The Coldest Case (Black Book #0.5): An Audible Production, by James Patterson, Aaron Tracy, and Ryan Silbert

Eight stars

Having recently discovered James Patterson’s experimentation in ‘direct to audio’ work, I was pleased to get my hands on this piece. It brings to life a new series that has a great deal of potential, working with collaborators Aaron Tracy and Ryan Silbert. The story is layered with a great plot and some sensational character interactions, which is intensified by the audio. While the Chicago PD is not known for its simple cases, this one is particularly tough. Thank goodness Detectives Billy and Patti Harney are working it as best they can. When Billy’s partner gets too deep while undercover, she needs to be extracted, but that only leads to added issues. Billy soon realises that there is a powerful list of names in a secret book, ones that could lead to the death of countless others if it falls into the wrong hands. Patterson wins with this one, in a story that comes to life through audio.

A sinister drug ring has been working in Chicago for years, something that Chicago PD Detective Billy Harney has been investigating. Working alongside his sister, Patti, they are trying to eke out some information about something big. When Billy’s partner, Kate, embeds herself into the group, there is hope that something will come of it. After a gaffe sees many turn up dead, Kate is almost revealed as a cop and she must be taken into protective custody, but not before an essential informant goes missing. Amongst all the chaos, a special black book containing key information has gone missing and the drug ring is hell-bent on finding it, no matter the cost. Key clients could be outed otherwise!

As Billy and Patti investigate the contents of the black book, they realise that it is more than meets the eye, with crooked athletes and corrupt politicians front and centre on the list. On the side, Billy and Patti discover the intense world of on-line gaming and how ruthless it can be. This helps them crack open a little part of the case, but also pushes them deeper into confusion as well. When the black book reveals a chilling secret that could lead to many deaths, it’s a race to get to the scene on time to prevent disaster. The fate of many rests in the hands of the Harneys. Patterson excites with ease as he creates a story many can enjoy in only a few hours!

While James Patterson has moments of greatness and others of frigidity, this was surely one of the greater publication, released solely through audio. The story was crisp and the plot flowed well, keeping the reader engaged throughout and eager to see how things would progress. Said to be the prequel of the Black Book series, this story works really well and offers listeners something exciting in a short period of time. Patterson and his collaborators develop a wonderful script and use a star-studded cast to bring it all to life.

The characters were all cast well and the multitude of voices surely brought things to a new level. I was able to follow things with ease, even if I had to listen very carefully to ensure I did not miss anything. The plot was on point and left me begging for me, as I learned a little more about the Harneys and how well they function together. While I do love a good book, this was an excellent alternative and gave me something special to enjoy amidst all the craziness I find surrounds me these days. A step above a simple audiobook, Patterson and his collaborators have left me wanting more!

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, Tracy, and Silbert, for a great story and wonderful experience. I look forward to future collaborations, as they become possible.

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

The Guilty: An Audible Production, by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski

Eight stars

James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski venture into a newer medium for this piece, the ‘direct to audio’ production, where a handful of talented actors portray the story for the listener to enjoy. A play that no one knows anything about, a genius actor/director with a plan, and an audience that is lapping it all up. Welcome to ‘The Guilty’ and all that it entails. A unique approach to a murder mystery, but one I quite enjoyed, if only because it was a quick experience and permitted something different.

Osmond Box is a living legend, the King of Broadway some may call him, even if he is reclusive and few have seen him. His productions are always over the top and audiences have no idea what they are going to receive. The house is full and people await the stage lights for everything to begin.

As the evening progresses, things become more and more mysterious. What begins as an apparent reality show on stage soon turns dark, as Box accuses his fellow actors of heinous crimes. Is it all part of the script or improvisational? And when a stage gun turns out to shoot someone, who is the murderer?

With cell phones confiscated and the doors locked, no one can leave as things progress. Audience members gawk in awe and await some sort of resolution. When all is said and done, the police arrive to question many of those who witnessed the event. Was it murder? Has Osmond Box done it again and pulled off the greatest theatrical production of all time? A great piece that Patterson and Swierczynski concocted as they leave the listener guessing.

