Dark Pattern (The Naturalist #4), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

Andrew Mayne proves yet again to be one of the most captivating thriller writers that I have had the pleasure to read. His novels are easy to comprehend while tying the reader up in knots with complex plots that are quite unique. The versatility he exemplifies creates a reading experience where one can never be sure what awaits them around the bend. This series, my third, utilises some of the most thought-provoking stories that I can recollect ever encountering, mixing thrills with science and peppering in some humour when time permits. Mayne’s protagonist, Theo Cray, is highly unique himself and never shies away from controversy, which only adds to the experience. After being sprayed with an unknown toxin at the end of the last novel, Cray is off his game and wondering if he is infected with Hyde virus. He is handed another unique serial killer case and heads to Louisiana to see if a nurse is responsible for a series of deaths across a number of hospitals. What looks like a simple case grows exponentially more complex, leaving Cray on the wrong end of the authorities and a jail cell! Mayne dazzles yet again in this thriller.

Theo Cray may be a talented computational biologist, but he cannot shake the feeling that something is very wrong. After being sprayed with an unknown toxin a while back, he cannot help but wonder if it was Hyde virus. The virus is said to turn the rational brain into that of a killer for no apparent reason. While he is not showing any outward symptoms, Cray is not taking any chances and has been receiving brain scans to check for any anomalies.

While he feels less than ready to tackle another case, one falls into his lap down in Louisiana. Cray is sent to look for a nurse who appears to have been killing people, children included, and leaving a wake of disaster. Always able to sneak off before he’s been discovered, this nurse is out to kill, likely hundreds, without justice being served. Cray is on it, sure that he can find the pattern.

When he arrives in Baton Rouge, Cray receives some confidential material to which he is not legal entitled. Using it, Cray is able to create a graph that shows the killer’s progress through a number of facilities. While Cray is eager to offer up some answers, he must tread carefully. Inching towards an answer, Cray does all in his power to name the killer, sure that this will impress everyone and return him to hero status once and for all.

However, things go awry and Cray finds himself on the wrong end of a legal probe into his actions. He is able to escape, barely, but a hefty fine lingers over him. During a visit by one of his former professors, Amanda Paulson, Cray realises that he has been looking at the case through too narrow a scope. This new insight opens the door to new data plotting and reveals that the killer may be using additional resources to cover their tracks.

On a whim, Cray travel outside of the continental United States and makes his way to an old facility in the Caribbean, only to realise that American justice is a tad more patient than here. Cray finds himself awaiting for the wheels of justice to turn, as a killer continues to lurk in the shadows. It is sure to take Cray more than a little luck to finally solve this case and ensure his safety.

Andrew Mayne seems to keep getting better the more he writes, particularly in this series, With the less than ‘normal’ The Cray, Mayne has developed quite the series, leaving no rock unturned and helping to educate the reader on the nuances of the lesser known sciences that can help in the forensic battle. It is hard to believe this is the final in the Theo Cray series to date, though there is a treat that awaits Mayne fans later in 2021, where two stellar protagonists will come together.

Theo Cray may be off his game, but he remains as sharp as ever throughout this piece. His scientific mind is like no other and appears to spin in some really interesting directions. Cray is keen to impress, while also worrying that he may be infected with a horrible disease that could turn him rogue. Balancing that with a burgeoning personal life, The Cray has little time to rest on his laurels. This may not be one of his most harrowing cases ever, but he certainly has the most riding on it.

Mayne does a masterful job with his supporting cast yet again, coaxing out some great banter that fuels an already strong narrative. As the book moves through various parts of the United States and into the Caribbean, those who encounter Theo Cray add a wonderful depth to the experience. There is a great deal going on and Cray sees many faces, each a little more daunting than the last. There is little time to stop in the book and these characters enrich the story perfectly, flavouring things effectively throughout the journey.

As always, the stories are on point and perfectly paced. Mayne has a wonderful way of getting to the root of the matter and impacts things with his strong writing. The narrative pace keeps the reader wanting to learn a little more and the dialogue banter provides some needed entertainment between the serious portions. Mayne has always made a point of showing his reader more of the protagonist as the story advances and this was no exception. Short chapters keep the reader moving forward and wondering what awaits them. While Mayne likely has some other plans for Cray in the coming months, I cannot wait to see him evolve and become an even more endearing, if not awkward, character for the masses to enjoy.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for another piece that connects things just enough for the reader to want more. I am glad to have had this series recommended and can only hope there is lots more to come.

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

Murder Theory (The Naturalist #3), by Andrew Mayne

Nine stars

To call Andrew Mayne one of the most engrossing thriller writers that I have read would not be a leap. He is not only easy to comprehend, but his versatility makes for an exciting adventure each time I get my hands on another of his publications. This series, in particular, has come up with some of the most thought-provoking thriller reads that I have found in longer than I can remember. Mayne’s unique situations and captivating protagonist, Theo Cray, create a new layer of intrigue that keeps getting better the more I read. Cray has settled down a little, working in a lab. He’s been contracted by the Department of Defence to handle some analytics and seems in his element. However, something’s going on at the scene of the Toy Man’s burial ground, a serial killer Cray helped uncover. While some feel that it is just an anomaly, the FBI calls on Cray to investigate. He finds a chilling pattern and soon realises that someone is out there, not a serial killer in the traditional sense, but rather someone who is creating them before they are unleashed on the world. A stunning piece that leaves the reader gasping for breath by the end, with a cliffhanger like no other. This is Mayne at his best, full stop!

