating a being in secret, Frankenstein soon sees that it has gone horribly wrong, both the physical appearance of this eight-foot behemoth (tempered with translucent skin and pulsing veins) and the decision to play God. Frankenstein rages against his creation and flees for the city, only to return and see that the being has fled the confines of his flat. Frankenstein becomes ill and recuperates over a four-month period before returning to his native Geneva. Upon his arrival, he discovers that his younger brother has been killed. Frankenstein sees the tell-tale signs of his creation having strangled the young boy, though the crime is saddled upon a nanny and she is executed by hanging. Full of guilt, Frankenstein chases his creature and learns of the personal journey ‘he’ had over their time apart. The creature tells of how he learned the nuances of language and speech, the complexities of emotion as well as discovering of his hideous appearance. The creature vows to ruin the life of his creator unless he is gifted with a female companion. Frankenstein ponders this and promises to make one, having been threatened with more personal anguish if he fails. Frankenstein travels to the far reaches of Scotland to begin his work, eyed by the creature from afar. When Frankenstein has a final epiphany that his hands can create nothing but increased terror, he disposes with his experiment, knowing the consequences. More agony befalls Frankenstein, who seeks to destroy his creation once and for all. By the end, the story returns to Captain Walton’s ship and a dramatic set of events which solidifies the story’s underlying thread once and for all. A brilliant piece that is full of social commentary and much foreboding as it relates to science. Shelley’s original is less spooky than it is chilling for her thematic messaging. A wonderful read for those who like a good challenge.

Deemed the first ever piece of science fiction, Shelley’s story tell of the downsides of playing God with human life and creation. The themes that emanate from the story at hand are numerous and thought provoking. The reader can easily get lost in the narrative and its linguistic nuances, but it is the characters and their messages that permeate the text. Victor Frankenstein and his creature prove to be two very interesting and yet contrasting characters, developed primarily through their individual narratives. Frankenstein is the bright-eyed scientific mind who seeks to alter the path of events by imbuing something of his own making with life, only to discover that thought and reality do not mesh. On the other hand, the creature tells of a struggle to find ‘himself’ and suffers through the reality beset upon him, forced to learn to adapt under the most problematic circumstances. The plethora of other characters develop and support these two, with Captain Walton playing an interesting, yet seemingly background, role in the entire narrative. The attentive reader will see that this original piece lacks the ‘Hollywood’ flavour that has been placed upon it, where crowds with torches chase the protagonists and lightning is used to jolt the creature to life from his metal bolts in the neck. Instead, it is a piece of social commentary that prefers to scare in its foreboding and provides a much more academic approach than might be suspected by the unknowing reader. I was certainly expecting more spook to complement a recent read of a Transylvanian classic. However, I was pleased with the novel and all it had to offer. I am sure it will provide a wonderful soapbox for those who wish to open a discussion on the matter. I would welcome it.

Kudos, Madam Shelley, for this wonderful piece. That you started it at the ripe age of eighteen baffles and impresses me. I will be adding this to my annual late October reading list!

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

Dracula, by Bram Stoker

Nine stars

As the eerie time of All Hallow’s Eve approaches, I felt that it was high time that I finally tackle this novel, which a good friend of mine strongly supported as well. Young solicitor Johnathan Harker finds himself travelling through the Hungarian countryside and into Romania, on his way to a castle in the heart of Transylvania. There, one Count Dracula awaits Harker and proves to be an odd, yet amenable, host. Seeking to finalise a land deal in England, Harker and Dracula talk long into the night, though the former feels that there is something odd about his host. It is only when things occur that Harker realises that Count Dracula is nothing like any man he has met before and eventually escapes the confines of the castle. Back in England, Harker’s fiancée, Mina, and her close friend, Lucy, are going through their own ordeals. Lucy Westenra suffers through significant bouts of sleepwalking. The two women travel seaside to clear their heads, but Lucy encounters someone the reader knows to be Dracula during one of her sleepwalks and is eventually discovered with two minute puncture holes on her neck. Unsure of what to do, Westenra is sent to see Dr. Johnathan Seward, one of her suitors and director of the local mental hospital. When Dr. Seward cannot deduce all of these symptoms, he calls upon the renowned Dr. Abraham Van Helsing in Amsterdam to consult. When Van Helsing arrives and begins some of his early queries, he is highly interested, though cannot be completely sure that he has a diagnosis of yet. Slowly, Lucy begins to fade from his mysterious neck injury and eventually died of her injuries, though her body transforms into a vampire of sorts, paralleling some of the actions Count Dracula is known to have been committing. Van Helsing works with Seward to locate the body and it is at this time that the Dutch doctor deduces that there is something eerie at work. Studying the situation before him, Van Helsing proposes the seemingly barbaric act of driving a stake through Lucy’s heart and then decapitating her, which is the only way to ensure that her spirit will be freed, according to some of his research and ancient lore. Done with that issue, but still needing to resolve the larger concern at hand, Van Helsing gathers a group to hunt down the Count, who seems to have taken up residence in England, and drive him back to Transylvania. Lurking in the dark and gloomy areas of Eastern Europe, Van Helsing prepares for the fight of his life, armed with only the most basic medicaments, in hopes of slaying this monster once and for all. Stoker lays the groundwork for a truly bone-chilling tale that has stood the test of time. I would highly recommend this to anyone who has the wherewithal to delve deep into the heart of a sensational 19th century story of horror and mayhem.

