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Striking Range–another winner from Mizushima

Striking Range

by Margaret Mizushima

Striking Range is one of those books that can not be tidily put in a box with a label. It is a police procedural as the reader gets to see law enforcement, federal, state, and local, at work. It is a K-9 mystery, a who-dun-it where Deputy Mattie Cobb shares the limelight with K-9 officer Robo. He is her buddy and she is his handler; they look out for each other. Watching Robo’s skills is fascinating. This book has enough suspenseful action and danger that it is also a thriller.

The plot is quite involved as Mattie is reviving a thirty year old cold case of the murder of her biological father. Was he a dirty cop? There seems to be only one person alive who knows the truth. He is the same evil man who tried to kill Mattie, but in her determination to find justice for her father, she visits him in a Colorado state prison.

Another thread in the plot is the discovery of the body of a young girl. Only the day before, she was pregnant. What happened to the baby? Why would someone kill the baby? How does fentanyl keep tying into this mystery?

Cole, Mattie’s boyfriend, is a veterinarian and is active in the sheriff’s posse. He plays a prominent role in this story, and there are also a number of kids who figure strongly into the plot.

There are many suspects to sort through. Although I had guessed the motive from a number of reasonable possibilities, the identity of the murderer was a surprise. Complications to solving this crime keep adding up and weather conditions in the rural setting don’t help. Author Margaret Mizushima is a talented writer with descriptions that put you at the scene and let you experience the emotions of the characters. This series is my favorite K-9 series. I have happily read all of the published books in the series and am looking forward to the next one.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #6 in the Timber Creek K-9 Mystery Series. Although the characters continue from one book to the next, it would be excellent as a standalone as the author includes background information as needed.
2. It has a few instances of swearing, but no sex.

Publication: September 7, 2021—Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines:

Getting the kids ready for school each morning before he hurried off to work was like lining up horses at the gate before a race—everyone wanted to run off in a different direction, and sometimes someone balked at going anywhere.

Narcan reversed the effects of opiates such as fentanyl, one of the street drugs most dangerous to narcotics detection dogs. It saved the lives of dogs, their handlers, and even addicts after accidental exposure or overdose. Nowadays K-9 officers carried two doses, one for their dog and one for themselves.

Always a sporty dresser, he straightened his bow tie, which was lime green with yellow polka dots, a cheerful addition that conflicted with the lines of fatigue on his face.

The Silent Sisters–extracting spies from Russia

The Silent Sisters

by Robert Dugoni

Spy thrillers are not my go-to genre, but I read The Last Agent, the second book in the Charles Jenkins Series, thinking it was a standalone. I was hooked. I returned to read the third in the series, The Silent Sisters, when it was published recently. Both were page turners.

Charles Jenkins, the protagonist, is a semi-retired spy with quite the reputation in Russia where The Silent Sisters takes place. It is Putin’s Russia so the book brings together some of recent Russian history with current events. Moscow is covered with cameras as Jenkins goes in to rescue the two remaining deep undercover plants known as the Seven Sisters. Before he begins his mission, he works with specialists in disguise techniques at Langley because, as a large Black man on Russia’s top 10 kill list, he is easy to spot, especially given their expertise in facial recognition technology. His perhaps fatal error is trying to help an abused stranger in a seedy bar on his first night there. His principled act begins a manhunt by the police, the Russian spy agencies, and the mafia.

At home in Washington state, he has left a wife who formerly worked for the CIA, two children, and a retirement he hasn’t really gotten to enjoy yet. Thoughts of his family keep him going when things get brutal.

Descriptions of the physical settings and the atmosphere of suspense and tension are achieved with excellence. The reader is immersed in each setting from the Trans-Siberian train making its way to freedom to the offices where directors of intelligence agencies compete for power and for their lives. Each setting has its own gripping tenor.

Author Robert Dugoni is a master at keeping all the balls in the air until it is time to draw things to a conclusion. Then he works the circumstances to arrive at a satisfactory ending that is hopeful, but realistic.

I believe this set of books was originally conceived as a trilogy. The author hints in the Acknowledgments that his upcoming trip to Egypt could be the impetus for more adventures featuring Charles Jenkins. I hope so!

