Hunted By Simon Maltman Review

Hunted is the gripping debut novel in Simon Maltman’s engaging Michael Walker series, a fast-paced political thriller set in 1999 as the Troubles, the violent sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland that lasted for about thirty years was all but ended with a peace deal. Read my full review.

Hunted by Simon Maltman is an absorbing story of secrets and international intrigue set in a small town in rural Pennsylvania, where the British government has relocated the main character, Michael Walker, after a fragile peace agreement has all but ended the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Hunted Publisher's Synopsis

Michael Walker Thrillers Series #1

Michael Walker – former IRA soldier, turned MI5 informer – is living in hiding in rural America. A robbery at Walker’s home leads to his rare copy of the Irish Declaration of Independence being sold online. This proves to be the first link in the chain leading to his location being revealed. Walker’s life is plunged into peril, as an IRA hit squad – led by Marty Sullivan – is dispatched to eliminate him. Sullivan, a former comrade, is out for blood. Against the political backdrop of a struggling peace process back home, Walker goes on the run across the state of Pennsylvania and forges unlikely allegiances to survive. Walker seeks help from his former British handlers, but he should have known that any assistance must come at a price. Walker will not just remain a victim. He must fight back. The hunted must become the hunter.

Sharpe Books (November 22, 2023)

Genre(s) Political Thrillers & Suspense, Assassination Thrillers

Simon Maltman | Pub Date 22 Nov 2023 | ISBN ‎ 9798870411965 (Print) | 257 pages

Hunted Review

It’s 1999, and the relocation of Michael Walker, a former IRA soldier forced to become an informer for the British, is like a witness protection program arrangement with the aim of keeping him hidden safely from his former IRA associates who consider him a traitor to the cause and want him dead. Living a quiet life in hiding in the United States, Walker is facing the ghosts of his painful past when an unexpected catalyst sets him on a collision course with an underground network of vengeful IRA operatives who discovers his location.

The catalyst is a burglary of Walker’s house. He arrives home one evening to discover intruders, two local black men, burgling his home. Walker drives them away, but only after they make off with, among other property, a large sum of money the near destitute Walker can’t spare along with his prized possession, a rare copy of the of the revolutionary Irish Republic Declaration of Independence. He goes to work tracking down the burglars, only to learn a fence in a nearby town has already listed the document for sale on the internet and the rarity of the document exposes Walker’s location to an IRA hit squad.

After recovering his document, Walker continues pursuing the two men who broke into his home, intent on getting his money back. After finding them, he forces one of them, a young man named Brandon, to help him recover the money now in the possession of a black gang leader that Brandon and his partner worked for. The confrontation with the gangster where Walker gets his money back puts him and Brandon in harm’s way and in the interest of self-preservation, they stay together and soon a friendship develops.

While they try to stay a step ahead of the irate gangsters, Michael and Brandon run headlong into an IRA kill team and Brandon gets sucked into Walker’s troubles from his past. The bond between them strengthens as circumstances force them to fight together for their survival.

Hunted will satisfy seasoned crime and thriller reader, with its standard “on the run” archetypal type political thriller plot and keeping readers guessing until the last chapter with a few unexpected twists offered along the way. What is initially a one-off run in with the first IRA hit squad soon leads to another and then another, maintaining the pacing and tension at a high level throughout with plenty of action to keep the reader turning the pages.

Maltman does an excellent job seeding the story with cultural landmarks from 1999 to give the story a realistic feel. He offers us many notable secondary characters to keep the story interesting—in particular, Walker’s sidekick Brandon and a female FBI agent, Amy Landish, who is also a significant presence in the story.

Largely dialogue-driven with a tight plot, Maltman has done well in capitalizing on the novel’s anchor to the Troubles and in capturing the isolated rural setting with its sense of foreboding. The conclusion, in particular, will satisfy readers.

Hunted is recommended for crime, thriller, and mystery readers. A big thanks to the author and the publisher for making available a review copy of the book for consideration of my honest review.

Book rating: ★★★★

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Vengeance By J.K. Flynn Review

Vengeance, the second novel in J.K. Flynn’s DS Esther Penman series is a gripping crime thriller, but will also please the most discriminating police procedural fan.

A sophomore novel differs greatly from a debut novel. The first book usually represents the story the author has always wanted to tell. That’s why first novels often seem to have a breathless quality about them, the sense the author is trying to say too much. And authors often spend an insane amount of time writing a first book.

With a sophomore novel, the author has a track record. If the first one wasn’t as successful as hoped, a writer may consciously chase the genre market more with their second book. But, if the first novel was a hit, an author can feel under pressure to duplicate that formula with their second book. As a result, a sophomore novel often fails to equal the energy and innovation of the first. Within the space of the first few chapters of Vengeance, I discovered J.K. Flynn had no difficulty avoiding either complication. As much as I enjoyed reading the first installment in the Detective Esther Penman series, The Art Merchant, I found Flynn’s sophomore novel even better than the first.

Vengeance Publisher’s Synopsis

Detective Esther Penman Series #2


When a wealthy sales executive turns up dead in a Belfield alleyway, Detective Sergeant Esther Penman quickly realises there’s more to it than simple homicide. With links to a missing London stockbroker, and his firm on the brink of launching a new medicine worth billions, there’s plenty of motive for murder…

Meanwhile, Esther has troubles of her own. Having recently made an enemy of one of Belfield’s most ruthless criminals, she knows she needs to watch her back.

