Kale to the Queen: A Kensington Palace Chef Mystery
In Nell Hampton’s first installment of the Kensington Palace Chef Mysteries, Kale to the Queen, we meet Carrie Ann Cole, who has accepted a dream position cooking for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children. This would be more than enough to cause serious stress for any young chef, but add murder to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for potential chaos.
Carrie Ann knows that it will take a lot of adjustment to fit into the rigid hierarchy of the palace, but she is more than confident that her cooking skills are up to par and is anxious to get to work in her kitchen in the private family apartment. She sets to trying to fit in and navigate the confusing palace, but when her prep cook, Frank Deems, is found murdered and Michael Hargrove, her butcher, is accused of the deed, she feels it is her duty to try to clear Hargrove’s name and figure out who really killed Deems.
Hampton’s debut foodie cozy couldn’t be more lovely! Her characters are likable and interesting, and her descriptive settings make you feel like you are walking the unseen halls of Kensington Palace. This sweet novel is a treat for both foodies and anglophiles alike. I truly look forward to many more installments in this series!
Crooked Lane Books
Finding Claire Fletcher
On the day that Detective Connor Parks has jeopardized his career for killing a man, he meets Claire Fletcher in a bar and spends one night with her, catching a glimpse of the girl she once was. Trouble is Claire Fletcher is no longer that girl. When she vanishes from his bed leaving an address, he tries to follow up for a chance to re-encounter this intriguing woman only to discover shocking news. The enigmatic Claire has been missing for years. As his work life disintegrates he sets out to solve the mystery of her disappearance. Claire becomes as ethereal to Parks as the ghost of whom she used to be is to Claire herself due to the man who has unmade her.
Returning to the living hell that is her new life, Claire is overcome with guilt for endangering the man who has woken a part of herself she had thought was long since dead. The question is how will she find the resolve to ensure no one else loses their life in her name?
From the opening first person narration of the mystery woman herself, or a version of her, the question hooks are planted that lead us into the story which is really four separate story lines cleverly shuffled. As each one ends on a crisis point or question we alternate to the next which deftly pulls us along as we search for the next big reveal. Major questions demand answers. Why isnt the most obvious and simple solution to Claires dilemma possible?
We follow Parks quest to find Claire from his third person narration as he weathers the situation with his career. Intermingled with all this we become a party to Claires current life as well as the history of her past which has led to now, when she still was wholly Claire Fletcher.
This gripping tale of psychological abuse is realistic and well-written. At times, I felt my breath become tight as I empathized with Claires ordeal, which is a testament to the books inherent craft. Clearly much research on trauma had been undertaken to underpin the heroines motivations. Dark it may be, but not gratuitous. Part way through however I became disappointed when Id thought Id figured out who Claires abuser was, but I had just been led into a skillful trap by this talented author who had sent me off down a blind alley, laying a trail of pseudo clues that had me fixing on how smart I was.
I finished the book and remained in the world Lisa Regan had created for a while. Its always a good sign when a story lingers. Its even better when you discover an author you enjoy and want to hear more from then find out there are several other works to encounter.
The Odd Fellows Society
The Odd Fellows Society is one book not to be missed. When left an urgent message by his friend and colleague, Jasper, Father Santiago Torres agrees to meet him, but is left stood up by his friend and the new owner of a chicken bestowed upon him by an insistent Chinese woman. It is only later that Santiago learns that his friend did not stand him up, but that Jasper has died of an apparent suicide. Grief-stricken by the death of his friend, Santiago feels that it was not a suicide that killed Jasper and that there is more to his death than meets the eye. When he begins receiving cryptic messages from The Odd Fellows Society, he is led on a scavenger hunt that takes him through the monuments and mysteries of Washington, DC. Santiago believes these clues are being sent to him so that he can find the final copy of Jaspers thesis that apparently holds valuable information. With the help of his friend Abigail, Santiago follows the clues given to him by The Odd Fellows Society and uncovers information that goes back centuries. He also uncovers another secret society, called the Stewards, that may or may not still exist. The more he learns on his hunt helps him on his quest, but also begins to put himself and those closest to him in danger. Reluctant to accept help or heed the warnings of many, including his brother Nico, who is in the FBI, Santiago continues to follow the messages from The Odd Fellows Society. Relentless in his search, even as his job and life are on the line, Santiago knows that he must solve the clues for his friend and the greater good. Whether he will be able to do this and end up alive is uncertain at every turn.
C.G. Barrett has created an amazing book that combines so many genres it should have one of its own. The Odd Fellows Society is a mystery, a thriller, a romance, a treasure hunt, an adventure, historical fiction, and full of suspense at every turn. Barretts ability to combine all of these genres creates a book that truly keeps you guessing until the very end. There are times that you think you have it figured out and then he throws a curve ball, leaving readers reeling as to what just happened. Not only is the storyline strong and consistent throughout the book, the characters are all very well thought-out and written. You can tell that each character has a purpose and, while you may not know what it is right away, you know you need to remember them.
This book was exciting and thoroughly enjoyable to read, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes a book that keeps you engaged.
Three different Amazon boxes — each containing a Ziploc bag with a “Don’t Steal Music” sticker slapped on it and filled with bodily pieces-parts. That is all the evidence SFPD Detectives Qigiq (pronounced “ki-jeek”) and Kandy Dreeson, his partner, have on a missing college student named Sally Bellowi. Their biggest clue comes in when a demented YouTube video goes viral. While further research connects the hideous recording with the “Don’t Steal Music” sticker and peer-to-peer music files, the leads eventually zero in on a psychopathic culprit. But more technological sleuthing reveals viruses, one more deadly than the other, which makes cornering the perpetrator more difficult than expected. Klingler’s new thriller is a ride into the dark side of computers and comedy.
