Never Never (Detective Harriet Blue #1), by James Patterson and Candice Fox

Eight stars

After their successful work together in a BookShot, Patterson and Fox combine their talents to expand on that short story, penning a great full-length novel. This is another collaborative team that has been highly successful, especially since each author has stunning independent abilities. Fox brings some great ideas and writing to this piece, which had me gladly returning for a re-read years later!

Harriet ‘Harry’ Blue is stunned when she learns that her brother has been arrested as the prime suspect in the Georges River Killer case, which has attracted much attention in the Sydney area. Acting quickly and knowing her predisposition to argue with her fists before mouth, Blue’s superior, Chief Morris, pulls some strings and has her sent to the Australian Outback to participate in an investigation of three missing miners.

Bitter and argumentative, Blue reluctantly departs Sydney and heads into the great desert lands of her own country, unsure how she could use her sex crimes knowledge on such a case. Paired with Edward ‘Whitt’ Whittacker , a man with secrets of his own, Blue remains highly suspicious of him and refuses to play nice.

Arriving at the temporary site, Blue and Whitt learn that three mine employees have disappeared over the past while, though the speculation is that they tired of the isolation and chose to return to civilisation. After the boot of one minor turns up, foot still lodged inside, forensic testing proves that he was dead before the foot left the body. With the staff refusing to help, feeling that there is nothing wrong, Blue and Whitt must conduct a hostile investigation, tapping into all parts of the mine, from its Head of Security, mining staff, through to the protesters seeking to close down the mine and the local prostitutes.

Lurking in the shadows, the killer, using the moniker The Soldier, stalks their prey and waits for the dead of night. Blue and Whitt have a few chance encounters, though narrowly escape, with significant scars to prove it. When the bodies of the missing are found down a makeshift shaft, Blue and Whitt realise they have a killer within the mining compound, or at least someone close by, though the barren nature of the area, dubbed Never Never, makes it hard to fathom it is not someone with whom they cross paths daily.

As more employees go missing, hunted down like animals, a request for a local forensic team and some police comes through loud and clear. As they continue to be stalked, Blue and Whitt try to whittle down their suspect list to something manageable, but time is running out. All the while, Blue is trying to keep her identity a secret as the Australian media outlets are splashing news of her brother across every medium possible. Will Blue be able to focus on this sadistic killer long enough to catch them, or will her personal troubles make her a choice victim? Patterson and Fox create a powerful page turner in this novel, sure to keep the reader up well into the night.

Aware of Fox’s own writing, I knew that I was in for a treat. Her work here with Patterson did not let me down, as her unique style permeated throughout the narrative and the story clipped along in a way that only Fox can deliver. Harry Blue is a wonderful character, though torn with her own secrets and inner angst. She does not want to open up to anyone, save her own Chief Morris, who has a mentor-mentee relationship with his star detective. That isolated nature works well in this story as Blue is foisted into a situation well outside her comfort zone, in the Outback, and partnered with a man she does not know or trust.

Fox and Patterson build on this strain while delivering a wonderfully rich crime thriller, with a killer hiding in plain sight. Even as things seem to be clearly pointing to one person, twists occur and the reader is forced to rethink their previous ideas. I can see a lot of Eden Archer in the Harry Blue character, as well as some of Patterson’s strong writing through short chapter cliffhanging moments. The reader will likely devour this wonderful book in short order. And, if there is a significant jonesing for something along these lines thereafter, Fox’s own series awaits the reader for even more enjoyment.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Fox for this great novel. While the BookShot pulled me in and kept me wondering where Blue would go in her character, I can say that I really enjoyed this and would welcome more collaborative work down the road.

Fire with Fire, by Candice Fox

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Candice Fox, Tor Publishing Group, and Forge Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Candice Fox has long been a strong crime writer and is proving herself once more with this latest novel. The story is strong, unique, and moves effectively, keeping the reader engaged until the final pages. There is something about her style that pushes me to want to read more and get deeper into the case at hand. Fox is able to use some of her Australian background and superimpose it on an American setting, providing something that stands out, and creating a stellar reading experience.

