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:

The Russian (Rob Tacoma #1), by Ben Coes

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ben Coes, and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Steeped in politics, both recent and from the Cold War era, Ben Coes is back with a new thriller that is sure to provide his fans with something about which to talk for a while. When two prominent US politicians are assassinated on American soil within minutes of one another, many suspect a planned hit. Tracing the histories of both men back to battling the Russian Mafia, many are sure this is retribution, organized by the powerful Odessa Mafia that has been controlling cities around the country for years. Feeling that there is an ongoing threat within the country that is only getting stronger, POTUS enacts a little-known codicil to the US Constitution, which will permit the ultimate retribution. After receiving the needed approval by a congressional group, a two-man team is assembled to act off the books, hunting for those responsible for the killings. One of these two is Rob Tacoma, former CIA operative who wants nothing to do with the plan. However, when something goes wrong, he sees red and will do all in his power to avenge those slain by these Russians. The hunt is on and there are truly layers of false leads, while Tacoma seeks those responsible, including the elusive Kaiser. There will be blood and bodies, but all that seems minor, as Tacoma is driven, perhaps just as much as Dewey Andreas, who is detached from this adventure. Full of twists and turns, Coes shows that he is in touch with the genre and knows how to spin a powerful tale. Recommended to those who have enjoyed some of Coes past novels, as well as readers who enjoy spy thrillers.

I have long been a fan of Ben Coes and cannot get enough of Dewey Andreas. However, I have to be patient and turn my attention to Rob Tacoma, a minor character in the past who takes a front and centre role here. Tacoma seeks the quiet life, away from the bullets and bloodletting, but seems to be pulled back in when America needs him most. Sounds like Andreas, no? With little time for backstory, Coes injects Tacoma into the middle of this adventure, pushing the limits at every opportunity. With his determination and timely delivery of ‘gun justice’, Tacoma knows what needs doing and acts swiftly. Others around him serve to keep the story going, through the layers of Russians are always interesting to see, particularly the way in which Coes portrays them throughout the narrative. With short chapters and wonderful narrative momentum, Coes pushes the story along. While I cannot completely decipher why, I felt this piece lost a little of the sharp edge with which Dewey Andreas novels have come to be known. Still, I was able to progress through in short order. A great summer read, as the pages seem to melt away. I cannot wait to see what Coes has in store next!

Kudos, Mr. Coes, for another great book. While perhaps not the best, we all need a little downtime, like Dewey!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: