Water (Zack Wilder #1), by N.J. Croft

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to N.J. Croft for providing me with a copy of this novel, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I was yet again excited when N.J. Croft asked me to read a beta copy of her latest publication in the Zack Wilder series. This one proves just as exciting as the novella series debut, with a massive mystery and a number of potential suspects. When FBI Special Agent Zack Wilder has something go horribly wrong during some undercover work, he’s whisked off to help with a case of water contamination that has claimed the lives of many. Confused as to why he might have been personally chosen, Wilder works with a local EPA agent to get to the bottom of things. What begins as some corporate finger pointing turns sinister, especially after the chairman of the local company thought responsible turns up dead by an apparent suicide. Wilder receives anonymous texts demanding that he shut things down or his secret will be revealed. When more mass water poisonings take place, Wilder is sure there is something more to the story. He’s equally worried that someone will learn of his position within the Fulcrum, an organisation he has been a part of since age 4. Working both cases, Wilder discovers that nothing is quite as it seems and he may be the prime target. A brilliant piece by N.J. Croft that kept me enthralled throughout.

FBI Agent Zack Wilder is working undercover with his partner, but things go horribly wrong when a botched raid leaves her dead. This is the second of his partners who have died in the line of duty over the last few months, leaving him a little leery. What’s worse, he is quickly shuttled off by his superior to help with a water contamination case, something about which he knows little.

As Wilder begins working with EPA Agent Dr. Olivia Bishop, they learn that the contamination in the water could not have been a simple dumping from the local factory, as its concentration levels are far too high. Rather, it must have come at the hands of an individual seeking to make a point. Dr. Bishop’s ex-husband is part of an environmental group and has a motive, but she is sure that he was not involved in any of it. Wilder receives an anonymous text warning him to close things down or his ‘secret’ will be revealed to all, which likely means his role in the Fulcrum. Wilder wants to keep that under the radar and does his best to close the case, just as a local businessman commits sluice and claims responsibility for the contamination.

No sooner than that case is closed off, than another contamination takes place and Wilder rushes off with Dr. Bishop and his newest partner. Things continue to make no sense, with contamination levels higher than could be naturally occurring. When another business owner suffers a brutal and apparently self-inflicted death, Wilder is told again that he must shut things down. Is there someone out there who knows of his role in the Fulcrum? Could all of this be Fulcrum related and there is a rogue member seeking to end him?

After being given a lead that Hoover Dam might be a subsequent target, Wilder rushes there, only to find himself caught in the middle of a trap. He’s left to protect himself and almost dies when concrete comes crashing down around him. Now, Wilder is sure that someone wants him dead and that there has to be a Fulcrum connection. Reaching out for help, Wilder learns little, but knows that he will have to watch himself or risk dying. Who is behind all this and how will Wilder uncover the truth? A thrilling piece by Croft that has me begging for more!

I have long have an interest in the work of N.J. Croft, as she pushed me outside of my comfort zone while tackling issues of science and scientific discovery. There is a degree of science to this book, in that the discussion of water contamination weaves its way into the early portion of the book, but it is not technical, nor are the issues overly complex. Rather, it is a book filled with a wonderful narrative and strong character development, while also allowing the reader to delve a little deeper into the Fulcrum and what that means for Zack Wilder. After reading the opening novella, I was very eager for this piece and am happy that I got to read it so quickly.

Special Agent Zack Wilder is back with more and keeps the reader highly entertained with both his curious backstory, as well as some wonderful development in the present. His lack of relationships may leave some baffled, but he is by no means a stranger to the ladies, as things progress in an interesting manner within the pages of this book. All that being said, his focus in the job, as well as keeping his secret about being part of the Fulcrum. Grit and determination fuel him throughout and his is not prepared to let anything stand in his way from getting answers, while always being leery about who or what awaits him around every bend. I cannot wait to learn more about him in the next year or two.

As with the introductory novella, there was much action throughout to keep the reader attentive and curious about what is to come. The limited backstory served to keep Zack on point and yet there is much about the Fulcrum that Croft will have to share in the coming novels. A swift narrative keeps the reader engaged from the outset and allows them to wonder about what awaits for Zack and others. The plot was complex enough that it could not be easily predicted, while not tangling anyone up in knots as they made their way through it all. Short chapters keep the reader on point and forging ahead, allowing me to say “just a little more” on numerous occasions. I cannot wait to see what else is to be revealed for all to see in the coming years and. how the Fulcrum will play a key role in it all.

Kudos, Madam Croft, for a great series that keeps me curious and wondering with each flip of the page.

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