Quick Review – Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone Cover

Publisher: Michael Joseph (Trade Paperback – 29 March 2022)

Series: Ernest Cunningham – Book One

Length: 384 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

One of Australia’s fastest rising crime fiction stars, comedian turned mystery writer Benjamin Stevenson, returns with an outstanding standalone book that might be one of the best Australian crime fiction reads of 2022, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone.

One of my favourite Australian crime fiction authors now is the exceedingly talented Benjamin Stevenson, who has written some amazing works over the last couple of years.  Stevenson’s writing career began in 2018 when he released the amazing murder mystery Greenlight (which was subsequently released as Trust Me When I Lie and She Lies in the Vines outside of Australia).  A fantastic Australian crime fiction book with true crime elements to it, Greenlight followed a successful television producer who reinvestigates a murderer who was freed thanks to his show.  Stevenson followed Greenlight up in 2020 with the epic sequel, Either Side of Midnight, which saw the same protagonist investigate an impossible murder in what was one of my favourite Australian books of 2020.  Both these readers were pretty damn impressive, but Stevenson has saved his best work for the 2022 release, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone, which luckily has an outstanding story that matches the very cool title.

Plot Synopsis:

Everyone in my family has killed someone. Some of us, the high achievers, have killed more than once. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but it is the truth. Some of us are good, others are bad, and some just unfortunate.

I’m Ernest Cunningham. Call me Ern or Ernie. I wish I’d killed whoever decided our family reunion should be at a ski resort, but it’s a little more complicated than that.

Have I killed someone? Yes. I have.

Who was it?

Let’s get started.

EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE

My brother

My stepsister

My wife

My father

My mother

My sister-in-law

My uncle

My stepfather

My aunt

Me

As the title and the intriguing plot synopsis above suggests, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone is an awesome read that sees Stevenson serve up an addictive narrative that is one part insane family drama and one part homage to classic detective novels.  I had an incredible time reading this book early on in 2022 and I honestly should have written a review for it well before now.

The plot of Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone is pretty bonkers as it follows a very damaged protagonist, teacher and crime fiction mega-fan Ernest Cunningham, as he attends one of the most awkward family reunions in history.  Written from Ernest’s perspective as part of an in-universe book, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone sees Ernest reunite with the fellow members of the infamous Cunningham family at an isolated ski resort.  The black sheep of a dark family with criminal connections, Ernest has been invited to attend a special event: the release of his brother Michael from jail after Ernest testified against him.  However, once his brother arrives, a series of murders start to strike the resort, killing off several people.  With the ski resort cut off from the outside by the snow, it falls to Ernest to discover who is killing the remaining guests at the lodge.  However, everyone in his family is a suspect, as all of them have killed someone before, including Ernest, who has just as much motive as the rest.  As the book continues, it becomes very clear that someone in the Cunningham family has killed again, it’s just a matter of finding out which one did it.

I have to admit that I was pretty in love with this book from the opening pages, especially as it becomes clear early on that Stevenson planned to blend the book’s mystery with some great humour and brilliant homages to classic murder mysteries.  Stevenson lays out this story in a fun way that simultaneously focuses on the infamous main family, their complex past and relationships, while also presenting a compelling murder investigation that intentionally steals a lot of cues from classic whodunnits.  Stevenson introduces an outrageous cast of complex characters for the story, and they were very intriguing to follow, especially as they all have deeper issues brought on by the deaths they are responsible for.  The story at time transforms into a very moving and entertaining family drama, which helps to make the story richer and even more amusing.  The mystery itself is very clever, and I loved the multiple compelling twists and reveals that accompanied it as the protagonist is forced to dive back into every terrible event his family has been involved in, including murder, robbery, police corruption and kidnapping, all of which leads to final, devastating solution.  While the identity of the killer is a tad obvious, the reveal of why they are committing their crimes more than makes up for it, and Stevenson came up with one doozy of a motive.  However, the real highlight of the book is the way in which Stevenson sets out Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone in the manner of an in-story chronicle written by the protagonist, which simultaneously takes on every established trope and rule of old-school detective novels and moulds it into itself.