Ryan and Elsie Delaney are at the end of their rope. After their daughter, Tilly, disappeared two years ago, they received no help from the police and the forensics remained tied up in a pile of ever-growing cases that had not been processed. They have taken matters into their own hands, holding those in the lab hostage until Tilly is found. To add something to the mix, they will destroy one sample an hour until a resolution is found.

While the LAPD is scrambling to put it all together. Detective Charlie Hoskins decides to take on the case himself. Having been undercover for years before his cover was blown, Hoskins has something to prove and takes the Tilly Delaney case for himself, working with Lynette Lamb, a police officer for a day until something horrific happened, which she still says is not her fault.

As Hoskins and Lamb join forces, albeit awkwardly, they begin to see that there is more to the case than meets the eye. Who was watching Tilly the day of her disappearance at the beach? Why are stories not matching up and who could have been planning something from the start? While hostages are in danger and LAPD resources are spread thin, Hoskins and Lamb find their own path towards the truth, away from the chaos that is the forensics lab.

As tensions mount and time ticks on, Hoskins and Lamb cobble together a theory on this cold case. Their working together has its bumps, but both have

something to prove to themselves, to others, and to the LAPD. It will surely be something to behold and Tilly Delaney’s case deserves answers, even if the little girl will never make her way home. Candice Fox does a wonderful job putting this piece together and leaves fans itching for more in this explosive novel.

I have long enjoyed the writing of Candice Fox, who always seems to have something to say. Her stories are on point and she has an acerbic wit that keeps the reader from falling into anything too predictable. Strong narrative guidance provides the reader with direction and keeps them wanting to learn a little more, all while feeling as though they are part of the action. The characters emerge throughout with their own perspectives and keep things light when needed, while also digging deeper into the case at hand. The plot derives from well-founded ideas and moves on from there, offering twists and turns at just the right times. I can only wonder how things might have gone had Fox not been so adamant about advancing the many storylines as well as she did. I admire the hard work and dedication that went into the book and applaud Fox, who has shown a propensity for nailing a strong crime thriller both in her native Australia and using an American setting. she is also keenly aware of police procedures, bringing the reader in for a strong police procedural. It proved to be a wonderful reading experience and I hope others will take the time to acquaint themselves with one of the best in the genre! Only question remaining, is this the start to a series?

Kudos, Madam Fox, for another great piece of writing!

The Chase, by Candice Fox

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Candice Fox, and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Usually a fan of Candice Fox and her novels, I eagerly accepted the latest book in audio form. Fox has a great ability to pull the reader into the middle of the story with strong writing and alluring characters. After a coordinated prison break in the middle of the Nevada desert, panic ensues and a plan is activated. The story follows not only the attempt to corral these men back into custody, but also an inmate’s journey to show his innocence before he is put to death. Fox draws the story out and adds her own spin to keep the readers hooked throughout.

During the annual baseball game between inmates and guards, something goes horribly wrong and six hundred of the world’s most violent criminals are soon on the streets. It’s mass panic across the Nevada desert, as any one of these men could use their freedom to create another bloodbath. It’s mayhem and the public’s ready to face a rude awakening.

Celine Osbourne, a dedicated Death Row supervisor and fugitive-hunter, is tasked with leading the manhunt. She has her own issues buried in the past, but won’t use this as an excuse, as she tries to locate the worst of the worst in hopes of ensuring her superiors do not fire her at the first opportunity. Still, there is a sense of defeat as time passes without any concrete solutions. She’s also forced to examine how all this happened and whether one of her staff might be the key to the prison break.

One of those inmates is John Kradle, found guilty of murdering his wife and child. Kradle is now espousing that he was innocent and simply folded to make things easier at the time. He’s ready to prove his innocence and tries piecing together facts that could change his outcome. Every step of the way is fraught with risks that could see him executed sooner than expected, should he be caught.

As Osbourne and Kradle play a crazy game of chicken, it’s only time before one of the makes a mistake that could impact things greatly. The hunt is on and no one is quite sure how it will end. Fox delivers an intriguing story, full of flashback moments, to keep the reader hooked until the very end.

Having read a number of Candice Fox’s novels, I feel somewhat connected about what she usually offers and the expectations tied to that. While she is great with crime novels and the search for criminals, I found a disconnect with this piece, at least from the caliber I have come to expect. The story was decent, with some intriguing plot twists and flashback moments. However, I failed to fully connect with it on a number of levels. It might have been the narration or slow pace of the story’s development, but there was a gap that left me feeling less than enthused by the final product.