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Thomas & Mercer for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery & Thriller

Notes: 1. #3 in the Charles Jenkins Series, but could be read as a standalone.
2. There is some Russian included for atmosphere, but unless the meaning is obvious, it is seamlessly translated for the reader in the text.
3. There is a small amount of swearing, including one word in Russian.
4. It is a spy novel involving Russian agents and the Russian mafia so you can expect some torture, but the descriptions are not detailed or extensive.

Publication: February 22, 2022—Thomas & Mercer

Memorable Lines:
The pain shattered his skin like splinters of broken glass passing through his body.

She’d learned long ago, when her father had died, that vengeance did not bring satisfaction. It didn’t even temper the pain of death. It would not temper the pain of Eldar’s death. It only let others know that killings would come at a heavy cost. Retribution. An eye for an eye.

When you can have everything, you appreciate nothing.

City of the Dead–homicides in L.A.

City of the Dead

by Jonathan Kellerman

City of the Dead is the first Jonathan Kellerman mystery for me, but it is certainly not his first suspenseful book. In fact, it is the thirty-seventh book that features Alex Delaware, a psychologist who is frequently called on by the police to make sense out of crimes and uncover the perpetrator. Although I might have enjoyed the book more if I had read others in the series, I had no problem following this tough as nails plot. It begins with a double homicide when a truck collides with a nude young man and a barely noticeable trail of blood leads to a nearby house where another body is found. Alex is called in to consult. He does not interact much in interviews, but the police rely heavily on his instincts and perceptions based on his observations of those interviews.

While aiding in this case, he is working on a separate case in his professional practice. He interviews the members of divorcing couples to advise the family court judge of his custody recommendations. This time the child is a three year old girl. The mother hails from a wealthy background, and the father is a professor with Ivy League credentials who jumps from job to job. His specialty, besides the study of symbolism, seems to be disparaging his wife because she is not an academic.

Alex Delaware is an interesting character—highly intelligent, a keen observer, and compassionate in a professional way. He interacts well with the police officers he works with; they sometimes need his help and counsel personally and professionally. His own support system is his partner Robin who restores and repairs musical instruments. They both have offices and work spaces at home which involves them in each other’s work at least minimally.

Pieces of this puzzle gradually come together, especially as more DNA evidence emerges. The tricky part is knowing whom to get that evidence from and where to look for it. The joint, noncompetitive efforts of the police and Alex pull out some interesting clues. In the end, the killer is a surprise as the last pieces of the puzzle are put together. If you like a mystery that is a little tougher and more suspenseful than a cozy mystery, you’ll probably like this one.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Ballantine Books (Random House) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery and Thriller, General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: 1. #37 in the Alex Delaware Mystery Series, but could be read as a standalone.
2. Contains descriptions of the results of violent acts and some objectionable language.

Publication: February 8, 2022—Ballantine Books (Random House)

Memorable Lines:

But when I embark on a custody consult, optimism falls by the wayside and I assume everyone’s going to lie to me.

The practice of family law—of law, in general—has nothing to do with truth and everything to do with brinkmanship and illusion.

Humans are programmed to detest uncertainty, and nothing ruins a detective’s life more than too many question marks.

The Last Agent–suspenseful spy novel

The Last Agent

by Robert Dugoni

Oddly, I have watched many more spy movies than I have read spy books. Robert Dugoni’s The Last Agent is a great pathway for me into the world of spy novels. It is part of a series in that Charles Jenkins is the main character in the series that bears his name. Although the characters are important to the story, appreciating the book is not predicated on having read others in the series. This book is a fine example of a story that is so engaging, so complex, that the plot stands on its own merits.

Charlie Jenkins is a retired spy, forced out by his own organization. He tries to enjoy rural life with his much younger wife and two young children. When opportunity knocks at his door, however, Charlie answers with minimal hesitation. This assignment is especially appealing because it gives him the chance to help Paulina who sacrificed herself so that he could return to his family. An extremely strong double agent mentally, she is questioned relentlessly with physical and psychological torture by Russians who want to know the identity of certain assets.