And she soon discovers that nothing is quite the way it seems.

As Esther finds herself dragged deeper and deeper into a murky world of corporate espionage and black market dealing, it isn’t long before she gets the unsettling sense that she herself is becoming a target.

Can Esther stay one step ahead of her enemies in her hunt for the killer?
Find out in Vengeance, the thrilling sequel to The Art Merchant.

Chingola Publishing (2023)

Genre(s) Crime Thriller, Police Procedural

J.K. Flynn | Pub Date 01 September 2023 | ISBN 978-1-7391797-2-4 | 345 pages

Vengeance Review

After a compelling prologue featuring a murder that grabbed my attention, the story opens with DS Ester Penman still coming to grips with the fallout from her experiences in the first book and the recent death of her mother. Like all good crime fiction series writers, Flynn understands the importance of providing just enough backstory on the main character so that each novel works as a standalone for those who may not have read the first book. What Flynn does so well here is that she uses the opportunity to reveal to the reader more about the protagonist and other major recurring major characters appearing in this book. This helps the reader feel he is learning something new about Penman, not just rehashing past events.

Next, DS Penman and her colleague and friend, Detective Inspector Jared Wilcox, catch the investigation of the murder of the man, Carlton Riddell, that occurred in the prologue. The murder of Riddell, a pharmaceutical company sales representative for an international biotech company that is about to release a breakthrough cancer treatment drug that could be worth billions, immediately raises our suspicions that the murder motive may involve corporate espionage. This seems likely when Penman and Wilcox recover the victim’s briefcase and find papers inside that they later learn from his employer he shouldn’t have had.

What is initially a one-off murder soon leads to a second body, and so the pacing and tension maintain a high level throughout the entire story. Penman learns the London Met is investigating a missing person case involving a man with a link to Riddell. Eventually, his body turns up with evidence suggesting it is another murder possibly committed by the same person.

Flynn maintains the reader’s interest throughout, presenting a compelling set of characters and suspects. As much as I love the flawed, but likable main character, Ester Penman, the story features many notable secondary characters to keep the story interesting, in particular, Esther’s colleague and partner Jared, who plays a central role in the story. Vengeance will satisfy the most seasoned crime and thriller readers, following the standard police procedural narrative and keeping readers guessing until the end. Flynn’s experience as a former police officer shines through her writing, giving her storytelling unique authenticity.

Flynn also explores the challenges faced by women who choose a career in a profession that historically and to a large extent even today is male-dominated. This provides one strand of the main plot that runs parallel to and supports it. But there are two other strands Flynn expertly weaves into the story. One pivots around the development of a same sex romance and the other the unexpected appearance of Penman’s biological father who she never knew growing up.

Crime fiction novels quite saturate bookstores at the moment, and I know there are many books by outstanding authors in the genre vying for our attention. But Vengeance is one of the best I’ve read this year and isn’t to be missed. The end left me eager for more Ester Penman and curious to see what she gets up to next.

Thanks to the author and publisher for providing me an advance review copy of the book.

Book rating: ★★★★★

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The Dry by Jane Harper Review

The Dry by Jane Harper is a gritty and riveting crime read that well deserves the description, atmospheric.

The Dry by Australian author Jane Harper is the debut novel in her Aaron Falk series. I started the series with the third book, Exiles, only because the publisher offered me an advanced copy for review purposes. Harper had already been on my radar before I read that book and I enjoyed it so much that naturally, I wanted to read the first two Aaron Falk novels. It took me a while to get to it, but here we are.

The Dry Publisher's Synopsis

Aaron Falk #1

A small town hides big secrets in The Dry, an atmospheric, page-turning debut mystery by award-winning author Jane Harper.

After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.

Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.

Flatiron Books (2017)

Genre(s) Murder Thrillers, Police Procedural

Jane Harper | Pub Date Jan. 10, 2017 | ISBN 978-1-250-10560-8 | 336 pages

The Dry Review

“Atmospheric” is such an overused descriptor in book reviews these days that I almost cringe when I see it. But if there was ever a novel (or three) deserving of it, Harper’s writing reaches the bar. Her evocative prose alone describing a severe drought that plays such a dramatic role in this book makes The Dry deserving of “atmospheric.” Indeed, the dry, parched climate is almost a character in its own right. If that doesn’t say atmospheric, I can’t imagine what does.

After a sinister prologue, the book begins with our lead, Aaron Falk, a Melbourne-based Australian Federal police officer, arriving in Kiewarra, the small, rural town where he grew up for the first time since he and his father left town under dark clouds of suspicion years earlier. Thirty-six-year-old Falk is in town for the funeral of his best childhood friend, Luke Hadler, who authorities have concluded shot to death his wife Karen and young son Billy before shooting himself.

Falk had only returned for the funeral at the insistence of Luke’s father, Gerry, and he intends to return to Melbourne immediately after paying his respects given the circumstances that had prompted him and his father to make a hasty departure from the town when Falk had been sixteen. He quickly learns most of the residents of Kiewarra haven’t forgotten him or his father and aren’t happy to see him back in town, which makes him even more eager to leave town. But after the funeral, Luke’s grieving father and especially his mother ask Falk to look into the murder-suicide because they can’t believe Luke killed his family and then himself.

