Escape from the ER
3.5 Stars
The Finders - Jeffrey B. Burton

What is it about a book with a dog on the cover? Seriously, I have no control.


Mason “Mace” Reid is an average guy who teaches obedience classes for people & their four legged children. But his real job is training cadaver dogs to find human remains for police departments in Lansing & Chicago. He’s still reeling from an unwanted divorce & the recent loss of one of his “kids” when he gets a phone call from a friend who runs a dog rescue. Seems he may have an addition for Mace’s team.


After he hears her story, Mace agrees to meet the golden retriever & it’s love at first sight. He promptly names her Elvira (Vira for short) & takes her home to meet the gang. Delta (Dawn), Maggie (May) & Sue (as in “A Boy Named..) Hmmm…I’m sensing a theme here. Her training begins & it’s soon clear there’s something different about her. Vira not only learns at warp speed, she has a spooky ability to make connections above her pay grade.


Kippy Gimm is a cop in Lansing who she rescued Vira after finding her at a crime scene. That she survived is a welcome bit of good news. She & partner Dave “Wabs” Wabiszewski are struggling with their search for a young woman who’s gone missing. And she’s not the first.


When Kippy checks up on Vira, she meets Mace & is intrigued by his dogs. She sees a way to speed up searching the areas she & Wabs need to cover & wonders if Mace might be interested. He is. But one search in particular leads to an event neither could have foreseen. It’s kind of a good news/bad news situation. They find what they’re looking for but the end result is a killer now has Mace in his sights. And so the hunter becomes the hunted.


In alternate chapters we meet a cold, intelligent sociopath who enjoys his “work”. So when some guy with a bunch of dogs screws up his plans…well, it really can’t be tolerated.


This is a quick, enjoyable book. There’s a bit of a slump in the middle but plenty of info on the science behind cadaver dogs & their training makes for an interesting read. Some creepy scenes & a steady rise in tension lead to an action packed finale.


When it comes to the two legged characters, Kippy is the best developed. She’s a smart, determined woman with a low tolerance for crap. As for Mace, he improves as the story progresses. It’s almost as if the author & his MC had to get to know each other & as events unfold, Mace’s personality & voice grew stronger. He’s a disarming & likeable guy whose world revolves around his furry crew & their strong bond is the heart of the story.


But the real stars are the puppers. Sue is the regal veteran who thinks of Mace as a barely adequate employee. Delta & Maggie have some sort of psychic connection & enjoy gaslighting their Dad. And Vira is always two steps ahead of everyone else. Now if she could just get those dense humans to pay attention! It’s a solid start to the series & I look forward to the gang’s next adventure. And yes, Sue…I’ll bring peanut butter.




3.5 Stars
Midwinter Mysteries - Keith Moray
I love anthologies. It’s a great way to try on new authors before coughing up the big bucks for their full length novel on spec. It’s also nice to have something you can dip into when you’ve got a few spare minutes to read a short story.

This is a collection from Sapere featuring 11 authors giving their takes on mysteries set around Christmas. Some are period pieces, some are set in present day. There’s a real mix here & as with all anthologies every reader will have their personal favourites.

So I’m just going to mention the three I thought were standouts.

“Will Power” by Marilyn Todd is set in 1895 London & features Julia McAllister, a smart independent woman who makes her living as a photographer. The narrative is pacey & atmospheric & full of witty dialogue & sharp humour I really enjoyed. She’s a new author for me & after reading this shortie I picked up the first book in the series.

“Secret Santa” by Kim Fleet features Eden Grey, a private investigator in Cheltenham. Another new author, another great story & another series I’ll be checking out (I think my TBR pile just burst into tears).

And last but not least, one that reunited me with a character I’m very familiar with…the one & only Lieutenant Josef Slonský. “Away in a Manger” by Graham Brack takes us to Prague for Xmas where we follow the gang as they deal with some festive pickpockets. As usual, the dialogue kept me grinning through the whole story.

There’s something here for all mystery lovers & at only 99¢ for kindle, it’s a screamin’ deal.


5 Stars
An early contender for my Top Ten of 2020 list
Roar Back - John  Farrow

Confession: when it comes to this series, I have not been a faithful reader *hangs head*. But I’ve been picking away at it & just recently finished “Ball Park” which I really enjoyed. So when this came along, I grabbed it. I could probably sum up the babbling that follows with 2 words. Loved it. But then I’ve never been known for my editing skills.


The book opens with an uncomfortable scene from 1958. A young cop is put through a hazing ritual to prepare him for going undercover to infiltrate the mob in Montréal. It’s a long term assignment…years. And if accepted, he no longer exists. He will become known as Coalface.


