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

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

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

Black Fall (Jessica Blackwood #3), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

Andrew Mayne offers a unique spin on crime thrillers in both series I have read. There’s an electricity in the ‘off the beaten path’ aspect, something I highly enjoy and is sure to engage the reader throughout. In this third full-length novel, Jessica Blackwood is forced to wrap her head around a series of random events, all of which are tied to a long-dead academic’s apparent recorded prediction. Additionally, she’s targeted for murder again and must wrestle with the understanding that she has upset many with her past work within the FBI. As the case intensifies and Blackwood learns more, she discovers that one man must be pulling all the strings from his prison cell. It’s a man whose skill with magic and illusion tops even her own!

A small Colorado community vanishes off the face of the earth, or so it seems when a postal worker and delivery truck cannot locate it. While this seems odd, FBI Agent Jessica Blackwood is on a stake-out and trying to stay under the radar. When a woman appears at her door, Blackwood is baffled, not only by the bundle the woman carries, but that this mysterious visitor tries to kill her. Blackwood goes through a variety of emotions and it hits home that she is not safe, having offended many people during her years with the Bureau.

Blackwood is called into the field office to learn some baffling news. An hour after a recent earthquake across the Eastern Seaboard, a video surfaces that a well-respected academic predicted the event—to the day—years in the past. While this does not cause too many eyebrows to rise, the fact that the man died years ago and could not have recently cobbled the recording together has Blackwood a little more intrigued.

While trying to sink her teeth into the case, Blackwood learns that the woman who attacked her has since been found, murdered. Blackwood is torn between this investigation into the eerie predictions and finding out more about this woman and why she, Blackwood, was targeted. Might there be a connection between the two?

As Blackwood forges ahead, she learns a little more about a group calling themselves the Red Chain, a cult that seems to have got their hands on quite the weapon. Blackwood would not believe it had she not seen it for herself. Red Chain has apparently put out a hit on Blackwood for her past casework and one criminal has a special hatred for her.

As Blackwood better understands Red Chain and what they believe, she learns about the small Colorado town of Moffat, which has seemingly disappeared. It is the presumed home of the Red Chain, though it’s nowhere to the found. This could all be part of the larger ruse, one that is part of the cult’s activity. However, it is their ringleader that really sends chills up Blackwood’s spine, especially the way in which he communicates with his followers.

I have come to really enjoy the Jessica Blackwood series, which includes three novels and a short story to date. When I learned that Andrew Mayne was set to bring Jessica back for another adventure, this time working alongside another strong female protagonist, I wanted to get the backstory before diving in (and I will do the same with The Naturualist series soon). Mayne is able to really tell a story with great pizzazz and keep things highly unique, something that is sure to capture the attention of many readers when give this series a try.

This was another winner for Jessica Blackwood. She’s sharp and on point, mixing her past in the world of magic and illusions with a dedication to the FBI. The case develops before her and Jessica is able to balance more revelations in her backstory with some strong character development, sure to enamour the dedicated reader to her personality. Mayne does well to keep her on point, while also showing her vulnerabilities. I cannot wait to see what’s next for Blackwood, whose still got a great deal of pep inside her that needs to come out.

Mayne does well with his supporting cast again, keeping them both on point to complement Blackwood and set the scene for what’s going on. I cannot say enough about the detail put into those who enrich the story, as the piece never lags and the excitement level is high with a vast array of characters. Particularly telling in the Moffat-area revelations, the story’s intensity grows with the development of some key secondary characters.

The story worked and while it was not my favourite of the series, it did present extremely well. I cannot say enough about Jessica Blackwood and how her unique approach to the law and crime fighting keeps the reader enthralled. With a mix of chapter lengths, there is the ever-present pull in and exploration of the plot that keeps the reader wanting to know more. The narrative continues to gain momentum throughout and keeps things on edge until it all comes together in dramatic fashion. There were some political moments in the piece, he first real turn in that direction, but it did not derail the story or the plot whatsoever. I am eager to read more of Mayne work and, as I said above, cannot wait for Blackwood’s return in the coming months to play a joint-protagonist role.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for keeping me on the edge of my seat. I am excited to find and review more of your work soon.

