Shadow Sands (Kate Marshall #2), by Robert Bryndza

Eight stars

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

Adding to his successful new thriller series, Robert Bryndza delivers another Kate Marshall novel that will keep readers turning pages well into the night. Not only is the plot one that has great potential, but the characters come to life in a mystery that spans many years. Recommended to those who know and love Bryndza’s past work, as well as the reader looking for high quality police procedurals.

Kate Marshall is a former cop with the Met who’s been trying to reinvent herself. A full time lecturer who went out on a limb as a private investigator, Marshall keeps herself busy and away from some of the vices that cost her custody of her son years ago. 

When Kate and her son, Jake, go diving in the Shadow Sands reservoir, they find more than they bargained for. The body of Simon Kendal is drifting deep in the water, covered in various scratch markings. After calling the authorities and being interviewed by DCI Henry Ko, Marshall and her son continue on with their lives, unable to do much else.

When Marshall’s approached weeks later by the boy’s mother, she listens to the impassioned plea of a woman who needs her help. While the death was ruled an accidental drowning, something does not add up for Marshall, who pulls some strings and has a medical examiner review the notes. The oddity is there in black and white, leading the police to reopen the investigation. A quick arrest of the boy’s camping companion all but puts the case to rest.

While Kate and her university colleague (and sometimes investigative assistant), Tristan Harper, discuss the case, they wonder if Shadow Sands could be as dangerous as past media accounts suggest, where a number of people have drowned over the years. Tristan meets a new professor as part of his daily work and learns that she has an interest in Shadow Sands as well, based on some of the urban legends. Magdalena Rossi and Tristan seem to hit it off and he begins to wonder if there might be a link to the aforementioned drownings.

While Magdalena is out furthering her research, she is attacked and taken captive by a man who seeks to drug her and let her “touch the stars”. The disappearance is noted by others and Tristan is concerned that something might have happened. Working with Kate, they try to retrace her steps, only to learn that there have been other disappearances around Shadow Sands, as well as a few bodies that emerged decades ago. When one victim speaks of getting away from an attacker, Kate and Tristan take her word for it. No one else is keen to listen, including DCI Ko, who had her locked away in a psychiatric facility for months.

As Kate wonders about a killer around Shadow Sands, she also has to worry about crooked cops, yet again, who may be trying to sweep this all under the rug. It will take all her skills to find Magdalena and get to the root of these past disappearances, all while dodging those with the power of the force behind them. What’s out there and how can the cops turn a blind eye?

Robert Bryndza has kept his fans enthralled with a previous series that took crime investigation to a new level. Now, with this series, Kate Marshall is trying to fill some large shoes and doing well. Only two books into this series and Bryndza has already done a masterful job of things.

Kate Marshall is a great protagonist, balancing a busy work life with a personal history she would rather forget. Her life at the Met was going so well, until an affair with a superior (while learning he was a serial killer) turned all that on its head. She battles the bottle and lost her son because of it. However, even as she has put police work behind her, Kate has it in her blood and helps as she can. Her off the cuff investigative work keeps her busy and the reader can see her passion blossoming in this second novel, with more to come.

A great set of secondary characters keeps the story on point. With Tristan Harper’s return, the reader is able to learn a little more about him. There are some poignant moments in one of the subplots that enrich the larger story and keeps the reader connected to him. The entire cast does well and propels the narrative forward, in a case that spans decades, with much to hide. 

Bryndza dazzles readers with this piece, offering great plot development throughout the novel. The story takes many twists, growing from the location of a simple body during a dive into a larger mystery and an apparent serial killer. The narrative builds throughout, as the reader is pulled deeper into the story. The subplots that occur throughout help the reader to see the larger and more personal side of those characters to take centre stage. 

Bryndza offers a mix of chapter lengths, helping to push the story along and then keep the reader hooked with more detailed aspects of the case at hand. All this is done with such ease that the reader soon finds themselves devouring the story and losing track of time. This is the sign of a superior novel handled by a great writer. I can only hope that Robert Bryndza’s next Kate Marshall thriller packs just as much punch. 

