The Starling Project (Harold Middleton #3), by Jeffrey Deaver

Eight stars

After two novels created by a collaboration within the International Thriller Writers, Jeffrey Deaver has decided to continue the series with a creation all his own. In an Audible exclusive, this full-cast dramatisation pulls the reader back into the middle of the action and adventures of Harold Middleton. As leader of the Volunteers—a loose enforcement branch of the International Tribunal for Justice—Harold Middleton finds himself in rural Mexico. With his full team of Volunteers and some UN Peacekeepers, Middleton attempts to serve a search warrant on a known criminal kingpin, though things take a violent turn. Fleeing the region, Middleton has two massive hard drives and word that a Starling Project might be in the works. While teaching a course at Georgetown, Middleton is called to the scene of an odd bank robbery, where he and the Volunteers are trying to free a number of hostages. Things do not go as planned, but a few more Starling leads come to fruition. Discovering the project is actually a single person’s plot to manipulate massive sums of money, Middleton will have to act quickly if he wants to prevent massive disruptions and the possibility of future acts of violence. Working in the world of finance and accounting, Middleton and his Volunteers are out of their comfort zone, but spurred along by the need to protect millions—even billions—of innocent lives. Deaver does well in this interesting piece, which mixes the excitement of the Middleton series with an interesting dramatic effort. Recommended for those who loved The Chopin Manuscript and The Copper Bracelet.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first two novels in this series, listening to them in their original audiobook format. It was only when I chose to re-read the first book for my reading challenge that I discovered that Deaver penned a third novel in this series, or at least an audio equivalent. Harold Middleton played a central role again, which keeps the reader attentive to pick up any scraps about his character. Rather than adding to his actual backstory, Deaver delves deeper into exploring the International Tribunal for Justice and how it works, including Middleton’s role. It is an intricate organisation and Middleton plays a major role in its forward momentum. Readers familiar with the protagonist and his ‘second job’ will enjoy learning a little more. Other characters emerge to play key roles in the story, though I could not find any repeat characters from the past two novels. Still, the banter and development of many sub-plots was stronger with this collection of characters. The story proves to be a unique experience for those not used to ‘full dramatisations’. Quite honestly, it was as though I were watching a movie with my eyes closed, with different voices for each character and no narration. I saw some people did not like this approach, but I found it interesting, even if it were a little confusing at times. Deaver does well putting together this story and delivers it in such a way that the reader cannot help but feel right there. I know it has been years since Deaver published any Middleton work, but I would gladly keep reading if he, or the ITW returned for another round of thrills and chills.

Kudos, Mr. Deaver, for this interesting approach to the Middleton series. There is so much going on here and I did feel an active part of the story.

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

The Copper Bracelet (Harold Middleton #2), by Jeffrey Deaver (and fifteen others in the International Thriller Writers)

Eight stars

Under the auspices of a new form of writing project, the International Thriller Writers (ITW) worked to create a second audiobook story in this series with many top-name contributors. This book is again led by the opening and closing chapters by Jeffrey Deaver, along with many other members of the ITW group. Harold Middleton is front a centre for another adventure, hunting down terror suspects with NATO. After a shoot-out, Middleton discovers that one of the victims is sporting a copper bracelet with unique markings. Calling in some assistance from his close friends, Middleton discovers that bracelet has ties to a group with an interest in ‘heavy water’. As Middleton seeks to trace down the potential threat, he discovers that there is more to the story, including a mysterious Scorpion, a faceless leader with plans to bring major devastation in the near future. With a massive construction project in India turning heads around the world, there is speculation that Scorpion might strike. The project, already raising anger between India and Pakistan, could be the tipping point of a new regional war, centred in Kashmir. Middleton thrusts himself into the middle of it all, learning how disastrous things could get if Scorpion is not stopped, only to learn that there are others with invested interest in the terror plot, which could significantly disrupt the international balance of power. Another great collaborative effort that allows the reader to see many writing styles synthesised into a single novel. Recommended to those who like literary patchwork of this nature and fans of international mysteries.