Theo Cray is a talented computational biologist, studying the systems in which things live and finding patterns to describe actions. He’s also been able to use this background to bring down two stunning serial killers, both of whom eluded the authorities with their conniving ways. After having set up a lab in Austin, Texas, Cray has a team and they are synthesising data, including a fairly hefty program for the Department of Defence (DoD). It’s a great deal of work, but Cray has the support he needs and even a lab manager who seems capable.

When news comes to him that there is something taking place at the burial site of the Toy Man, the second of the aforementioned killers, Cray is intrigued. A forensic technician was collecting samples and seemingly had a psychotic break, killing those around him. While he is in custody, the oddity of the action baffles everyone, as the technician was known to be docile. Cray is called in by the FBI to have a look, as nothing is adding up. While it baffles Cray as well, there’s surely something there to be found, given a little time and some analysis.

Cray digs deeper, only to discover that there is something on the medical scans that appears troubling. Could those who killed have been infected with something that pushed them in that direction? While Cray has seen it in the insect world, there’s nothing documented about a neurological toxin that turns a human into a killing machine, or is there?

Someone is out there and it is up to Cray to coax them out of the shadows, if only to determine who they could be. Coining the term ‘Hyde virus’ to denote the flip side personality that emerges, Cray seeks to determine its origin. Cray decides to take the giant leap and create his own murder scene to lure the ‘killer’ out to see what happens. All the while, he is bound and determined to see what is being used to infect the brain. It’s a risky move, as the authorities are sure that there is a new killer on the loose, with a pile of bodies that Cray has left out. Shoddy prep work points to someone having provided Cray with the materials, leaving him in trouble with the law and facing potential jail time. Still, he must get to the bottom of this before it’s too late.

Working every angle he can, Cray finds something in the DoD files that could help him better understand the Hyde virus, but it will take more than dusty reports on yellowing pages to catch this serial killer creator, negating the neurological blowback and the additional fallout. This may be the largest case ever for Cray, who once considered himself a humble introvert with a side of arrogance. This is a chilling novel, though even that seems to be an understatement, particularly when referring to the final few paragraphs of this book, which offer up a cliffhanger like no other.

I have never read an Andrew Mayne novel and felt underwhelmed or anything bordering on indifferent. There is so much to absorb in each book that the reader takes something away. Add to that, the completely different path each series follows and the reader is treated to something even more stunning. I kick myself for having waited this long to discover Mayne’s work, after a few great friends have been hinting that I need to give his books a chance. The Theo Cray series alone has pushed me to my limits and keeps me enthralled throughout each piece. I can only wonder what the next book will bring.

Theo Cray remains unique while also growing on the reader in this series. Having almost fallen in to the world of serial killer hunter, Cray uses his academic background to find things that are elusive to many others. His work in Montana and Atlanta returns throughout this book, at least in passing mention, while he discovers nuances and clues that point in a particular direction. Mayne has not only honed his protagonist’s skills, but also given him a complex personality, which is on offer throughout. Building his professional and personal lives in tandem, the reader is able to see a fully three dimensional character who springs from the page with ease, something that few series can do so readily in a supersaturated genre.

The secondary characters in Andrew Mayne’s novels are not simply window dressing, as this series proves repeatedly. Like an errant fibre or piece of blood spatter in most novels, everything (and everyone) serves a purpose. The larger narrative is enriched and flavoured by those who grace the pages of this book, some complementing the protagonist, while others seek to impede progress. Either way, it is a wonderful experience and adds significantly to the novel’s connectivity. There is so much going on, but it never feels tangential and useless, as Mayne spins a web that is only later fully revealed and understood. I cannot wait to see what awaits the series, as there is something brewing, even amongst the secondary cast of characters.

Andrew Mayne is one of the great crime thriller storytellers, hands down. While he may not create eerie killers who sit in their homes plotting and using their own narrative perspective to add chills, there is definitively something to be said about how he constructs his novels. The stories build off one another (so I will bluntly say, ‘yes, you have to read the novels in order and from the beginning in this series’) and the action ramps up with each chapter. Theo Cray gets better the more the reader discovers and the narrative pushes him to the limits throughout. All that being said, there is a sense of realism throughout that keeps the reader from feeling things are getting too far off track. All this could happen and yet it is also so mind boggling. Crisp writing in short chapters keeps the reader forging ahead and the twists begin to pile up. The story has layers like no other and I cannot say enough about the momentum the plot injects into each page. This is surely not a book for those seeking a quick read that will soon be forgotten. Mayne’s pieces are like ear wigs that stick with you, but that’s a good thing, as you need to remember what’s happened to see where the path leads next.

With one more novel in this series (to date) and an upcoming publication including Cray and Jessica Blackwood together, fans of Mayne’s work have much in which to revel. Stellar writing has never been so addictive and I can only hope others discover Mayne soon, as I would love to dissect his work with other newbies and long-time fans!

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for another wonderful piece. You never cease to amaze me with what you have to say about the world through your writing. I can definitely see a fan base growing exponentially if your writing continues to be as strong.

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

Instinct, by Jason M. Hough

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley,Jason M. Hough, Gallery Books, and Skybound Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always one to try something a little different, I excitedly grabbed for this novel by Jason M. Hough, which mixes the intensity of a thriller with the mystery of small-town America. When a police officer in a small Washington community is thrust into a leadership role, she begins to notice that the locals are not acting as they should, or at least how she expects they would. Is there a reason or is this all something wonky about small town life? Hough keeps the reader guessing throughout and makes quite the impact in doing so.