It’s now 1978 & cop Émile Cinq-Mars has just been promoted to Sergeant Detective. So it’s only fitting that with his new rank comes a new case. Someone has broken into an apartment building. Seventeen times. Yep, 17 flats & 11 storage sheds were robbed. While he admires the thief’s work ethic, the location strikes Émile as an odd choice. This is a poor area, it’s not like the tenants were rolling in flat screens & jewels. But in one of the apartments, something was left behind.


In alternate chapters we follow a man who’s been undercover for 20 years. He’s had a hard life & is no longer sure he can distinguish himself from the Italians, Russians & Hell’s Angels he mixes with. If there’s one lesson he’s learned it’s that you don’t have to be dead to lose your life.


Émile & his partner are trying to get their heads around the robbery when his old boss gets in touch. Captain Armand Touton is a legend on the force & was Émile’s mentor when he worked night patrol.  Although retired, Touton is still connected & has a job for his former protégé. He’s been contacted by a man known as Coalface with an urgent message. There’s a war coming between rival gangs & he has a request. After filling Émile in on the past, Touton makes it clear he’s passing the baton. Deal with it.


Buckle up, people. To quote Dr. Seuss, oh the places you’ll go. This is a dark, noirish mind bender of a story with an intriguing cast. On the surface it’s your basic cops vs. criminals but the characters & prose make it so much more. You’re dragged into a world full of secrets, violence & shifting alliances. And that’s just the police department. At times, there’s more honour & loyalty to be found among the so called “bad guys” but the downside is they tend to have a shorter life span.


The plotting is first rate but what puts it over the top are the characters. They’re diverse & so well depicted you can almost hear them breathing. Just be careful who you care about….they can be driving the story on one page & gone the next. Standouts for me include Émile’s partner Henri Casgrain, the smart & compassionate Reverend Alex Montour & hilarious neighbour-from-hell “The Bombardier”. And, of course, Émile.


If forced to pick one reason I keep coming back to the series, it would be this character. He’s a complex & compelling guy who is the beating heart of each book. Émile’s path to the police force was not a straight line. Initially he studied to be a priest until he had doubts about his calling. Then he turned toward becoming a veterinarian but that didn’t pan out either. However he has no regrets as those experiences proved valuable once he became a cop. Now he gets to hear confessions and deal with animals on a regular basis.


Émile is a thinker, a quiet & solitary man who often sees what others miss. His vocabulary & dust-dry humour frequently sail over the heads of colleagues. But not Henri Casgrain. For me, their relationship & dialogue was one of the highlights of the story.


If I had to give this book a label I’d call it a literary police procedural. From descriptions of the characters & their inner conflicts to the richly atmospheric setting, you become completely immersed in this fictional world. The plot is intricate, intelligent & sprinkled with dry, gallows humour (is it wrong that I was grinning during a funeral scene?). But it also reflects the brutal reality of the relationship between poverty & organized crime in a big city.


I’m a bit stingy when it comes to handing out 5 stars. It’s reserved for books that make me oblivious to my surroundings & completely engrossed in the story. This did that in spades & so just like that, I’ve got my first contender for the Top Ten of 2020.




3.5 Stars
The K Team - David Rosenfelt


The K Team is officially open for business. When I heard about this series, I thought the premise was a great idea. Laurie Carpenter, Marcus Clark, ex-cop Corey Douglas & his 4 legged partner Simon Garfunkel are Paterson, New Jersey’s newest private investigators. Now all they need is a client. Be careful what you wish for...


If you’re a fan of the Andy Carpenter series you’ll already be acquainted with his nemesis, Judge Henry “the Hatchet” Henderson. Seems the judge has a wee problem….someone is trying to blackmail him & he wants them to find those responsible. His instructions for their meeting are clear: it must be completely confidential & he’ll require the presence of Laurie’s annoying husband.


I won’t get into the main plot line. It’s ingenious & complex & has our rookie PI’s chasing their tails. The first half of the book deals with setting the stage & introducing all the players. At the 50% mark, the pace picks up considerably following 2 pivotal events….the introduction of one character & the loss of another. As the frustrated team begins to make connections, you’ll be kept guessing as to who is behind it all.


I’ve always enjoyed the Andy Carpenter books but was looking forward to Marcus & Laurie being in the driver’s seat. I assumed the 3 human MC’s would split story telling duties with Simon contributing the odd growl. (I know what you’re thinking…..Marcus? using words? Ok, so maybe not actually speaking but I was hoping for some internal dialogue to balance out his vocabulary of pithy grunts.) And seeing events through Laurie’s eyes would give us a fresh approach.