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

Fire in the Sky: A Short Story (Jessica Blackwood #1.5), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

Andrew Mayne’s series with Jessica Blackwood in the protagonist seat has something for everyone, at least with the pieces that I have read to date. Mixing the world of illusion with crime fighting, the reader is able to see something from new and unique perspectives. In this short piece, Mayne takes the reader deep into the South, where Blackwood and her temporary partner are sent to appease the complaints of a man who has been begging for FBI investigative attention. While there, Blackwood discovers much about herself and the walls she builds around herself to keep others at bay. A great bridging piece that can be read as a standalone to whet the appetite of the curious reader.

It’s hot in Louisiana, which is yet another reader why Jessica Blackwood does not want to be on a houseboat along the Mississippi. She’s been sent here, alongside her temporary partner, to handle the complaints of a man who says he saw something flashing through the sky fifty years ago. His story has developed over time, to the level of myth, and Blackwood is sure it’s something easily attributed to the weather, a meteor, or even fuelled by the tea-infused moonshine of this man in his last months of life.

However, when bantering with the woman who joined her on the trip, Blackwood reveals that she has become so used to sleights of hand and misconceptions that there is no longer anything that cannot be solved through citing misdirection. Her propensity to dismiss anything other than what can easily be explained away has Jessica Blackwood coming across as closed-minded and refusing to entertain anything other than what she already knows. Tossing caution into the balmy winds, Blackwell agrees to follow up on the story and makes a curious discovery that puts the man’s story into a new realm of wonder.

I have been enjoying the Blackwood stories and thought this short piece would complement them well. It did so, focussing less on the crime thriller from the perspective of a former illusionist, but rather peeling back the layers of Blackwood’s life in a family of magicians. Mayne offers up some great backstory and development for his protagonist, which complements the larger series well. Short and to the point, this story is highly entertaining and revealing, as the reader is asked (much like Blackwood did as an illusionist in her past) to see things not as they are, but as they might be.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for a great piece that entertains as well as educates. Perhaps for that morning cup of coffee before getting started on a larger project!

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

Name of the Devil (Jessica Blackwood #2), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

My discovery of Andrew Mayne’s unique perspective to crime thrillers has made me an instant fan. After loving the first book in this series, I rushed to continue the magic (pardon the pun) with this second novel, which packs just as much punch. Jessica Blackwood’s time with the FBI may have started off being somewhat drab, but when she was brought along to help crack open a case of a serial killer with the power of illusion, she discovered her niche. Now, with The Warlock behind bars, Blackwood can bask in some of the fame, though there are new cases that require her attention. When a church congregation disappears in West Virginia, it looks to be something in the realm of magic. However, their discovery, dead, a few miles away, turns talk towards demonic forces. Blackwood and the FBI are there to piece it all together, though what lurks in the darkness is something no one could have predicted. Another stunning piece by Andrew Mayne that will have those who love a unique thriller up late into the night, turning pages.

While she enjoys the notoriety that finding The Warlock brought her, Jessica Blackwood wants something more out of her time with the FBI. When a case in West Virginia crosses her desk, she’s shuttled off to investigate. An entire congregation of a small church disappears into thin air, only to be found, dead, a few miles away. Markings in the area lead to discussion of ritual killing and demonic possession, something that does not go down well in this Bible-toting community.

Blackwood is used to dealing with the unusual, especially with her background as an illusionist. However, this is not all sleight of hand and puffs of smoke, but rather something with far darker origins. While demonic possession could surely play a factor, there has to be a human element to the crime, one that Blackwood must uncover before things get too out of hand.

The investigation takes Blackwood out of the area, as some sort of mild-altering drug may have been involved. Its origin in Mexico may be the key to uncovering what’s been going on. Blackwood makes the trip down there, only to find herself in the middle of other criminal activities. She’s forced to show a gritty side and bail before she becomes a crime statistic herself. However, Blackwood’s time in Mexico reveals some clues that might help with the larger investigation.

Back stateside, Blackwood returns to discover that there are secrets in this small West Virginia town that no one wants uncovered. Truths that relate to children and events three decades ago. Silence may be golden, but for some it takes on an obsession, one that could lead to murder in order to ensure its held in place.