After leaving Oakland PD, Mary Whittaker is still trying to acclimate to life in Silvertown, Washington. It’s small—population 602, small—and the locals seem happy to keep to themselves, but also come up with some typical issues. Learning all she can from the local chief, Whittaker is determined to make her impression on the town and its citizenry. It won’t be easy, but it’s one challenge that Whittaker is bound and determined to overcome.

When the chief takes an unexpected leave of absence, Whittaker is left to run things on her own. She takes a call out of town when a hiker is attacked by a bear, unable to understand why he did not react. After interviewing his companion, it would seem that the man who had little love of nature simply gave up and waited for fate to take its course.

There are other oddities around town, like the introverted teenager who loves gaming but chose to wander out into the woods and died. Or the woman who loves her twins and yet left them at home while frolicking in town. Some call it a reaction to the new cell tower that was erected, but Whittaker thinks that there is more to it. This is one mystery for which she’ll not let the gossips create a narrative.

As she tries to piece things together, Whittaker discovers what might be involved in all the shenanigans, but she is not yet ready to commit to that response. She probes a little deeper, only to see that losing one’s instinct is the least of the town’s concerns, though she might not live long enough to report it to others. A chilling piece that keeps the reader thinking until the very last page flip.

I have never read anything by Jason M. Hough and I am kicking myself for that. In a piece that is full of action and intrigue, I found myself fully committed throughout the process and could not wait to see what was coming next. Hough keeps things on the mysterious side, without venturing too far out of reality. Still, there’s something a little eerie in the story and how things play out.

Mary Whittaker is a strong protagonist in this piece, keeping the reader informed of both her back story and how she develops throughout. Still trying to get used to country or small town life, Whittaker must tackle policing on an entirely new level. While she struggles at times, the reader can see some wonderful development throughout, which enriches the story as well as advancing the narrative.

Hough offers up some wonderful supporting characters in this piece, all of whom do their own thing to make the story all the better. While small town life is not always full of excitement, there is something about the various characters in this piece that flavour the narrative effectively and keep the story moving. Those the reader thinks they know are soon showing another side, which only adds depth to the piece and keeps the reader wanting to discover a little more.

The story itself sounds typical small town, something is going on and the townsfolk are acting oddly. However, Jason M. Hough takes it a step further and delves into some interesting discussions, both on a character level and with the psychology of a person. What makes someone do something and can override those instincts or inhibitions? He tackles this with a strong narrative that progresses throughout, easily taking the reader on many a journey. Additionally, there are some wonderful ‘aha’ moments, as the reader tries to make sense of things with the numerous reveals throughout. The plot stays intense and there are no lack of twists as the piece progresses. A mix of chapter lengths has the reader begging for more, as they read well into the night. I cannot wait to see what else Hough has penned, so that I can compare and enjoy things in the future.

Kudos, Mr. Hough, for a great piece that has me curious. You are definitely on my radar.

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

Looking Glass (The Naturalist #2), by Andrew Mayne

Nine stars

Andrew Mayne is more versatile than many other authors I have read over the last few years. While he remains within the crime thriller genre, Mayne uses unique situations and protagonists that keep the reader on their toes and wondering. While I devoured two of his other series already, I was eager to get my hands on his Theo Cray novels, as I hear they are quite different, even by Mayne standards. Professor Theo Cray is still buzzing from his discovery of a serial killer in rural Montana, but is not all that keen about people using him for his skills alone. When Cray is asked to help locate a missing boy in Los Angeles, he reluctantly agrees, which only opens a complex web that he could not have predicted. One of the better crime thrillers I have read over the last number of years, Mayne proves that he is miles apart from others in the genre. Perfect for the lover of unique novels in the genre, as well as Mayne fans alike!

Theo Cray prides himself on being a computational biologist, one who studies the systems in which things live, but his past discovery of a serial killer in rural Montana is what everyone remembers. After leaving academia because of a somewhat problematic set of decisions, Cray finds himself working for a company that seeks to predict terrorist activities. However, Cray soon sees that he is being used for what he knows and his sentiments are not taken into account. It’s surely not the life for him, though he needs something to occupy his time.

Cray’s notoriety has left him having to dodge many people who want his help locating their loved ones, using his unique tracking measures. When a man approaches Cray for help locating his son, the biologist-cum-crime solver wonders if this might be a sign. There is no trace of the boy and the authorities have decided that it is not worth their time. The poor Los Angeles community has also given up hope that there will be anything they can do. All that’s left are some drawings that might mean nothing.

As Cray begins to look into things, he makes a valiant effort not to offend anyone, though his style of investigating is unique and not always pleasant. He is abrupt and direct, while also bending the rules as he sees fit. When Cray uncovers that there are other young boys that have gone missing, it all comes back to the drawings they made of a Toy Man, someone who gives presents to young children, but is said to punish the bad.

When Cray uncovers another interesting trait about the children, he is on a mission to solve the crime. The case takes on new meaning and gains momentum as Cray travels across the country to follow traces of the Toy Man and what might be really going on. It’s a race to uncover the truth, even if everyone else has given up on what matters most, the life of a little boy!

Since discovering the world of Andrew Mayne, I cannot say that I have been disappointed in the least. His unique take on forensics and crime detecting leaves the reader with something exciting as they delve deeper into the novels. This third series of his has proven to be anything by usual, offering up some wonderful spins on the traditional approaches, helping him to stay apart and be noticed.

Theo Cray is definitely unique as he tackles life and the criminal element. He is happy to pursue what makes him happy, using a unique skill set to find answers where others cannot. While he refuses to ‘colour in the lines’, Cray gets results and so many have come to accept his ways, if only for the time being. His grit and determination have shone through in this novel again, as he chases after clues that appear to take him further into danger. It’s a chilling story that leaves the reader wondering what else they can learn about him.