This was definitely an interesting spin for the master of storytelling, using one of his best collaborators to develop the piece for listeners. Told solely through audio, the story develops and keeps the listener enthralled as they try to piece it all together. Some may balk at having to listen, rather than flip through the pages, but it was certainly the experience that will keep people talking for months.

Told through nine episodes, the story progressed well and held my attention throughout. What is going on with the actors and how will things progress with each passing moment? There was just enough character development throughout to keep me satisfied and the plot advanced in odd ways, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. While dramatic reproductions are not always my thing, I did enjoy the different perspectives and voices telling this story, as it breathed some life into the piece and left me wanting more.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Swierczynski, for this interesting experiment. I felt it was a success and am eager to try some more of them soon.

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

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Private Rogue (Private #16), by James Patterson and Adam Hamdy

Eight stars

Another collaborative effort by James Patterson and Adam Hamdy proves to be quite entertaining for the reader, as the Private series continues. Jack Morgan has built a strong detective agency the world over, though he is still happiest at home in Los Angeles. When a wealthy man comes to his offices and asks for his help, personally, Morgan cannot refuse, travelling to New York to begin the search for a woman and her children. What follows will take him to the far corners of the earth and test his resolve. A fast-paced story that keeps the reader intrigued throughout.

It was just another day for Jack Morgan and his team in Los Angeles, when a man of some means entered Private headquarters. He told a story of his missing daughter and grandchildren, who were somewhere in upstate New York, begging for help. While Private did not usually assist in simple missing person cases, there was something about this one that left Morgan feeling as though he ought to help.

Choosing to personally take on the case, Morgan flew to New York and began the hunt, alongside one of his Private New York colleagues. Searching and trying to be inconspicuous, Morgan was able to locate the family, only to discover that those searching for them have another motive. It would appear that the father figure of the group was on a covert mission in Afghanistan and may have something this group wants for their own.

Never one to bow to the pressure, Morgan made his way across the world to the deserts of Afghanistan’s to find a military pilot who may have all the answers, while also trying to stay one step ahead of a ruthless gang. It was a battle of survival, with a mission to reunite a family safely. A great addition to the Private series.

While James Patterson has often spread himself too thin in his writing, this was an exception to the rule. Working alongside Adam Hamdy, Patterson is able to elevate his series and keep the Private name on the level of some of the other strong series bearing his name. Great action, decent characters, and an entertaining plot, Patterson and Hamdy have great collaborative effort.

Jack Morgan takes centre stage in this piece, something that he does not usually do in the novels. His backstory is known to series fans, though there are some added elements here that can help intrigue the series reader. Decent development, both in a personal and professional sphere, keeps the reader in tune with how he works as a character and provides some needed depth to keep the series going.

Patterson and Hamdy work well to keep the story moving along and have decent narrative development throughout. The plot works well in this piece, allowing the reader to push forward with ease. Perhaps a few overused themes (Afghanistan, Russian operatives), but they worked well and did not get too clunky for my liking. This series flows well, though the interconnectedness of the novels is more the Private thread, than an ongoing storyline throughout. With Jack Morgan in the central role, there is more cohesiveness to the overall series, though reading any of the books as a standalone would not ruin things. I look forward to more of these stories soon.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Hamdy, on a great effort. Your collaborative work is quite strong and I hope to see more of it.

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

The Last Days of John Lennon, by James Patterson, Casey Sherman, and Dave Wedge

Nine stars

While I have struggled with James Patterson’s writing for a number of years, there are times that he comes up with a gem, this book being one example of that. While it strays from his usual fare, Patterson has collaborated with Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge to pen a non-fiction piece about John Lennon and the Beatles. The authors pull together a succinct, yet comprehensive, history of the group, with a primary focus on Lennon, documenting his rise to fame and tragic murder in December 1980. Easy to digest and packed full of exciting details, this is a great book for those who love all things Beatles or those, such as myself, who know little but have always been curious.

The book takes readers as far back as the early days when found Liverpudlian youths were jamming around and trying to make music. It was the 1950s and society had yet to catch-up to the new craze of rock n’ roll, with many clubs and the older generation passing it off as scandalous and even devilish. The authors explore how these four boys came together to make music and solidified the new sound to appeal to the younger generation.