As Blackwood slowly makes some revelations in the case and discovers what’s really going on, she realises that this might be tied to a terror group using new-fangled technologies. What appears clear-cut is simply an illusion, but one that could have significant consequences. No one is safe, including those at the highest levels within the Vatican. Blackwood must act quickly, as a papal visit to Miami is scheduled soon and the target is too large to ignore.

Andrew Mayne does it again with a stunning follow-up novel in this unique series. Pulling not only on the world of magic—read, illusions, not the realm of fairy tales—but also the demonic arts, Mayne pulls the reader into the darkest corners of the genre while remaining grounded in reality. This is a fast-paced story that will take the reader on a ride like no other, leaving them wanting more by the story’s end. Mayne does not skimp on detail or description, which is sure to impress many.

Jessica Blackwood is again in the protagonist’s chair, where she dazzles and shows her mettle. There are some added bits of backstory revealed in this piece, both from her time as a magician (illusionist) and growing up in the family business. There is also a great deal of character development for her, offering the reader a glimpse into how she has been able to bridge her past life with a career inside the FBI. Gritty and ready to risk it all, Blackwood shows that she stands out from many characters in the crime thriller, without too much of the smoke and mirrors that some need to make a difference.

Mayne surrounds Blackwood with some strong supporting characters, pulled from various realms to help accentuate the piece. Blackwood finds herself in a number of precarious situations in all corners of the globe, which begs for a strong cast to enrich the narrative in a variety of ways. Mayne does so in a masterful manner, keeping the reader on edge throughout this piece and leaving them wanting a little more.

Much as the first book flowed well, this one follows in its footsteps, offering a unique take on the crime thriller. Pushing the limits on magic, illusions, and flights of fancy, Mayne leads the reader down quite the rabbit hole and into control of the mind through a number of facets. Demonic worship does come into the story, though readers need not worry that this is a book all about the satanic rituals and pentagram branding. Rather, it takes the reader on a ride like no other. With a variety of chapter lengths, the reader is pulled in at times and taken on intense rides through other parts, all while the narrative gains momentum. There is little time to waste, as the story covers a great deal of ground in short order. All the twists surely pack a punch for the attentive reader and leave them wanting more. Thankfully, Mayne has penned another Jessica Blackwood thriller, which is where I am headed next!

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for another winner in the series and genre as a whole. I’m a fan and cannot get enough.

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

Angel Killer (Jessica Blackwood #1), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

After recently discovering the work of Andrew Mayne, I quickly became a fan of his unique approach to the crime thriller. Having heard much about Jessica Blackwood, the FBI agent with a past in magic, I could not help but check things out for myself. Mayne does well in this series debut, showing Jessica’s attention to detail and drive to solve crimes using her past experiences to crack open seemingly baffling cases. When a killer uses the same types of sleight of hand, Jessica’s ready to offer her input, hoping that it will help solve a case where the bodies do not seem to be disappearing, but replicating. A great beginning for those who love the mysterious side of the crime thriller.

Jessica Blackwood enjoys her work with the FBI, but admits that it is not the most exciting. Her joy comes from being able to hold onto the magic she grew up learning and passing it on to young children. When Blackwood is summoned to the office on her day off, she knows it is not to commend her for her work, though she cannot think what could be going on.

It would seem her magic past has not been overlooked by some of the higher-ups, as she is called upon to consult on a case that has those within the Bureau baffled. A woman’s body has been discovered, which does not seem all that unusual. However, the woman was declared dead and her body processed a few years early. In fact, this new body’s right around the gravesite, making things all the more eerie.

Blackwood soon realises that there’s been some trickery taking place, the type of illusion that magicians are known for using in their acts. Calling the killer The Warlock, Blackwood and the team slowly try to piece things together, only to be handed another mysterious case when a plane that has been missing for decades randomly appears, alongside its pilot. Blackwood must use her own experiences to piece things together slowly, but seems to be finding a pattern.

As The Warlock continues to show his skills, a woman appears in Times Square, made to look like an angel, though obviously dead. Her body and the location are obvious clues and Blackwood is able to detect how they will be able to make some sense fo the killings. However, this is not a killer who is lax when it comes to preparation. This is a deadly game of cat and mouse, where smoke and mirrors create an added illusion that could turn deadly at any moment.