Andrew Mayne does a masterful job once again developing a supporting cast. There is so much to learn about Cray’s interaction with others, as well as how these characters present themselves. The story comes to life repeatedly and the reader is able to use these strong secondary characters to see where things are headed. The action is non-stop and it is those who grace the pages of the book that make them all the more exciting for sure.

Andrew Mayne never ceases to amaze me with his approach to storytelling. A strong narrative that pushes along throughout the story, there is something for everyone. Many will like the uniqueness that Mayne offers, particularly the momentum seen throughout the narrative. Short chapters leave the reader pushing further and wanting more, if only to see the next twist on the horizon. I devoured this piece and cannot wait to see what’s next in the Theo Cray series.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for a brilliant novel that will have me telling anyone who will listen about all you have done in the genre.

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

Passenger 23, by Sebastian Fitzek

Eight stars

In the world of mystery writing, there are many ways in which a body can disappear, as noted in the massive collection of books in the genre. Sebastian Fitzek pushes the reader to think outside the box with this thriller, which takes mystery to a new level and places the story on the high seas. While a handful of passengers who travel by boat go missing every year, they are mere statistics. However, to one man, they mean a great deal, as he lost his wife and son in such a way and then never turned up again. Five years on, a missing girl reappears aboard one of the large ocean liners, holding a relic from the past. Where has she been and how might her disappearance be part of a larger plot? Fitzek stirs up something inside the reader and keeps them guessing throughout.

Martin Schwartz is still trying to come to terms with the loss of his wife and son. Their disappearance aboard a pleasure cruise still haunts him five years later. When no trace could be found of them, it was determined to be a sick sort of murder-suicide, where they went overboard. The phenomena of missing passengers on ships has a name, Passenger 23, attributed to the number of people who go missing in this manner every year. Now, Schwartz has been summoned aboard the Sultan of the Seas, a massive ship travelling from the English Coast over to New York. When he boards, he is greeted by an old woman who is known for her fiction writing. However, she has a story to tell that may change Schwartz’s mind about what happened to his family.

While the ship lumbers out into the open waters, a girl mysteriously reappears, looking haggard and highly confused. What’s more, Anouk Lamar was declared missing while travelling aboard. She’s clutching something highly intriguing, the teddy bear Schwartz’s son had during his journey on the open waters. Schwartz, a trained police psychologist, tries to learn what’s happened to Anouk and discover who may have been holding her captive.

While the results come back that Anouk was raped, it is the crew of the Sultan that want to keep the news under wraps. Schwartz is tasked with trying to figure out what happened to Anouk and who may be responsible, all before they make it to shore. Schwartz is baffled at the cloak and dagger games, but does his best to discover where Anouk and others may have been held, as well as who might be responsible for it all.

Meanwhile, someone has Anouk’s mother captive, another supposed victim of Passenger 23. There is a game of cat and mouse—more like spider and fly—taking place and the elusive captor has a plan. Stopping at nothing to instil fear and push various forms of torture on the broken woman, someone has a plan that may be larger than this single woman. Time is running out and the ship is massive, leaving every door a possible spot to stow someone away, in a sick game that few know is even taking place. A chilling story to say the least and proves that Fitzek is on his game.

It takes a certain type of writer to really get to the heart of a chilling tale and grip the reader throughout. Sebastian Fitzek has proven capable of that with his unique take on the crime thriller, using the open seas as the primary setting. While the story progresses as many others might, it is the compartmentalization of the entire group aboard a ship that gives the story a new sense of urgency and thrill. Fitzek builds the narrative up and keeps the reader guessing what awaits them, as the piece is full of twists and turns that no one could have seen coming.

While Martin Schwartz is the presumed protagonist, he shares the important portions of the story with many others. Schwartz has an interesting backstory, both with the police and the loss of his family. Schwartz works tirelessly when he is aboard the ship to better understand what’s happened and get to the root of the issue. However, things take many a turn and Schwartz ends up learning a great deal about himself as he pieces the mystery together. I have no idea if Fitzek writes standalone only, but Martin Schwartz would be intriguing to see again, allowing his character to develop a little more.

The vast array of supporting characters provides an intriguing flavour to the narrative. From those who work aboard the Sultan of the Seas to the passengers who have their own backstories, the collection of people who grace the pages of the book help to enrich the reading experience. I can see Fitzek developing them throughout, as each plays a key role in the larger story. There is definitely not a skimping when it comes to constructing them to effectively tell the story needed to better understand what is going on.

The book itself flows relatively well, with little when it comes to poor pacing. The fact that it was translated is not obvious, as Fitzek’s writing has surely been placed in the hands of a professional. The story flows with ease and the mystery builds throughout, adding twists at just the right time to keep the reader guessing until the final pages. Strong narrative movement and a plot that is somewhat unique let the book stand out from many in the genre. A mix of chapter lengths help tease the reader into wanting to get ‘just a little more read’ before putting it aside at any one time. I am eager to see some of the other work that Fitzek has penned and hope they were as exciting as this novel.

Kudos, Mr. Fitzek, for intriguing me a great deal. I hope to find some of your other work soon and compare it with this stunning piece of writing.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful book summaries by strong reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/passenger-23/

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

The Naturalist (Naturalist #1), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

Andrew Mayne has proven his versatility within the crime thriller genre by putting out a number of highly intriguing series with unique spins. This in the third series that I started, hoping that it would pack as much punch as the previous two. Mayne does well by introducing Professor Theo Cray and developing a unique means by which of analysing the forensic area. When a former student appears to have been attacked by a bear, Cray arrives in rural Montana to offer his insights. While he believes the authorities at first, he soon realises that the attack was cover for a brutal murder. Using some of his academic knowledge, Cray uncovers a number of other bodies and is sure there is a serial killer out there, eyeing many others and hoping to blame the fauna for the deaths.