Charlie is supposed to engineer her escape from an impenetrable prison and see her to the U.S. and freedom. She is in an extremely compromised physical condition and is heavily guarded. Getting her out would take a lot of skill and planning along with a dose of good luck. The Russians want her information badly and have the advantage of Putin’s extensive “Big Brother” network of cameras. Fortunately, Charlie has support from his handlers with assets all over Europe and a huge bank account that gives him leverage with a former Russian agent.

There are so many intricate steps in achieving the various goals along the way. Not everything goes smoothly so a lot of improvisation is required. Hideous weather both hinders and helps. Disguises and unusual means of transportation are called into play. I guarantee this book is a page turner that will keep you reading way past “lights out.”

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Thomas & Mercer for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery & Thriller (Spy)

Notes: #2 in The Charles Jenkins Series, but I read it as a standalone with no problems understanding or enjoying it.

Publication: September 22, 2020—Thomas & Mercer

Memorable Lines:

His anger spiked; he couldn’t believe the agency that had allowed him to be tried for espionage now had the audacity to seek his help.

You Americans are too impatient. It is your consumerism. You want everything now. This minute. You must learn Russian patience. We must take the first step before we take the second.”

Viktor Federov knew well that Big Brother had returned to Russia, though the method of spying—once Russians reporting on fellow Russians—now employed computer technology cameras, and cell phones.

Two Reasons to Run–fast-paced thriller

Two Reasons to Run

by Colleen Coble

I have to admit that in the middle of a complicated transition (i.e. I moved), I had forgotten that One Little Lie was Colleen Coble’s first book in The Pelican Harbor Series, and I had read it. Going into the second book of the series, Two Reasons to Run, was indeed like reading it as a standalone. I had a few confused moments along the way, but the plot is compelling and Coble is a good storyteller. I was able and motivated to push through my mental rough spots.

Jane Hardy, Pelican Harbor’s police chief, has reunited with her teenage son Will. Will’s father Reid had escaped from a cult with him many years ago, but Jane had been told her son was dead. The plot involves Jane’s and Reid’s efforts to overcome the past and re-establish relationships with various family members. Meanwhile, Jane is asked by a grieving mother to investigate her son’s death on an oil rig. Can Jane avert a terrorist plot without losing her life or risking the safety of those she loves?

The pace is quick, the characters are believable, and the oil rig setting in the Gulf is interesting. The cult background and a hired killer make the intrigue even more complicated. The questions center around who is behind the plot, what motivates the terrorist, and how he tries to achieve his goal. The answers rest in Jane’s strength and determination and Reid’s love for Will and Jane and his faith in God.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery & Thriller, Christian

Notes: #2 in The Pelican Harbor Series, but can be read as a standalone.

Publication:   September 8, 2020—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

No excuses, no rationalizations. His naked sorrow over his behavior touched the sore places of her heart with a soothing balm.

White pickups were as plentiful as shrimp here…

“I know, I know. I’m struggling with it too. But God doesn’t want us to live in fear, honey. At some point you have to have some faith in God’s provision.”

The Suicide House–psychological puzzler

The Suicide House

by Charlie Donlea

Thrillers are not generally my cup of tea, but Charlie Donlea’s books are good examples of the fine line between thrillers and classic mysteries. His The Suicide House is a solid mystery with multiple murders, many possibilities of felons, quirky investigators, and threads crossing each other at odd angles.  The Suicide House also has a psychological edge, journal writings that will send chills up your spine, and spooky settings, thus moving it along the continuum with a thriller bent.

Upper grade students at the renowned Westmont Preparatory School all know something about the school’s secretive, selective society whose initiates undergo dangerous rites of admission involving The Man in the Mirror. Dangerous turns gruesomely deadly in 2019, followed by several student suicides, but no one is talking. Eventually Rory, an autistic forensic deconstructionist, is invited to conduct an unofficial investigation at the same time her partner Lane, a forensic psychologist, is persuaded to consult with a podcaster who is producing shows that garner a wide following. Neither Mack, the show’s producer, nor anyone else who has investigated, is totally convinced that the accused teacher, Charles Gorman, committed the crimes. There is no physical evidence that he did, and there also is blood from a fourth unidentified person at the crime scene.

