The Ripper Secret, by James Becker

Seven stars

Popular author James Becker (one of his many pseudonyms) brings readers an interesting take on the Jack the Ripper murders, injecting his own speculation into this piece of fiction. While traveling through Jerusalem in 1870, Charles Warren comes upon a spectacular find that will surely flourish in the right company. However, this menorah is anything but an innocent artefact, particularly when another man, Alexei Pedachenko, had hoped to take it for himself. Fast-forward to the streets of London in 1888, where Pedachenko has been able to catch up to Warren, who is now a commissioner with the Metropolitan Police. Rather than simply ask for the menorah, Pedachenko wishes to create havoc for the man who caused him such distress. After reading about the murder of a prostitute on the streets of Whitechapel, Pedachenko devises a plan that will not only get him the sacred menorah, but also push Warren out of his job. While penning notes to Warren under an alias, Pedachenko shows that he is serious, by killing women in the dead of night and leaving mocking notes. Warren is aware what is going on, but refuses o budge. As the spring turns to summer, the bodies continue and Warren is racked with guilt, but still unable to find it within himself to cede the treasured find. Pedachenko is happy to let the blood flow under the guise of Jack the Ripper, masking his crimes with all sorts of errant clues, all in the hopes of pushing Warren to the brink. It will be a game of cat and mouse, though Pedachenko shows no hint at ending his spree and Warren must decide how to retaliate. An interesting bit of fiction, which allows Becker to entertain rather than solely educate. Those who want a quick read may enjoy this book for its entertainment value.

Unsolved crimes are always fun to think about and James Becker has added a little fuel to the fire. While neither purporting to have evidence about Jack the Ripper, nor wanting to discount much of the history that has been created, Becker develops this piece of fiction to suit his own needs and entertain the reader in equal measure. Charles Warren is a decent character, a man whose stubbornness and cowardice fuel a string of murders throughout 1888. While he watches London go mad with worry, he sits on the one thing that could stop the killings, waiting this murderer out while investigating through official channels. Alexei Pedachenko is a much more interesting character, seemingly fuelled by the desire for a sacred item and yet turning to murder to get it for himself. Both men offer an interesting push and pull, keeping the story moving without being all that sensational in their own right. The story was decent and full of what one presumes are factual bits of information about the killings. Becker has done well to educate the reader as they make their way through the story. That being said, I was a little put off that the idea of the Jack the Ripper murders surrounded a menorah and that revenge was the sole rationale behind it all, though I suppose stranger things have come to pass when it comes to motives. While surely not one of Becker’s stronger novels, it was a quick read and allowed me to fill some time between more stimulating undertakings.

Kudos, Mr. Becker, for a decent book that educates and entertains. I may have to look into another of your ‘alternate history’ stories, though might wait a bit before getting too committed to that idea.

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

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Cold Kill (Steven Hunter #2), by James Becker (as Tom Kasey)

Eight stars

Long a fan of James Becker (which appears not to be the author’s actual name), I chose to read one of his earlier novels. Written under another pseudonym—Tom Kasey—the excitement did not wane whatsoever, allowing me to enjoy the reading experience. Steven Hunter is back, still seconded to the FBI but separated from the woman about whom he cares so much. Now in New Mexico, Hunter is sent out to investigate an odd slaying of a cow in a farmer’s pasture. However, when a human body turns up, all his focus shifts in that direction. The body of a young woman would be enough to raise a red flag, but when it appears her internal organs have been removed, things take a definite twist towards the bizarre. A few other cases that seem similar in nature lead Hunter and the local sheriff to feel that not only is there a serial killer on the loose, but that this person is harvesting organs. While many of their leads are coming up dry, Hunter refuses to toss in the towel. He looks towards those who might work in the medical field, especially with some of the drugs found in the system of the victims. When someone close to Hunter disappears, the case goes from professional to personal in short order, demanding results before scalpel meets skin yet again. Kasey offers up an interesting story that keeps the reader guessing in this criminal game of cat and mouse. Those who love a good procedural will surely want to grab this quick read, as well as readers who have enjoyed the work of James Becker (or his other pseudonyms) for many years.