Very few people understand Professor Theo Cray or the academic realm in which he finds himself. A computational biologist, Cray studies the systems in which things live and analyses them on a high level to extract themes or norms that few others see. When he is approached as a potential suspect in the death of a former student. Cray goes on the defensive and is soon able to convince the authorities in rural Montana that the death is attributable to a bear attack.

However, as he explores the injuries and the location a little more, Cray second-guesses himself, discovering another body soon thereafter, that of a local drug-addled prostitute. While the police are sure it was a case of intoxicated bad luck and hungry wildlife, Cray is not so sure. He tests his theory by analysing the area and providing some data that leads him to a number of dump sites. While they are covered to appear like temporary spots for future feasting, Cray is sure this is a killer marking their territory.

He goes out on his own to look into the lives of these women who were killed and what connection they might have. From there, it’s a slow and methodical trip through the evidence of the potential killer’s life and mind, in hopes of discovering something that will lead the way back to the person who has been acting so strangely.

While Cray pushes harder, he is indirectly targeted by the killer and must take drastic measures to protect those around him. It may be the only way to save others, but will it mean the end for Professor Theo Cray before the killer is truly revealed? Chilling and fast-paced, this is one series debut that will leave readers demanding more in short order.

It was just over a year that I was introduced to the world of Andrew Mayne and his unique take on forensics within the crime thriller genre. Now, with a third series crossing my path, I cannot get enough of the author or how he interprets crime novels. This unique approach has me wanting to know more and demanding something that stands out from the large collection of novels that supersaturate the genre.

Theo Cray is nothing, if not unique. His approach to life and the study of biology has him sought after and a pariah at the same time. He knows what he loves and pursues it, but few others can actually comprehend what magic he has at his fingertips or how it can be used effectively. With a little backstory, Cray presents himself to the reader as both an academic and a passionate man, one who feels emotion, even if it gets tangled up in computer printouts and analytical data. His passion when he starts something is on display throughout this piece and there is so much more I hope to learn as the series progresses.

Andrew Mayne does a masterful job with his other characters, forming the story around those who find themselves emerging throughout the narrative. There is no lack of action or real progression throughout this piece, something that helps keep the reader enthralled with how things are going. Taking a snapshot of the rural Montana community and the locals as part of the murder investigation occurs with ease as Mayne crafts characters who are relatable and realistic for the reader.

While Andrew Mayne has been able to dazzle with his writing before, he never ceases to amaze me with his approach to crime thrillers. A crisp narrative that pushes along throughout the story, there is something for everyone in this piece that offers up some refreshing approaches. Readers who devour novels in this genre will like the uniqueness that Mayne offers, adding depth and intrigue while keeping the reader on their toes. Short chapters coax the reader to push further, if only to see what awaits them around the next bend. While Theo Cray is unique and somewhat awkward, his mental processes are proven and his is definitely an asset to those who utilise what they have before them. I am eager to read more, subtlely comparing the other series as I go.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for a brilliant launching point in what I have heard is a great series. I cannot wait to see where you will take your readers next!

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

The Magdalene Veil (Magdalene Chronicles #3), by Gary McAvoy

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Gary McAvoy for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always eager to get my hands on anything penned by Gary McAvoy, I was pleased to be handed an ARC of his latest novel, the final in the electrifying Magdalene Chronicles trilogy. While Father Michael Dominic and Hana Sinclair have been busy uncovering old biblical-era mysteries, there are some who want the secrets and possessions all for themselves. In this last piece, an old relic appears to have fallen into the hands of the Nazis, stowed away for decades. Now, a group seeking to revive old Aryan roots wants to utilise the artifact to create new and impactful change to the world. In a piece that spans two continents, McAvoy takes readers on his most intense journey yet. Perfect for those who have devoured the previous two novels, as well as the reader who needs a book that is unputdownable!

On his way to his execution, Jesus was stopped by a woman who helped wipe away his blood and sweat with a veil from around her head. Thankful for the act, Christ does so before being led to Calvary for his crucifixion. The woman, a devout follower, passes the veil along to Mary Magdalene, who ensures it is placed within the tomb where Christ is buried. When his disciples find the tomb empty three days later, there is the veil, complete with a facial outline of Jesus.

During the era of the Nazis, this veil was touted to be exactly what they needed to push forward and seek to vilify the Jews even more. When the veil was obtained by Heinrich Himmler, he made sure to stow it away in a secret location and left a riddle so that the next generation would be able to find it, though not with any ease. His plan was surely to revive the Aryan race through its most prominent member, Christ himself.

While in France for some educational purposes, Father Michael Dominic is approached by a young man purporting to be in possession of some significant information that could be of interest to the Vatican. Dominic soon learns that there is a diary of Heinrich Himmler that could reveal something significant. The young man, who admits his grandfather was a high-ranking Nazi who fled to Argentina, wishes to learn the secrets in the diary and perhaps uncover what is said to be a relic from the time of Christ.

Never one to turn down a historical mystery, Father Dominic broaches the subject with his friend, Hana Sinclair, whose job as a journalist is rooted in uncovering mysteries of all kinds. Working together, they locate the diary, which leads them to Argentina. They learn of a group, the Ahnenerbe, who pose as a social group, but have strong ties to Nazi-era membership. Whispers about possible neo-Nazi revival cannot be dismissed either. When Dominic and Sinclair are able to piece together the riddle left by Himmler, they learn that the secret, the Magdalene Veil, is hidden in an old German castle that was once a Nazi training ground.