The town’s lead police officer had only recently arrived in town and the Hadlers feel uncertain he and an outside agency had conducted a thorough investigation. Falk, who investigates white collar crime as a member of the federal police, feels reluctant to get involved, mostly because he desperately wants to leave the town with its unhappy childhood memories and the suspicious, grudge holding residents behind as soon as possible. Also, investigating murders isn’t the sort of police work he does any longer. But because Barb Hadler, Luke’s mother, had been almost a mother to him while growing up, he agrees to stay a few days to take a cursory look at the evidence.

Later the town’s police officer, Raco, tells Falk he isn’t entirely convinced that Luke killed his family, and explains a slight discrepancy in the evidence that causes his doubts. He then asks Falk to help with what Aaron realizes is an off-the-books reinvestigation. Raco doesn’t want to risk the ire of the agency that assisted with the investigation unless he can come up with solid proof Luke wasn’t the killer. The information Raco gives him convinces Falk to stay and become involved. That doesn’t sit well with many of the town’s residents.

Had I just picked up this book to read, knowing nothing about it or about Jane Harper, I’d never have imagined this was a debut novel. It’s that good. Perhaps that isn’t surprising, since Harper is a former journalist and obviously a skilled writer. Yet writing news columns and writing novels are two very different things. Obviously, given the quality of the writing and storytelling, Harper made the transition from news to novel writing by the time she published her first book. The pacing is near flawless and Harper keeps us guessing until the end.

Having read Exiles, I learned little about Aaron Falk in this book that I didn’t already know. Harper did an admirable job summarizing Falk’s history and the source of the animosity the townspeople feel toward him in her third book in the series. Like all good series writers, she writes books that work just as well as standalones even though they are part of a series with some common characters and backstories. There was a little more detail about Aaron’s history in this book, but I came to it with a good understanding of what Falk was about.

Whether one enjoys murder mysteries, crime thrillers, or a good police procedural, this is an enjoyable, riveting read that ticks all the boxes. While in my experience it isn’t necessary to read this series in order to enjoy the books, The Dry is as good a place as any to start if you haven’t read Jane Harper. She has earned a spot in my pantheon of best loved New Zealand and Australian crime writers and I already have a copy of Force of Nature, the second Aaron Falk novel, on my to-be-read pile.

Book rating: ★★★★★

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The Glasgow Smile by Chris Stuart Review

Chris Stuart’s The Glasgow Smile is a captivating read with profound and relatable human elements.

The Glasgow Smile by New Zealand author Chris Stuart, is the sequel to her debut crime thriller, For Reasons of Their Own, which garnered her the prestigious Ngaio Marsh Best First Novel Award in 2021. It thrilled me to receive an advance copy of The Glasgow Smile and I enjoyed renewing my acquaintance with some familiar characters and meeting some new ones.

The Glasgow Smile Publisher’s Synopsis

In a grimy graffiti-covered recess in one of Melbourne tangled inner city laneways, a woman is found murdered. ‘Why would anyone want to kill her? She was so ordinary,’ was the oft-repeated phrase DI Robbie Gray heard when the name of the deceased was revealed.

So why, then, she asked herself, was the body found propped up in such an extraordinary position, almost as if she was intimate with the portrait on the wall. Was this death intended to be symbolic, or was the placement merely a device to deceive?

Set against a background of civil unrest and rising white extremism, a government tainted by corruption and a family desperate to hide secrets, DI Robbie Gray, along with her Indigenous officer Mac must also grapple with their own demons of guilt and failure.  When an arrest is made, they realise that not all killers hold a weapon, masks don’t always disguise, and the legacy of long-held secrets can have tragic consequences.

Original Sin Press (2023)

Genre(s) Mystery & Thrillers

Chris Stuart | Pub Date May 28, 2023 | ISBN 9780473667528 | 464 pages

Book Review

We take up where we left off from the first book in the series with our heroine Melbourne Detective Inspector Robbie Gray, still working in the cold case unit. But not for long.

A passerby finds the body of a murdered young woman kneeling in a dingy alleyway as if praying with her forehead pressed against a street art portrait of a maniacal grinning figure. DS Hardiman, Gray’s boss, assigns her to lead the homicide investigation because she is the only qualified homicide investigator available. With civil arrest on the boil in Melbourne, Hardiman, pleading a staff-storage, only gives DI Gray a team of trainee detectives to staff the investigation. But she gets one experienced officer to help with the case, Aboriginal Detective Constable Phillip (Mac) MacMahon, a former colleague and close friend.

After identifying the victim, Annie Dallimore, DI Gray starts the investigation rolling with the usual police procedural moves; reviewing the autopsy, background checks on the victim to identify family members and close acquaintances, and then conducting interviews. The investigation gets off to a slow start, but picks up steam when Gray and Mac interview the victim’s family members and acquaintances. She compiles a list of persons of interest but feels frustrated when she can’t establish a credible motive for any of them and the police can’t locate the unusual murder weapon. Making things even more difficult is the victim’s dysfunctional family members all tell conflicting stories about the victim, and some seem bent on lying during the interviews.