As I mentioned a few times above, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone also acts as a homage to classic crime fiction novels, as Stevenson goes out of his way to simultaneously parody and revere the iconic detective genre.  The book starts with two intriguing elements: the membership oath of the Detectives Club (a secret society of classic crime fiction writers), and Ronald Knox’s ’10 Commandments of Detective Fiction’.  Both of these inclusions acknowledge the general tropes and rules of golden-age detective fiction, and they actually end up being used by the protagonist, and by extension Stevenson, as the main guideline for the mystery.  The author continuously refers back to this list as the novel continues (he even suggests folding this page down so you can revisit it when needed), and I loved how this mystery came together as the author tried to avoid breaking any of these rules.  The author also cheekily informs the reader in advance when in the book someone is going to die with an accompanying page number, ostensibly to allow the reader to jump ahead if needed.  However, as most people will continue through at the normal pace, it heightens the suspense a little as you get closer and closer to the page on which you know a death is going to occur.  Various elements like this, as well as a ton of self-referential internal monologues and discussions about the rules of whodunnits, gives this book an incredible meta feel, which Stevenson uses to full effect to tell a particularly hilarious story.  The author’s background as a comedian is on full display here as he creates an incredibly funny book, even with the continued murders and human tragedy.  These clever references are a great love letter to the classic detective novels, especially as he addresses them in such a satirical way, and all mystery lovers will get a real kick out this book as a result.

Overall, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone is an absolutely outstanding book that I cannot recommend enough.  While I have enjoyed Benjamin Stevenson’s mystery novels in the past, I think that Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone is where he finally reveals his full potential.  Not only is the mystery itself brilliant, loaded as it is with compelling characters and a dark family history, but Stevenson finally showcases his impressive comedy skills and uses them to produce a truly delightful and incredibly addictive novel.  The combination of mystery, humour and a clever homage to the classics, is an intoxicating mixture, and it was near impossible to put this book down once you started reading it.  As such, I must give Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone a full five-star rating, and it was one of the most entertaining books I read in all of 2022.  I have so much love for this book and I was very excited when I heard that Stevenson is releasing a sequel in October titled Everyone On This Train Is A Suspect.

Amazon     Book Depository

Warhammer 40,000: Grim Repast by Marc Collins

Warhammer 40,000 - Grim Repast Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 25 September 2021)

Series: Warhammer Crime

Length: 9 hours and 52 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Prepare for a gruesome and dark murder mystery novel in the gritty Warhammer 40,000 universe with the incredible and awesome Warhammer Crime novel, Grim Repast by Marc Collins.

I have made no secret of the fact that I am currently in the middle of a big Warhammer reading frenzy, having recently reviewed several awesome books, including two novels in my last Throwback Thursday posts (Xenos by Dan Abnett and Deus Encarmine by James Swallow).  However, I am still not done with the tie-in books in this very cool franchise as I have just finished another outstanding read, this time a book which is part of the Warhammer Crime sub-series.

The Warhammer Crime books are a fantastic and captivating series which, as the name suggests, blends crime fiction storylines with the epic Warhammer 40,000 universe.  All set within the tortured and sprawling human city of Varangantua, these great novels tell a range of entertaining and complex crime stories, including dark murder mysteries and elaborate thrillers, which make great use of the gothic futuristic setting.  I have so far enjoyed two Warhammer Crime entries, Dredge Runners and The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley, both of which were pretty epic reads.  These initial awesome reads really sold the Warhammer Crime series to me, and I have been interested in enjoying another entry.  I ended up choosing the great sounding read, Grim Repast, by rising Warhammer author Marc Collins.  One of Collins’s first full-length novels, Grim Repast is an exceptional read with one of the darkest crime narratives I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

“This city eats men….”

Veteran probator Quillon Drask thinks that he has seen all the dangers, depravities and villains that Varangantua has to offer, but he is about to discover a whole new level of horror.  Already traumatised and ostracised after his last lethal case and the betrayal that accompanied it, Drask’s first new investigation is not the simple job he was hoping for, as a body has been found in the dying district of Polaris.  The victim, a businessman on the wrong side of town, has been gruesomely mutilated, the implications of his injuries have frightening implications.