Alas, it was not to be. While Marcus & Laurie play their parts, the story is narrated by Corey. And while he’s a smart & earnest guy, I’m not sure his character is is dynamic enough to carry it off. I’m glad the author chose to make him completely different to avoid comparisons with Andy but the result is he’s like vanilla ice cream. Nothing wrong with it, just a little bland. Hopefully his character is fleshed out in the next book so more of his personality shines through.


There are some holdovers from the original series. Andy pops in & out of the story as do Pete Stanton & accountant/hacker Sam. And of course Tara is always there to provide quiet wisdom & support. But the big surprise is the loss of a well known character & it will be interesting to see how the author fills their shoes. It’s a solid start to the series & i’ll definitely pick up the next one to see where the team lands.





3.5 Stars
Of Mice and Minestrone - Joe R. Lansdale

Joe R. Lansdale is an author who is not only prolific but consistently adept at whatever genre he chooses to spin his tales. The backbone of his works is the Hap & Leonard series which currently stands at 12 or so books.


How can you not love these guys? Hap is a philosophical white guy with a strong moral code & Leonard is tough, gay black man with an iron will. Growing up as best friends in east Texas, neither should have survived the ingrained racism & prejudice of the Jim Crow era. Lucky for us they did.


This collection of short stories takes us back to their early years. Hap is our travel guide & as he recounts these 5 vignettes, you get the feeling he’s shaking his head in mild amazement. He now grasps the significance of things that his younger self missed. Like the security of family, the mystery of his profound connection with Leonard & the importance of a good hot sauce.


The stories run the gamut. Funny, disturbing, poignant & violent…it’s all here. So grab your iced tea, pull up a chair & sit a spell as Hap reminisces about the good old/bad old days that shaped their friendship. There’ll be pie at the end. With real meringue, not that whipped cream crap.


The Kitchen: Hap is about 6 yr. old & recounts how extended family would gather at his grandmother’s with enough food to feed the county. The tradition of story telling is in the spot light & my God, I was starving by the end of this one (how can I be craving grits? I’ve never even had grits.)


Of Mice & Minestrone: Hap is 16 now & working at the local police station/jail for the summer. The racism is flagrant & it tells of his first brush with domestic violence & how it was “handled” by the cops. (And just as an aside, I may never have soup again)


The Watering Shed: Leonard comes on the scene & it’s the beginning of a friendship that breaks about a dozen rules of acceptable behaviour at the time.


Sparring Partner: Further adventures of Hap & Leonard in the summer before graduating high school. It highlights the real threat of not acting white enough or black enough but also shows how decency & kindness can pop up in surprising places.


There’s a wry humour that runs through all the stories but this one had some of the best lines. For example, Leonard takes Hap to an isolated old barn where they meet a group of black men. Needless to say, Hap kind of stands out.


“Leonard,” the big black man who had been doing the yelling said. “What the fuck is this?”

“It’s a guy named Hap,” Leonard said.

“He’s white.”

“Oh shit. You’re right.”


The Sabine Was High: Hap & Leonard meet up again after being separated for a time. While Leonard went to Viet Nam, Hap was in prison for dodging the draft. It sets up an interesting dynamic as the two swap stories of their experiences during a day of fishing.


Lansdale's atmospheric style makes for effortless reading. The dialogue is lean & the prose can swing from brutal to tender in a heartbeat. It's clear he loves these characters & you'll be rooting for them too as you fall under his spell. A must read for fans of the series.




3.5 Stars
Strike Me Down - Mindy Mejia

Just wanted to say Happy New Year to everyone. The last few months have been a blur due to real life stuff but if I were to make a resolution it would be to spend more time on here. It's a little slice of calm in crazy times & I love the interactions, reviews & recommendations. 


To all of you, here's hoping 2020 is a year of peace, health, happiness & great books. 

Alrighty then, down to business....




This is a book that wastes no time grabbing your attention. After reading the blurb, you have a fair idea of the initial set-up. Then you read the first few pages. Wait…what? No worries, that’s just a little taste of what’s to come. The story then goes back in time to the previous week & how it all began.


Nora Trier used to be your average CPA. That was before she was named as the whistle-blower in a case that brought down a major corporation & made her a pariah, both personally & professionally. But her brains & tenacity were just what a man named Jim Parrish was looking for & she soon embarked on a new career as a forensic accountant. Now she’s one of 4 partners in a firm with an impressive reputation for uncovering fraud.


The secret to her success? Opportunity….pressure….rationalization. Find the person with all three & you’ve found your thief.


