Endgame (Fawkes and Baxter #3), by Daniel Cole

Seven stars

Daniel Cole brings his Ragdoll trilogy to an end with this novel, saving what he feels could be the best for last. While William ‘Wolf’ Fawkes evades capture by those he used to call colleagues, he is drawn to visit the home of someone close to him. The recent death of Finlay Shaw by suicide is troubling for many, none more than his wife, Maggie. That being said a curious Wolf refuses to believe that it was by Shaw’s own doing that he ended up with a gunshot to the head. While Wolf is hauled in to answer for his crimes, he is able to negotiate some reprieve as he looks into the case. When Wolf comes face to face with his former partner, Emily Baxter, it’s oil and water, leaving Wolf to try mending fences as best he can. The deeper the investigation goes, the more Wolf is sure he is on the right track. With a powerful new Police Commissioner calling the shots, Wolf becomes a target of a cover-up no one saw in the making. With certain chapters telling a detailed backstory of how Finlay and Maggie met and grew closer, the reader can see the pieces of the puzzle coming together before their eyes. Someone is pulling the strings and willing to silence anyone who may spill the beans. It’s a hunt for power in an endgame that is sure to spill a great deal of blood. Cole does well bringing things together, though leaves some key threads to dangle for what he references in his author’s note will be a fourth explosive novel. Recommended to those who enjoyed the series and want some closure.

I remember listening to the first two novels in the series and enjoying them to varying degrees. The themes that come up and the way Cole discusses them was always of interest to me. I felt less connected in this final piece, which is sad, as it seeks to collect the questions and provide needed answers. William Fawkes and Emily Baxter remain central characters, though their roles in this investigation have them working apart rather than in tandem. Their characters continue to advance and are pushed together in the middle of the novel, which turns out to loosely work in their favour, though creates a little drama for the reader to discover. Other characters make strong appearances throughout, including segments of a backstory with Finlay and Maggie, as well as a few other key players who reemerge in the present tale. Cole does well to develop these characters, weaving them into key plot lines and keeping the reader guessing. The overall story was decent and developed nicely, but it did not pack the punch I was hoping to get as I started the book. I wanted something sinister, that would blow my mind, but was instead given something that slowly emerged and offered some finality. Cole’s hinting at a new book that keeps some of the characters active has me curious, though he mentions new angles to the same cast, so perhaps the focus will shift to new eyes and dramatic situations. We shall see in the months to come!

Kudos, Mr. Cole, for a strong story, even if it was not my favourite. I have a great appreciation for your work and hope to feel more attached to your next publication.

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

Hangman (Detective William Fawkes #2), by Daniel Cole

Seven stars

Daniel Cole is back to continue his thriller series that had readers gasping at the cliffhanger ending. Riding the wave of his debut success, Cole presents this follow-up that appears to lack the intensity and grit of DS William Fawkes’ initial case. With Fawkes away and on the lam, all eyes turn to newly-promoted Detective Chief Inspector Emily Baxter. While the Ragdoll killer is safely locked away, the case lingers and everyone remains on edge. When a call come in from New York City, where a body identified as ‘William Fawkes’ has been found, Baxter agrees to travel and investigate this oddity. Before she makes it out of the country, she visits Belmarsh once more to see the Ragdoll, only to be trapped in the middle of an event that leaves him dead and Baxter significantly spooked. Upon her arrival in NYC, DCI Baxter liaises with some of the local and federal authorities as more murder scenes emerge, victims bearing ‘puppet’ and ‘bait’ inscriptions on the body. Might there be a connection to Ragdoll that’s crossed the Atlantic? Baxter is equally baffled when news from the Met reaches her that other killings of a similar style have been taking place in the UK. How can all these killers be connected without a clear threat to bind them? As Baxter continues to investigate, she follows a lead that turns the case on its head, but media outlets have chosen to broadcast it before it can be properly analysed. Might there be a central leader who has ordered these murders, as odd and unrelated as they seem? Witnesses have recounted that the killers seem almost detached from the events, leading many to wonder about some form of mind control. Religious symbolism and the talk of cultish behaviour begin to flood Baxter’s investigation, forcing her to come to terms with the fact that this might be more than just tracking down a killer, but someone who holds a handful of strings and can make followers dance on command. Cole surely has devised an interesting way to ‘string along’ the reader, though to substance of the story is not as strong as I would have hoped. Fans of the debut will likely want to take the plunge, if only to discover what Cole has planned, but all the hype this book has received is lost on me.