Stuart shows an excellent understanding of police homicide investigation protocols and the story smacks of authenticity. As one who has visited the city, I can also attest she provides accurate and familiar descriptions of Melbourne and its surrounds. Cold weather and frequent drought-ending downpours dog DI Gray’s steps from beginning to the end of the investigation, which contribute to the satisfying elements of sinister foreboding surrounding the tale.

Besides having to solve a murder, DI Gray must also battle personal demons, not all of her own making. She is not only dealing with the aftermath of the breakup with her ex-lover Tess, but must also once again try to save her drug addict daughter, Emma, who seems bent of self-destruction. These underlying humanity aspects of the story help the reader delve ever deeper into Robbie Gray’s character.

While Robbie Gray is one of the more intriguing protagonists I’ve encountered, I also like her colleague, Mac. He, too, is a multi-faceted character fighting demons of his own, the stress of which causes him deep emotional pain. One highlight of the book for me was Mac’s story, and the challenges he faces as an Australian Aboriginal, something I’m keenly interested in. This element added great depth and heart to the novel, and Gray’s moral reactions to Mac’s circumstances helped us learn more about her. Stuart gives us a good taste of the realities in that respect, but not at such length that it allowed the tension of the story to wane. The only slight let down for me, was Mac had such a visceral reaction to the street portrait where the murderer killed Dallimore, I had expected the Aboriginal element to be more involved in the plot’s outcome and the unraveling of the mystery than it turned out to be.

Besides the two lead characters, and Tess and Emma, Stuart also gives us a sufficient cast of other complex characters to keep the reader engaged throughout. There are plenty of twists and turns and ample suspects to consider for the amateur sleuths who enjoy trying to solve the case ahead of the fictional detectives.

Chris Stuart is a talented storyteller who display excellent abilities in structuring a compelling thriller. The bread crumbs she left along the way were, in most cases, small enough not to give the game away, but large enough for the reader to recall once she unveiled the twists, which is just the way I enjoy it. The Glasgow Smile admirably lives up to the series debut and I’m looking forward to Stuart’s next novel.

Book rating: ★★★★★

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Note: Available for pre-ordering in New Zealand only, but available soon in other markets in paperback and eBook versions.

Out of the Ashes by Kara Thomas Review

Out of the Ashes by Kara Thomas is an appealing mix of psychological drama and a slightly slow-burning mystery. Read the full review.

Out of the Ashes Synopsis

A woman’s investigation into her family’s murders uncovers lies, secrets, and dangerous truths in a heart-wrenching novel of suspense.

When she was thirteen years old, Samantha Newsom’s family was murdered and their Catskills farmhouse set ablaze in an unsolved crime that left nothing behind but ashes.

Twenty-two years later, Sam is pulled back to her hometown of Carney, New York, under the shadows of the grim tragedy she’s never forgotten or forgiven. Authorities mishandled the evidence, false rumors were seeded about her family, suspects yielded nothing, and the case went cold. Not anymore. Investigator Travis Meacham has been assigned to the case, and he has news for Sam: a prison inmate has come forward with a shocking admission. Sam’s baby sister, presumed dead in the fire, made it out of the house that night.

It’s not the only reveal that upends everything Sam thinks she knows about the crime and her family. But Carney protects its secrets. And this time, Sam might not be able to escape the town alive.

Thomas & Mercer (2023)

Genre(s) Mystery & Thrillers

Kara Thomas | Pub Date May 01, 2023 | ISBN 9781662509537 | 287 Pages

Book Review

When her mother’s foster brother dies, Samantha Newsom returns to her hometown and gets pulled back into a tragedy that happened over twenty years before. When Samantha was thirteen, someone murdered her parents before setting fire to the family home, which burned down with her parent’s bodies and baby sister inside. The police never identified the killer. Raised by aunt, Samantha later moved away, went to college and became a nurse and tried to get on with her life as best she could. But when a state investigator contacts her and tells her he is reopening the investigation into the murders, she learns new information about the crimes and begins investigating on her own, determined to learn what happened to her family.

Samantha’s strong emotional drive to find out what happened to her family is understandable and makes her an engaging character lead that it’s easy to feel empathy for. But her passion to learn the truth causes Samantha to behave a little too recklessly with her own safety, a writing technique that builds tension and high suspense by design. In Out of the Ashes, Thomas cultivates the psychological intrigue using a first-person character viewpoint narrative but offers readers more than only one vibrant and compelling character in this story told in highly accessible prose.

This novel is not without its weaknesses. Only about the halfway point did the pacing produce a strong desire to keep turning the pages, but the pacing picked up nicely down the stretch. Overall, I found the book an engaging mix of psychological drama and mystery, which I enjoy reading, with twists that readers will enjoy and not likely see coming.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes.

Book rating: ★★★★

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Malibu Burning by Lee Goldberg Review

Malibu Burning by Lee Goldberg is a scorching, atmospheric, and suspense-filled novel that grabs the reader from the first page and doesn’t let up until the end. Read the full review.

Malibu Burning Synopsis

For a professional criminal and a relentless arson investigator, fear and revenge spread like wildfire in an incendiary thriller by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lee Goldberg.

Hell comes to Southern California every October. It rides in on searing Santa Ana winds that blast at near hurricane force, igniting voracious wildfires. Master thief Danny Cole longs for the flames. A tsunami of fire is exactly what he needs to pull off a daring crime and avenge a fallen friend.