The dual protagonists in this piece, Celine Osbourne and John Kradle, worked well in their own ways. With a story that flips from character development to layered backstory, Fox uses both these techniques to create a relationship with the reader. There are some intriguing points throughout, though I am unsure how effective it was for me, as I could not get past the slow pace of the story’s development. I tried to get enthused with the Osbourne/Kradle game of cat and mouse, but sometimes felt it was for the dogs, if you pardon the pun.

I have come to expect great things when Candice Fox’ name appears on a book cover, having seen just how impactful her writing can be and what her collaborative efforts can do in a series. However, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed here. I’m not sure if it was the writing, the narration, or even that things took much longer than needed, but there was something I could not entirely enjoy. Interesting plot twists did not save the novel for me, nor did an array of characters whose lives mesh together to add depth to the story. Every author deserves a mulligan, though it may also be me who missed the mark with this piece. I’ll see what others feel and hope that I am in the minority.

Kudos, Madam Fox, for a valiant attempt. I cannot wait to see you return to the gritty police procedurals for which you have come to be known.

2 Sisters Detective Agency, by James Patterson and Candice Fox

Seven stars

Working together yet again, James Patterson and Candice Fox present a standalone thriller with all the ingredients for success. Two unsuspecting women are thrust together and find themselves in the middle of something truly terrifying, only to learn that there are even more layers yet to be seen. Rhonda Bird is not naive in the least, but is truly shocked to learn of the fallout of her father’s death. She travels to Los Angeles and learns that she has a sister, one who is not used to following rules. When they get tangled up in tracking down a crew of privileged teens, the end result is nothing less than horrific, particularly when one of the group’s victims seeks revenge for what’s happened. Patterson and Fox show that they have some magic within them, using this piece to prove it once again.

Rhonda Bird is a juvenile public defender, working the system as best she can with clients who feel they are untouchable. When she receives news that her estranged father has died, she agrees to go to Los Angeles to handle some of the paperwork. It is only then that she realises something truly baffling, she has a half-sister. Baby Bird is an entitled teenager who does not like to follow the rules, making it even more difficult for Rhonda to take control of the situation. If that were not enough, they girls’ father was no longer the boring accountant he presented himself to be, but a private detective with an active business.

While Rhonda tries to digest all that is put before her, Baby wants nothing more than to keep living the life she’s been streaming online. This includes interactions with other privileged teens. When one acquaintance comes for help, he soon discovers that he does not want to involve Rhonda in what’s going on, leaving Baby somewhat concerned.

As she’s used to prying information out of teenagers, Rhonda soon discovers that the boy is part of a gang of youths who target those in need of a message, roughing people up and causing havoc wherever possible,. Their leader, a psychopath if ever there was one, relishes the power they have been able to exert and cares little for the fallout. As Rhonda and Baby resurrect their father’s agency to work the case, they find themselves enmeshed in trying to bring this group of youths down, knowing little of those that have been victimized.

What begins as a hunt for a group of entitled brats soon takes a darker turn, as one of the victims, with a sordid past of his own, decides to take matters into his own hands. With a killer lurking in the shadows, Rhonda and Baby will have to watch their every move, sure that no one is safe or can be trusted. Rhonda may have wished she never answered the call that brought her to L.A., but now that she’s here, it’s all hands on deck to protect a sister she never knew she had. A decent crime thriller that had its moments of intrigue.

I have come to enjoy both the collaborative and individual work of James Patterson, as well as Candice Fox. They have been able to create some fascinating characters, plots, and novels that usually leave me flipping pages for hours at a time. While I applaud the ideas, this book did not grab me as much as their previous work, though there were moments of intrigue and captivating writing. The jury is still out on this one and I am left to wonder if this is a new collaborative series in the making.

Rhonda Bird proves to be a gritty protagonist in this piece, offering up her no-nonsense side with capable mind throughout. I was intrigued to see the balance of her professional and personal life, as it came to light throughout this story and could only wonder if Patterson and Fox had more in mind for her in upcoming novels. Strong-willed and ready to make a difference when it counts, Rhonda must also juggle being a quasi-parent to her new half-sister, more trouble than it is sometimes worth.