My favorite character is Rory who channels her various quirks into finding solutions to cold cases by identifying with those involved and by making connections garnered from the evidence she finds. She is highly intelligent, but her special abilities and what the author calls her “afflictions” make life difficult for her. She finds relief in the details of her work and through reconstructing antique dolls. Her main social contact is Lane who knows her well and goes the extra mile to adjust circumstances to meet her needs.

I recommend this book as an exciting and complex mystery and a bit of a thriller. It goes back and forth by chapter in time frame, setting and perspective. Not particularly good for bedtime reading, The Suicide House will keep you puzzling, guessing, and turning those pages up to an exciting revelation. Four more chapters will bring closure and leave you with a satisfied smile.

I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery and Thriller

Publication:   July 28, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

Every day brought a funneling twister of emotions. It was how her brain waves fired. If she wasn’t worrying, she was obsessing. And if she was’t obsessing, she was planning. Her mind never really settled down. There was always a low hum of activity going on in her head.

As they made their way through the forest, their steps were fueled by a steady dose of trepidation and curiosity. They had only the seniors to deal with, the summer to get through, and initiation to conquer.

The files represented the case that had woken him up at three in the morning the previous summer. He hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep since.

James J. Cudney’s books on sale!!! Cozy mysteries and a thriller.

I have enjoyed all the cozy mysteries in Cudney’s Braxton Campus Mystery Series and want to share information about the great prices available for a limited time for different books in the series. To see his blog post about this sale and his works, follow this link. (There is also a thriller on sale, but I have not read it.)

Enjoy!!!

The Jerusalem Assassin–deadly peace proposal


The Jerusalem Assassin

by Joel C. Rosenberg

The Jerusalem AssassinNot every book is a good match for every reader. I think that may have been the case for me and Joel C. Rosenberg’s The Jerusalem Assassin which is a Christian political thriller. Most of this book is the setup for a very convoluted assassination plot involving groups of high level leaders and secret operatives from seven countries as well as a terrorist group.

It becomes apparent to world leaders that the president of the Palestinian Authority “doesn’t want to go down in history as the man who made peace. He wants to be remembered as the man who refused to surrender to the ‘criminal Zionists’…” In response, the leaders of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel decide to meet on the Temple Mount and announce a peace proposal. Unfortunately, that opens the door for a targeted attack on the leaders of those countries.

Without the included Cast of Characters, I would have been lost. Instead, I was able to follow plot development by continual back and forth referencing of unfamiliar names, slowing the reading down considerably. I can’t say I actually enjoyed the book until the final fourth when the action played out.

The main character is Marcus Ryker who is ostensibly working for the Diplomatic Security Service, but is actually a special operative for the Central Intelligence Agency. Highly trained, efficient, and trusted, he uses his many connections to obtain critical information. He is a caring Christian, but his job puts him and those he loves in danger. I learned a lot about the daily physical and weapon training for agents and also the complicated logistics involved in setting up security for a U.S. president for a special event abroad.

Although the scenario of world conflict and years of attempts at a Middle East peace settlement are real, the details of the book’s plot and the people involved are fictional providing the author with much flexibility in creating his story. The results are deadly for many of the characters.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Tyndale House Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery and Thriller

Notes: 1. #3 in the Marcus Ryker Series, but this book did not appear to rely on very much background from other books. 

  2. This author has written many books, both fiction and nonfiction, that focus on the Middle East.

Publication:   March 17, 2020—Tyndale House Publishers

Memorable Lines:

They were coming, and he knew they were coming, and he knew why—they were coming to kill him and to kill the president and to kill anyone else who got in their way. They were coming to settle scores.

…he and his son-in-law “must have undergone a Vulcan mind meld at some point, so unified are their views on theology and politics and even where in the Old City to buy the best baklava.”

Mahdi, the long-awaited Promised One…when that savior came, he would finally judge the Jews, the Christians, the atheists, the agnostics, and the pagans. Indeed, the Mahdi would judge every infidel and do so with fire and fury such as the world had never seen nor imagined.