As the most devastating firestorms in Los Angeles’ history scorch the hills of Malibu, relentless arson investigator Walter Sharpe and his wild card of a new partner, Andrew Walker, a former US marshal, suspect that someone set the massive blazes intentionally, a terrifying means to an unknown end.

While the flames rage out of control, Danny pursues his brilliant scheme, unaware that Sharpe and Walker are closing in. But when they all collide in a canyon of fire, everything changes, pitting them against an unexpected enemy within an inescapable inferno.

Thomas & Mercer (2023)

Genre(s) Suspense Thriller, Crime & Detective

Lee Goldberg | Pub Date June 20, 2023 | ISBN 9781662500671 | 304 Pages

Book Review

For me, everything about Malibu Burning by Lee Goldberg, although a work of fiction, oozed authenticity. It’s incredibly difficult to imagine but so easy to appreciate the massive number of hours of research that obviously went into this book featuring enormous, wind-driven, California brush fires described in such epic and vivid detail the reader almost feels the heat and smells the smoke. This book isn’t just a very well-executed crime thriller. It’s a fantastic novel, period. The nuanced character development is first rate–even that of the bad guys–from backstories to their motivations to the dialogue. It all smacks of realism.

When Stetson-wearing U. S. Marshal Andrew Walker’s wife gets pregnant with their first child, she persuades him to give up his dangerous job as a man-hunter to take a safer law enforcement job. After getting hired by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, they assign him to arson investigations where Walker teams up with veteran arson detective Walter Sharpe. Sharpe, he soon learns, knows everything there is to know about fires–how they start, how they burn, and how they behave. When three seemingly unrelated brush fires start, Sharpe doesn’t buy the theory they started from accidents stemming from power line failures and decides to investigate. He and his new green partner, Walker, find evidence that suggests arson and that someone with a lot of knowledge about fires, started them in an ingenious and unusual way. Sharpe is the expert on fires and arson investigation, but Walker is the expert on the criminal mind and suspects the arsonist started the fires either to conceal or facilitate the commission of some other crime. As the pair continues to investigate, Walker realizes an old nemesis, a brilliant con man named Danny Cole, is involved. And all they have to do is figure out what it is Cole is using the wildfires to cover up, how to prove it, and where to find Cole so they can arrest him.

Intense suspense, shocks, and chilling authenticity make this one a very special book. It has everything you expect from a flawlessly executed, action-packed crime thriller. The characters are likeable and realistic–including the antagonist, Danny Cole. Sure, he’s a criminal, but you grudgingly find you admire him just a little. The entertaining story feels sufficiently gritty, although Goldberg softens it a little with both heart-warming moments and humor. The stakes are impossibly high and continue rising in the narrative about Southern California cops, firefighters, and thieves, and it all takes place in the middle of an epic conflagration that puts them in imminent danger. Malibu Burning is perfect for fans of authors like John Sandford.

I received an advance copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes.

Book rating: ★★★★★

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Rio Flash ’62 by Andrew Deutsch Review

Rio Flash ’62 by Andrew Deutsch, a vivid and engaging neo-noir mystery set in paparazzied 1960s Rio de Janeiro. Read the full review.

Rio Flash ’62 Synopsis

Brazil. Rio De Janeiro. 1962. A time of dramatic political, social, and cultural clashes. Here, at the nexus of high society and low, style and street, pop music and passionate crime, a young tabloid photographer will do anything to get ahead – even protect a killer.

Beto Santera, raised on the struggling side of Rio, has just wrangled his first press photographer’s card. He has big dreams, small chances, and a chip on his shoulder. Beto is desperate to get ahead as a photographer but is scrambling to make ends meet.

His luck changes when he photos Sergio Fontes von Imperial, an outcast of a powerful Rio family, leaving the crime scene of a murdered popular Brazilian star. Beto makes a dark deal with Sergio, loses the negatives, and he gets access to the exclusive world of fashion, art, music, and nightlife. All the excitement Rio has to offer.

Then more killings occur. Beto is forced to make a choice, keep his career, or help catch the criminal.

World Castle Publishing, LLC (2023)

Genre(s) Mystery & Detective, Historical Crime Fiction, Neo-Noir

Andrew Deutsch | Pub Date Jan 17, 2023 | ISBN 9781958336854 | 310 Pages

Book Review

Rio Flash ’62 by Andrew Deutsch is a satisfying historical crime fiction read that entertains while it explores ethical dilemmas and the perils of secret keeping to further one’s career aspirations. I always enjoy reading books set in exotic locales, and here in the 1960s Rio de Janeiro, a city well known for the beauty of its beaches and of its peaks, ridges, and hills—all partly covered by tropical forests, fits the bill. The period covered by the book chronicles the city’s growth toward economic and social prominence and status as a tourist magnet, a center of leisure for Brazilian and foreign tourists.

While a basic neo-noir whodunit mystery at its core, Deutsch offers us an unusual lead character in Beto Santera, a young street photographer raised on the poor side Rio, who has big dreams of establishing himself in the business of taking and selling photos to the tabloids, but little chance of doing so. What makes Beto such an interesting choice as the protagonist is he is no amateur detective, as we might expect from a whodunit mystery. Beto has no interest at all in crime solving, but only in advancing his career using any means necessary. So, he becomes an anti-hero main character when he chooses his career over helping the police catch a killer.