As the book progresses, the rise of Beatlemania takes over and many of their key moments are explored, both within the music scene and through their personal lives. The authors present a wonderful summary, getting into just enough detail to leave the reader wanting more. It is understandable how these four young men swept the world with their own style of music and how it captivated their fans in a variety of ways.

There is no shortage of post-Beatle exploration, particularly how the overpowering Yoko Ono arrived on the scene and all but led to the end of the group. However, it is not that simple, as the authors argue within the pages of this piece. The attentive reader will see the breadcrumbs and follow everything that happened to bring this about, culminating in four solo careers.

An eerie moment throughout the book are the short chapters focussed on December 1980, where Mark Chapman is plotting what he will do to John Lennon. While not entirely clear most of the time, Chapman has his reasons and impetus to target Lennon, as well as a piece of literature to fuel his fantasies. This is a great mix within the larger narrative and provides the reader a wonderful balance between what is going on and how it will all come to an end. I enjoyed the mix and its foreboding made the book even better.

While I am no music aficionado, I have often wondered about the history of the Beatles. Trying to comb through documents to see how they came to be, rose to power, and came crashing down all appealed to me, as well as some of the underlying commentary related to Mark Chapman. The narrative flow was perfect, offering just enough information to pique my interest, though not drowning the reader with dates, details, and name dropping as well. Short chapters offer that Patterson tease that fans of his work are used to seeing, pushing the larger story along. Well-rounded and full of interesting moments about which I had no idea helped keep me connected to the piece and wanting to learn more, at my own pace. I’m happy that I took the time to explore this book and everything I took away from the experience.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, Sherman, and Wedge. Your investigative work with this piece really caught my attention. This is a great collaborative team for non-fiction, investigative writing.

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

The Red Book (Black Book #2), by James Patterson and David Ellis

Eight stars

I admit that I have have struggled with James Patterson’s writing for a number of years, as books appear for sale faster than anything I have ever seen. Quality suffers, but money surely flows into the Patterson bank accounts, causing those who respect a good book to feel a slight offence. Whenever Patterson works alongside David Ellis, the quality appears high and there stories rise above many of the other novels that adorn the Patterson name. This was another stunner, keeping the reader gripped until things come to an abrupt halt in the closing chapters, resonating long after putting the book aside. Ellis surely makes it clear that some Patterson collaborations are worth a second look!

Detective Billy Harney has been through a great deal over the last while and all he wants is a strong distraction. He’s pulled into the Chicago PD’s Special Operations Section (SOS), an elite group that looks to bring hope to a city that has been ravaged by crime and corruption. It’s a start, and after many of the things that Harvey has seen, it’s just what the doctor’s ordered.

After a drive-by shooting on a known drug corner leaves a woman dead, Harney is keen to use his position on the SOS to help find answers, some of which are deeply seeded in politics, something on which Chicago thrives. Harney and his family have a strong presence on the CPD and use finely-tuned instincts to work cases that do not appear as straightforward.

Harney learns that there are numerous victims lying in the morgue, all with a common tattoo. What looked like a drug-deal gone wrong now has a deeper and perhaps more sinister criminal element. All three were women, working the streets. While a pimp angle is possible, these women are foreign, leaving Harney to wonder if human trafficking might me more the crime of the day.

As Harney is keen to ask the tough questions, he turns over a few rocks that reveal more than answers. By working this case and confronting those who may be behind the killings, Harney has to face a dark secret of his own, one that could cripple him forever.

The Patterson-Ellis connection has never let me down in the past and this novel proves the chemistry between them remains strong. Well-paced writing and a sensational plot prove to me that there’s a great deal of potential when the reader invests time in this sort of novel. While I am not convinced that Patterson has changed his ways (alas, the book titles keep flooding the market), I know how to hone my searches to find golden nuggets.

Billy Harney impresses in this book and connects with the reader from the opening lines of the novel. His grit and determination emerge, assisted by a strong cast of characters begging to be noticed. While police procedurals are a dime a dozen, the authors craft a protagonist the reader wants to know better. Great backstory is balanced with some development throughout, even as Harney’s darkest secrets come out.