Kudos, Mr. Bryndza, for another stellar piece of work. Fans, new and longer-term alike, will find something  worth sharing with others.

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.

Review: Shadow Sands

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

Nine Elms (Kate Marshall #1), by Robert Bryndza

Eight stars

Returning with a new series to captivate fans, Robert Bryndza delivers a knockout punch with Kate Marshall crime thriller. Back in 1995, DI Kate Marshall was hot on the heels of the Nine Elms Cannibal, a serial killer with a taste for flesh. While working the case, Kate almost becomes a victim herself, but is able to capture the killer, none other than her boss, DCI Peter Conway. Flash forward fifteen years, Kate has left the Met and is now teaching Criminology, able to lecture about the horrors she and the various female victims suffered. When she is contacted by a family seeking answers about their missing daughter from 1990, Kate is intrigued, wondering if this might have been one of Conway’s early victims. As she prepares to head out to meet the grieving family, Kate is contacted about a possible resurgence of the Nine Elms killer, though Conway is safely tucked away in a psychiatric ward. While trying to trace some of the last known whereabouts of the long-missing woman, Kate discovers that some of the new crimes mirror those from 1995. Meanwhile, Peter Conway might be locked away, but he is receiving messages from ‘a fan’ who admired his work and is ready to help him escape. Conniving but also highly calculating, this fan will stop at nothing to ensure Conway’s path is kept clear, placing Kate and the one she holds dear in the crosshairs. Kate’s already cracked open the case once, but now she will have to rely on her intuition and help from some skeptical coppers to bring down another killer, while keeping Peter Conway locked away forever. Bryndza does a formidable job of keeping the reader on their toes and wanting to know more. Recommended for those who have loved Bryndza’s Erika Foster series but need a new angle, as well as the reader who enjoys police procedurals with cunning antagonists.

Having throughly enjoyed all of Robert Bryndza’s past work, I could only hope that this new literary pathway would work well and not be a one-first flop. I was pulled into the story from the opening pages and wanted to learn more about Kate Marshall as soon as I could. Marshall has an interesting backstory, not the least of which that she was romantically involved with the man who was her boss and ended up being a serial killer. From there, the revelations and shock of the entire situation pushed her into academia—as well as into numerous drunken stupors—though she kept her passion for police work. Now, with life changes that have chilling aftereffects, Kate is pulled back into the investigation she swore she’d seen to its end, and cannot stop herself from wanting to help. With more to lose than her own life, Kate risks it all as the reader sees her take major risks and gambles everything. Others help keep the story riveting, including Peter Conway, who appears to be the innocent bystander in his psychiatric ward, until someone pulls him into the middle of a serial murder spree again. The balance between Kate and Conway is again apparent, as they flashback to 1995 and a connection that yielded more than they both could have expected. The entire cast work well together to tell a story the reader will want to hear and the intensity never lets up. With a strong story and chapters that coax the reader to push forward, Bryndza proves why he is the top of his genre and readers who are just coming to hear his name will rush to read more in short order. A great launch to a new series, though one can hope there is more Erika Foster to come, even if in a crossover effort.

Kudos, Mr. Bryndza, for keeping me up late trying to crack the case wide open alongside Kate Marshall. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for fans.