Keen to retrieve the article for the Vatican, Dominic and Sinclair make arrangements to have it removed and brought to the Holy See. However, there are some who want it for themselves and will stop at nothing to retrieve it. When it falls into the hands of the Ahnenerbe, they hope to use it for their own means, as they develop a Kinderklinik, a place to foster a new era of neo-Nazis under the radar, while also using new techniques to begin genetic experiments. With the Veil in their possession, this group has plans to extract something and turn the Church on its head, while reviving old sentiments that will surely tear the post-War world apart anew.

While Father Dominic and Hana Sinclair are held captive, they learn that a high-ranking Vatican member might be pulling the strings to allow this power play, which could only ruin centuries of Church control of the message. It will take much determination and some key messaging to foil the plot and key the Magdalene Veil safely in the hands of those who cherish it, and wish to keep it secret once again. An explosive end to the series, but which direction will it take and how will the world change when all is revealed?

I stumbled upon the first book in this series last summer and could not put it down. When Gary McAvoy reached out to me to read the next two novels, I pushed all my other reading commitments to the side so that I could dive right in. I was thrilled and devoured the stories, as they tell such an alluring tale, so much so that I was up well into the night to flip pages and discover what was to come of the protagonists. It is that sort of story and a series not to be missed by those who love biblical mysteries of a kind.

Father Michael Dominic reprises his role as protagonist and does a masterful job. While his backstory is left mostly in the previous novels, the reader can see great development of his character throughout this piece. There is a gritty determination throughout, as he mixes his archivist past with a penchant for being a sleuth. His connections serve him well throughout this piece, though it is a sense of wanting to protect the Vatican that shines through, pitting secrets against keeping the peace for the Church.

McAvoy creates strong supporting characters throughout, using many of those who grace the pages of the book to connect the dots in history, as well as the revival of the neo-Nazi movement. There is a richness, not only in the characters, but also the history of which they speak, which flavours the narrative effectively and conveys the seriousness of the mission at hand. Spanning three eras, these characters tell a story that will pull the reader deeper into the plot as all is revealed in a timely manner.

The story was perhaps the more electrifying of the three novels, putting a sense of urgency front and centre. McAvoy’s ability to spin a tale is second to none and there were times I wished I had binge-read all three books back to back, if only to reconnect with all the nuances that appear in the text. However, this book packs enough punch and history to have kept me intrigued throughout. McAvoy uses short chapters to keep the reader propelling forward, peppering in history and anecdotes throughout to assuage the curious while still keeping a degree of mystery. The narrative moved at breakneck speed and there is little time for the reader to relax, as the story is not one that meanders at any point. McAvoy’s use of local language (Spanish, German, etc) helps to inject a sense of realism to the story, leaving the reader to feel as though they were right there. While things do come together in the end, it is the sense of panic and ‘what could be’ that keeps the reader wondering well after closing the book’s cover. McAvoy does ensure that those who wonder where fiction and fact come together are calmed with an Author’s Note to discuss it all. I can only hope that McAvoy has something similar for his next writing assignment, as I am hooked and want more of this sort of novel.

Kudos, Mr. McAvoy, for another stunning piece. With the trilogy done, I can only hope people will hear of these books and discover Father Michael Dominic for themselves. I am sure your fan base is about to swell very soon!

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

Turn a Blind Eye (Detective William Warwick #3), by Jeffrey Archer

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jeffrey Archer, and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

The newest novel in Jeffrey Archer’s latest series is always reason for some excitement, at least for those who have a penchant for the author’s attention to detail. DI William Warwick has been through a great deal of late and feels that his actions might merit demotion or worse. However, his superiors at the Met have other ideas, using him to coax out those who have gone rogue. It will be a secret mission that could cost Warwick everything if he is caught, but ensure another promotion if he is successful. Archer at his best in this piece, which keeps his many fans on the edge of their seats.

As the case of Assem Rashidi, notorious drug lord, is set to go to trial, William Warwick is promoted for his work on the arrest. DI Warwick is not sure if he ought to be happy about this, or expect to be punished because of all the corners that were cut in the sting operation. Still, he’s happy to be a part of the action and will follow whatever plan is put before him.

DI Warwick is given a daunting task to help discover whether others within the Metropolitan Police have been acting in a corrupt manner. It will not only be difficult, but highly dangerous, as no one likes a leaker. Amassing his team, DI Warwick begins targeting a young detective who is surely living beyond his means, which is likely related to receiving kickbacks.

The Rashidi trial comes before the courts with DI Warwick as one of its key witnesses. Two others in the Warwick family are heading the Crown’s case—Sir Julian, the ever-present father, and Grace, his sister—prepared to put away this seedy character as soon as possible. The case will be difficult, with a strong defence headed by Booth Watson QC, but the Warwicks are determined, if nothing else. The case hinges on identification and Rashidi will do anything he can to lead everyone off his trail.

Meanwhile, Beth Warwick has been tending to her new twins while William is away working. She knows the life of a detective’s wife is anything but glamourous, but finds ways of keeping herself busy. Oddly enough, this includes spending some time wit ha new friend, Christina Faulkner, who happens to have been recently divorced from William’s greatest foe, Miles. When a series of events thrust Christina into a massive fortune, it becomes apparent that corruption inside the Met is much deeper than first expected.