With so many novels on the market, set in the ‘big city’, it’s tough to make a mark on readers who seek something unique. The authors may not have something that will leave an indelible mark, but their style is sure to impress the reader who loves the genre. A strong narrative flows throughout and keeps the reader on their toes, with momentum increasing with every page turn. There’s something dark, yet hopeful, as the story progresses and I could not get enough, devouring the book as swiftly as time permitted. I’ll keep my eye on these two authors, as I have in the past for their collaborative efforts, and hope the series continues in the coming years!

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Ellis, for high quality and easy reading!

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

Ali Cross: Like Father, Like Son (Ali Cross #2), by James Patterson

Eight stars

While I have struggled with some of James Patterson’s writing over the last number of years, I always enjoyed the Alex Cross series. Patterson has come to spread himself too thin and uses his name to sell books, rather than inserting quality into his writing. However, he finds a back on occasion to surprise me. When I discovered that he was expanding the Cross series with a YA collection by young Ali Cross, I took note. I enjoyed the series debut and thought that I ought to give this second novel some of my attention as well. I must say, Patterson did well and kept me hooked throughout.

After solving his first case, Ali Cross is riding a slight high, much to the chagrin of his father, Metro PD Detective Alex Cross. The younger Cross is also getting a tad mischievous as he ages and tells a white lie to get himself out with friends at a music festival. Everything was going smoothly until Ali and his friends witness a stunning crime.

After shots are fired, Ali’s friend, Zoe is struck. Her injuries are not the only concern, as Zoe is being quite sneaky and covering for someone. Ali cannot accept this at face value and begins poking around, which only uncovers more and makes it seem as though Zoe is keeping secrets.

While Ali refuses to back off the case, he is more concerned with his friend than anything else. Accepting some counsel from his father, Ali does his best to connect the dots and tries to help Zoe at the same time. A shorter is out there, a secret Zoe wants kept may come out, and someone will be held accountable.

I found myself quite impressed with this Patterson solo effort, a style of where he strives. The story, while somewhat simplistic, worked well and is perfect for the target audience. It’s just as gritty as many of the other Cross novels, adding humour and some family tenacity to keep the reader engaged.

Patterson creates some great characters that keep things moving along well. While the piece is short, there are some wonderful personalities that fill the narrative, including the Cross family who are definitely a handful of their own. The reader is re-introduced to some of Ali’s friends, who are sure to continue playing a key role as the series progresses.

Patterson pens a nice little story, sure to impress his Cross fans, as well as YA readers who need a little mystery. It was well-paced and flowed well, keeping the reader wondering without unnecessary twists. With great characters and a decent plot, Patterson impresses readers in this budding series, which I can only hope will continue for years to come.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson, for a nice little story to appease readers of all ages. Now, let’s hope the elder Cross series can return to its former glory.

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

The Noise, by James Patterson and J.D. Barker

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley; James Patterson; J.D. Barker; and Little, Brown and Company for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I have enjoyed the few collaborative efforts by James Patterson and J.D. Barker, which offer a scintillating look into psychological thrillers with a unique twist. Mixing their two styles, the authors have come up with a sure page-turner here, keeping the reader on their toes throughout this piece. A rural community in Oregon soon turns to panic, leaving two young girls to flee for the family’s underground bunker as a piercing noise permeates their surroundings. The elder child appears unharmed, but her little sister begins spouting gibberish and acting in a highly troublesome manner. Soon, a handful of scientists are herded aboard a military chopper and sent to the area, in hopes of better understanding what’s taken place. However, it is baffling to everyone and there seems neither rhyme nor reason for any of it. Many have died and appear to be piled in large crevasses, while those who are alive have fevers like no other. What’s happened and who or what is responsible for all this. One doctor vows to get answers, even if the government seeks to cover it up from the public.

Things are quiet in a rural mountain Oregon for Tennant and Sophie Riggin, who have lived off the grid for their entire lives. However, all this soon changes when an odd vibration emanates from the forest and their father rushes the girls into a bunker. The piercing noise escalates, leaving Tennant worried and Sophie acting strangely. The younger sister, all of eight, begins spouting odd phrases and complaining of severe pain in her ears. Tennant can only hope to protect her sister until all of this passes.