I am still kicking myself that I have not, until now, ever read this sensational piece of fiction. Surely one of the early stories that has fostered such a strong tie between Dracula and Hallowe’en, Bram Stoker’s work proves to provide the reader not only with thorough entertainment, but leave a shiver up their spine every time they enter a dark room. With a cast of powerful characters, Stoker weaves his tale in such a way that the story never loses its momentum. Harker, Seward, and Van Helsing are all well-crafted and provides powerful contrasts throughout the narrative, while Count Dracula is not only eerie in his presentation, but also one of the scariest villains in 19th century literature. There need not be outward descriptions of gore and slaying to get to the root of the suspense in this novel, which seems to differ from much of the writing in the genre today, where gushing blood and guts peppers the pages of every book imaginable. The narrative is also ever-evolving throughout, helped significantly by the journal-based writing that Stoker has undertaken. The reader is transported through the story using these varied perspectives (and some press clippings), rather than a straight delivery of the story from a single point of view. This surely enhances the larger package and does much to provide the reader with even more fright, at certain times. There are surely many stories taking place here, some of which deal directly with the issue at hand (read: Dracula), while others seem to solve themselves throughout the numerous journal entries. Whatever the approach, Stoker captivates the reader such that there is a strong desire to know how it all ends and if Van Helsing lives up to his more colloquial moniker of ‘Vampire Hunter’. I wish to add for those who wish to take the audiobook approach, as I have done, the Audible version, with a full cast (including Alan Cumming, Tim Curry, and John Lee), adds yet another dimension to this story and should not be discounted. I am so pleased to have had this book recommended to me and find that it is the perfect fit to a ‘equinox’ read for me to complete my book challenge.

Kudos, Mr. Stoker, for such a riveting piece. I can only hope to find the time to read some of your other work, as well as that of your descendants, who seem to want to carry the torch and provide more Dracula for the modern reader.

This book fulfills Equinox I (A Book for All Seasons) Book Challenge for Topic #6: A Book That Relates to the Current Equinox

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

Crimson Lake (Crimson Lake #1), by Candice Fox

Nine stars

Candice Fox returns with this debut novel in her new series, sure to leave readers disturbed, yet wanting more. Ted Conkaffey has a decent life as a police officer ruined in eight short minutes. When witnesses place him in direct contact with young Claire Bingley around the time of her sexual assault, he is presumed guilty and tossed to the wolves. When, mid-trial, the charges are dropped, Ted is left with the pall of being labelled a paedophile and must pick up the pieces of his shattered life. Going into hiding, Ted is eventually approached by his solicitor to move to the northern part of Australia, where he might be able to help one Amanda Pharrell with her private investigations business. After relocating, Ted discovers that Amanda has a past of her own, having served ten years for killing a classmate. While Amanda does not hide from her crime, Ted remains incognito and seeks to hide from the prying eyes of those in Crimson Lake. Amanda explains that she has been hired by the wife of popular author, Jake Scully, to track him down. The story goes that he rose in the middle of the night and was never seen again. Forensics show that Scully may have ended up food for the local croc population, though it is unclear if this was a freak accident or something deliberate. As they dig deeper, Ted and Amanda must face the facts of their respective crimes and show drastically different ways of coping. When an investigative journalist from Sydney comes sniffing around, Ted’s cover is eventually blown and he faces new rounds of local blowback for his apparent crime. Professing his innocence, Ted continues to forge on with the case, which leads to the possibility that there may be a super-fan out there who is unhappy with the lack of attention Jake Scully has been offering. The small-town police force of Crimson Lake is less than happy to have their toes stepped on and with the news that a ‘kiddie-fiddler’ is in the jurisdiction, Ted and Amanda face a large uphill battle to crack the case wide open, while also learning more about one another. Fox does a masterful job in this novel and pulls the reader into the depths of her writing and the rural areas of Australia. Perfect for fans of Candice Fox and those who enjoy a slightly twisted crime thriller.