Juggling the trial and some of his own sleuthing, DI Warwick gets to the heart of the matter, in hopes of rooting out those who would try to bring the Met to its knees. It will be a challenge, but there’s nothing that DI William Warwick holds closer to his heart than ensuring no one is turning a blind eye to justice. Well, perhaps family is a little more important, but that’s for another story!

Anyone familiar with Jeffrey Archer and his writing will know that there are numerous subtleties found within each story. Be they linking pieces that keep a series connected or off the cuff remarks that come back to mean something later, Archer keeps his readers on their toes throughout. This book is no exception, creating a series about William Warwick, a character who was mentioned throughout the Clifton Chronicles as being the main protagonist of Harry’s popular series. Now, the reader can see all the buzz that the novels created directly, as Archer takes on the role of Harry Clifton to breathe life into the idea.

William Warwick is a fabulous protagonist and grows effectively throughout the series. He has been promoted and works on showing his leadership throughout this piece. However, he cannot stop looking behind him, as there are those who would love to see him fall flat on his face. Added to that, Warwick a new father to twins, which forces him to divide his time between work and home life, never easy at the best of times. The reader sees some solid development throughout, perfect as things heat up ahead of the fourth novel.

Archer is never one to create flat characters, even those who are in a supporting role. The cast of this novel offer great depth and excitement throughout, as the story shifts to numerous plot developments and settings throughout. There are those who complement Warwick well, as well as individuals who flavour the narrative such that the impediments are clear. Never a shortage of action fills the pages of this book, with Archer providing wondering entertainment in the form of his minor characters.

The story itself was strong and began soon after the previous novel ended. This is always hard to do, as Archer must bridge the excitement that ended the last piece with a new sense of pizzazz immediately. There is no issue with the flow of the story or pulling the reader into the centre. I found myself lost in the story with a great deal of ease, leaving me to want even more with each chapter. The narrative pushed along well and kept me begging for more, with short chapters that teased as much as they propelled the story forward. Archer has a style I have come to love and I cannot get enough, so I am happy to know that the next piece is hot on the heels of this one, due out in November. What a treat that will be, as DI William Warwick has much to do in the coming years.

Kudos, Lord Archer, for another winner. You never seem to slump in my opinion, which makes seeing your books all the more exciting for me.

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

House Standoff (Joe DeMarco #15), by Mike Lawson

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mike Lawson, and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Returning with the fifteenth book in the Joe DeMarco series, Mike Lawson brings something new to the discussion to keep readers on their toes. While DeMarco has made a name for himself as the ‘fixer’ for Speaker of the House of Representatives, he disputes the title and the sentiment that he is under anyone’s thumb. After learning that a friend was murdered in rural Wyoming, DeMarco makes his way out there to do some investigating of his own. What he discovers is not as open and shut as some would believe. A great piece with just the right amount of grit to fit the DeMarco norm. Recommended to those who enjoy a looser crime thriller with a handful of potential suspects.

Joe DeMarco’s earned quite the reputation as a fixer for John Maloney, current Speaker of the House of Representatives. While the two men have worked together in the past, DeMarco does not want his reputation tainted, as many see the senior politician as troublesome. With the Speaker out of the country on official business, DeMarco hopes to be able to get some golf in and relax, enjoying the quiet.

However, he learns of the death of a long-ago friend, Shannon Doyle, in rural Wyoming. Doyle is a popular author who was said to be researching her latest novel when she was murdered in a robbery. The local authorities were convinced it was a trucker who might have been passing through and wanted to score something to pawn. DeMarco is not buying it and chooses to leave DC to begin an investigation of his own.

Upon his arrival in Wyoming, DeMarco realises that things are a lot different than in DC, with a slower pace and a greater deference for the law. DeMarco approaches the local FBI to explain his presence, as well as some of his sentiments, though he is stonewalled before he gets too far. It would seem the local authorities have their own ideas and do not want anyone from outside poking their heads around.

Once DeMarco gains access to Doyle’s cloud account, he discovers a journal that she’s been keeping about the locals, something that tells quite the story about all of them. It gives him a better idea as to who might have been ‘colouring outside the lines’ and what motives they may have to want her quieted. Working the angles as best he can, DeMarco hones in on a few possibles, only to uncover a larger crime. The murder of a Black Lives Matter protestor seems to have been neutralised, though Shannon Doyle had some proof that could upend things quite substantially.

DeMarco is not one to leave stones unturned and he goes blazing in, pointing fingers where he feels the need. The murderer is in town, of that DeMarco is sure, but trying to choose the correct person is important. It’s sure to cost him something or other, but one can only hope his life’s not in jeopardy.

I’ve been reading and enjoying Mike Lawson’s work for a number of years, always finding the mix of crime and politics to my liking. While Joe DeMarco does come across as a man who is happy to blur the lines, his dedication to justice cannot be disputed. DeMarco takes matters into his own hands with this piece, but is happy to fight for what he feels is right as he salvages the reputation of a woman for whom he cared a great deal.

Joe DeMarco is the perfect protagonist for this piece, mixing his gritty determination with strong sleuthing skills. His background with familial connections to the Italian community does not hurt his reputation, though he does not want to rely on it, as he tries to live the clean life. With a little backstory on his ties to Shannon Doyle, DeMarco’s character evolves slightly in the fight for justice. His investigative skills are on display throughout this piece, showing that a little attention to detail can go a long way, even if it causes some with the local police more than a few headaches.

Lawson creates some strong supporting characters for his protagonist as well. Moving the piece out to Wyoming, there are few recurring characters in the book, save for a few who receive passing mention, allowing DeMarco to rule the roost as it were. Those who help create the Wyoming flavouring to the story emerge throughout as key characters and ones that add depth to the story. The reader will likely enjoy this ‘small town’ feel, with locals who wish only to stick to what they have always known and frown on outsiders who try to poke their noses where they do not belong.