Which is exactly what their newest client needs. Gregg Abbott & his wife Logan Russo are the sole owners of Strike, a billion dollar athletics empire with a problem. One week from now they are hosting an international kick boxing tournament that is sold out. Just one tiny issue…the $20 million prize purse is missing.


Nora has reservations about taking the job & we soon learn why. But her partners are keen & in short order, she’s heading an investigation into the company that will dig up all it’s dirty little secrets.


I was a huge fan of this author’s previous book so was thrilled to get my grubby mitts on this one. Just a heads up…this is a big departure. Initially the investigation takes a backseat as it’s interspersed with extensive history on the principal characters including their childhoods, relationships & memories. This was a bit frustrating for a couple of reasons. First, the opening pages piqued my spidey senses so I was desperate for present day events to unfold. Second, despite all the personal information we’re given, oddly enough I never really connected with any of the characters. Part of that is necessary as it soon becomes clear at least one of them is lying. By obscuring their inner thoughts & motivations, the reader is kept guessing as to who did what until the final pages. But it also prevented me from feeling like I got to know them.


Nora is a coolly professional woman with no time or talent for social skills. She wears her business suits like armour but that facade begins to crack when her personal connections to the investigation threaten everything she’s worked for. As events take a deadly turn, a different Nora begins to emerge as she’s forced to fight for her life.


The investigative aspect of the plot is very well done. There’s enough detail re: accounting practices & financial data to allow you to understand what they’re doing but it never feels didactic. The story behind the missing $20 million is full of twists, lies & hidden agendas. All the characters have rational explanations for their actions. So who’s telling the truth? I’m betting your won’t have it completely figured out before you reach the big finale.






Tell Me My Name - Erin Ruddy



A while back I read Mike's post about how we should enjoy what we're reading. Instead of using DNF, he came up with (the brilliant) LTS….Life’s Too Short. It took me a long time to get to a place where I don't feel guilty about throwing in the towel, especially if it's an ARC. But I'm there. So I’m going to shamelessly steal his idea & apply it to this book.


When I decide to put a book down, it’s rarely due to poor writing skills. Instead, It’s like walking past a shop window & seeing a sweater that catches my eye. Everything about it screams “Pick Me!” so I dash inside & try it on. Then I look more closely. Hmmm….something’s not quite right. Maybe it’s the material, maybe it’s me. But clearly we’re not meant for each other.


That sums up my experience with this book. I had problems connecting with any of the characters & that hindered my ability to suspend my disbelief far enough to accept some of their actions & truly be gripped by the story. When I got to the 60% mark, I found my mind wandering to all the books waiting for me in my massive TBR pile & decided to say "uncle". Life’s too short to not be fully engaged by what I’m reading.


So it all comes down to a simple mismatch between reader & book. But just like with the sweater in the window, I know there are others out there that will find it a perfect fit.




4 Stars
Watching from the Dark - Gytha Lodge

So imagine this. You’re on the computer late one night, waiting for your girlfriend to appear on your Skype feed. You can see her empty living room & it sounds like she’s in the bath. Suddenly, in the corner of the screen, you see the edge of her front door slowly open. Soft foot steps echo down the hallway. The next thing you hear is the sound of splashing water. Minutes later, you watch in horror as the front door quietly closes. Silence.


Aidan Poole doesn’t have to imagine it. He’s left staring at the screen, terrified by what he just witnessed. Clearly Zoe needs help ASAP. So then why is he strangely reluctant to call 999?



Now THAT’s how it’s done, folks. If this prologue doesn’t grab you, you’re…ungrabbable. Or possibly in a coma. If you read “She Lies in Wait”, you’ll be familiar with the returning cast.


DCI Jonah Sheens is back & as the story begins he receives a weird message at the Hampshire Constabulary: some guy called about some girl somewhere in the area who might be in trouble. Or dead. Huh? After consulting the records (and Google) he finally comes up with a name & address. A quick visit confirms that yes, Zoe Swardadine is in fact very dead. Time to gather the team.


Domnall O’Malley, Juliette Hanson & Ben Lightman make up his close knit squad & they waste no time assembling a list of Zoe’s nearest & dearest. Let’s see….there’s Aidan, the boyfriend with everything to lose. Angeline is a close friend who clearly has some issues. Maeve is her former room mate with a complicated love life. Victor is the co-worker who quietly carried a torch for her. And then there’s Felix, the older man who was her landlord.


What follows is a layered story full of people with something to hide. The challenge for the squad is figuring out which of their secrets are related to the murder. As little snippets of information surface, each of the people in Zoe’s life will top the list of suspects at one time or another.