I vaguely remember reading the first two books in this series, when they were newly released on Audible. I enjoy the premise of putting many authors together to carve out a decent story, offering them each a small piece of the pie. The story is strong and the constant character advancement provides the reader a definite treat as things progress, much like the series debut. Harold Middleton returns with more adventure and has shown that his amateur sleuthing, paired with some firepower, leaves him ready to tackle any international situation. Surrounding himself with a handful of returning characters, Middleton is able to work his way through the story, showing both his power and a personal vulnerability in the form of his family. The twists and turns cannot always be predicted, with so many authors in the mix. That said, there is surely succinct development within each chapter, as the author has only a short time before they hand it off to another. The story is a great collaborative effort for something of this size. The reader who can fathom the complexity of intertwining so many writing styles in a single piece will not be as judgmental with the final product. This effort is one that will have me turn to Jeffrey Deaver, who took on a solo effort to pen a third novel in this series.

Kudos, Mr. Deaver et al., for completing another of these unique writing assignments for readers to enjoy. I have always loved the challenge the ITW pushes on its members to work outside their comforts to appease the reading public. A brilliant idea properly executed.

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

The Chopin Manuscript (Harold Middleton #1), by Jeffrey Deaver, et al. [International Thriller Writers]

Eight stars

Under the auspices of a new form of writing project, the International Thriller Writers (ITW) worked to create an audiobook story with many top-name contributors. Led by the opening and closing chapters by Jeffrey Deaver, these ITW members created quite the story that mixes history, action, and a mystery that spans the globe. After working on international criminal tribunals in the Balkans, Harold Middleton is trying to make his way back to D.C. He’s stopped in Warsaw, but not because of the manuscript he has in his carryon. It would appear that a group with whom he was seen speaking died hours later. Middleton is baffled, but wonders if it might have something to do with the aforementioned manuscript. Middleton discovered this presumed lost Chopin piece while in Kosovo, but he is unsure of its authenticity. He wishes to look deeper, as it might be a Nazi relic used to communicate. When he is freed by Polish authorities and makes his way to Washington, another clash occurs and two policemen are left dead. Now, Middleton is sure that someone is seeking to find him and take possession of this manuscript, with nefarious intentions. He presumes it could be the infamous Faust, a man Middleton encountered while working in the Baltic region. When others close to Middleton are targeted, he can only presume that there is something within this Chopin manuscript that is more valuable than simply the notes, though he is still unsure what he has in his possession. He’ll need to act fast if he wants to protect those closest to him, as well as the larger population, from a madman’s plans. An interesting collaborative effort that allows the reader to see many writing styles bound together. Recommended to those who like collaborative efforts of this nature and fans of international mysteries.

I know I read this piece years ago, likely when it was newly released on Audible, but I could not remember much of it. With three instalments to the series, I thought I ought to return and read it, while also appending a review for others to see. The story is quite well developed and the constant character advancement leaves the reader fully involved in the process. Harold Middleton is quite the character, having been through a great deal over the years. He is not part of the formal police authorities, though his attention to detail and drive to solve the case gives the reader an interesting flavour for his sleuthing abilities, as seen through the eyes of fifteen authors. Others in the story work through some of the interesting thriller themes of the time (Balkan terrorism and fallout from the regional wars) and provide the reader with something interesting to enjoy. Succinct development within each chapter is essential before the author hands it off to another to further build on an aspect or leave it to wilt. The story was good for a collaborative effort of this size. The reader who can comprehend how hard it is to intertwine so many writing styles into a single piece will not be as judgmental with the final product. That said, the overall effort is one that has me rushing to get my hands on the sequel, written in the same style.

Kudos, Mr. Deaver et al., for completing this unique writing assignment and offering it up to readers. I have always loved the challenge the ITW pushes on its members to work outside their comforts to appease the reading public.

This book fulfils Topic #1: More Cow Bell in the Equinox #8 Reading Challenge.

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