As more bodies are discovered, Drask finds himself chasing after a deadly killer who murders and dismembers without compunction and who has a sudden obsession with tormenting Drask.  Forced to play a deadly game that uncovers the corruption of his own organisation and sets him against the city’s elite, Drask finds himself alone and afraid against an enemy he doesn’t understand.  Only his twisted insights into the criminal mind, as well as the lessons of his career and devious dead mentor, offer the answers that he needs to solve the case and stop the killer.  However, not even Drask’s dark mind can comprehend the true horrors that lie beneath his city, one that connects to Varangantua’s past and a dangerous hunger that has always controlled people like him.

Wow, Marc Collins really came out swinging with this epic and outstanding Warhammer Crime entry.  Grim Repast is probably one of the best pure mystery novels set in the Warhammer universe that I have so far read, and I loved how seamlessly Collins was able to blend a dark, psychological crime fiction narrative with the grim and repressive atmosphere of a Warhammer 40,000 city.

Collins has cooked up a pretty wicked story for Grim Repast, which brings together multiple elements from across the genres to really highlight just how epic and complex a Warhammer story can be.  Following the compelling and damaged protagonist and narrator Probator Quillon Drask through the deadly streets of Varangantua as he chases after a lethal serial killer, Grim Repast is first and foremost a crime novel, and one that really grabs the reader’s attention.  Coming off as a dark psychological thriller with classic noir detective elements to it, the protagonist is forced to delve into the darkest heart of his massive, gothic city when he investigates several connected murders whose victims have been butchered in inventive and dark ways.

Collins sets up the case extremely well and then adds some intriguing complications to it where Drask is forced to investigate against the opposition of his bosses and their corporate controllers.  Bringing together a ton of character growth, disturbing developments in the murder case, as well as some fun action as Drask comes face-to-face with the killer in disguise, the plot moves quickly, and you are soon very hooked on finding the killer and the people pulling the strings behind them.  Forced to contend with the interference of a giant corporation, the protagonist finds himself in the middle of a dark conspiracy and, after the typical cop requirement of being suspended without his gun or badge, investigates on his own.  The mystery itself is well-set out and slowly unfolds, even if the overall culprit behind it isn’t too surprising.  However, the obvious suspect isn’t a narrative weakness, as the power of the story revolves around the protagonist fighting through the corruption and the insanity to confront his suspect, as well as the wider implications and horrors his investigation reveal.  The last third of the story is particularly brutal and grim as the protagonist uncovers some pretty horrendous crimes tied into the dark past of Varangantua, and is forced to face them by himself.  Everything ends in a pretty bloody manner, and I had a wonderful time seeing how this entire awesome crime narrative came together.  I loved the cool conclusion of this book, and the hints at some potential adventures for this character is something I would be extremely keen for.

This was a very well written book, and I really appreciated how Collins was able to tell such an effective and powerful story.  Featuring a quick pace and a brilliant focus on a very damaged protagonist, Grim Repast keeps you on your toes the entire time, and I loved how well it blended multiple crime fiction elements for the story while also making full use of the grim Warhammer setting.  The crime itself has some outstanding elements to it, and I was getting some major Jack the Ripper vibes from the plot as Drask receives several taunting notes from the killer.  Collins really brings about a dark and desperate tone around the characters and the city itself, and this lends itself perfectly to the complex crimes, especially as the murders have far deeper meaning and consequences than are initially seen.  The use of corruption and dangerous corporations helped to ensure that the character had even more mysteries and obstacles to overcome, which I thought was an outstanding bonus hook to the story.  The fantastic focus on murder and mystery rather than on wider universe elements ensures that Grim Repast also serves as a pretty good entry into Warhammer 40,000 fiction, especially for crime fiction lovers.  While some elements of the story hint or briefly discuss larger events or bits of the universe’s wider lore, you really don’t need to understand it to enjoy this book, and anybody who loves a complex and gloomy crime fiction can easily have their first taste of Warhammer fiction here without any issues.