Mostly by accident and luck, Beto snaps photos of a prominent member of Rio high society, Sergio Henrique Fontes Von Imperial, outside a murder scene. Beto doesn’t immediately know about the murder when he snaps the pictures, but soon learns he has captured on film evidence putting Sergio outside the apartment of a rising young actress named Vamella who someone had murdered just before he took the photos.

Realizing his photos put Fontes squarely in the frame as a murder suspect, instead of turning over the pictures to the police, Beto rationalizes using the negatives to blackmail Fontes. He agrees to not give the photos to police in return for Fontes arranging access for him to important social venues and to celebrities where he can take photos to sell to the tabloids to advance his career. Even after learning Vamella might be only one of several recent murders Fontes might be complicit in, Beto still does not come clean with the police, not even when Tadeo, the police inspector investigating the murders, learns about Beto and the possibility he photographed the suspect in Vamella’s murder outside her apartment shortly after she died.

While Deutsch casts Tadeo in the role of a deuteragonist, I found him a far more compelling character than Beto. Tadeo, too, faced ethically dilemmas, but he made the right choices when they mattered, and persistently worked to solve the murders in the interests of justice. Overall, the characters Deutsch offers us are all lively and realistic, with individual personalities sparking off each other just as happens in real life. His detailed descriptions of the setting, everything from smells to sounds with an infusion of culture woven into the narrative, give the reader a vivid sense of place with a cinematographic feel. Just as the black and white book cover images give us the neo-noir feel of the story, the narrative gives the reader almost the sense of watching a black and white noir film.

Rio Flash ’62 offers readers a welcome chance to explore, take an adventure, and immerse themselves in a different culture. While not the nail-biting variety, Deutsch provides an undercurrent of suspense throughout that kept me turning the pages until the very end.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes.

Book rating: ★★★★

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The Child Riddler by Angela Greenman Review

The Child Riddler by Angela Greenman, an entertaining spy thriller with lots of realistic action-though it’s hard to relate to the super flawed protagonist. Read the full review.

The Child Riddler Synopsis

Despite the angry scars she carries from her childhood training, Zoe Lorel has reached a good place in her life. She has her dream job as an elite operative in an international spy agency and she’s found her one true love. Her world is mostly perfect—until she is sent to abduct a nine-year-old girl.

The girl is the only one who knows the riddle that holds the code to unleash the most lethal weapon on earth—the first ever “invisibility” nanoweapon, a cloaking spider bot. But Zoe’s agency isn’t the only one after the child. And when enemies reveal the invisibility weapon’s existence to underground arms dealers, every government and terrorist organization in the world want to find that little girl.

Zoe races to save not only the child she has grown to care about, but also herself. The agency prescribed pills—the ones that transform her into the icy killer she must become to survive—are beginning to threaten her engagement to the one person who brings her happiness. Can she protect the young girl and still protect the one thing she cares more about than anything else?

Bella Books (2022)

Genre(s) Spy Thriller, LGBTQ+ Action & Adventure

Angela Greenman | Pub Date Jul 19, 2022 | ISBN ‎ 9781642473650 | 320 pages

Book Review

The Child Riddler by Angela Greenman introduces Zoe Lorel, an operative for a secret, shadowy government intelligence agency that primarily assassinates the country’s enemies. Greenman offers some very flawed and not very likeable characters in this spy thriller, but none more flawed than the protagonist, Zoe Lorel. Authors imbue characters with flaws to make them feel more realistic, since actual people are far from perfect. A perfect character would seem both unbelievable, and boring. Yet here, Greenman has given the protagonist so many flaws that I found her hard to relate to and the flaws somewhat distracting.

The book opens with a bang with a powerful, action-packed scene that matches up well with some of the best spy thrillers I’ve read previously. While I don’t review them here much since they aren’t the focus of this review site, I’ve enjoyed reading many spy thrillers since discovering Tom Clancy many years ago. I’m a big fan of Robert Ludlum’s original Jason Bourne series books and the Matt Damon movies based on them. You could say Zoe Lorel is a female archetype of Bourne since she is also an elite assassin working for a secret government intelligence agency. The character also shares a similarity with the Jeremy Renner character in The Bourne Legacy film. Like Aaron Cross in the film, Zoe Lorel has a dependency on addictive drugs that give her peak performance and effectiveness as an assassin. And side effects of these drugs eventually cause her some serious problems.

When we first meet Zoe, she is in the middle of a mission to assassinate a target to keep a sophisticated, high-tech new weapon from falling into the wrong hands. During the mission, Zoe encounters a young girl by happenstance who plays a key role later in the story. After the promising start, the pace falls off dramatically as Greenman introduces us to the main side story of the novel, Zoe’s romantic relationship with her girlfriend, Isabel, who works in a support role for the same government agency.