I spent a great deal of time thinking about this book, trying not to compare it to others I have read of late, or even the past collaborative submissions of the authors. I am almost certain that it is tough on writers who have had success to always achieve the same standards in their novels, as readers come to expect stellar work. Patterson and Fox are great writers on their own, and together, but this one did not resonate for me as much as I would have liked. I needed something grittier, darker, with more seriousness and complexity. Instead, I got some teenage vapidness mixed with amateur sleuthing on a case that did not fully captive me. This is nothing against the authors or their hard work, as the narrative flowed pretty well and the chapters moved things along. I simply felt that there was a disconnect with the plot and what I needed at the moment. Perhaps the next one will be a return to their old ways!

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Fox, on a valiant effort. I know what you can do, so there is no point bemoaning or panning this one blip.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Gathering Dark (Jessica Sanchez #1), by Candice Fox

Eight stars

I find myself excited whenever I come into possession of a new Candice Fox novel, sure that it will both pack a punch and prove to be highly entertaining. This piece was no exception, though it pushes the reader familiar with Fox’s work outside of their comfort zone, at least a little. Blair Harbour had it all as a surgeon in Los Angeles. Then, after a confrontation gone awry, she found herself imprisoned for murder. Having tried to make something of herself, Blair is stuck working a dead-end job. When she’s approached by her friend from prison, Sneak Lawlor, Blair has nothing to lose, except her freedom on a parole violation. Sneak’s daughter, Dayly, has gone missing without a trace. Working with limited information, Blair and Sneak begin their investigation, but get a bad vibe when they try to file a mission person’s report. Meanwhile, LAPD detective Jessica Sanchez has her own issues. Gifted a home by the father of a murder victim whose killer she caught, Sanchez is put in the awkward position of being vilified by her squad, especially a partner who slacked off during the case but feels he is entitled to some of the prize. As she dodged insults and attacks, Sanchez is put on leave when she is part of an officer-involved shooting. As she ponders what to do next, she discovers that one of her former cases, that of Blair Harbour, has resurfaced, with potential new information. As she tracks this down, Sanchez is visited by none other than Blair Harbour herself, all in an effort to track down Dayly Lawlor. As news of Dayly’s last weeks before the disappearance begin to come together, no one could have predicted the turn in the case, or who has a viable reason to want Dayly dead. Rich with plot twists and interesting characters, Fox does well with this novel, leaving the reader to enjoy this new series in the making. Recommended to those who like police procedurals told from a different perspective, as well as the reader who is a diehard fan of Candice Fox.

I rushed to make time in my reading schedule for this book, eager to see what might arise when Candice Fox is working alone. Familiar with a lot of her Australia-based writing, this was a refreshing story, set on the dark streets of L.A. The reader is introduced to a number of strong characters throughout, incline Blair Harbour and Jessica Sanchez. Both women have their backstories told here in some detail, as well as showing some great character development throughout the novel. I choose not to hone in on one as the true protagonist, as their stories are equally important and find a place in the novel. Fox uses her creative mind to concoct a few more wonderful secondary characters that complement these two women, on all sides of the law. This provides a highly entertaining and intriguing development of the story throughout. The premise was quite strong, as is usually the case with Candice Fox, where all central characters are tinged with some criminal backstory or troubles within the police that cannot be ignored. The plot moved along well and the narrative gained momentum throughout. Fox steps away from her usual short chapter teaser style, in which one chapter leaves the reader needing more, and uses a longer and more developed storytelling style. The reader hunkers down to get fully involved. In a novel whose chapters alternate between the Jessica and Blair viewpoints, Fox does well to offer a well-rounded story. If I had a critique, and it is minor, it is that Fox appears not to focus her attention on the setting of the story as it relates to word usage. Spelling and terminology were of an Australian origin (‘s’ instead of ‘z’ for realize, ‘bonnet’ instead of ‘trunk’ of the car). I find this at times when writers are composing pieces outside of their home country, as I wonder why an American ex-con would admit to “not being fussed”. As I said, minor, but there. I cannot wait to see what else Fox has in store for the reader and whether her collaborative efforts will bring us more Harry Blue soon.