Perhaps one of the best elements of Grim Repast that Collins featured was the setting of Varangantua itself.  While the continent-spanning city of Varangantua has appeared in the other Warhammer Crime books, I don’t think I fully appreciated just how good a setting it is until reading Grim Repast.  Collins sets out to make the city as dreary, deadly and dark as possible, and you find yourself getting lost amongst its constricting streets, compelling people and many hidden dangers.  The author honestly sets the city up as a character in itself, and it is quite powerful to see the protagonist move amongst its streets as Varangantua works to consume him, mind, body and soul.  To just make things a little grimmer, Collins chooses to set most of the story in the section of the city known as Polaris, an icy, desolate part of town that is slowly dying due to a lack of commerce.  I love how Polaris’s fortunes seem to match that of the protagonist himself, and Collins really amps up the noir vibes of Polaris with a ton of neon signs, dingy apartments and corrupt cops, making it feel that little bit more like a classic police story.

However, no matter how dingy and gothic Varangantua may be, it is still a futuristic city, so the universe’s advanced technology and other wider Warhammer elements are integrated into the city as well.  There are some great scenes where the city’s law enforcement utilises interesting investigation methods to solve the brutal murders, and I liked seeing the set up of a police force within the Warhammer 40,000 setting, especially as it is as corrupt or degraded as most things within the Imperium of Man.  I also really enjoyed how Collins was able to tie the mystery into the history of the city itself, with key parts of Varangantua’s past coming to the surface during the course of Grim Repast.  This gives the book a lot more substance when it is fully revealed, especially as it increases the overall stakes of the book, and I really appreciated and enjoyed how Collin’s utilised this brilliant setting throughout his book.

I also have to highlight the outstanding central protagonist and point-of-view character, Quillon Drask.  Collins created a wonderful character in Drask, a beaten down and emotionally damaged cop, reminiscent of classic pulp or noir detectives and investigators.  Still emotionally traumatised by the betrayal of his mentor during the last case, Drask attempts to find some normalcy in his work.  However, Drask is now isolated from the rest of his force, not just because of his propensity for finding the weirdest cases, but because of the taint surrounding his mentor.  Drask channels much of his anger and trauma into the new case, but he soon confronts forces that even he can’t fight through.  His obsession with this new case, his well-founded hatred of the aristocracy, and his desire for redemption, lead him to continue his investigation despite his boss’s orders, which leads him into all manner of trouble.  Collins did an outstanding job showcasing this character’s intense mental trauma throughout Grim Repast, and he really comes across as a complex and dark individual.  Despite being a troubled soul, you can’t help but like Drask, as his grim stubbornness just keeps forcing him towards the abyss, and nothing he does in the book, not even solving the murders, brings him any real comfort.  I loved how Collins also explored his penchant for getting into the darkest parts of the human mind and empathising with killers, and he reminded me a bit of Will Graham from the Hannibal Lector franchise, which isn’t too surprising considering that there are some major Thomas Harris influences in this book.  Drask gives a great running commentary on his dark observations of the city around him, and Collins really dives into the mind of his character throughout the course of the book.  This really adds to the book’s overall tone and quality, and I absolutely loved how Collins set out his central protagonist.

If I were to make one major complaint about Grim Repast, it would be that Collins relied a little too much on people reading his short story, Cold Cases, first.  Appearing in the Warhammer Crime anthology book, No Good Men, Cold Cases was the previous (and first) appearance of Quillon Drask, in which he hunted down another notorious killer.  Collins brought up Cold Cases multiple times throughout the course of Grim Repast, as the events helped form the protagonist and led to his mental/profession state in Grim Repast.  While I appreciate that Collins was trying to tie his new book back into this introductory story, I found it a bit confusing and irritating at times, mainly because I haven’t read Cold Cases.  I kind of got a little tired of the continued references to Cold Cases throughout Grim Repast, as it messed with the initial flow and enjoyment of this novel.  While you can pick up the events of Cold Cases through context as Grim Repast continues, I felt that Collins could have either eased up on the references a little or featured a better summary of this short story at the start, especially as it was such a big part of the protagonist’s motivations.  While this wasn’t a massive issue in my enjoyment of Grim Repast, it bugged me the entire way through, and it is something readers interested in Grim Repast should be aware of.  Overall, though, this was a pretty epic read, and I would recommend it, even with this issue.