Alternating with the present day investigation are chapters that begin 20 months before her death. Here we get the history of how Zoe & Aidan met & the complex relationships between the gang. As these progress, they begin to inform the present & change how you view each of the characters. You’ll find yourself giving one of them the side-eye & thinking Aha!. Then you read the next chapter & suddenly someone else becomes your prime suspect.


This is not an action packed, shoot-em-up kind of procedural. It’s a twisty psychological suspense story that touches on the darker sides of human nature such as obsession, jealousy, deception & the damage people do to each other. The middle section showcases the grunt work cops endure that makes or breaks a case. It’s also where they (and the reader) pick up the clues that ultimately point them in the direction of Zoe’s killer.


By the end of book #1, I knew the regulars were characters I wanted to meet again so I really enjoyed this. It’s a pleasure to come across a police force portrayed in a way that avoids the usual tropes of office politics & backstabbing. Instead you have distinct characters who actually get along & each brings something different to the table. Domnall is the elder statesman of the squad with a dry wit. Juliette is smart, keen & there are hints of a developing subplot concerning her past. Ben is a quiet guy who is bit of an enigma. And holding them all together is Jonah. He’s a likeable man who’s only really comfortable when he’s on the job. As for his personal life…well, that needs a little work.


All in all, a creepy & intricate story with an ending that may surprise many readers. Job done.




3.5 Stars
A Bad Day for Sunshine - Darynda Jones

I was a big fan of this author’s Charley Davidson series which was straight-up urban fantasy. Now she’s begun a new one featuring *gasp* humans. Yep, not a demon, ghoul or God in sight. Turns out she can also write entertaining mysteries featuring normal people. Wait….I may be using that term loosely.


Del Sol, New Mexico has always attracted the artistic, odd & eccentric. It’s the type of close knit community where everyone’s on a first name basis, even with the resident flasher (that would be Doug). It can be hard to keep a secret. But there’s one in particular that Sunshine (Sunny) Vicram would love to uncover.


Sunny grew up here but left after a horrible event that changed her life. Now she’s back with 14 year old daughter Auri in tow. She just got elected as the new sheriff which is great. But also a little confusing as she never applied for the job. Huh…probably best to just go with it.


Her first day reunites her with childhood BF Quincy, now her deputy & he brings her up to speed on current cases. Just the usual….they need to convince Doug to take a day off & someone has kidnapped Puff Daddy, a much loved rooster.


Meanwhile, Auri is trying to survive the hazing ritual that comes with being the new girl at school. A pack of mean girls have her in their sights. Then things go from bad to worse when the one friend she made during the summer disappears.


So much for easing into the job. Sunny & her team have a serious case to crack. And before it’s over, she’ll discover some startling information about the event that made her leave town.


I’ll come clean & admit the first couple of chapters had me worried. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about Jones’ writing is her snarky sense of humour but initially I found it laid on a bit thick. If every second line is a zinger, it can be hard to find the story. Fortunately, this soon settled down so I could appreciate the witty dialogue & truly funny situations that are interspersed with more dramatic scenes.


From then on it became an entertaining & fast paced read. We learn Sunny’s history & the lingering effects of what she endured. The search for the teenager triggers memories of a time when she was another missing girl. But on the upside, her return also gives her a chance to reconnect with her parents, neighbours, Quincy & one Levi Ravinder. Oh, didn’t I mentioned him? He’s a handsome, enigmatic guy who once knew Sunny well (is it hot in here? feels hot in here *fans face*). All I’ll say is I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how that develops.


The crimes, high school drama & appearance of dangerous muffins ensures you’ll keep turning the pages but it’s the characters that hold it all together. Quincy in particular is a hoot & I loved the relationship between Sunny & Auri. You have to appreciate a mother who counsels her daughter to think “WWLSD” when faced with a tough situation. These people may have their quirks but there is genuine warmth between them & a sense they’ll always have each other’s back. There are a couple of running gags that pop up at the strangest times that always made me laugh.


I really enjoyed this & the ending makes it clear there is much more to come. While we wait for book #2, please join me in sending our thoughts & prayers to Puff Daddy.




3.5 Stars
The Starr Sting Scale - C. S. Cinneide

I can pretty much guarantee you’ve never met a character like Candace (don’t call me Candy) Starr. In a nutshell she’s a 6’3” hard drinking, foul mouthed ex-con with a diverse resume. Before she went to prison, she was a killer-for-hire. Her father was a hitman & just like any proud papa, he brought his kid into the family business. Now she lives alone above the E-Zee Market where she mans the counter & bounces meth heads who frequent the store.