I have become quite impressed with the work of Andrew Mayne so far, which delivers a strong story with a unique perspective throughout. Using magic as a supporting theme throughout not only adds to the mystery of the plot, but helps flesh out some of the backstory needed to better understand the life that Jessica Blackwood had coming into this piece. Mayne leaves the reader wondering what might await the protagonist, as long as she can escape the grasp of this most sinister killer.

Jessica Blackwood seems to fit the role of protagonist perfectly. She has a strong motive to help others and is shown to be compassionate as her character develops throughout the piece. There is also a great deal of backstory that comes to thee surface, both with her past as an experienced magician and growing up under the pressure of the family name. Mayne does well to develop her throughout this piece, but leaves many threads dangling, as though he hopes to lure the reader in the continue following the series.

The supporting cast works well to complement both Blackwood and the larger plot. Magic does play centre stage in this piece, though it is based not on the fantasy side of it, but the illusionary aspects of the craft that tends to baffle the general population. Using murder within the craft adds insight and those who play a part in the larger ‘act’ serve well in their respective roles to keep the reader on their toes throughout.

The story is strong from the beginning and never seems to lose its momentum. I was quite impressed with how things developed and Mayne’s use of a number of techniques to hook the reader from the early chapters. The story is strong and its use of magic makes it stand out from many others in the genre. There is a definite uniqueness to the plot, which flows well as the story gains momentum. I found myself quite intrigued by the use of magic and illusions throughout, which found its place at the core of the crime scenes. Mid-length chapters kept the reader wanting to know more and I was eager to see what awaited me around each corner, with a killer so adept at false trails. I am hooked and want to get my hands on the next book in short order.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for breathing new life into a genre that I love so much. I will definitely be keeping Jessica Blackwood’s adventures in my life as soon as I can.

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

Black Coral (Underwater Investigation Unit #2), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Andrew Mayne, and Thomas & Mercer for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Andrew Mayne is back with another police procedural that will have the reader thinking outside the box (as well as off land). With his Underwater Investigation Unit, Mayne utilises the world of police work under the water with Sloan McPherson as lead diver. In Black Coral, the discovery of four teens from decades ago opens old wounds about their trip to a concert and the potential trouble they encountered while partying one night. Mayne keeps things crisp and will have readers plunging in for more by the final pages. Recommended to those who like unique takes on crime fighting down in Southern Florida.

Sloan McPherson quite enjoys her work in Southern Florida with the Underwater Investigation Unit (UIU), a group slapped together with the governor’s blessing a while back. She trolls under the surface of the water when the police cannot properly do the work on land. While diving down to help remove victims from a car that flew into the water, McPherson comes across a van that no one knew existed. She helps extricate it and bring it to the surface, but must be wary of the countless alligators that flock to the area, basking in the warmer waters and ready to feast on flesh of any sort.

Once some of the preliminary forensics are complete, the UIU learns that the occupants of the van were four teens who went missing over thirty years before. All were presumed to have run away, though their families had come to terms with their likely deaths. Analysis of the two girls in the van shows that they were dressed with their underwear inside out, leaving some to believe that there may have been some sexual assaults that occurred before the van flew into the water.

While McPherson and her new partner try to work through what they know, they are saddled with a new and more glitzy case. It would seem that someone is targeting some of the larger yachts in the marina and stealing from their when the owners are asleep or otherwise engaged. McPherson calls this a silly ‘rich crime’ and wants to focus her attention on the grittier one that includes the dead kids. However, she will have to learn how to manage both, at least for the time being.

After some sleuthing leads to the discovery of a recent couple going missing, the case takes a significant turn. Further probing leads to the discovering of a large cage full of bones, surely bodies that were left deep in the water after a slew of killings. It’s a serial murder investigation and the UIU is elbowed out of the way. However, Sloan McPherson is not one to let things go too easily. Her independent explorations into what they know opens new and disturbing pathways that might explain a horrible new angle and a specific penchant that the ‘Swamp Killer’ may have. This case will chill anyone to the bone!

While my knowledge of Andrew Mayne’s work rests solely with the debut in the UIU series, I was hooked from the opening pages. I am always on the look out for new and interesting perspectives when it comes to police procedurals, Mayne uses this angle effectively and keeps his readers hooked on the case throughout, offering them one tidbits of action both above and below the waterline.