To no-one’s surprise I ended up listening to the Grim Repast audiobook, which was pretty damn awesome.  I have so much love for Warhammer 40,000 audiobooks, especially as they are always so successful at capturing the dark tone of the settings as well as the complex stories.  I felt that Grim Repast was a particularly good example of this, as its audiobook really drew the reader into the cold surrounds of Varangantua and refused to let you leave.  It helped that Grim Repast was narrated by the highly talented Richard Reed, who previously impressed me with his narration of Nate Crowley’s The Twice-Dead King books, Ruin and Reign.  Reed has a naturally tough and rugged voice that does Grim Repast’s story a lot of justice, as his tones perfectly fit the noir-esque city of Varangantua.  I especially enjoyed how he portrayed Quillon Drask throughout the book, giving him a very gravelly tone that showcased his gruff exterior, while also expertly conveying the protagonist’s inner turmoil and pain.  You really get the full sense of who Drask is through Reed’s great voice work, and I really cannot emphasise how much value Reed’s narration added to this awesome audiobook.  With a runtime of just under 10 hours, Grim Repast is an easy audiobook to quickly power through, and you will really find yourself getting dragged into this elaborate and powerful tale in this format.

Fans of crime fiction, Warhammer fiction and everything in between should look no further than Grim Repast by Marc Collins for their next epic read.  Bringing together a complex and twisted murder mystery with the iconic setting of Varangantua in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Grim Repast is an outstanding amalgamation of mystery, a dark psychological thriller, and the madness of the grim Warhammer 40,000 future, all of which makes for one hell of a dark and emotionally charged story.  I had an amazing time reading this powerful read, and it comes very highly recommended.

Amazon     Book Depository

Waiting on Wednesday – Seven Faceless Saints by M. K. Lobb

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  In this week’s Waiting on Wednesday, I look at an intriguing upcoming fantasy novel that I think has a lot of potential with Seven Faceless Saints by M. K. Lobb.

Seven Faceless Saints Cover

Amazon     Book Depository

We are just around the corner from 2023 and already the new year is starting to look very promising in terms of awesome books.  I am already quite excited for the next novels from some of my favourite writers, but I am also keeping an eye out for new authors who are going to be making their debut in 2023.  One debuting author who has already caught my attention is M. K. Lobb, who is set to release her first novel in a few months’ time with Seven Faceless Saints.

Seven Faceless Saints, which currently has a release date for February 2023, is a fantasy novel with some excellent thriller and murder mystery elements to it.  Set in a new fantasy city, the book will follow two protagonists on opposite ends of the cities corrupt ruling class, with one acting as a rebel seeking revenge, while the other serves as the head of the government’s security.  However, both are dragged into a murder investigation when a dangerous serial killer stalks the streets, forcing them to dive deep into the dark heart of their city.  I already really love the sound of this awesome book and I think that it could turn out to be an excellent and highly enjoyable read.  Blending murder mystery, rebellion and two fantastic sounding characters in a new fantasy setting is a great starting point for an amazing read and I have a strong feeling that Seven Faceless Saints is going to be one of the top debuts of 2023.

Plot Synopsis:

 In the city of Ombrazia, saints and their disciples rule with terrifying and unjust power, playing favorites while the unfavored struggle to survive.

After her father’s murder at the hands of the Ombrazian military, Rossana Lacertosa is willing to do whatever it takes to dismantle the corrupt system—tapping into her powers as a disciple of Patience, joining the rebellion, and facing the boy who broke her heart. As the youngest captain in the history of Palazzo security, Damian Venturi is expected to be ruthless and strong, and to serve the saints with unquestioning devotion. But three years spent fighting in a never-ending war have left him with deeper scars than he wants to admit… and a fear of confronting the girl he left behind.

Now a murderer stalks Ombrazia’s citizens. As the body count climbs, the Palazzo is all too happy to look the other way—that is, until a disciple becomes the newest victim. With every lead turning into a dead end, Damian and Roz must team up to find the killer, even if it means digging up buried emotions. As they dive into the underbelly of Ombrazia, the pair will discover something more sinister—and far less holy. With darkness closing in and time running out, will they be able to save the city from an evil so powerful that it threatens to destroy everything in its path?

Discover what’s lurking in the shadows in this dark fantasy debut with a murder-mystery twist, perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Kerri Maniscalco.