But it can be hard to shake your reputation. Candace is approached by a wealthy woman with a problem. Her teenage daughter’s boyfriend is a drug dealing slacker & she’d like him…um…extracted from their lives. Perhaps Candace would come out of retirement & help.


The thing is she could really use the money but…whack a teenager? Turns out her reluctance is a moot point. Candace opens the newspaper one day & sees the guy’s smiling face. It seems his body was found in a nearby ravine. Huh. Unfortunately, it brings an old nemesis back into her life. Saunders is the cop who put her away & he’d like nothing better than to send her back to prison. So he pops by the store, sure that she is responsible for his latest homicide.


It’s not a happy reunion. He still thinks she’s in the game, she still thinks the smell of his aftershave is “like being assaulted by a basket of rancid fruit”. But his partner is a different story. After Saunders stomps out, Detective Chien-Shiung Malone has a proposition for Candace. Help solve the case & she’ll tell Candace who murdered her father several years ago. 


That gets Candace’s attention. She’s never been able to learn who killed her dad & the need for revenge is like an open wound. She figures all she has to do is hang around with the petite & proper Malone for a few days & she’ll have the name of her final target.


Pretty straightforward, right? Well….that’s before you factor in a couple of pretentious soccer moms, a bounty hunter, a mole in the police force & a dangerous motorcycle gang with hygiene issues (seriously, if you have access to running water there is NO excuse for eye watering BO).


Needless to say there’s much more to the story & there are a couple of pivotal twists so I’ll leave it here to avoid spoilers. What you do need to know is despite the addition of Candace’s snarky humour this is a dark, gritty, hardboiled read. There’s plenty of violence & the f-bombs fly thick & fast. Those bothered by stronger language, racial epithets and/or misogyny should walk away. I confess some of it was a bit much although entirely in keeping with the characters. Just a matter of personal taste & not a reflection of the author’s skills. It is what it is.


Two things in particular really stood out for me. One is the relationship between Candace & Malone. They’re from different worlds. But a gradual understanding & acceptance develops as they spend more time together. The other element was the final few chapters. Despite one disturbing scene (couldn’t decide whether to yell “Eeeew” or “Gross!”) there is a clever reveal that made me reevaluate what I thought I knew. Well done, Ms. O’Cinneide.


Rating this is a tough call. I think I was expecting something slightly lighter due to marketing blurbs & endorsement quotes. If a story is well written/plotted, It all comes down to what you enjoy reading. So if your tastes run more toward the hardbitten take-no-prisoners approach to the genre, this should be right up your street.




4 Stars
Expiry Date - Alex Walters

Poor DI Alec Mckay…..the guy just can’t catch a break (plus I’m beginning to think he’s a bit of a s**t magnet). He recently reunited with his wife & in an attempt to score points, he’s spending some time off walking the grounds of a local castle with the in-laws. So he really wasn’t expecting to find the first body. As for the second one…well, that just put a damper on the whole day.


His boss DCI Helena Grant isn’t faring much better. Her latest foray into online dating was a disaster. Initially, she wrote him off as annoying (and icky). But after some disturbing events, she’s beginning to wonder if he’s as harmless as she thought.


Get ready for lots of twists & turns. Both of these plot lines head off in surprising directions that keep you reading. The story deals with some serious issues but the addition of dry humour & sharp dialogue provide some welcome breaks in the tension when things get hairy.


This is such an enjoyable series. Each can be read as a stand alone with different investigations that challenge the reader. What unites the books is the relationship between Mckay & Grant. They’ve worked together for years & are used to each other’s personality tics. Mckay loves to grumble & mutter, providing darkly funny commentary as he digs into each case with relish. Grant is the kind of boss who is smart enough to give him lots of rope. He may be a bit unorthodox but his clearance rate speaks for itself.


Last year, the author stepped away from his series to bring us Winterman, an historical who-dun-it I really enjoyed. But it’s always a treat to catch up with Mckay. So bring on book #5!




My apologies to the pig....
Throw Away Faces - Josef Alton

I think I'm going to put this down for now. I've been reading at a glacial pace due to life stuff & this is not a quick read. The dialogue is written in olde english as befits the period but it makes for slow going & my brain is just too addled at the moment to concentrate. So I'm off to see what I have in my TBR pile filed under "fluffy". My apologies to the piggy-on-a-string.




3.5 Stars
A Rush of Blood - David Mark

Man, talk about great timing. If you’re looking for something to get you in the mood for Hallowe’en, look no further.


David Mark is best known for the wonderful Aector McAvoy series but stepped away last year to give us The Mausoleum. He continues his sabbatical here with this spooky stand alone, a moody thriller with one toe firmly planted in horror.