I discovered the wonders of Candice Fox when she first contributed to the popular BookShots short story series. From there, it was a rush to devour more of her dark work that sheds light on Australia and some of its more loathsome criminal element. Fox is able to touch on those taboo areas of crime without pushing the envelope too far, done primarily through strong characters and a descriptive setting. Ted Conkaffey and Amanda Pharrell play wonderfully polar opposites in this novel, allowing the reader to see two sides of the same coin. The development of these characters includes much backstory and synthesising of their personal struggles, giving the reader much to enjoy and wonder about as the story progresses. Supported by a number of others, the two protagonists propel the story along and keep these unnumbered chapters from blurring together. The primary case in the novel is not overshadowed by those from the protagonists’ past, though all three work well in some form to keep the narrative evolving. The reader is able to digest what is going on without becoming too lost in the minutiae of each subplot, though there is a keen question that permeates the story, leaving the reader to wonder what actually happened. Fox’s ability to juggle all this is masterful and should not be discounted as a key reason that she is top of her genre. Clean and crisp in its presentation, Fox lures readers in as a patient croc might do along the banks of Crimson Lake, striking at just the right moment and not letting go until all is said and done.

Kudos, Madam Fox, for keeping me curious as you prepare to release the second novel in the series. It has the makings for an equally powerful experience.

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

Munich, by Robert Harris

Nine stars

Robert Harris offers up another wonderful novel that weaves together the events of history with some background fiction that only serves to accentuate the dramatic effect. It is 1938 and Europe is on the precipice of another war. Adolf Hitler has begun acquiring areas of neighbouring countries, citing their Germanic history, in order to build a stronger homeland. All the while, the world looks on, centred in London, where U.K. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain is weighing his options. Surrounded by policy makers and some sycophants, Chamberlain has Hugh Legat as one of his private secretaries. Legat can see that the PM wants nothing more than peace, though may be blinded by the diplomatic approach many leaders take to problem solving. On the other side, Paul Hartmann is deeply embedded into the Nazi regime, though he is less than pleased with the way things are going. Hartmann knows that his Fuhrer wants nothing more than war and will connive to ensure that he gets it. These two men, Legat and Hartmann, share a pre-war history as friends in Oxford, though neither makes a great deal of that to their peers. With a last-ditch peace conference to save Czechoslovakia from the German carving board, Legat and Hartmann find themselves in Munich, ready to do whatever they can. The British have their allies France at the table, while Hitler has his devoted Italian fascist Mussolini to stroke his ego. Words are exchanged and a document is signed. However, before the ink is dry, Legat learns of Germany’s true intentions. Pulled in numerous directions, Legat must not only decipher where the truth ends and propaganda begins, but how to convince Europe’s preeminent leader what is actually going on. Harris balances the world opinion that Neville Chamberlain scored political points by bringing home the peace accord with the naiveté that both sides would adhere to it once hindsight could be applied. A strong piece that fleshes out some of the ‘what if’ and ‘if only’ aspects of this final salvo before Europe (and the world) turned back to the bloodbath that defined them. History buffs and those with a penchant for fast-paced thrillers will enjoy this story in equal measure.

I have read some of Harris’s work in the past and never been disappointed. He is clear to use a perspective and stick to it throughout, though always offers a strong foundation on which the entire story can rest. Hugh Legat is a highly likeable character as he tries to sift through all the information that has been presented to him, in an attempt to choose what needs selling up the line. The perspective is strong and the struggles to parse through the news is not lost on the attentive reader. Paul Hartmann, on the other hand, is quite mysterious and knows what he wants, though is caught up in such a deceptive political situation that there is little hope of anything clear and forthright coming from the German camp. Hindered with an anti-Nazi sentiment, Hartmann much choose how to fight against his own countrymen without being caught, sure that any deception would mean a trip to the concentration camps, or worse. As Harris adds numerous other characters, both fictitious and historical, to the mix, the plot thickens and the depths to which both sides are pushing for their own outcome becomes a little clearer. The plot of the story is one torn from the history books, but by adding dialogue and some ‘behind the curtain’ backstory enriches the reader’s experience. Told in a four-day narrative that compartmentalises the events and shows just how intense things got in short order. While the world applauded Chamberlain for his peace treaty with Hitler, it was hindsight (and perhaps some of this narrative) that helped to show just how blind the British were and what the world would accept at face value. Hitler was not a strong leader with a few odd tendencies, but rather a megalomaniacal being who had nothing but his own interests in mind. Harris provides the reader with one of the more intriguing and interesting accounts of that 1938 build-up to war, particularly with a quote at the beginning of the book, where Hitler admits that they ought to have gone to war in 1938. Brilliant in its telling and quite on point, Robert Harris is surely an author on whom many readers can rely to be educated and entertained in equal measure.

Kudos, Mr. Harris, for another novel that pulled me in from the opening pages. I will have to make a point of investing more time to follow your work and make sure I take much away from the experience.