Kudos, Madam Fox, for another wonderful piece. Love your writing, your ideas, and how entertained I tend to be when I read your novels!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Inn, by James Patterson and Candice Fox

Eight stars

Powerhouse duo James Patterson and Candice Fox return with a standalone novel that offers some insight into how the world works away from a formal police setting. With some great narrative development and a cast of unique characters, Patterson and Fox show that they are a team far above others. After being summarily fired from the Boston PD, Bill Robinson works with his wife to create a new life in the rural community of Gloucester. Opening up a bed and breakfast, the Robinsons think they have it made. However, after the passing of Siobain, Bill is left to run things at The Inn all on his own. While the cop is out of Boston, Robinson is the curious type and stumbles upon a string of deaths that are all attributed to a tiny yellow pill, later revealed to be potent fentanyl. Robinson follows the path of distribution to a sly dealer by the name of Mitchell Cline, who is happy to pepper the bucolic community with addiction and line his pockets. When Robinson makes a play to stop all of this, he engages the services of the local sheriff, who also happens to be one of his residents. As the pressure mounts, more locals find themselves working with Robinson on a way to remove Cline, plotting their response from inside The Inn. Cline will not go down easily and has a large crew ready to follow his every command. Barricaded inside The Inn, Robinson must work with his makeshift team to decide how to handle the situation, knowing full well that it may end tragically before the night is out. Patterson and Fox show their strength in this story that pulls on issues from today in this dazzling one off novel. Recommended for those who like a police procedural with a different flavouring, as well as the reader who has long enjoyed the Patterson-Fox writing style.

While I enjoy both authors on their own, as well as their series work with Harry Blue, I was not sure if I could take a standalone as seriously. While things took a little while to warm up for me, I did become invested before too long and found myself readily turning pages to see what would happen next. Bill Robinson is as jaded as they come, having been forced on his turf early for actions his partner started. Saddled with this and the loss of his wife soon thereafter, there is no doubt that Robinson is seeking something to set himself straight. While the story reads like a police procedural, there are elements of a vigilante leader seeking revenge and wanting to protect his town. The banter and planning work well, but there are certainly some aspects that are quite cliché for me, yet the story still works. Others who grace the pages of this book work their own magic and the story comes to life with ease, flavoured by the backstories and unique approaches the authors inject into those who work with (and against) Robinson. The story had some predicable elements, but I could see this working well on the big screen. Drama increases throughout and there is no let down as the pages turn with ease. The traditional short chapters force the reader to commit to large portions in a sitting and begs for more action with ease new chapter heading. While not their best collaborative work, I cannot fault this duo, who have never failed to impress me.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Fox, for another interesting collaborative effort. I am eager to see if you will return to some Harry Blue soon, or if you have more you want the world to reader before then.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Hush Hush (Detective Harriet Blue #4), by James Patterson and Candice Fox

Eight stars

Returning for another collaborative novel, James Patterson and Candice Fox add to their highly popular Harriet ‘Harry’ Blue series. With Blue incarcerated, her world has been turned upside down. Forced to watch over her shoulder at every turn, Blue does not hesitate to defend herself, even if it means a trip to the infirmary. During her frequent trips, Blue befriends the doctor, who has an affinity for the copper. When the doctor’s body turns up in a pool of blood on the infirmary floor, many eyes turn to Blue. While she does have a temper, Blue is also in possession of a strong alibi. However, another prisoner seems to be the prime suspect, leaving Blue to investigate, sure of her friend’s innocence. Wanting to pursue the case on the inside, Blue begins poking around as best she can. On the outside, the daughter of one of the city’s police commissioners has gone missing. With a sordid history involving drugs, one can only wonder if she’s out on a binge. However, she has her young daughter with her, something that defies much of her past behaviour, which also puts everyone on high alert. Wanting this case to take high priority, an agreement to see Blue released is negotiated, though Harry will have to swallow her pride, as she was never a friend of the police brass. As Blue is reunited with her partner, Ed Whittaker, they work together to trace the whereabouts of their missing person, but the clues are few and far between. Might this have been a drug deal gone bad, with the toddler used as leverage? When not in middle of the investigation, Blue returns to the prison to find evidence of who might have killed the hard working doctor. What Blue discovers is more than she might have expected, with little time to waste. Patterson and Fox exemplify how well they work together with yet another addition in the Harry Blue series. Recommended to fans of Harry Blue novels, as well as readers who like Patterson’s style while paired with a capable collaborator.