Quick Review – Retribution by Sarah Barrie

Retribution Cover

Publisher: HQ (Trade Paperback – 30 November 2022)

Series: Lexi Winter – Book Two

Length: 349 pages

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Australian author Sarah Barrie brings back her awesome vigilante protagonist, Lexi Winter, for another intense and dark crime fiction read in Retribution.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the 2021 Australian crime release, Unforgiven.  An amazing novel by a talented Australian author, Unforgiven told the story of a former child abuse victim turned effective vigilante, Lexi Winter, who used her skills as a hacker to hunt down abusers online and bring them to justice.  Initially keen to do her own thing, Lexi is forced to work with the police detective who failed her as a child when evidence at a series of murders suggests that the monster who ruined her childhood might still be out there.  Unforgiven ended up being a shocking and captivating read that made great use of its darker subject matter to produce an addictive narrative.  Unforgiven ended up being one of my favourite Australian fiction releases of 2021, and I have been keen to see how Barrie would follow this book up.  Luckily, I received a copy of her sequel, Retribution, a few weeks ago, and it proved to be an outstanding read and a worthy sequel to Unforgiven.

Plot Synopsis:

Once a vigilante, she’s now a cop … but she still plays by her own rules. A fast-paced, suspenseful thriller for readers of Candice Fox and Sarah Bailey.

Ace hacker, ex-prostitute, Jack Daniels drinker and part-time vigilante Lexi Winter returns, now working with the police – mostly – with a new enemy in the target and an old foe at the back of her mind.

Most probationary constables would baulk at chasing a drug dealer into a train tunnel in the dead of night. Not Lexi Winter. She emerges injured but alive, to face the wrath of her boss. Lexi may now be in uniform, but she has as much trouble with authority as ever, and is quietly using her hacking skills to investigate a notorious drug-dealing Sydney crime family with links to her old prey, the paedophile Damon Vaughn.

Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Finn Carson investigates a death on a Sydney building site … which oddly enough, leads him to the picturesque Wondabyne station on the Hawkesbury River, and Inspector Rachael Langley oversees an investigation that could tie it all together. Lexi holds the key … if only she’ll toe the line …


Retribution
is an excellent follow-up to Unforgiven that provides the reader with an interesting continuation of the main character’s journey.  Starting out about a year after the events of the first book, Barrie immediately introduces a new element to the story by having Lexi now an official member of the New South Wales police.  However, despite her position, Lexi is the same reckless rebel who is using her spare time and hacker skills to mess with members of the infamous Hamill crime family, who are actively hiding her nemesis, the paedophile Damon Vaughn and his former police officer accomplice, Debbie Reynolds.  Her efforts soon tie into the work of her friends, Detective Sergeant Finn Carson and Inspector Rachael Langley, who are not only involved with the official search for Vaughn and Reynolds but are investigating the murder of a successful businessman in a Sydney building site that has connections to the main case.

Barrie features a ton of distinctive plotlines in Retribution, and I really appreciated how she was able to keep up the darker tone that was such a distinctive feature of the previous book.  The central focus on Lexi’s attempt to take down a notorious crime family was an awesome part of the book’s plot, and I felt that Barrie did a good job tying them into the previous book and making them a sensible continuation target for the protagonist.  While they weren’t as despicable as the original antagonists of this series, they proved to be just as dangerous, and Barrie did an amazing job building them up quickly and making them a major threat.  At the same time, the murder investigation that the other characters are involved in adds some fantastic mystery elements to the book.  Not only does this result in a very compelling investigation with additional bodies, but it also ties into the rest of the story extremely well, especially when it is revealed that the murders have connections to the Hamill family.  These two major storylines, as well as some interesting character development, blend well as the story continues and then end up becoming a fantastic joint case.  The Hamills prove to be extremely impressive villains with some deadly plots they unleash against the police, and I loved seeing the protagonist take on a family, rather than a single potential threat.  At the same time, the murder investigation slowly reveals a fantastically dark motivation that results in some great and memorable twists that I particularly enjoyed.  Everything pulls together for an explosive conclusion which not only wraps up this narrative extremely well but also sets up a great potential sequel that I am quite excited for.