The side story mostly failed to hold my interest because, after the opening scenes, I was expecting a spy thriller, not a romance. Except it helped disclose flaws about Zoe that for me made her such an unsympathetic character. As an example, Isabel wants Zoe to leave the front lines so they can marry, live together, and raise a family. Zoe seems to feel a strong sexual attraction to the curvy Isabel, but shows little concern about the things Isabel wants or finds important. And despite the relationship, Zoe takes full advantage of the “open” relationship agreement with Isabel to indulge her hedonistic appetites, such as a sexual liaison with a professional BDSM mistress. These characteristics make Zoe a character hard to like because she seems such a selfish, self-absorbed person who is primarily concerned with satisfying her own needs and desires.

There is another slow-paced sequence of scenes where Zoe and Isabel attend an important agency meeting. While there, the head of the agency (incidentally her uncle), gives Zoe a new assignment to abduct the young girl she encountered at the beginning of the book long enough to extract a critical code needed to make a captured high-tech weapon fully operational.

Greenman is a capable writer and many of the action-packed scenes a reader expects from a spy thriller are well done and highly entertaining. But the side story and Zoe’s mostly ambivalent attitude toward a functional relationship and raising a family make the pacing feel uneven. In fairness, Zoe makes a transformative character arc journey over the course of the story and comes out a somewhat better person on the other side. But I can’t say I every truly liked the character.

I enjoyed the dramatic spy action sequences in the book very much, but found the romantic side story a distraction. Still, fans of spy thrillers who enjoy a thriller infused with a healthy dose of romance should enjoy this well-written book, though it probably skews more to fans of the LGBTQ+ literature niche, the audience the author and publisher clearly aimed for.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes.

Book rating: ★★★★

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27 Days by Patrick H. Moore Review

27 Days by Patrick H. Moore, a fast-paced political thriller where a private investigator faces off against a powerful alt-right domestic terrorist organization. Read my full review.

27 Days Synopsis

Nick Crane Thriller #1

27 Days is a taut and topical political thriller narrated in laconic noir fashion by veteran LA PI Nick Crane. In the spring of 2019, Nick is on the run in the Pacific Northwest, pursued by a cabal of wealthy right-wing power brokers and domestic terrorists (the Principals) led by Marguerite Ferguson and Desmond Cole. Nick has clashed with Marguerite and her crew in the past, and she wants him abducted so that she can personally “close his eyes forever.”

Things get worse. Nick’s close friend and business partner Bobby Moore is kidnapped by Marguerite and the Principals. Nick is then informed that he has twenty-seven days to surrender to Marguerite. If he does not turn himself in, Bobby will be sent to Scorpion prison in Egypt to be tortured and murdered. If Nick surrenders, however, Bobby will be released.

Help appears in the form of a young, idealistic female FBI agent named Carrie North who wants to arrest Marguerite for conspiring to commit domestic terrorist operations against the United States. Nick and Carrie join forces and the race against time to rescue Bobby Moore begins.
And what a race it is! Marguerite and company are the toughest foes Nick has ever faced and he must dig down deeper than ever before to have any chance of surviving.

Down & Out Books (2023)

Patrick H. Moore | Pub Date Feb 6, 2023 | ISBN 9781643962986 | 360 pages

Book Review

Patrick H. Moore’s 27 Days, his Nick Crane series debut, is a political thriller that plies a well-worn trope familiar to cable news consumers. The alt-right, democracy’s existential threat. Well, one of the many, at least. It might surprise you that the trope is well worn since we hear and read about the alt-right almost non-stop in inflated terms daily in the national media. But the venerable Southern Poverty Law Center claim that the term “alt-right,” an abbreviation of alternative right, was coined by Richard B. Spencer in 2008 as part of a “shallow re-branding” of white nationalism is wrong.

I happened to catch an episode of The Rockford Files (1974-1980) recently, an episode (1977) that included a Neo-Nazi, swastika-wearing white supremacy group that a character in the episode referred to as… you guessed it… an alt-right group. So, a writer for the entertaining, and very popular in its day private investigator television series probably deserves the credit for coining the term “alt-right.” Or maybe it existed long before 1977 and the writer, like Spencer and dull politicians, probably only borrowed it. But alt-right is back in the news today, mostly because one party in our, for all intents and purposes, binary political system finds it a useful pejorative cudgel to use on their political opponents.

Returning to Moore’s book after our non-revisionist history lesson, there is nothing wrong with the author choosing a mythical and exaggeratedly large and powerful alt-right group as his antagonist since what we once referred to without laughter as “journalists” do the same thing every day. I’m more of a fan of political fiction that casts Neo-con, rogue government officials running off the books, illegal assassination programs and political cover-ups in the antagonist role. It’s more realistic. But Moore’s choice of antagonists works well enough here.

When the story opens, Nick Crane, a Los Angeles private investigator, is on the run from the sinister alt-right group, MASA, particularly its leader, a psychopathic woman named Marguerite, who had recently almost succeeded in assassinating him. But some bad guys find his hideout and close in, precipitating a shoot out and forcing Crane to go on the run with the aid of an ally he isn’t sure he can trust. But when the group abducts his P.I. agency partner, Bobby Moore, and demands Crane surrender to them or else, he realizes keeping his head down and staying out of harm’s way isn’t a viable option. He must give battle to MASA, rescue Bobby Moore, and try to take down the leaders of the group. So, he assembles some allies to do just that.