It’s never a sure thing that the reader will find a great book when James Patterson’s name appears on the cover—though his name alone seems to sell books, quality be damned—but when paired with Candice Fox, one can almost be assured of success. Working to create wonderful police procedurals set in Australia, the reader is able to experience something a little different (for those who do not live Down Under) without sacrificing quality. Harry Blue has always been an entertaining character, even if she is not known for her verbal filter. Her actions to track down some of the worst criminals in sex crimes, she has finally allowed her emotions to get the better of her. Locked away for killing an Australian pedophile, she must answer for her actions, while also being labelled ‘cop’. This does nothing to ensure her safety, as she come face to face with all forms of female inmates. Forced to sacrifice her standards to help someone else, Blue agrees to run two investigations that appear greatly different on the surface. The reader will notice her unique approach to policing and her inability to stomach the ignorant. There is surely some development here, though much of the focus is on her ability to locate criminals in short order. There are others, both returning a new characters, who add depth to the story and whose presence will surely entertain the reader. Working to extract key facets of the Harry Blue personality, Patterson and Fox paint these secondary characters in such a way that they complement the protagonist effectively. The story is strong, pushing the reader out of their comfort zone as a prison is one of the primary settings for the story. In order to stay on the ‘outside’, Blue will have to do all that is asked of her, though success is far from guaranteed. Patterson and Fox do well to push the story forward with this spin and keep the reader wanting more until the very last pages.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Fox, on another masterful story. I have enjoyed Harry Blue to date and hope your collaborative efforts continue well into the future.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Gone by Midnight (Crimson Lake #3), by Candice Fox

Eight stars

Candice Fox takes readers back to the Crimson Lake region of Australia for a new and exciting adventure. When Richie Farrow disappears from his hotel room, his mother is frantic and cannot handle the pressure and grief that are flooding over her. Reaching out to Ted Conkaffey, through the police, she seeks his assistance as a private investigator to help determine what’s happened. Ted, still leery of showing his face in general public, tries to set aside the false accusation of child abduction and molestation recently vacated against him and turns to helping find this eight year-old boy. With the help of his partner, unpredictable Amanda Pharrell, they start poking around the hotel and environs for clues. Once Ted learns a deep secret that Sara Farrow has kept from others—which also happens to shed light on why she chose him—he is able to take a new approach to the disappearance and seeks to have Amanda use her off-the-wall antics to look under every rock. However, Amanda has her own battles to fight with those in blue. Not only is she burdened with a murder in her past, but she was tangentially involved in a local cop’s death not too long before. Fighting to clear her name and move the case forward, Amanda soon discovers that she is in for the battle of her life. If things were not busy enough, Ted is finally being given some time with his daughter, Lillian, a ball of energy at three. As he balances being a father and investigator, Ted must locate Richie and determine what’s happened, with little evidence with which to work. Could there be an abductor lurking in the shadows or even in plain sight? Fox does a masterful job yet again to lure the reader into this story before loading them up with plot twists and character development. Recommended for series fans, as well as those who love a good Aussie crime thriller.