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

Deadly Secrets (Detective Erika Foster #6), by Robert Bryndza

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Bryndza, and Bookouture for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Robert Bryndza is back with another Detective Erika Foster novel that takes the reader on a heart-thumping adventure in a thrilling police procedural. While headed out for Christmas lunch, DCI Foster comes upon a recent murder scene and decides to lend a hand. What she finds is a slain Marissa Lewis, her body frozen to the ground after having had her throat slit the night before. Lewis, a burlesque dancer who used the name Honey Diamond, was quite well known around the community, though not always liked. It would seem that she was quite popular with some of the local men, though used her wiles to blackmail them and pad her own bank account. With the investigation in full-swing, Foster begins using some CCTV footage and witness statements to determine that the killer was likely wearing an odd gas mask, a photo of which appeared in a document dump from emails of an early suspect. As a number of those on the police radar take drastic measures not to be fingered for the crime, Foster and her team hear of a man attacking people in a similar gas mask. Might the cases be connected? When an urgent call from Manchester pulls Foster away from the case, the team turns to DI Moss, who is unsure if she can handle the pressure of being in charge. With the case heating up and leads emerging from numerous parts of Marissa Lewis’ life, Moss takes a gamble to bring the case to a close, all while DCI Foster wrestles with demons from her past. Bryndza keeps the reader guessing throughout this piece, with captivating twists in a story that will keep series fans up late into the night.

I have long enjoyed the writing of Robert Bryndza, particularly his work with DCI Erika Foster. Some may call the series too superficial for their liking, but there are times with a quick read police procedural checks all the necessary boxes. As with the previous five novels, this piece allows the reader to develop a closer relationship to Erika Foster, foraging through her personal life to touch a nerve, while also helping to build-up her strong police presence. Bryndza also seeks to personalise Erika’s struggle to move on after the loss of her husband and the pitfalls of finding that balance between work and a personal life. Foster remains a sharp character who answers to no one and seeks to find the minutiae in each piece of evidence to determine its validity. The handful of secondary characters in this story continue to develop as well, as Bryndza does offer scraps of information to flesh-out their work and personal lives. Readers can enjoy seeing this growth, which provides interesting sub-plots and offsets the intensity of the crimes central to the narrative. The story is clear and flows well, taking a few tangents, if only to allow the reader to be befuddled alongside the coppers. Bryndza weaves his narrative around two sets of crimes and merges them at just the right moment, only to leave gaps that need to be filled to solve the larger murder investigation. Through his use of short and choppy chapters, Bryndza offers up a story that cannot easily be put down and forces the reader to forge onwards, begging to know how things resolve in this high-impact case. To call the story addictive would be an understatement, even if there are police procedural purists who remain bitter on the sidelines.

Kudos, Mr. Bryndza, for another captivating novel in the series. I am eager to see how things will continue to evolve with DCI Erika Foster and her team in the coming novels.

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

Cold Blood (DCI Erika Foster #5), by Robert Bryndza

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Bryndza, and Bookouture for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

DCI Erika Foster is back, and none too soon for series fans. As Robert Bryndza continues to impress with his dark police procedurals, his fan base grows exponentially as chatter of the series calibre. When Foster and her team discover a suitcase submerged in the water, no one could have predicted what might await them. The dismembered body of an unidentified male sets the stage for the latest macabre case that Foster will head up, though there are nothing but questions surrounding it. Turning up blanks, Foster eventually discovers that a woman’s body was found stuffed in a suitcase a few weeks before. Could there be a serial killer on the loose? When the team learns that the male victim was carrying drugs in his stomach, the narcotics mule angle seems the most likely, though there is still nothing to point towards a killer or whether they will come looking for their stash in the coming days. As the story progresses, the narrative explores the personal struggles of one team member, where the seedy underbelly of London comes to light. The blowback from these struggles put Foster inadvertently in the crosshairs and leads to a brutal assault. Forced off the case, Foster returns to her native Slovakia to reassess her work and personal life, but there is a burning in her belly to remain in her job, protecting others from the world of killers out there. Once Foster is back, more bodies turn up and a clue turns the investigation on its head. Meanwhile, in a parallel narrative, the reader learns of the development and grooming of a pair of young people, whose down and out lives take a spin the closer they become. Their dislike of society spirals out of control and soon they have committed numerous crimes, with no end in sight. The kidnapping of twin girls proves to be the climactic event that pushes the case to the edge and a collective breath is held. Will Foster and her team stop the killings before top brass turn it into a cataclysmic event? Only time will tell in this gripping, dark thriller that will keep readers flipping pages well into the night. Series fans can rest assured the calibre of the writing is high and Bryndza’s genius remains firmly rooted.