There was some good character work in Retribution as Barrie carries over all the major characters from the first book and keeps developing her central protagonist.  As I mentioned before, the main character, Lexi Winter, goes through some major changes in this book as she moves from being a lone investigator to a member of the New South Wales police force.  However, she still maintains her rebel attitude and her determination to solve everything herself.  This, and her own deep trauma and desire for revenge, sees her attempt her own rogue mission against the Hamills, with some deadly consequences.  I felt that this was a good natural progression of Lexi’s character, especially as she finds herself relying on other people especially after experiencing even more trauma in this second book.  While I feel that Barrie is making some progress with Lexi, she still maintains a lot of rough edges, which I am sure will get addressed in the future.  I did think that the repetitive reckless actions did get a little tiring as the book continued, but it generally results in some excellent storylines.  The rest of the characters form an amazing supporting cast to Lexi, and there are a few interesting new characters that I really enjoyed.  I must admit though that I didn’t massively care about Finn’s personal issues regarding his ex-wife, and I felt it was a bit of a distracting story element.  I’m also not sure why Barrie introduced a hostile rivalry between Lexi and the new female member of the main police team, especially as it didn’t result in any major revelation or come to a good conclusion.  Apart from that, I had a great time with the characters in Retribution and I look forward to seeing what happens to them in the next book.

Sarah Barrie’s excellent dark Australian crime fiction series gets an outstanding second book in Retribution.  Combining some of the fantastic thriller elements from Unforgiven with a very clever murder mystery, Retribution continues the Barrie’s compelling narrative and results in a captivating and powerful read that will keep you hooked right up until the end.  I had an incredible time with Retribution and I can’t wait to see how this intense series continues in the future.

Amazon     Book Depository

The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman

The Bullet That Missed Cover

Publisher: Viking/Penguin Audio (Audiobook – 15 September 2022)

Series: Thursday Murder Club – Book Three

Length: 11 hours and 17 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Murder, comedy and the most badass team of investigators you are every likely to read about come together perfectly in the new Thursday Murder Club novel, The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman.

Over the last three years, some of the most impressive and outright entertaining murder mystery novels have been part of the Thursday Murder Club series by British television personality Richard Osman.  Set in a luxury retirement village in the English countryside, the Thursday Murder Club books follow the adventures of four outrageous pensioners who spend their free time solving cold cases.  However, their lives get even more complicated when several murders occur around their village, and they endeavour to find out who committed them.  The series started with The Thursday Murder Club in 2020, which had an outstanding blend of mystery, great characters and humour, all of which came together in a perfect and deeply addictive read.  The Thursday Murder Club ended up being one of my favourite books, audiobooks and debuts of 2020, and I cannot rave about it enough.  Osman followed this first book up last year with The Man Who Died Twice, an excellent sequel that presents the reader with another great mystery, while also exploring the characters even further.  I had another amazing time with The Man Who Died Twice, and it also ended up being one of the best things I read all year, making my top books and audiobooks of 2021 lists.  Needless to say after the first two epic books, I have been very excited for the third Thursday Murder Club novel, and The Bullet That Missed has been one of my most anticipated reads for 2022 for a while now. 

After their last exciting adventure, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron, are continuing to solve murders in their spare time.  Their latest case sees them dive into an infamous cold case in which a young, highflying television reporter was murdered just before breaking a story on a major crime ring, with her body never recovered from the ocean.  Teaming up with the reporter’s famous presenter colleague, the Thursday Murder Club eagerly begin their investigation, hoping to shed light on her murder while having fun with their new high-profile friends.

However, it soon becomes apparent that the people behind the reporter’s death might still be active and are attempting to cover their tracks.  Their only witness in the case is found dead in her prisoner cell shortly after the club attempts to question her, and even the notorious crime lord many believe responsible for killing their original victim is afraid to talk.

Not ones to be deterred, the club continues their investigation and soon long-hidden secrets from the past come spilling out.  However, as they close on the killer, a completely different threat emerges from Elizabeth’s past.  A mysterious new nemesis wants Elizabeth to return to her assassin roots and kill an old contact from her spy days, if she does not, everyone close to her will die.  Forced to choose between her friends and her conscience, Elizabeth needs to find a way to defuse the situation before someone gets hurt.  But is this new encounter just the thing the Thursday Murder Club needs to solve their latest crime before the murderer strikes again?