The series is only two books to date, but the level of intrigue is surely high, taking the reader on an adventure that has little time to lose momentum. Much more compact than the debut, Kasey uses the novel to help add additional grit to his characters and create a mystery that will capture the attention of a wider audience. Steven Hunter continues to bring his British mannerisms to the story, as well as a gritty approach to crime solving. Less the police officer than a man who will do whatever it takes to solve a crime. Strong and determined, Hunter also has a compassionate side, wanting the truth for the victims’ families and his own peace of mind. His backstory is still somewhat shelved, but Hunter does offer a determination that appears to propel him through the story, leaving no lead blowing in the wind. Other characters help to develop this fast-paced novel, whose plot remains strong and quite focussed, though there is always room for a few tangents, when time permits. The reader will surely enjoy the banter throughout, though humour takes a backseat when dead bodies continue to appear. The premise of the book is great, highly tuned to a single storyline, for the most part. Kasey offers up a wonderful narrative that pushes forward and keeps the reader wanting to know more. His use of short and longer chapters pulls the reader into the middle of the story and leaves them hanging at various points, begging for ‘just a little more’, which is usually possible. I have enjoyed both novels in the series and am left to wonder, were these simply re-publications, or is there more to come from this author whose sub-genre branch-offs are as plentiful as the names under which he writes.

Kudos, Mr. Kasey, for another great novel. Whatever you call yourself, I am happy to keep reading what you offer up.

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

Trade-Off (Steven Hunter #1), by James Becker (as Tom Kasey)

Eight stars

Long a fan of James Becker’s work, I chose to read one of his earlier works. Written under the Tom Kasey pseudonym, that did not scale back any of the excitement that I have come to expect in the author’s work. When a body is discovered in rural Montana, local officials are baffled, less because of the murder than the fact that a human femur is lodged into the skull. Willing to admit that they are out of their depth, the FBI is called in to investigate. Agents arrive with a seconded Steven Hunter, who has spent much of his time in the British military, seeking to find answers. Nothing seems to be flowing as smoothly as Hunter would like, when he is alerted to another baffling case that involves women of a child-bearing age going missing in the region. As Hunter’s partner goes missing, he begins trying to get to the core of the matter, which appears to trace all the way up the chain of command. As Hunter uses his stealth and gritty determination, he soon realises that there is some project, code named ‘Roland Oliver’ taking place around Nevada, but is completely unsure what it all means. With a killer on the loose in the region and women disappearing as part of this project, Hunter will have to take matters into his own hands, or die trying. Becker offers up an interesting story that does not slow until the final page, keeping the reader in suspense throughout. Recommended to those who enjoy a great thriller, particularly fans of James Becker.

This was a great start to a new (albeit small) series by James Becker, who can always be counted on to entertain his reading base. Set entirely in the United States, the novel explores corruption at the highest level while offering a rural feel to the story not seen in many of his past work. The introduction of Steven Hunter is sure to keep the reader guessing what will come next. Hunter brings not only his British mannerisms to the story, but also his approach to police work. Add to that, a military background offers survival and covert skills that prove useful when being sought by the highest ranks of the US Government. Hunter leaves no stone unturned and shows that no one is beyond his target list, so long as it brings about a timely solution. There is much to this man and the reader receives only a glimpse in this first novel, but the tease factor is one that will surely help readers return for more. Other characters find their way into the story and help to offer a better all-around story by complementing or clashing with Hunter throughout. The reader will surely enjoy many of the plot lines that develop, especially with a cast of diverse characters to propel the story forward. The premise of the book is great, with a few storylines running in parallel throughout. The reader can feast upon them all or choose one to their liking, keeping the novel moving at a fast pace. With a killer on the loose and a government program running under the radar, Becker piques the interest of the reader from the outset, but does not take things in expected directions simply for the sake of it all. While I admit I was taken aback by one of the end results, Becker substantiated it enough to lessen my eyebrow raise. His use of short and longer chapters pulls the reader into the middle of the story and leaves them hanging at various points, begging for ‘just a little more’. I cannot get my hands on the follow-up novel fast enough to see what else is in store for Steven Hunter, as he leaves his indelible mark throughout.

Kudos, Mr. Becker, for another great novel. I can only hope that you’ll keep churning out ideas to entertain your reading base.