It is disappointing to find a writer dedicate so much of their time to a debut that skyrockets, only to find the follow-up limp along. I was captivated by Cole’s first piece and could not wait to get my hands on this one (which had been getting some great reviews), but found it fell short of the mark. The story had potential, as did the characters, but delivery of both seems to have been rushed or not cultivated enough to pique my interest. With DS Fawkes gone (spoiler alert?), the narrative pulls DCI Emily Baxter into the spotlight. She has strong ties to Fawkes, but is also trying to make a name for herself in the Met, where women are still rapping on the glass ceiling. Her energetic attitude and interest in getting dirt under her nails is unequally balanced by her desire to fill shoes that do not fit. I found myself constantly trying to like Baxter as a character and investigator, but nothing stuck for me, either in her personal or professional life. This is unfortunate, as the protagonist is the one who leads the reader along through the case at hand. A smattering of other characters on both sides of the ledger also lacked the complexity that I felt this book needed, especially with the set of crimes being offered up to the reader. I needed to feel angst and confusion as well as determination to let nothing stop justice from making its mark. Instead, I felt things kept circling the drain, hoping to find some action or sicko moment that would spring the narrative to life. Cole had all the ingredients for success, but the mix did not work for me. Others will surely agree and I can defer to them. The story had much possibility, especially utilising two venues, but fell flat and left me wanting more and needing to feel a stronger connection. Even the central mastermind became beige, leaving me wishing I had known this before rushing to seek enjoyment with this second novel. Perhaps I needed to let Ragdoll ferment before rushing into this one, but whatever it was, this did not work and I am sorry. A third novel in the series is surely a while off, so I will have time to gather my thoughts before then.

Kudos, Mr. Cole, for attempting to keep things running effectively. If you had to have a less impactful novel, thankfully it was this second, as your debut is the net that will catch you many fans. As I know your potential, I’lol likely come back for another read and hope for better things.

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

Ragdoll (DS William Fawkes #1), by Daniel Cole

Seven stars

Daniel Cole emerges on the scene with this thought-provoking debut thriller that will have readers wondering until the very end. Detective Sergeant William Fawkes has recently returned to the Metropolitan Police Force after a significant absence. After one of his cases—the Cremation Killer—went to trial and the accused was found not guilty, Fawkes took measures into his own hands. The loss still haunts him and he feels the pain of it every day. When his colleagues are called to a murder scene close to his home, Fawkes is curious what’s turned up. What they discover is as sadistic as it is curious; a body of parts sewn together to create a single whole. Fawkes is pulled into the middle, hoping to identify the various parts and discover if they are other murder victims. When Fawkes’ ex-wife, a journalist, receives a list of future murders and dates they will be completed, everyone takes notice. Most interesting of all, Fawkes is listed as the final victim, a fortnight away. The team rushes to locate the potential victims and provide protection, though this killer is conniving and has a way around all the usual measures that are taken. With each passing day, another victim is that much closer to being crossed off the list, including Fawkes, who has no clear idea what awaits him. This might be one killer who cannot be stopped until the ultimate revenge has been accomplished. Cole offers up a wonderful story that keeps the reader’s attention throughout. Solving the crime is only half the battle and those who enjoy the genre ought to give this one a try.

I enjoy new authors who wish to elbow their way onto the scene in sensational fashion. Daniel Cole does just that, though there are some who surely cannot stomach his work. I’ve always said that not all books are to the liking of everyone, which does not diminish either the book or the reader. In this instance, Cole seeks to pull William Fawkes into the middle of this story and show his merit. Fawkes is a man who is addled with guilt for past failures while also being determined to get to the root of the case, no matter its level of difficulty. He does not like to ‘colour in the lines’, but does seem to get results, even when things seem hopeless. This could be both his greatest asset and most significant downfall. Others around him help create a tension-filled experience, working in unison at times or providing firm roadblocks around which Fawkes will have to navigate. Cases such as these require a strong villain, one who can fan the flames and keep the reader wondering what awaits them as the narrative continues. The sensational discovery of the ‘rag doll’ is surely something that hooked the reader, though it is the intricacies surrounding the various victims makes for an interesting sub-plot. The story is decent and flows well, though there are times when things become slow and some readers (mentioned above) may have chosen to bow out when the going got rough. Still, there is significant intrigue, which kept me wanting to push forward to discover how it all ‘stitched’ itself together. Cole has done well to lay the groundwork for an interesting series and I will read the follow-up novel to see how things progress with Fawkes and the rest of the Metropolitan crew.

Kudos, Mr. Cole, for this wonderful debut. You’ve received a great deal of hype and I can see how many have come to love you work. I am eager to see if the second novel is as exciting as this one became.

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