Molly is the manager of the Jolly Bonnet, a pub in the Whitechapel area of London. Sound familiar? Yup, otherwise known as the old stomping grounds of Jack the Ripper. Jack may not be around anymore but his presence is palpable as groups of avid tourists are led around the neighbourhood by tour guides in Victorian costumes. And the Jolly Bonnet does its part. Molly regularly dresses as a steampunk madam & the bar is crammed with Victoriana, grisly antique medical equipment & icky things in jars.


For a single mom, it’s an unconventional but necessary way to raise her daughter. Hilda is a precocious 10 year old who spends her evenings in the pub. She has grown up around the odd group of regulars who frequent the place including Lottie, her mom’s best friend.


Lottie is…um…an original. By day she’s your average mild mannered pathologist (albeit with purple hair). By night, she’s the sexy host of a popular YouTube channel who chats about all things macabre. Old surgical techniques, weird looking body parts (more icky things in jars) & bizarre death rituals….nothing is too freaky for her “Coffin Club” audience.


In alternate chapters we meet the elderly Mr. Farkas. Once an esteemed academic, he now rattles around his big house in Spitalfields, the area many Ripperologists believe Jack called home. From the get-go, it’s obvious Mr. Farkas has a loose grip on reality. But be prepared….pretty soon we have horrifying evidence that he parted company with his sanity a loooong time ago.


It all kicks off when Hilda’s friend Meda goes missing. She’s part of an insular Lithuanian community that avoids contact with outsiders. So when Hilda & Molly turn up looking for Meda, they’re hardly welcomed with open arms. In fact they’re greeted with thinly veiled threats. It’s a situation that soon escalates despite the intervention of a mysterious man named Karol.


Time for me to zip it. You’re on your own from here on in. This is a dark, atmospheric read with a disturbing theme of just how far some will go to hold on to family. The story has faint supernatural undertones & only gets creepier & more violent as we begin to grasp what is actually happening. Even then, I was not prepared for one of the final twists.


Authors take a huge risk when they step away from popular series to deliver something completely different. And it can be hard for fans to go in without preconceptions. I recently had a similar experience with Adrian McKinty’s latest book. But a good writer is a good writer no matter the genre & what hasn’t changed is Mark’s ability to tell a story that keeps your butt planted. I think this is part of a journey he began with The Mausoleum & he’s now fully embracing his dark side. So my advice is grab a seat in a well lit spot. Oh, and avoid quills. (Don’t ask.)




4 Stars
The Catch - Mick Herron

All right class, please take your seats. Today we’re going to continue learning about London Rules, an unwritten guideline for survival in Mick Herron’s world of spy vs. spy. I’m sure you recall #1: Cover your arse. In this novella we get an excellent example of #2: Always be a fair distance from a fuck-up. Words to live by.


Unfortunately, John Bachelor must have misplaced his copy of the rules. Otherwise, he’d never have agreed to track down wayward agent Benny Manors. He might not have contacted MI6 queen bee Diana Taverner.  And he definitely wouldn’t have drank his weight in gin.


This novella is part of a series with close ties to Herron’s Slough House books. Like The Drop & The List, it features “milkman” John Bachelor, an aging spook with one foot out to pasture. He’s clinging to employment with a part time job babysitting retired agents. Because someone needs to make sure they don’t become too chatty in their old age.


John is down on his luck & needs to stay off MI6’s radar. But there’s life in the old guy yet & you can’t help pulling for him as things go from bad to cataclysmic. The plot is a devious mix of hidden agendas wrapped in misinformation & smothered with lies.


These novellas have a different tone from the full length novels but you can always count on Herron’s dry wit as he delivers his sly & thinly veiled take on current events. It’s a shortie that concludes with an excerpt from his stand alone novel “This is What Happened”.  And a great little snack for fans as we impatiently wait for Jackson Lamb to reappear.




4 Stars
River of Lies - R. M. Greenaway

Woo hoo! I’m back in one of my favourite cities to catch up with RCMP officers Cal Dion & Dave Leith. If you haven’t read this series before, it can be enjoyed on a couple of different levels. Each book contains a stand alone investigation & works as a straight up police procedural. But you’ll get maximum bang for your buck by reading them in sequence as there’s a running back story that continues to evolve with each book.


So…a little history. Cal Dion was a hotshot detective until an accident derailed his life. Two years ago he was cruising around with his partner Luciano Ferraro when they were hit by another car. Ferraro died & Cal woke up with a broken brain. Memory, cognitive skills, personality…he’s literally not the man he was. His return to the job was a hard earned milestone but he’s well aware some of his coworkers have questions. What happened that night? Why were he & Ferraro in that particular area? And what’s up this rumour about a body?