Sloan McPherson emerges as a strong protagonist again, keeping herself busy with work while also trying to remain a member of her family. The mother of a tween girl, Sloan has come to realise that her daughter is not so little anymore and the lure of boys will soon be a worry that must be addressed. Professionally, she is gritty and wants to be in the driver’s seat at all times. Her fearlessness shows repeatedly, both when chasing down leads and interaction with the reptile population while diving for clues. She’s got lots going for her and I quite enjoy how Mayne has crafted her up to this point.

A cast of strong supporting characters keeps the story moving well and does not distract from the plot. Mayne uses his characters to push the narrative along and allows the reader to choose a few people to follow throughout the story. Delving into the dark world of serial killers and paedophiles, Mayne must craft his characters well as he ensures the reader feels the full impact of what is going on.

As with the series debut, this book moved along well and never lost its momentum. With a great plot and strong narrative, Mayne is able to pull the reader in from the opening pages and never lets up. He develops the plot well, with his strong dialogue and uses shorter chapters to keep the flow throughout. While I know little about diving, Mayne bridged that gap effectively for me and kept things easy to comprehend for the layperson. I am eager to see what is to come, as the third novel in the series was just announced. It’s sure to be just as captivating as this one!

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for another winner. I will have to check out some of your other series to get a full feel for your work. You have a fan in me, and a curious one at that.

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

Black Coral

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

The Girl Beneath the Sea (Underwater Investigation Unit #1), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

After seeing this recent publication by Andrew Mayne make such a splash across the reviewing platforms, I wanted to have a look for myself. Sloan McPherson has underwater diving in her blood, having grown up with it as her father taught her all there was to know. When she is not contracted out to dive for one of the local police services in Florida, Sloan is scouring the depths on her own. One day while pleasure diving—alone, a major faux pas—Sloan has a body dumped in the water in front of her. Panicked, she resurfaces to see what’s going on, but cannot make out who did the deed. After alerting her colleagues, Sloan realises that she is in deeper trouble than she first thought, as someone has stolen her identification, notifying them where to find her. While Sloan does her best to let the case work itself out, she cannot stand idly by and wait for the answers to surface. Paired with a man who is anything but a family friend, Sloan begins to explore the possibilities that this may not have been a random body dump. Furthermore, it would seem that the likely retribution by a drug cartel might have ties to the locals and feds. Sloan discovers the murky waters that see the Drug Enforcement Agency pairing with the local drug runners and the riches that can be had by turning the other way. Deputised and given a gubernatorial nod towards an underwater investigative service, Sloan learns that there’s a massive payload offshore and she can only hope to blow the whistle, confiscating it before someone makes a pile of money and keeps on killing to keep the secret. With the help of her father, Sloan is going to have to get the answers and make the dive of her life, or fear that she’s the next body to sink to the bottom, food for the fishes. An intriguing novel that pushes the reader to new depths when it comes to police investigating. Recommended to those who love police procedurals that work from unique angles, as well as those who enjoy all things related to the world of diving.

I’ll admit, I knew nothing of Andrew Mayne when I started this book, which might be why I come at it from a different angle than others. While many a review gave some lukewarm sentiments towards this piece, I was quite interested in the angle and delivery by Mayne. Sloan McPherson provides a refreshing look at the protagonist’s role, given a lead in a field that does not usually ‘rise to the top’ of a police procedural. Her love of the water is countered only with that for her young daughter, a product of a relationship that was doomed before it began. Sloan also carries the weight of her family’s reputation with local law enforcement, including an uncle who was charged with drug offences. Sloan battles this and a determination to do all she can, while unable to let those around her grab all the glory while she is exploring the depths of the water. Others complement Sloan’s tenacity throughout this piece, offering her some depth while keeping the story moving along. Mayne does well to introduce the reader to the world of diving and the politics of the Florida Coast with this book, providing a story that moves well and keeps the action going. The terminology seems on point and educates the reader throughout, while this series debut has me wanting a little more to see if an underwater diver within the police force can make for an effective angle of crime fighting. While many have tossed up their hands with this piece, I’m curious and not afraid to say that I seek more from Andrew Mayne in the coming years!

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for the great lure to a new series. I’ll keep my eyes peeled to see what else you have to offer with Sloan McPherson, as well as checking out some of your other work!

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