One Little Lie–dangerous thriller

One Little Lie

by Colleen Coble

One Little LieI didn’t know quite what to expect from Colleen Coble’s new series Pelican Harbor, so I dove into the first book wondering how the author would combine some mystery, a little thriller, and a bit of clean romance while incorporating a Christian viewpoint. Not that it couldn’t be done or hasn’t been done, but it is not my typical cozy mystery read. As it turns out, One Little Lie is a page turner. Its plot and characters have depth, and the threads occur on many levels. The reader has to wonder if they are parallel or will possibly collide making this a very intricate mystery indeed. 

Jane Hardy is chosen to be the new Pelican Harbor Chief of Police after her father resigns. What was behind his leaving the force? Why is Reid Dixon, who makes documentaries, having conversations with Jane’s father? Reid has been granted approval by the mayor to follow Jane around. Besides the pressure of extra scrutiny on her first days as Police Chief, why does Reid’s presence make her uncomfortable? Several murders and kidnappings later, events ramp up to a high danger level for Jane and her K-9 officer and companion Parker. Who can Jane trust?

The prologue of this book is set fifteen years earlier during an attack on a cult. That event and the years prior cast a shadow and create devastating secrets for the characters in this book. As for the Christian viewpoint, some of the characters in the book trust in God and have a relationship with Him. Those characters have challenges in which they rely on God; other characters come to see that believing in God could impact their lives and choices in a positive way as they struggle to get past the lies others have told them. This book provides closure for many threads, but I feel there is more story to be told in Pelican Harbor, Alabama. I’m looking forward to the publication of Strands of Truth, the next book in the series, in September 2020.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Romance, Christian

Notes: 1. #1 in the Pelican Harbor Series

2. Discussion questions are included at the end of the book.

Publication:   March 3, 2020—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Jane had no idea how much he was going to mess with her life. It had been a long time coming. Retribution was an exciting word, one he’d rolled around and around in his head for years. It would be a freight train coming for the Hardys at full speed. None of them would understand his purpose until it was too late.

But if Olivia could face the horror of her future, surely Jane could face the past that couldn’t reach out and hurt her any longer.

She teetered on high heels and wore tight-fitting jeans and a top that showed off her curves. False advertising. A cute figure was never a substitute for a beautiful spirit.

Little Girls Sleeping: an absolutely gripping crime thriller

Little Girls Sleeping: an absolutely gripping crime thriller

by Jennifer Chase

Little Girls SleepingMy general philosophy is “I don’t read thrillers, especially psychological thrillers.” They just hold too much impact for me. I read an online review, however, that led me to believe that perhaps I should make an exception for Little Girls Sleeping, the first in a new series by Jennifer Chase. As I started reading this thriller, I wondered if I had made a mistake as the story involves the disappearance of young girls and gives some insight into the twisted mind of the perpetrator. Soon, however, the tale expands into the story of returning veteran Katie Scott and Cisco, her K9 military companion.

A former police officer, Katie is taking some time to decide her next career move when she comes across a cold case file on her uncle’s desk. For Katie, the case is personal because it brings up memories of a childhood friend at camp who was murdered. The rest of the book tracks Katie’s pursuit of the truth and is part thriller, part mystery, and part police procedural. If you are drawn to K9 stories you will certainly enjoy this one as Cisco plays a major role.

Katie, who suffers from PTSD, is a strong and determined young woman. Her character is likable, and readers will look forward to watching her develop in future books in this series. She has support from a childhood friend, Chad, and from her uncle, Sheriff Scott. The plot line is engaging. At about 60% through the book, I had figured out who the evil “Toymaker” is—but I was wrong, and at about 80%, the true murderer is revealed. At that point, however, the action just gets more intense. I’m glad I read this page turner, and I am happy to report no nightmares as a result.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Bookouture for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery and Thriller

Notes: 1. If you are interested in the review that inspired my choosing this book, visit blogger/reviewer Shalini.  

          2. #1 in the Detective Katie Scott Series

Publication:   May 31, 2019—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

The detective didn’t scare her. She had encountered some real tyrants in the army, from sergeants to training officers, so Templeton was like a yapping little dog to her—fierce, but only annoying at best.

Anxiety was a stealthy and unpredictable enemy.

She rubbed her hands together and let the happy memories flood her mind—at least for a short period. Sometimes it was difficult for her to let the positive things into her life. Her experiences had skewed her perception so that everything seemed on the verge of catastrophe. It was as if she had blocked out anything good in her life.

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