As the books progress we get a slow drip of details about what Cal did & suffice to say it’s still dogging his every step. His boss Sergeant Mike Bosko is quietly investigating him & has roped in Dave Leith to help gather information. Which is a tad awkward seeing as Leith is now Cal’s partner. At the end of the last book, Bosko was contacted by someone claiming to know what happened the night of the accident. So it’s a good thing I didn’t receive a physical copy of this one….I probably would have ripped the cover off to get at the story.


In the here & now Cal, Dave & colleague J.D. Temple catch 2 cases in quick succession. A young woman’s body has been found behind a school. She was the janitor there & it’s not long before they have a couple of good candidates as suspects. Then a toddler goes missing from her crib while the adults were having a dinner party upstairs. The parents are divorced & the mother has remarried but it turns out her ex was also in the house that day. Holy Hannah, referring to these 2 as the Bickersons doesn’t even begin to describe the dynamics & the most challenging part for the cops may well be to stop them killing each other.


J.D. takes over the school related death & discovers a fun fact while questioning some students. Well, looky here…turns out a couple of them have connections to the house that’s currently missing one toddler.


What follows is a complex story full of twists, red herrings & multiple subplots. Along with the investigations we get caught up with the regular characters’ personal lives & relationships. Leith is in a bit of a funk & regrets agreeing to be the fox in the henhouse. Meanwhile, Bosko is always lurking in the background (that guy makes me so nervous).


And poor Cal…he’s still desperately trying to be the man he was. He has a million little tricks to camouflage his spotty memory & personality tics but it’s starting to take a toll. A little birdie told him about Bosko’s private investigation & keeping his guard up around the office is exhausting.


As for the ending, all I’ll say is the fate of one character in particular cut me off at the knees. There are plenty of surprises in store & the author saves the best for last. Yup, she did it again. Now I’m back on pins & needles waiting for the next one. Better make it an ebook….otherwise the cover might not survive.




4 Stars
Lethal Pursuit - Will Thomas

The Vatican desires it, the Germans need it, secret societies will kill for it & the British PM…..well, he just wants it gone. What are they squabbling over? A little scrap of paper covered with faded words. Hardly impressive until it’s identified as a previously unknown first century gospel.


The year is 1892 & there are whispers of growing xenophobia in Germany. The new government craves international respect & owning the new gospel will get the world’s attention. But before they can put it on display, it’s stolen by a British spook who hightails it for London. Unfortunately he barely has time to set foot on English soil before he’s murdered quite…um…thoroughly. But he did have time to stash away a satchel which will soon become the hottest item in the country.


The PM is well aware of his country’s cooling relationship with Germany. To him, the gospel is little more than a political hot potato & he decides to hand it over to the Vatican & let them deal with it. The problem is different factions are keeping an eye on his agents, just waiting for their chance. What he needs is someone unknown to them who can deliver the gospel into the right hands. Hmmm…who ya gonna call?


Private enquiry agent Cyrus Barker takes a summons from the PM’s office in stride but partner Thomas Llewelyn is less sanguine. So he’s relieved when they’re told it’s a simple job. Deliver one satchel to waiting Vatican officials. What could possibly go wrong? Ah me, where to begin.


Mysterious men in blue uniforms, snake oil preachers, masked assassins, a Hapsburg heir….it seems everyone & their Aunt Martha comes out of the woodwork to foil their plans. But if you’re a fan of the series, you know Barker always has a few dozen aces up his sleeve. Luckily we get to go along for the ride as he & Thomas risk their hides in another clever, twisty adventure.


As usual Thomas is our narrator & he tells the story in a pacy, descriptive style injected with dry humour. Victorian London provides an atmospheric backdrop & I enjoyed catching up with the regular cast. Thomas finally married Rebecca & she has a larger role in this outing. Unfortunately not everyone in the Jewish community is happy with her choice. She’s basically been shunned & there’s a certain irony in how she & Thomas are treated in light of Germany’s emerging mistreatment of Jews.


Real life events are mixed into the story & people are blissfully unaware that it’s the beginning of tensions that will lead to the Great War. Barker is recovering from injuries he incurred in the last book but is otherwise on top of his game. He’s as devious & enigmatic as ever, much to Thomas’ frustration. Just wait ’til you find out how he delivered the gospel. Genius.


It’s a smart, well plotted mystery full of colourful characters that add so much to the narrative. Their personal relationships & situations have evolved over the series & there are more changes in store. These books are on my annual read list & I’ll be waiting on the next one. Kudos to those responsible for another gorgeous cover.




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