I have long admired the work that Candice Fox puts into her writing, as it is high-calibre story development worthy of a second look. This series is one that caught my eye as soon as it began, with two outcasts finding one another in rural Australia and trying to clear their names by helping with local situations. There is no shortage of backstory or development that Fox offers when it comes to her two protagonists, both of whom are admirable and angering in equal measure. Series fans will know that Ted Conkaffey was forced out of his job by a false accusation of child abduction, something that has lingered for years and kept him from being able to keep his foundation level. He fled the reporters and the glamour of the 24-hour news cycle to small-town Australia and still remains off the beaten path with his animals. Fox helps show his paternal side when Lillian comes to visit, though there is much juggling and trying to re-learn the art of being a father. With a sharp mind and acute sense of danger, Conkaffey seeks to focus much of his attention on the crime at hand, which leads to mixed results for him throughout this piece. Amanda Pharrell has no issue being herself, though she remains burdened with the yoke of her past, as well as a set of false accusations tied to a police officer’s death. She wants to succeed, but refuses to let anyone inside her bubble, including the adorable Lillian. Struggling and trying to fight for justice, Amanda will do all she can to help find Richie, but won’t stick her neck out too far for anyone else. Others who populate the pages of this story offer enriching angles to propel the narrative forward, while keeping the protagonists from getting too comfortable in their own skins. The story was well-developed and is able to keep the reader’s attention, something that Fox has never had an issue doing. She has developed an interesting trademark in this series, creating nameless and numberless chapters, forcing the reader to forge onwards without any strict guidelines as to how far they have traveled on the journey. It works well, as it fuels the ‘just a little more’ syndrome with readers who are enjoying what is before them, turning a quite coffee break into an afternoon of reading. Fox provides realistic settings and local dialogue to keep the reader enthralled as they feel a part of the Australian community, tagging along with the likes of Pharrell and Conkaffey. Definitely a series that readers curious about police procedurals should note, as Fox seems well-grounded in her writing and story development no matter what series she is writing.

Kudos, Madam Fox, for another success. I am eager to see what is to come with this and other series in which you have a key role.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Liar, Liar (Harriet Blue #3), by James Patterson and Candice Fox

Eight stars

The collaborative efforts of James Patterson and Candice Fox have brought about another winner in this third instalment of the Harriet Blue series. Picking up the action when the previous novel ended, the reader is thrust into a fast-paced crime thriller that has as many twists as it does lingering questions. With the revelation that Regan Banks is the actual Georges River Killer, it is time to capture Australia’s most elusive serial killer in short order. While Harriet ‘Harry’ Blue has always professed that her brother, Sam, is innocent, it was only after he was murdered behind bars and the evidence came to light that anyone believed her. With Banks on the lam, Blue has taken it upon herself to find him alone and put a bullet in his head in an act of vigilante justice, while lurking in the shadows and away from her colleagues. With the Task Force turning its attention to finding Banks, they must also worry about Blue, hoping she will resurface and let the authorities bring the killer in to answer for his crimes. With Banks in hiding, he is able to ascertain Blue’s personnel file, which includes much of her backstory from a life in foster care. Reaching out to Blue, Banks takes her around southern Australia to different locations of people important to her, leaving bodies as a calling card. Meanwhile, Blue’s friend and fellow cop, Edward Whittacker, has been given a new partner as they hunt down the likes of Banks. Vada Reskit is a rookie detective with a great deal of gumption, perfect to help with the investigation, though there is something about her that leaves Whittacker a little concerned. As the case pushes forward and the Sydney Police turn Blue into a criminal on the run, there is little hope for a peaceful resolution to all of this. While Banks and Blue continue their game of cat and mouse, all that remains sure is that there will only be one survivor and a lot of blood. Patterson and Fox continue this successful partnership, crafting a series that has all the elements of a good crime thriller. Perfect for series fans and those who love a crime novel they will be able to devour in short order, as they revel in an ending that no one could have expected.

In my long reading career, I have spent much time with the books of James Patterson. Some will know that I have a love/hate relationship with the author, who would appear to use his name to sell books, rather than focussing on quality (the James Patterson Syndrome). While that may be the case, Patterson does collaborate with a number of authors who seem to have a strong ability to create quality work, thereby showing that not all pieces that bear the Patterson name need be duds. Candice Fox is one such author, who is a well-established author in her own right that I have come to read and enjoy. As Patterson continues to churn out novels faster than I do reviews, those involving Fox should not be lumped with many sub-par pieces of writing. Those familiar with this series will know all about Harriet Blue and her dedication to clear her brother’s name, as well as bring the actual killer to justice. Her backstory is riddled with emotional land mines from a life in foster care, which is handled effectively so as to draw the reader closer to her, always wondering if there are new pieces that might better explain the protagonist’s life. This novel turns the focus of Blue’s character development to finding Banks and ensuring he receives the punishment he has coming to him. The reader will likely enjoy the rollercoaster of emotions Blue exhibits as she tries to stay off the radar of authorities while turning this search into a vendetta fuelled by personal injustice. Banks is another character who has taken some of the spotlight, showing off what may have driven him to kill so freely and without a second thought. The reader can, should they choose, find crumbs of compassion for the man, though he is crafted as a wonderful antagonist and one that can be hated with ease. A handful of others shape the story as it turns from a manhunt into a desperate search for a cop who has lost her ability to think rationally. This gripping storyline will keep the reader flipping the pages of each short chapter and likely polishing off the novel in short order. Patterson has kept the cliffhanger formula to drive the reader to push onwards while Fox’s Australian influence can be seen throughout the plot. Well worth the time invested, though it should not take a reader with a gap of time in their schedule long to complete this intense thriller.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Fox, for keeping this series moving. How a BookShot (short story) could have morphed into such a series, I could not have predicted from the outset. I hope your collaborative work continues.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Redemption Point (Crimson Lake #2), by Candice Fox