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

Rogue Commander (Dan Morgan #6), by Leo J. Maloney

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Leo J. Maloney, Lyrical Underground, and Kensington Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Returning with another exciting BlackOps adventure, Leo J. Maloney impresses series fans and those new to Dan Morgan in equal measure. In the ever-evolving world of espionage and military antics, Dan Morgan is at the top of his game. Employed by the Zeta Division, this off-the-books BlackOps organisation goes where other agencies cannot. Morgan is contacted by long-time friend, General James Collins, who has been accused of stealing a cache of Tomahawk missiles. Unable to believe that this is possible, Morgan undertakes some initial intel, though is pulled off the case in short order, as Collins is being sought for the crime. Morgan has a harder time letting go and defies orders, trying to clear his friend’s name by any means necessary. Morgan is now a wanted man and Zeta is on his tail. Discontent with being left in the dark, newest Zeta member Alex Morgan seeks to work in parallel with her father, doing her own covert work in an attempt to discover the truth. Meanwhile, as they attempt to track down another player in the black-market, a member of Zeta is taken and shipped off to the North Koreans. With little time and limited resources, the hunt is on for both agents, though for different reasons. When Morgan discovers just who wants these missiles and for what purpose, he will stop at nothing to block the end result, even if it costs him everything he has. This entertaining piece pulls the reader into the height of an international crisis where the enemy reads from a completely different playbook. Maloney has outdone himself with this book and is sure to impress Dan Morgan fans.

I have long enjoyed Maloney’s work and find it not only to be poignant, but also very believable. The characters vary in each novel, but the impact of the story remains high. Pulling Alex Morgan into the middle of the stories has added a new level of excitement, as Dan Morgan is forced not only to make decisions for himself, but to protect his daughter. This struggle comes up throughout the novel and is furthered as his wife, Jenny, begins to push for more information about the overall mission. The story is strong and keeps the reader wondering until the very end, pushing the limits and using some new-age villains in the North Koreans, thankfully leaving anything Muslim far in the rearview mirror. Peppered with military jargon and emerging defence technology, this novel effectively bridges to the rest of the series as it advances storylines and backstories to the point that the reader is always sure to learn something. The only downside would be the need to wait for the next novel, though a teaser embedded into the last pages of this book should sate series fans enough until the next publication.

Kudos, Mr. Maloney, for another piece that individualises itself in the genre. I always know that I will find a well-paced novel when your name is affixed to it.

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

Haunted (Michael Bennett #10), by James Patterson and James O. Born

Eight stars

James O. Born is again working alongside James Patterson on the popular Michael Bennett series. While Detective Bennett has made a name for himself, both as a cop and the father of a massive brood, he is not immune to personal struggles. When his son, Brian, is arrested for possession and distribution of narcotics, Bennett does all he can to climb the ladder. However, Brian knows all too well that ‘snitches get stitches’ and keeps a low profile. While juggling the legal proceedings and his own home life, Bennett stumbles upon a case where other dealers have turned up dead. Seeing a potential connection, Bennett chases this case down and comes face-to-face with the distributor. Might this be the man that Brian served? Who helped cause all the chaos? During the encounter, Bennett discharges his weapon and seems able to justify it, but there is still a body that must be handled by the authorities. Around that same time, Brian is sentenced to hard time, leaving the family in a state of disarray. Taking up an offer to relocate the entire family to Maine for the summer, Bennett packs them up and heads to quieter environs. While vacationing, Bennett agrees to team up with one of the local cops, an old partner of his with a blurry connection, which worries Bennett’s current belle (and live-in nanny), Mary Catherine. What begins as simple parade duty turns more complicated, as a local drug thug seems to be calling in his chits and burying people alive when they fail to answer. Bennett does all he can, turning Maine into more of a working holiday than anything else. A great addition to the series, Born and Patterson have done much with the premise and build a strong novel. Series fans will surely find something to enjoy with this story, though it is hard to surmise how long the high-calibre Bennett series will last.

Many know that I remain leery when James Patterson affixes his name to writing over the last number of years. However, when working alongside James O. Born, I have found much success and high quality writing is usually the end product. The Michael Bennett series is one that requires that added ‘oomph’, as there is usually so much going on. The vast array of characters remain strong and the stories they encounter grow nicely throughout. Be it on the beat or the banter of home living, Bennett and his crew seem to capture the reader’s attention. The story, while focussed on drugs and the like, does not get overly bogged down in ‘rough streets’ or ‘sole lifestyle available’ themes that seem to permeate fiction these days. Born and Patterson craft a well-balanced story with the theme running through it, without exhausting anything. The Michael Bennett series remains strong and, like some of Patterson’s other long-lasting ones, still has much to prove. One can only hope that it does not weaken or become too diluted, but if it does, I can only hope the warning signs are apparent to send Bennett and his dozen away before they become stale.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Born for another great collaboration. I am happy to see Michael Bennett is in good hands and hope you’ll find more time to work together soon.

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