27 Days takes off like a bullet train and by the time I reached the halfway point, I didn’t think Moore could sustain the blistering pace. But he proved me wrong. Things in Nick Crane’s world move at breakneck speed and in highly dramatic fashion. As mentioned, Nick Crane is a L. A. private investigator by trade, but you can forget about the Philip Marlowe and Jake J.J. Gittes archetypes. The technology savvy Crane seems an amalgamation of a modern-day Lew Wickersham (Mannix, S1), Jason Bourne, Jack Ryan, and James Reece. He has all the skills. I admit I found the character a little fantastical at the beginning, but he grew on me as the story unfolded.

Strengths of this novel lie in the pacing and plotting, and how easily Moore keeps us guessing what Crane’s next move will be and what will happen next. There are twists and turns and surprises enough to keep the reader engaged throughout. I also enjoyed the neo-noir, first person style of the narrative, complete with short punchy sentences.

It’s no secret that I’m more a fan of crime thrillers than political thrillers. As a cynical apolitical person who sees clearly our two political parties as only the opposite sides of the same binary self-serving, corrupt wooden nickel and someone who has traveled the world enough to understand all governments on the planet are run by corrupt and self-serving politicians, political-based fiction doesn’t enthrall me. But I enjoyed this book, mostly because of the non-stop action and there was some crime involved. And good is good. I’ll certainly be interested in reading the next installment in the series. And I think many thriller enthusiasts would enjoy reading this book, though it probably skews more to the fans of political thrillers.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes.

Book rating: ★★★★★

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Her Father’s Daughter by T. M. Dunn Review

Her Father’s Daughter by T. M. Dunn, an emotionally-engaging and creatively crafted domestic thriller, sometimes shocking and thoroughly riveting. Read my full review.

Her Father’s Daughter Synopsis

Twenty-five-year-old Linda Donovan has spent her life working for her father, Anthony, at Donovan and Daughter Exterminators in New York City. On the anniversary of her mother’s death, her father makes his annual visit to his late wife’s grave while Linda heads to a Park Avenue apartment building to work solo.

When she arrives, she finds the body of an elderly resident, partially eaten by rats. The gruesome death not only speaks poorly of the Donovans’ exterminating services–it also points to foul play. When the cops show up, they demand to speak to Linda’s father. But despite her efforts to contact him, Anthony has gone off the radar.

As he evades a possible murder charge, Linda’s father records in five notebooks–and five damning acts–the story of how he met and fell in love with her mother, a previously untold history of familial abuse, tormented souls, and true love gone terribly wrong.

Crooked Lane Books (2023)

Genre(s) Thriller & Suspense

T. M. Dunn | Pub Date Jul 18, 2023| ISBN 9781639103270 | 272 Pages

Book Review

I requested Her Father’s Daughter for review because the book summary appealed to me and expected it was a crime thriller. It’s not. It’s more a domestic thriller, but that was fine. Dunn, a capable storyteller, cleverly plots the book in almost a circular way. We start near the end before moving back in time. The book unfolds from two first person viewpoints, that of Linda Donovan, the protagonist, and that of her father, Anthony, and the viewpoints switch back and forth. The opening prologue tells us a little of Anthony’s history before we meet Linda in the first chapter.

Twenty-five-year-old Linda Donovan has spent her life working with her father, Anthony, in their pest control business in New York City. But Linda, recently offered a scholarship, is planning to leave home for college soon. While she’s eager to go, she can’t help but worry about how her father will keep the business going without her. Linda’s mother had committed suicide shortly after her birth, and Anthony is the only parent she has ever known. Anthony, who seems from the outset to have a preoccupation with death, has always taken Linda with him to visit her mother’s grave site each year on the anniversary of her mother’s death. But when their main and most profitable client calls with a pest control emergency, instead of accompanying her father on the annual cemetery visit, Linda heads to an upscale Park Avenue apartment building to handle the emergency solo. There she discovers the body of an elderly resident, partially eaten by a rat. And when the police arrive, they suspect foul play. In the course of the police investigation, Anthony becomes a murder suspect and goes on the lam. And because of the investigation, some disturbing secrets about Linda’s father come to light. Linda soon learns the “family business” her father inherited from his father and grandfather and hopes to pass on to her has nothing to do with their exterminator business. The reader learns about Anthony’s past long before his daughter does. So, the primary tension develops from how Linda will react when she learns the truth about her father and his history and what will happen when she does.

I’m not sure how much I enjoyed, as such, reading this book. But I concede it’s good, nonetheless. And yes, I believe it’s possible to recognize and acknowledge that a book is good without liking it. It is exceedingly clever plotting and confronting in terms of social commentary. And there was much I loved about it. As an example, the lead character Linda drew me in, though she’s not altogether likeable. But she is easy to get to know and feel empathy for. Also, there were plenty of humorous moments in the book, which I appreciated. And despite how much or little I enjoyed reading the book, it is riveting in the sense the story kept me engaged and wanting to know more. Finally, the way Dunn wraps up the story makes sense.

I think this is a book you want to talk about after finishing it, so I expect it would be a great novel for a book club as it lends itself to discussion. But Her Father’s Daughter isn’t your usual crime or psychological thriller. As long as you don’t approach it with that expectation, as I admittedly did, you may find this a very entertaining read. While it isn’t horror, those who enjoy Stephen King’s brand of suspense would probably enjoy this novel.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley for review purposes.

Book rating: ★★★★

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