Soon after the baffling incident in around Mount Hood, military officials begin gathering top-ranked scientists and medical professionals to help assess the damage and fallout. This includes, Dr. Martha Chan, a medical doctor, who is as confused as ever about why she was chosen for this mission. What Chan and the others witness is baffling and highly unusual: massive crevasses in the ground, many bodies piled up, as well as destruction of the earth like nothing seen or predicted. What’s even more troubling is the top secret nature of the event, where military officials will not even allow those viewing the fallout to converse with one another.

After Chan and the others are permitted on the ground, it’s discovered that many of those who are alive have fevers that are off the charts, climbing into the 104 degree Fahrenheit range. This includes young Sophie Riggin, who continues to spout odd phrases, one of which can be traced back to a dead language used in the Bible. Might this be some sort of End of Times event? If not, could an enemy nation be testing a new weapon? Military officials scramble for answers and try to brief the president with what they know.

As Tennant remains unharmed, Dr. Chan is unsure what’s kept her safe and how Sophie could be so affected. Chan will do all she can to get answers, even if that means defying the orders of military personnel. Something is behind this noise and Chan will not rest until she gets answers, sure that someone is not telling the truth. The larger question remains, when the truth is discovered, how will the US Administration handle it and what message will there broadcast to the world? A chilling story that will sober many readers into wondering what could happen right under their noses.

Many will know that I have a love/hate relationship with the works of James Patterson, depending on the series collaborators. Those who don’t can find my comments elsewhere, as I wish to focus on the collaborative efforts that Patterson has with J.D. Barker. This is a duo that has worked from the outset, combining their individual skills to create something really enticing and easy to read. While the novels may be longer than many Patterson fans have come to expect, they are always filled with twists and narrative nuggets that push them to the top of the genre. Psychological thrillers are hard to perfect, as the reader must commit fully, but Patterson and Barker make that easy with the caliber of their work.

The numerous narratives make it difficult to choose a single protagonist, though the authors have highlighted a few characters to assume the role, namely Tennant and Martha Chan. While they come from completely different backgrounds, both seek the same thing, to get answers and to help Sophie. The collaborative efforts both make throughout the story make them targets for the military and political actors, but this only adds to their development. Many readers will likely affix themselves to at least one of these leading ladies, if only to get to the core of the plot.

The authors have done well to craft a collection of supporting characters who use individual agendas to clash with the aforementioned protagonists. Many serve within the US Administration, trying to uncover and then whitewash what’s happened in Oregon. This tension works well throughout the novel, pushing the reader to see how good and evil (or at least curiosity and pragmatic secret keeping) butt heads throughout. The description of some other supporting characters helps to show the dire straights in which this segment of the population has found itself, something that resonates throughout for the attentive reader.

The goal I suspect authors strive for in standalone novels is to allow each to succeed on their own merits. While James Patterson’s books have often been given a ‘cookie cutter plot’ label, his work alongside J.D. Barker makes these novels stand out as being some of the best, with no prediction where things will go. The narrative, told through the eyes of many, is strong and builds constantly, while the characters are varied enough to be of interest to the reader. The plot is anything but linear and gains momentum in all the right spots. Short chapters push things along and keep the reader from getting too bogged down in minutiae. I am always pleased to see collaborative efforts between these two international bestselling authors, as I see it brings out the best in them both. One can only hope there are more novels, series or standalone, to come.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Barker, for another winning recipe when it comes to thrill writing. I hope many of your respective fans will rush to get this book, as it checks all the boxes.

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

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/the-noise/

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

21st Birthday (Women’s Murder Club #21), by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Seven stars

The latest in this long series by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro offers readers something intriguing and somewhat unique, though twenty-one instalments can sometimes breed repetition. Full of minor character development and some fast-pace criminal work, the Women’s Murder Club has a new case that will pull all four of them in, using their specific skillsets, to catch a serial murderer. When a young woman and her daughter are reported missing, the husband is the prime suspect. While he has an alibi, others in his circle also turn up dead, leading the DA to move ahead with charges. The suspect decries his innocence and points the finger at another man, who apparently has a long history of murderous behaviour. It’s up to Sergeant Lindsay Boxer to turn over every rock to see if the lead comes to fruition. A decent addition to the series, which has surely shown its ebb and flow, though fans of the Club may want to check it out.

Cindy Thomas noticed the post on her news blog and knew it would be trouble. Even after taking it down, Cindy thought about the disappearance of Tara and Lorrie Burke, a 20 year-old and her infant daughter. When Tara’s mother arrives at the San Francisco Chronicle to follow-up, Cindy cannot shake the distraught woman’s pleas for help. Tara’s husband, Lucas, is the prime suspect and appears to have quite the hold on his young bride. Trying to appease the woman, Cindy calls in a favour with SFPD Sergeant Lindsay Boxer, who agrees to poke around a little.

With little to go on and no sightings of either Tara or Lorrie, Boxer must bide her time. Her background into Lucas Burke shows a reputable English teacher with no criminal history, though there were a number of calls to the police, which Tara dismissed as soon as anyone arrived. Still, Boxer has an itch that there is more to the story. She learns that Burke may have been stepping out on his wife with a teenage student, which does raise a few flags, but nothing criminal, yet.

When the body of Lorrie Burke is found along the shore, the case gains some momentum, especially when it appears the infant was smothered. However, Tara remains missing, which only adds to the mystery. A few more bodies emerge, all tied to Lucas Burke in some way, and the case begins to build. It is only when Tara is found murdered in her car, which had been dumped in the ocean, that Lucas Burke’s guilt appears all but certain. Even with an alibi, this is not something that can be dismissed as coincidence.

While Lucas Burke is brought it for questioning and arrested, he makes an explosive accusation, that his father is likely behind the murders. Evan Burke is a former Green Beret and may have been behind the disappearance (and murder?) of his own wife and daughter, as well as a string of others over the years. Lucas is certain he has resumed hunting for victims, but with little to substantiate it, the DA moves ahead with murder charges.

When the case goes to trial, ADA Yuki Castellano is set to take first chair. She has her own theory, one that she has shared with fellow Women’s Murder Club members, Boxer and Thomas. Still, Yuki will do things by the books and try to get a conviction on the evidence she has before her. Boxer works the Evan Burke angle, which has her racing to Vegas to track down the man and investigate the accusations. While there, things get dangerous for Boxer and her temporary partner, as they corner the elder Burke as he works his magic on a young woman.

With Yuki forging ahead in court and Boxer gathering evidence, it will only be a matter of time before Lucas Burke’s fate is determined. It will take all members of the Women’s Murder Club working together to solidify the truth, however murky and convoluted it might be. Then again, the Club has never sought to do things the easy way. An interesting addition to the series that reads well and shows that the collaborative effort of Patterson and Paetro appears to work well.

I have been a fan of the series from the start. This is one of the few Patterson collections that has been able to stand the test of time. While I am coming to see that some of these series may have lost their earlier momentum, there are moments of brilliance here, even as things wane. I have always wondered about rejuvenating things with a crossover between Alex Cross-Michael Bennett-Lindsay Boxer, still feeling it might do something for all three protagonists. Still, this book works well and could be read as a standalone, though I never counsel that in a series, as the reader misses so much peering only at a snapshot.

Lindsay Boxer’s character development ended long ago, even though motherhood always adds a new layer to her backstory. She is gritty and shows that she is able to work in any environment, something that is changed throughout this piece. Adapting as best she can, Boxer never loses sight of what matters, justice for the victim, and makes her mark repeatedly throughout the book. While the series may be getting a little old, Boxer’s abilities remain on point throughout.

The other members of the Women’s Murder Club also have their own moments of glory, though Boxer does rise to the protagonist role with ease. Each has a backstory and some development to offer, complementing the SFPD sergeant throughout. The handful of other key characters emerge throughout the story and offer the reader something intriguing to enjoy. There is no lack of action and suspense woven into the characters or their actions, though few standout as being remarkable.