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

The Dante Conspiracy, by James Becker

Eight stars

A great fan of James Becker’s work, I was pleased to come across this novella that mixes a police procedural with some Italian literary history. Professor Antonio Bertorelli is found tortured and murdered after an apparent struggle, though it is not entirely clear who might want to harm him. When Sergeant Cesare Lombardi and Inspector Silvio Perini arrive at the scene, they are equally confused, but soon learn that Bertorelli was quite knowledgeable when it came to Dante’s Divine Comedy, having penned an interesting academic article on the topic only weeks before. In the article, Bertorelli posits that Dante may have written an alternate part to his famous work, or at least amended it with some clues to another important document that he wished could come to light. As Lombardi and Perini seek to find the killer and get to the root of this homicide, there are a few hooded men who have been trying to crack Dante’s code themselves, ready to stop at nothing to horde the results for themselves. Lombardi and Perini find themselves surrounded by Italian history as the sift through much of the time in which Dante lived, hoping to better understand what the killers sought. What they find may shock not only historians keen on the period, but the larger academic community. Becker does a wonderful job keeping the reader hooked with this novella, mixing history and mystery into a brief piece of writing. Recommended for those who enjoy Becker’s past work as well as the curious reader who likes historical mysteries.

I tend to find that James Becker not only packs a punch with his writing abilities, but fills each story with so much history that the reader cannot help but go away knowing so much more. This piece is no exception, as Becker pushes a thirteenth/fourteenth century historical mystery into the early narrative and does not let it go until the final chapter. With so little time to explore character development, Lombardi and Perini receiving much of their connection to the reader through the sleuthing that they do. They ask the poignant questions and posit interesting solutions to issues throughout, keeping the reader feeling as though they are part of the investigation. The story moves forward at a clipped pace, mixing investigation of the murder with a great deal of history related to Dante. The story offers up both the man’s place in the larger Italian community as well as information about the Divine Comedy in general. Becker does not pull any punches, flooding the piece with a great deal of fact in order to push the narrative in a certain direction. I was happy to go along for the ride, admittedly hoping that much of what I was being told could be grounded in fact and not fallacy in order to spice up the story. Becker always seeks to reveal new aspects of history to keep his reader wondering and searching for more information. This novella was surely no exception.

Kudos, Mr. Becker, for another wonderful historical mystery. I am eager to get my hands on more of your work, as you seem to be churning out some interesting standalone pieces at the moment.

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

The Templar Brotherhood (The Lost Treasure of the Templars, #3), by James Becker

Eight stars

James Becker is back with his third novel in this fast-paced thriller series that focuses on the Knights Templar. While much has been written about the subject, Becker is able to keep a great pace and use an array of characters to bring the story to life. David Mallory and Robin Jessop have made it back to England, after some harrowing experiences in Cypress and Switzerland, tailed by a group of Dominicans, who want them dead and possession of the Templar secrets. Having smuggled a chest that once belonged to the Templars off the continent, Mallory and Jessop begin the slow and pain-staking process of searching for clues to continue their journey. A script of sorts appears on the chest, though it is not immediately apparent what it means or how it might be translated. Back in Rome, those within the Vatican have a vested interest in this chest and the riches that may await anyone able to decipher the coded text. Choosing first to bug Jessop’s flat and eventually beginning a full-scale game of cat and mouse, the Dominicans are sent to scrub out the likes of Mallory and Jessop without asking questions. When a possible message emerges, Mallory takes the lead and they flee for another part of the British Isles, looking to properly interpret a message that has not only been penned in Latin, but written over seven centuries before. Happy to slam a bullet between the eyes of Mallory and Jessop, the Dominicans put up the fight of their life, especially after some form of treasure appears. By the end, something will be revealed that changes not only the lives of many, but the flow of the story’s narrative. It is up to the reader to forge onwards and enter into this most epic of battles to discover the truth. Becker has done well to lay the groundwork for another wonderful novel in the series, though the ending opens pathways while closing doors at the same time, sure to frustrate series fans and those who enjoy all things Templar alike.

While it was not Becker’s series here that first got me interested in the Knights Templar, I will admit that when he started these novels, I was excited to see his spin. Those who know Becker’s Chris Bronson novels, which mix religious symbolism and stories with modern crime thrillers, understand that there is something about the cryptic and symbolic nature of the world that requires closer inspection. Becker has been able to take readers on an interesting journey with David Mallory and Robin Jessop, both of whom have strong dedication to the cause and slowly develop something for one another. Becker’s constant placement of the protagonists in the line of fire is surely meant to foster both their resolve and personal affinity for one another, which shines through. Using the Vatican as an antagonistic being is by no means new, though personifying it through the Dominicans (religious henchmen) does offer a darker perspective. The cat and mouse game that has played out through all three novels may be repetitive, but it is the determination of all parties to learn what they can about the Templar secrets that keeps the reader enthralled. Turning to the story itself, Becker keeps the narrative flowing well, as his characters slowly peel back the layers of the Templar mysteries to find new and dangerous ways of getting to the core of the Templar riches. Becker has used a great deal of research to develop this series and it shows, but for those who are Chris Bronson fans, the added bonus of seeing some of the information gleaned in that latest series instalment and placed within the story here is even more enriching. I find myself learning a great deal by reading James Becker, rather than simply gearing down to a mental neutral as I flip pages. Becker has shown that he can handle this fast-paced thriller, though I am still not sure if there is more to the story yet to come, or if this series ended with a dive off the literary cliff. I suppose time will tell!