Nine stars

Candice Fox is back with another thrilling story from the Australian Outback, building on her highly successful novel, Crimson Lake. Ted Conkaffey is still trying dodge the public eye and live off the grid, professing his innocence to the crime that has chased him from Sydney. The abduction and rape of 13 year-old Claire Bingley is still causing a stir all over the country. When Conkaffey is attacked in his own home by Claire’s father, pain surrounding the event resurfaces for both parties. Having been compiling any and all leads he can, Conkaffey offers up a folder, but it is rebuffed. When Conkaffey is summoned to a crime scene by his partner, PI Amanda Pharrell, he is intrigued to see what she’s found for them. It would seem that they’ve stumbled upon a new case, the murder of two bartenders, slain in the hours after work. Unsure whether the police will be able to do their job, a distraught father turned to Pharrell and is demanding answers. Rookie Detective Pip Sweeney is working her first case, having rising through the ranks after a number of her colleagues were implicated in a major crime spree. Armed with only her academy training and trying to run the scene, Sweeney turns to Conkaffey and Pharrell more than she ought to at times. While Pharrell is happy to pull in leads and play mind games with Sweeney, Conkaffey is trying to piece together some shards of his past life: a marriage that has all but disintegrated, a daughter who is scared of him, and no means to clear his name. Returning to give an interview on the crime and accusations, Conkaffey is railroaded by a news presenter who seeks the headlines before checking her sources. Luckily, there is a growing number who are certain that Conkaffey had nothing to do with Claire Bingley’s rape. Interspersed throughout the novel are diary entries by Kevin, which show a man’s personal obsession with young girls, including admissions that may be the key to Conkaffey’s exoneration. With two bodies and a crime that seems to have no concrete suspects, Conkaffey and Pharrell must work quickly before the case goes cold. Fox has outdone herself again with this piece, which exemplifies why she is top of the genre and sure to be a force for years to come. Recommended to those who love her work (solo and collaborative), as well as readers who love crime thrillers.

I am always excited to delve into a Candice Fox novel, as they tend to wrap me up and not slow their pace until the final sentence. Fox has the ability to use her native Australia and dazzle the reader with both description of the setting, as well as provide strong characters that offer unique backstories. Those familiar with the first novel in the series will know much about Conkaffey and Pharrel, who are central, yet quite diverse characters. In this piece, Fox delves more into Conkaffey’s personal situation and struggles to survive, still seen as one of Australia’s more horrid paedophiles. These struggles envelop him and the reader can see the struggle to simply live, veiled in the knowledge that he cannot clear his name independently. Pharrell shows off more of her zany style here, exemplified in her ongoing flip-flop about opening up and playing games with those around her. Introducing Pip Sweeney proves to be an effective means of bridging the two protagonists, allowing Conkaffey to know that his partner is still focussed on the case at hand while he battles his own demons and fights to clear his name. The other characters within the story help to complement the larger narrative and provide the reader with some entertainment while forging onwards to discover who may be behind both the double murder and Bingley’s assault. The story picks up soon after Crimson Lake left off, keeping the pace and development that series fans have come to expect. With quick chapters that leave the reader pushing onward late into the evening, the story reads extremely quickly and leaves them wanting more. Fox has laid the groundwork for future novels, sure to explore more of rural Australia.

Kudos, Madam Fox, for another stellar piece of work. I cannot praise you enough for your style and delivery. I hope many others discover your writing in the months to come.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

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

Nine stars

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

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

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

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

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

Nine stars

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

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

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

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: