A Deadly Influence (Abby Mullen #1), by Mike Omer

Eight stars

Launching a new series is always a bit of a risk, but Mike Omer has some stellar writing under his belt already and his stories pull the reader in from the outset. Abby Mullen is a hostage negotiator with the NYPD, as well as being a single mom. She’s adept at balancing both, but when she is approached by a woman from her past, Abby cannot help but remember a time when she was suffering a great deal of pain. A young boy has been kidnapped and a large ransom is being sought. While the family cannot afford it, there is an angle that may help raise the money. As Abby takes a gamble and looks for clues in the most unusual spots, she comes to terms with a lot from her past she never wanted to revisit. Will it help find a young boy or simply open old wounds? Omer does a bang-up job and keeps the reader hooked until the final page.

Abby Mullen has enjoyed her time with the NYPD, working as a hostage negotiator. It seems to hep hone her skills for life at home, where she is a single mom to two and dealing with a whiny ex. However, she has a secret about which few know, which has always been something she prided herself on. All that is about to come crashing down on her.

After a young boy is kidnapped off the street, his mother, Eden Fletcher, approaches Abby for help. Eden was a survivor of the Wilcox cult, as was a young Abby. Eden is less secretive about their shared past and wonders if a more recent group with which she was involved could be part of the kidnapping plot. While Abby works to dig a little deeper, the $5 million ransom sought soon can be better understood, as Eden’s other child, a teenage girl, has quite the social media following.

While Abby vows never to return to the cult life, she probes within the membership of a new ‘Christian community’ to see if anyone might have nabbed the boy to punish Eden for leaving. All this opens old wounds and keeps Abby from being able to think clearly. All that being said, there is a boy who needs his family and Abby will not rest until that happens. Omer does well with this series debut and I am eager to get my hands on the next one.

Mike Omer knows how to add an eerieness to his writing like few others, which has always left me wanting to read his books as soon as I can. This new series is a little less psychological, but just as captivating and left me wanting to know more about Abby Mullen and those around her. With a strong plot and curious backstory, I am intrigued to see where things will head with this piece as the series progresses.

Abby Mullen lays the groundwork for a fabulous series with her debut here. She has both a strong backstory and convincing development to keep the reader guessing and wanting to know more. Abby shows that she can juggle work and a home life, but it is her past that really has her tied in knots, something that inadvertently comes to the surface throughout. One can only wonder if this will be an ongoing issue as the series progresses, something that I cannot help but hope is the case. Omer closes the novel with an interesting cliffhanger related to Abby’s past and present, which is sure to make for great development in the coming stories.

While I have always come to know Mike Omer as a psychological powerhouse, he’s got some depth and varied nature to his writing. Omer makes an impact with this series debut, both from its strong narrative perspective as well as well-placed characters. He weaves them into the story effectively and keeps the reader wanting to know more. A child kidnapping works well and appears to tap into the large secret Abby wishes to keep, leaving Omer a lot of room to explore it over the next few novels. With some grittiness and just enough family connection, there is something about the debut that has me wanting to learn more in the coming months.

Kudos, Mr. Omer, for a great debut and curiously open-ended ending that will make for another great novel, when I get my hands on it.

Thicker Than Blood (Zoe Bentley #3), by Mike Omer

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mike Omer, and Thomas & Mercer for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Returning for the third in the Zoe Bentley series, the reader is able to get a real grasp for how Mike Omer seeks to shape the book and his protagonist. While still in Chicago, FBI forensic psychologist Zoe Bentley and Special Agent Tatum Gray are hot on the heels of Rod Glover, a serial killer who has been terrorising people across America. When Bentley learns of the murder of a young woman, she noses her way into the crime scene, thinking that it might be Glover’s work. CPD officials are less than happy to have her poking around, but Bentley and Gray refuse to back down. It soon becomes apparent that the case is not Glover’s work, as there is an odd angle, where the killer appears to have a form of vampirism. The woman who was slain is the daughter of a pastor, giving Bentley and Gray a lead to follow. No one has seen or heard of Glover, but the loose description sounds a little like Daniel Moore, a congregant who has admitted to having issues in his past. While Bentley and Gray try to track down the killer, they begin to wonder if this is a partnered job, with Glover as the alpha male, but the unsub (unknown subject) as the one choosing the victims. While learning a little more about the Chicago vampire community, Bentley and Gray must also keep their eyes open for more crimes. Another woman is found dead, her body with telltale marks of a blood letting, which only increases the pressure. Working all the angles, Bentley and Gray must find the killer, as well as their specific prize in Rod Glover, before more women lose their lives. An interesting addition to the series, though Omer’s chill and sharpness seem to have been muted somewhat in this piece. Recommended to those who enjoy the series, as well as the reader who wants something a little unique in the killer on the loose.

If memory serves, I picked up the first book in this collection on the recommendation of a friend. I could not get enough and loved how the story moved well, showing the progress Zoe Bentley could make in her search for a killer. By this, the third book, I had high hopes for Omer to keep things moving, but they got a little clunky. More on that in a moment. Zoe Bentley remains the star of the book, though she is not as pristine and on point as I would have liked. She remains focussed on finding the man she once called her neighbour and friend as a child, knowing his days are numbered. While Rod Glover may have brain cancer, Zoe is sure not to let up on her hunt. That said, she seems to have a harder time using that psychology degree that got her the prime position in the FBI. Other characters help to advance the story well, but many did not shine as I would have liked. The story’s premise was strong and well worth my time, but I felt things either did not move with the rapidity that I would have expected, or the interactions were less sharp and spine-tingling, which is something that Omer has done so well in the past. The hunt for the killers was constant, but it appeared as though Bentley and Gray were spinning their wheels. Even the aspects with the killer in the narrative driver’s seat were sometimes lacking the flair they needed to push things forward. With Omer using the short chapter technique to keep the reader hooked, there were moments when the narrative and excitement dwindled, leaving the reader to continue in hopes of finding the spark. While I did not dislike the book, this was surely my least favourite of the collection to date.

Kudos, Mr. Omer, for more Zoe Bentley reading. I suppose this might have been an aberration in your usually stellar style, at least in my eyes.

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

In the Darkness (Zoe Bentley #2), by Mike Omer

Eight stars

Mike Omer is back with another impactful thriller that presents another ruthless serial killer out for some twisted revenge. Dr. Zoe Bentley is a star within the FBI’s Behavioural Analyst Unit (BAU), using her skills to profile some of the country’s worst killers. Bentley is still coming to terms with the knowledge that an acquaintance is on the loose, a serial killer in his own right. Zoe’s sister, Andrea, appears to be a target, which leaves everyone feeling a little less than safe. When Bentley and her partner, Agent Tatum Gray, receive word that there appears to be a sick killer down in Texas, they take a particular interest. Someone using the online handle ‘Schrodinger’ has posted an extended video of burying a woman alive, which includes streams of both the grave digging and inside the makeshift coffin. When asked by the San Angelo PD to assist with this, Bentley and Gray fly across the country, though Andrea’s safety remains a concern. When they arrive, Bentley and Gray scour the crime scene photos and posted video for clues, but things are slow going. When another woman goes missing, Bentley tries to better understand the psychological aspects of the crime. She learns as much as she can about the famous Schrödinger Box thought experiment, including the nuances of what is supposed to be inside the box itself. When another link appears, it would seem that things are ramping up at an unexpected rate. Bentley and Gray must work quickly to solve this case and stop the disappearances. Meanwhile, Andrea is haunted by the constant fear that she will be attacked, which only makes her all the more paranoid. Things on both fronts soon take a turn for the worse, leaving the reader to pay close attention during the latter chapters of the book. Omer has developed another stunning novel that takes the reader into the mind of someone divorced from reality. Recommended for those who love a good psychological mystery that keeps the mind racing throughout.

I thoroughly enjoyed Omer’s debut novel in this series, as it pulled me in from the early chapters and would not let go. This was another wonderfully crafted piece that mixes sadistic killings with a psychological angle. Zoe Bentley proves yet again to be a wonderful character, whose attention to detail works wonders in her work life. Wanting to get to the core of those whose minds she seeks to analyse, Zoe does all in her power to better understand those who wreak havoc. All the while, she must battle with the knowledge that her sister, Andrea, remains a potential target. With a narrative offering parallel advancement of the plots, the reader is able to see the dedication that Zoe possesses. Other characters offer wonderful flavours to the story and complement the narrative effectively. Omer is able to craft wonderful individuals to keep the story fresh and the reader fully engaged. The story is strong and takes the reader into the depths of a killer’s mind, which also serves to entertain throughout. With short chapters, the pages seem to flow by without much effort, matched with a strong story and insightful perspectives.

Kudos, Mr. Omer, for another wonderful novel. I know you have other series and I may have to give them a read through before long.

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

A Killer’s Mind (Zoe Bentley #1), by Mike Omer

Eight stars

My first venture into the world of Mike Omer’s writing will surely not be one I forget. A serial killer novel that flips the genre on its head, Omer keeps the reader guessing throughout, in a piece that loses no momentum the deeper the plot. Dr. Zoe Bentley is an accomplished forensic psychologist with a passion for her work. When she is contracted to consult for the FBI, she leaps at the opportunity, getting neck-deep into a case that has been chilling Chicago to its core. While the local profiler scoffs at her ideas, FBI Special Agent Tatum Gray takes a liking to Bentley’s quirky side, though is kept in his place throughout the investigation. Someone has been murdering women and leaving them on public display, but not before embalming them, a unique act that has dubbed the killer the Strangling Undertaker. While investigating, Bentley cannot help but think back to a string of serial murders from her youth, which shocked her small town in Massachusetts. Bentley was sure she could identify the killer, but no one would listen to a teenager at the time. Back in Chicago, the killer seems to be getting sloppy and is almost caught, offering up a number of digital breadcrumbs on which the authorities can capitalise. When Bentley’s past and the current investigation collide, she cannot help but wonder if the horrors from two decades before might be rejuvenated, allowing a killer to whet their appetite again. Omer chills the reader to their core and provides the perfect mix of action and killer perspective to ensure the reader will come back for more. Those who love serial killer thrillers (what a tag-line for the sub-genre!) will want to keep this one on their list.

With the rise of certain television programmes, FBI profilers tend to be protagonists that are appearing throughout novels of this genre. That said, while anyone can spout out theories and ideas, it is the killer who deserves the praise, should they be thoughtful enough to provide a unique approach to crimes. Readers want to see new and intriguing ways to have their spines tingled, while trying to see what clues are left for synthesizing. Mike Omer does both very well and was able to keep me hooked, wondering throughout each passing chapter. Introducing Zoe Bentley’s character with such a backstory did much to convince me this would be a novel worth my time. I found her to be not only well-grounded throughout the investigation, providing both a serious and lighter side, but also to have a lovely, if dark, past as a teenager, which surely got her interested in all things serial killer. Omer balances these well and mixes them throughout the narrative, helping develop an attachment for the reader. Tatum Gray and some of the other characters laid the foundation for what could be a great series, should Omer continue with his strong FBI pairing, though there is likely a twist or two coming by next summer. The story was strong, yet did not get bogged down in too much psychological analysis, providing readers from all walks of life to feel comfortable navigating through the novel. Things flowed well and there were enough moments where the story took a twist so that the reader could not predict too much as things developed. Having not read any of Omer’s earlier work, I cannot comment on whether this venture into the genre is new or surprising, but I will say that he has made a fan out of me and I will keep my eyes peeled for the second Bentley instalment next July.

Kudos, Mr. Omer, for entertaining and educating in equal measure. You’ve made a fan out of me and I would venture that many others who take the time will sing your praises too!

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