Kudos, Mr. Becker, for such a riveting piece that kept my attention as I sped through it. Keep writing at this calibre, in whatever series suits your fancy.

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

The Templar Heresy (Chris Bronson #7), by James Becker

Six stars

After some delays to work on writing projects with some shared themes, James Becker is back with another Chris Bronson thriller. Tapping into Christian history and the symbols that have emerged through the ages, Becker entertains readers with this story while adding the thrill of the chase as two sides fight over the interpretation. Seeking a little excitement during his holidays, Chris Bronson accepts an invitation from ex-wife and best friend, Angela Lewis to join him on her latest archeological dig. He makes his way to Kuwait and is met at the airport, where Angela and fellow archeologist Stephen Taverner fill him in on their latest discovery. While out in the deserts of Iraq, they have come across some temple that has odd inscriptions on its walls. Bronson, always one to enjoy a mystery, agrees to come see them to determine if he can crack the code. However, as they return to camp, all that is left are a slew of dead archeologists, their bodies slaughtered and baking in the desert sun. The inscriptions have been chipped out of the walls, which only adds to the mystery. After deciding to flee the region and report what has happened when they are safely in the United Kingdom, Bronson leads the group back towards Kuwait. However, a band of thugs seems more than happy to exterminate them before they can reach their destination. Dodging bullets and trying to reach safety, Bronson, Angela, and Stephen are able to catch numerous last-minute flights around the Middle East before landing in Milan. From there, it is a simple trip to London and they will be safe. However, after splitting up from Stephen, Bronson and Angela learn that the thugs are still targeting them, having killed Stephen and left him for dead. Now, all eyes turn to these inscriptions, which Angela was smart enough to capture digitally during the excavation. As they begin to study the words and apply a few ciphers, there appears to be a larger mystery, one that includes (of course!) the Knights Templar. From here, Angela and Bronson must dodge the thugs as the race to uncover the mystery kicks into high gear. What the Templars may have discovered centuries ago remains highly thrilling even now. Bronson and Angela just may not live long enough to uncover the mystery for themselves. A decent story for series fans who have been waiting a while for the next instalment, complete with some seemingly sacrilegious speculations. There is even enough Templar flavour in the second half of the novel to appeal to thrill seekers who enjoy something a little more methodical. 

I have long been a fan of Becker and his work, having followed Chris Bronson through many an adventure. I will admit, though, that this novel seemed to lack some of the punch that I remembered from past stories in the series. During the Bronson reprieve, I have been following Becker as he delves into a Templar-based series and find the calibre of writing in this novel lacking significantly from those Templar stories, published as late as fall 2016. While Chris Bronson and Angela Lewis remain strong characters, it is as though the ‘cookie cutter’ race to solve a mystery was used here, allowing for no character development as individuals or jointly in their current platonic relationship. How Becker could have forgotten to add at least some fond memories his protagonists share baffles me, as they are forced to work so closely at hand. The thug characters continue to fuel the current “terrorist du jour” mentality, by tossing around ISIS images, though to some degree there is a sensical nature to the Muslim evildoer in this piece, which the reader understands better when they read the book. The plot is decent, though it is by no means original, either in Becker’s world or those authors who write about uncovering Templar secrets. I must comment here that the story, while fiction, could have been firmly rooted in reality, though I found the constant “let me just buy more airline tickets, hotels, and anything we need” highly unrealistic. Bronson comes across as being flush with cash and able to simply pull out the large sums of money while on the run. Again, I may be nitpicking, but this is my review and I can address issues that came to mind throughout the reading. All in all, a decent read, but surely not one of Becket’s best. I hope this was simply an aberration. 

Kudos, Mr. Becker for another Bronson-Lewis adventure. I know you have a Templar book soon to be released and hope you can use your successes there and allow them to return to this series in short order.