The story was decent, as many have been in this series, though there was no shock factor. It’s a race to find the truth, muddled with accusations and false leads. Boxer and the rest of the Club try to work their respective angles, sometimes stepping on one another’s toes, but always able to find something worth discussing at their regular meetings. The story flowed well and the narrative kept its momentum throughout. Patterson’s trademark short chapters keep the reader pushing through, as I did yet again. Decent characters, believable scenarios, and the trademark connection to a specific number from the title, this is a series that has lasted over the years. I just wonder if the zenith has been surpassed and it’s time to sail into the sunset, making way for something fresh… or at least the aforementioned crossover.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Paetro, for another decent addition to the series. While I know you are likely a novel or two ahead in the series, I would suggest heeding my idea. I know other series fans have echoed what I said… and it could really inject something into all three series.

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

The Russian (Michael Bennett #13), by James Patterson and James O. Born

Seven stars

Michael Bennett is back for his next case, lucky book number thirteen. In the capable hands of James Patterson and James O. Born, Bennett is ready to face off against another wily killer who stalks New York City. However, this one has a different motive and a larger kill area than many others who have crossed Bennett’s path. With his massive brood at home and a wedding on the horizon, Bennett will have to push the distractions aside and focus on catching a ruthless killer. A nice addition for those who enjoy the Michael Bennett series, though not as sharp as some police procedurals I have read lately.

The faint sound of wedding bells seems to pervade Michael Bennett’s every thought, as the big day approaches. With ten children, one grandfather, and a fiancée at home, he has a great deal to juggle. Add to that, a new partner learning the ropes of Homicide, and Bennett has little time to collect his thoughts.

Bennett is soon called to the scene of a brutal murder, one in which the victim’s body is not only slain, but her eye eviscerated. Bennett has not seen something like this in a long while, which can only mean that this killer has something to prove. The murder is similar not only to others in surrounding boroughs, but also other cities crisscrossing America.

All the while, Daniel Ott watches as New York panics. He knows what he’s doing and chooses to push people to the brink. Anyone who disrespects him has a chance of being his next victim; he’s that easily swayed. Between his kills, which he is sure will baffle the NYPD, he makes regular calls back to his family. A wife and two young girls have no idea what he’s doing and hope to see him soon.

Bennett makes little progress on the case until he finds something that ties all three cities together, a computer system update ordered by numerous companies. While everyone remembers a single tech, Ott was so forgettable that no one can recall a physical description. However, Ott knows Bennett and is preparing to derail the detective and the investigation long enough to flee the city and find new victims.

As with most series that extend past a handful of books, things can get a little stale without new plot lines and story arcs. Patterson (with Born in the later novels) has continued to push Michael Bennett to find killer that lurk across the five boroughs, rarely leaving the confines of NYC. Still, there are moments when readers will likely enjoy Bennett’s work, but things appear to be dragging, in my humble opinion.

Bennett returns as the series protagonist, still juggling the usual mix of personal issues and professional responsibilities. While he is well past backstory, Bennett is always evolving, if incrementally. His upcoming marriage has him a tad nervous, though he knows that he’s madly in love. Working with a new partner forces Bennett to be more open with his views and help teach the next generation of Homicide detectives. Gritty and ready to break down any barriers, Michael Bennett shines as best he can with a killer out for blood.

Patterson and Born develop a decent supporting case to push the story along. While it can be hard to find unique approaches to killers, the collaborators do a decent job of spinning the Daniel Ott backstory to offer a fresh approach. With some decent recurring characters and new faces, the story stays somewhat fresh and intriguing, though the sharp edge is gone from both the plot and the characters.

It could be the format of Patterson’s work that breeds a less than chilling approach to the series as it sticks around, something that Born does not see when he collaborates on standalone novels. There’s just something lacking in these latter books that was there in the early stories, though I cannot put my finger on it. Patterson is apt for selling books because of his name, rather than content, as I have bemoaned before, though the issue cannot be placed solely on Born’s shoulders. With short chapters, the story does move forward and keeps the reader guessing, even if it is not a piece that forces late night page flipping to determine how things will end. I wonder if Michael Bennett, like his DC counterpart Alex Cross, might want to look for new adventures. That said, I am still hoping that Patterson can create a Bennett-Cross-Boxer collaborative effort that would pull all three of his successful detectives into a single case crossing multiple novels and keeping readers scrambling to read them all in succession. Then again, that might be too much to ask… or is it?

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Born, for keeping things going. You work well together, though I wish there was something a tad grittier in your collaborative efforts.

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