Sunday, March 24, 2024

Explosive second book of the Red Queen Trilogy


The Red Queen Trilogy, No. 2
Juan Gomez-Jurado
Minotaur Books
March 12, 2024

Antonia Scott and her protector, policeman Jon Gutierrez, are two of the most interesting characters I have encountered in crime fiction for a long time. Antonia is a brilliant but conflicted member of the Red Queen, an international crime-fighting organization. Antonia has a clever brain that sees and makes connections at lightning-fast speed but has relentless personal demons. Her husband has been on life support for years after a failed assassination attempt on Antonia went horribly awry. Her family has taken her only child away because of her erratic behavior. On the other hand, her partner, Jon Gutierrez, is gay, nattily dressed, overweight, and neurotic. He is also Antonia's steadfast supporter and friend. Their first case together, Red Queen, was a non-stop thriller with an ending that left many questions unanswered.

Antonia and Jon are sent to Marbella, a resort city on the Costa del Sol after a Russian gangster is brutally murdered in his home. His pregnant wife, Lola Moreno, is missing and assumed to be on the run. Red Queen needs to find and extract Lola for her safety and the information she may have. The Russian gangster who killed her husband is also looking for her. If that was not enough, the head mafioso in Russia has sent his assassin to find Lola. The assassin is a female known as the "Black Wolf," with a high success rate and a seemingly endless appetite for brutality. Antonia, Jon, and corrupt Marbella cops are bound to collide with explosive results. Antonia's personal demons raise their heads, and she overuses the drugs prescribed to keep her going. Nobody is who they appear to be in this propulsive thriller.

I was blown away by Red Queen and eagerly awaited the second installment. I was not precisely disappointed by Black Wolf, even though it wasn't quite as engrossing. That is often the nature of a middle book in a trilogy. Once again, the characters are extraordinary and surprising, and the action never stops. Antonia is releasing some of her failures and regrets, which bodes well for the finish. I hope it comes soon after a jaw-dropping twist at the novel's close! Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Sunday, March 17, 2024

There are Strange Things out in the Wilderness

Haven's Rock #2
Kelley Armstrong
St. Martins Minotaur
February 20, 2024

I have been a fan of Kelley Armstrong's books for a very long time since I first became aware of her Otherworld series in the early 2000s. Whether it is Urban Fantasy, Mystery, Time-Slip, or whatever Rockton or Haven's Rock could be classified as she consistently delivers unique characters and great stories.

The Haven's Rock Series is a spin-off of the Rockton Series, set in the contemporary Canadian Yukon. Rockton was a well-hidden town, founded initially for people fleeing political persecution. Over the years, it became a refuge for anyone who could pay to get in. Casey Duncan was fleeing her possible prosecution for murder and the revenge of the victim's family. Brought in as a detective reporting to the Rockton Sheriff, Eric Dalton. The pairing became both professional and personal. Casey and Eric are now a married couple. When Rockton fell apart, the two founded Haven's Rock. Haven's Rock is meant as an escape for people fleeing trouble not of their own making, and hopefully, fewer serial killers and psychopaths.

Haven's Rock has accepted a mother and two children whose father was killed in front of them after testifying in a trial. The two boys are the first children in Rockton or Haven's Rock, causing concerns they have never faced before. When the younger boy reports seeing a bear with human eyes near the settlement, no one knows what to think. The boy, Max, is insistent, and everyone is all out to find him when he appears to have been abducted. Plenty of strange people are out in the woods, but why would Max be abducted? Coupled with this dilemma, Casey and Eric have their own issue, which is also about a child.

The Boy Who Cried Bear is another gripping installment in this well-constructed series. While the novel could be read as a stand-alone, I think everyone should start with the first in the series and possibly go back to Rockton. You won't be disappointed!! Thanks to and Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING 4.5 Stars

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Adelaide to Darwin through the Outback on a legendary train

 Benjamin Stevenson #2
 Mariner Books
 January 30, 2024

I have been eagerly awaiting Everyone on This Train is a Suspect since last year's Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone. It was, hands down, my favorite mystery novel of 2023. It was highly satisfactory, a clever and inventive take on the tropes inherent in "Golden Age" mystery fiction, with a fair amount of violence mixed in for a more modern audience. Thanks to NetGalley and Mariner Books for an advance reading copy.

This time, our "hero," Ernest Cunningham, has been invited aboard The Ghan, a legendary and lavish train traveling through the Australian Outback from Adelaide to Darwin. It's a very different setting from the previous book, the snowy mountains of New South Wales, but just as dangerous in an Australian high summer. The reason for the trip is the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Australian Mystery Writers Society. Ern's actual crime book about his family has done very well, and Elizabeth (his girlfriend we met in the prior book) is along. Elizabeth, too, wrote a book about their experiences.

The train is full of mystery fiction luminaries, primarily the Scots writer Henry McTavish, whose next book is the end of a long-running and very lucrative series. The rest of the train comprises a motley crew of lesser writers, agents, rabid fans, warring publishers, and one very "literary" writer who is above it all. The connections between these disparate characters run deep and are only sometimes cordial. The first murder comes as no real surprise, but as others pile on, Ern sets out in his own fashion despite the danger.

There are a lot of characters in this book, and I found them easy to lose track of. They did not seem quite as well drawn as Ern's family. Still, I recommend this book highly because of Ern's distinctive and snarky voice. He needs to have more regard for his personal safety, or he will not be around for long. There is quite a twist at the end, related by Elizabeth, that I did not see coming!

RATING- 4 Stars