I have long been a fan of Bryndza’s work and find myself rushing to get hold of any books he releases, which seems to occur with some regularity. Some have vocalised a concern that the stories are too closely tied to a ‘traditional cookie-cutter English police procedural’, but I would deflect that by saying that the caliber remains high and the stories thoroughly interesting as to distract from what might seem repetitive. Character development is high on Bryndza’s list of essentials for each novel, offering newness to most who grace the page. Erika Foster receives particular development, as her proverbial plate has been heaped high over the past four novels. There are many threads left bowing in the wind, some of which Bryndza ties off while others are tugged and lengthened a little more. I enjoy the balance between the professional and personal struggles that Bryndza presents in his novels, as well as the ever-evolving narrative that involves the eventual killer, another form of character development. Paralleling these storylines creates more of a cat and mouse game, leaving the reader to wonder when and how forcefully the two will collide. Bryndza may publish a new novel regularly, but he does not skimp on quality. The novels are always fresh and give the reader a sense of ongoing continuity, if that makes any sense. Always a treat when a new DCI Erika Foster novel hits the literary radar and I seek to dodge the numerous books that haunt my ‘to be read’ pile to get my hands on it. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys police procedurals, but one ought to begin at the series start, to get all the nuances delivered throughout the narrative.

Kudos, Mr. Bryndza for another stellar piece. I love the rush I get reading one, though will have to get ahold of my emotions as I wait for more news.

Last Breath (DCI Erika Foster #4), by Robert Bryndza

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Bryndza, and Bookouture for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I devoured the previous three novels in this series and could not get my hands on this latest piece fast enough. While family obligations slowed my completion of this book, this should not be indicative of my interest in the story or Bryndza’s writing in general. As the story opens, DCI Erika Foster is still struggling with her assignment outside of the Murder Investigation Team (MIT), while making the most of still having a job. When a call comes to one of the MIT while Foster is present, they both head to the scene, where a young woman has been found murdered and left in the Dumpster. Quick to take charge, Foster tries to control the scene, only to be ordered away. This creates significant headaches for her later on, something with which Foster is only too familiar. Working leads on her own, Foster meets with a former colleague to pass along information, only to find herself in the middle of a harrowing medical emergency. Soon thereafter, Foster seeks and receives another secondment, giving her a chance to lead an MIT as they look for the killer. This one lurks in the shadows as he lures victims through social media, posing as a number of highly attractive men, which proves to be the opposite of his own appearance. The killer’s distinctive crime pattern offers some insight for Foster and her MIT, though it will take more than apt police work to catch this cunning individual. As both Foster and the killer struggle with personal issues, it will be a game of cat and mouse until one makes an irreversible error. Another stunning read that will surely help reestablish the Bryndza conversation and leave a new round of fans scrambling to learn all about Erika Foster.

Bryndza’s effectiveness is not lost on me or the scores of others I know who rush to devour every book when they hit the market. Be it the wonderful cross-section of characters or how well they mesh together, the reader can fall in love with the character development alongside a powerful mystery. The narrative is strong and leaves the reader hanging and wanting to read ‘just a little more’, which is complemented by extremely quick chapters. This quick march through the story has the reader sitting for a period and seamlessly digesting large portions of the book, loving every nuance. The only downside to this is that when the ‘high’ of the story comes to an end, the reader is left crashing and begging for more. Bryndza has such a way with words, settings, and realistic depictions that anyone can read them and feel completely at ease. There is no geographic snobbery that the reader ought to know areas of London and environs to properly navigate through the story. Taking the time to offer an interesting argument about the pitfalls of social media, Bryndza’s social commentary leaves the reader pondering their own online fingerprint and how dishonesty fuels privacy. Brilliant work again, though I am forced to bide my time and hope that there are a few more ideas percolating inside the author’s mind as we speak.

Kudos, Mr. Bryndza for yet another spectacular novel in this series. I find myself impatient, but highly excited what you have planned next for DCI Foster and the rest of the team. Thank you for entertaining so effectively with all you publish.