In his second novel, rising author Joe Klingler features Qigiq, who purposefully relocates to California from Alaska in the hope of becoming acquainted with computer crime. A quasi-gumshoe Clouseau, Qigiq is not only technologically behind the times, but also technologically challenged — to the max. Coupled with Kandy, his quick-witted, brawny-ish sidekick, Qigiq’s awkwardness only stands out more. In addition to his clueless main character, Klingler includes a handful of other quirky characters in the mix. Aside of a few scatterbrains, Klingler throws in enough red herrings to leave readers also clueless when it comes to pinpointing the real offender.
Klingler’s plot definitely has a Quentin Tarantino-feel to it. Opening with a graphic crime scene, Klingler quickly shifts scenes by introducing the daring duo with morbidly hilarious misdirected dialogue. But that is only the beginning of the black comedy that he deftly interweaves throughout his somewhat substantial story. Penned in third person, Klingler’s constantly moving narrative principally but not exclusively alternates between the crime investigation, the inner workings of the music media company, Silver Platter (headed by the suave and narcissistic Eddy Blake), and computer programmer and guru Harry Zeto. All periodically laced with snippets of romance, Klingler’s plot slowly builds up to a ticking clock scenario that leads to an ambiguous ending.
Cleverly designed, Mash Up is the perfect detective read, as well as a classic addition to the noir genre.
A Patchwork of Old Spies
A drug trade operation appears to go awry and two undercover agents, Gunther and Heidi, head to Chipley Island. Zach and Jodie Warren, two of the fourteen retired espionage experts who call the island their home, are not too thrilled that the agents have chosen their haven for protection. Yet they, along with the remaining retired spies, get involved to piece together the truth behind Operation Seagull. There are way too many unrelated clues and a slew of red herrings, however, which call for intense problem solvinga time for Jodie to resurrect the program from her old Patches mission. But trying to figure out “how a South American drug business, a Far Eastern gang, and…a Russian op named Polaris,” fit together, for example, is far more complicated and extremely riskier than the retirees thinkespecially when they’re invaded.
With a slew of published works under her belt, Gini Andings latest espionage novel takes readers into the strange and mysterious world of retired spiesat least the ones on Chipley Island. Once again featuring husband and wife agents, Zach and Jodie, as principal characters (from A Case for Old Spies), Anding includes a large, but intricately designed, cast of retired spies and other colorful protagonists and antagonists set within the confines of a tight community. Of particular interest is the way Anding punctuates each character (spy or otherwise) with his/her detailed credentials in bold lettering throughout her third-person narrative. That writing style not only helps readers wrap their heads around Anding’s hefty cast, but also identifies how each character is related to the other in some fashion.
As Anding continues to introduce each cast member, she slowly, but deftly, unfolds her storyline. Key to plot building, Anding creates the most interesting character conversations. Intertwined with geopolitics and its behind-the-scene connections with intelligent activity, dialogues are filled with a combination of reality, bumbling lame comments, and ad nauseam yet hilarious statementsall compactly laced within black comedy and action-packed who’s-done-it, game-of-Clue-like adventure. In addition, Anding also keeps her narrative flowing by including cliffhangers at the close of chapters and a whole stream of unexpected scene changes.
There is no doubt in this reviewer’s mind that A Patchwork of Old Spies is one read that is truly an unforgettable one of its kind.
The Nash Criterion
Obama’s term has come to an end, and Elaine York has stepped up to the plate as the newly inaugurated 45th President of the United States. She soon finds herself compromised, however, as a coup, seemingly initiated by a faction of the military, divides the nation, and America descends into civil war.
Events set in motion by a genius hacker named Fawkes, after he has unleashed a super-virus, have triggered the chaos. Once again, a team of FBI and CIA agents find themselves pitted against the forces of evil, including many within their own government. This story, book four of the Intel 1 series, follows on from The Anonymous Signal, in which an FBI cyber crimes unit went off-reservation with their crime-fighting methodology, and the chief and members of his team were forced to defend themselves and their actions in a military-style trial. However, this novel does function as a standalone, and can be successfully read as such.
Feds John Savas and Rebecca Cohen have to prove themselves worthy of their earlier exoneration, as they attempt to aid the ailing president. Meanwhile, a crack team, including super cybersecurity girl Angel Lightfoote, work on deciphering a secret code which obscures the unpublished work of brilliant mathematician John Nash. Once cracked, it promises to defeat a hidden enemy and restore peace and harmony to the nation. As if this weren’t enough, both groups must battle a divisive contingent of the military, pledging allegiance to this opposing set of puppet-masters, with sophisticated modern weaponry and advanced computational power at their disposal.
The author continues to develop his original creations, an interesting and quirky cast of non-stereotypical misfits, but, in places, paints quite a broad sweep when it comes to character perspective. Though successful in initial chapters when were inside Sava’s and York’s heads, the storytelling becomes less focalized as we switch between the two interwoven plotlines to spend time with the secondary group. It feels like if the reader were to be privy to the interior monologues of all of the characters and their motivations, a much stronger connection could be made, along with a sense of the cast having been more fully-developed. In this instance, I believe this series could be propelled into a league alongside tech thrillers written by masters such as Barry Eisler.
The author’s jargon and technical know-how is believable, as is the convincing fight choreography. All of this, along with the complex and intelligent plotting, makes for an extremely satisfying and page-turning read, and the incorporation of several hot politic topics and fascinating conspiracy theories about elite shadowy governments make it all the more compelling. Erec Stebbins is definitely one to watch, a good writer who just gets better and better.