The story was well presented and left much of the politics out of the mix. This is more a crime thriller than anything political, allowing Lawson to expand his writing style. There is a little of everything in the piece, with some much needed humour to offset some of the darker revelations that come to the surface. Quick chapters balance nicely with a narrative that moves at a clipped pace. The reader is sure to get into the middle of the story with ease and find themselves devouring the book in short order. Who knows what’s next for Lawson and how he will approach the series. It’s done well for now, though I wonder if DeMarco is pining for more golf time than having to smash heads to get answers.

Kudos, Mr. Lawson, for another winner. I am glad to have found the series and an eager to see what’s to come!

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful book summaries by strong reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/house-standoff/

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

Honor Kills (Angelina Bonaparte #3), by Nanci Rathbun

Eight stars

I was recently handed an ARC of the latest novel in this series, but chose to take a step back to read the series that led up to its publication. Nanci Rathbun builds an interesting collection of novels built on a strong PI, Angelina Bonaparte, working to help those in need around Milwaukee, while never forgetting her roots in the Family. Bonaparte is alerted when one of the men she has been tracking turns up mentioned in an obituary. However, the body is not that of the man, nor is the case as cut and dry as she would have liked. This pulls Bonaparte into a real sleuthing mystery and forces her to come to terms with a number of truths and emotions she never wanted to surface. As the Rathbun stories get better, the series continues to grow on me. Great reading for those who loved the past novels, as well as the reader who needs a lighter crime thriller.

Angelina Bonaparte (add the ‘tay’ on the last syllable if you want to save a shin kicking) has been enjoying the new success that her work has garnered over the last while. She’s got an associate and some great clients, as well as a strong relationship with a Homicide detective. It all seems to be trucking along nicely when an obituary appears in the local paper for Hank Wagner. He’s a man she’s been trying to find for quite a while. How will Bonaparte break the news to his wife after six years since his disappearance?

After speaking to a few contacts, Bonaparte comes back with some odd revelations that do not make much sense. Cirrhosis and a body that has seen years of heavy drinking does not sound that the man who left his family one night, to the point that Bonaparte wonders if there’s been a bait and switch. Some deeper digging proves that this is not the man everyone says he is, but what does that mean for the larger case? While all this is going on, Bonaparte continues to be building her relationship and wondering if she’s finally met the man who will make her forget the ex-husband who made it a habit to step out on her.

While Bonaparte tries her best to piece it all together, she realises that she might be in over her head. A mistaken identity opens a can of worms that has secret identity all over it. Further exploration shows that the disappearance might be tied to some scandalous connections on the East Coast, ones that cannot be easily forgotten. When Bonaparte turns to her father, he reluctantly agrees to talk with her about his ‘Family’ connections and the rule of omertà. No one is safe and it will take Bonaparte every fibre of her being to get to the real truth.

Along the way, MPD makes a move that could put Bonaparte and her relationship with Detective W. T. “Ted” Wukowski in serious jeopardy. Unwilling to lose their jobs or their love, the two must make some serious sacrifices in order to survive it all. While this is a strain neither of them want, if they can solve this case and yet not succumb to desire, it might work out in their favour at the end of the day. Rathbun is adding some needed depth to the series and just at the right moment!

I have always enjoyed the ability to binge-read a series, as it permits me a richer exploration of the plots and character development. It’s nice to be able to really get a feel for how an author sees a series progress, rather than having to wait for each instalment as it is published. While I was not entirely hooked by the debut novel that Nanci Rathbun offered readers, Angelina Bonaparte and the entire premise of this series has grown on me and I have adapted to a slight variation on the genre I have come to love over the years!

Angelina Bonaparte remains the strong protagonist who is forced to deal with a great deal yet again. While there is some decent character development throughout the piece, it is the keen focus on her back story and personal life that fills the pages of the book. A ‘Mafia Princess’ of sorts, Bonaparte must wrestle with this and the connections her father has amassed, while juggling the truths of omertà throughout the novel. There is also a strong development and forced regression in the Angie-Ted relationship, which could make things all the more interesting in the next novel, the aforementioned ARC.

Rathbun uses more of her strong secondary characters to keep the piece moving along. While the case is more a ‘hunt’ than a slow reveal of a mystery in which a number of people are potential killers, there is still a richness to the narrative that emerges throughout. The reader is able to collect a strong set of forward momentum with those given minor roles throughout, each adding their own perspective to the piece. The reoccurring cast helps the ground the piece, but there is something nice about a new set of faces at times to keep the novel on its toes.

I can admit that Nanci Rathbun’s novels are growing on me, the more I read them (another great reason to binge). It took me some time to find my pace with the middle-aged PI whose obsession with undergarments sometimes overtook the plot of the story, but it has all one together nicely. The book proved grittier and got into some of the darker parts of the Bonaparte character and a larger narrative, though there are still some saccharine parts that do not match. Not that a book needs to be cuss filled, but the dialogue sometimes comes across as a tad diluted. Rathbun shows decent writing throughout, trying to steer away from as much predictability. There’s a nice balance of short and longer chapters to whet the reader’s appetite throughout, though the pace is sure to keep the story moving along effectively. There are certainly some threads throughout the piece that were left dangling and kept me intrigued, leaving me to want to get my hands on the ARC to see how they might work themselves out. That’s the key to a strong series and Rathbun has my interest piqued!

Kudos, Madam Rathbun, for another winner. I think you may have found a fan in me, once and for all!

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