Well damn, what another brilliant and impressive read.  Richard Osman went all out for his third book and I honestly think that The Bullet That Missed is some of his best work yet, possibly even eclipsing the original The Thursday Murder Club.  Bringing together an elaborate and deeply enjoyable mystery storyline with some brilliant characters, outstanding humour, and a heck of a lot of great twists, I was instantly addicted to this latest book from Osman and couldn’t wait to find out how everything ended.  An extremely captivating read, The Bullet That Missed gets a very emphatic five-star rating from me, and I had an incredible time reading it.

I loved, loved, loved the exceptional story that Osman came up with for The Bullet That Missed, especially as Osman provided a perfect blend of mystery, character growth and genuine human moments that the reader can’t help but eat up.  Starting off shortly after the events of the last book, The Bullet That Missed sees the Thursday Murder Club using their usual charm and manipulative practices to investigate another cold case, gaining insight through the victims’ old colleagues, while also dragging in their usual friends and police colleagues.  They soon find themselves in the middle of a cracking mystery and use their connections and well-earned insights to examine the various clues and persons of interests associated with the case.  At the same time, Elizabeth is quite literally dragged into a dark place by a mysterious new figure who knows about her past and who forces her to choose between killing an old colleague from her spy days or watching Joyce and the rest of her friends die.  This side plot adds quite a bit to the overall story, especially the introduction of several awesome new characters, and I really enjoyed how Osman tied it into the main mystery. 

Combined with the various scenes that show the day-to-day lives of the many characters in the book, as well as some genuinely heartbreaking moments of love and loss, this proves to be one heck of a story that I was particularly rivetted to.  I loved the unique investigation that resulted from the mystery, and the characters have so many clever and hilarious ways of getting to the truth.  Osman throws in an appropriate number of red herrings and suspects, which serves to effectively muddy the water and keep the readers in suspense as they try to work out which of the many suspicious characters might have had a hand in the killings.  I was able to pick out the main villain a fair bit in advance, although the journey to getting there and the eventual reveal was really good, and I loved every single second of it.  I also didn’t see a bunch of the final twists coming, and you really appreciate all the cleverly hidden hints and clues that Osman seeded throughout the book.  I came away from The Bullet That Missed exceedingly satisfied with how the story unfolded, and I really cannot emphasise just how amazing and awesome the plot was.

On top of this, Osman has an awesome writing style that I feel really enhances the elaborate and powerful narrative of The Bullet That Missed.  I particularly enjoyed how the author made great use of multiple character perspectives throughout the book to tell the elaborate narrative.  While the focus is generally on the four members of the Thursday Murder Club, the perspectives of all the other characters in the book are shown several times throughout the story.  Not only does this allow you to get multiple intriguing views of the main mystery and the club’s actions, including from the book’s many suspects, but it also ensures that the reader gets closer to all these characters by learning their motivations, feelings, and personal histories.  This makes for a much more compelling narrative, especially as you grow attached to the new characters quickly, while also getting to experience the powerful human developments impacting the main cast.  Osman does a great job of keep the pace pretty consistent and enjoyable throughout the entirety of The Bullet That Missed, and you are constantly exposed to intriguing mystery developments, deeper emotional moments from the characters, or a ton of entertaining humour which can’t help but make you chuckle.  This keeps up throughout the entire book, although it does pick up at several points, especially when the club are making some big moves, and it always works out well. 

While one of the best things about The Bullet That Missed is the compelling mystery, a discussion of this book really would not be complete without mentioning the fantastic humour loaded into it.  Osman is undeniably a very funny man, and he puts his excellent comedic skills to great use in this series, and particularly in The Bullet That Missed, with nearly every page containing some subtle, fun, comedic elements that I absolutely loved.  A large amount of this humour revolves around the various ways in which the older characters of the book manage to outwit and manipulate the younger people they come across, whether it be by acting senile, or forcing them to accommodate them out of politeness.  At the same time, the main characters’ very diverse and highly amusing viewpoints of the world around them, especially involving modern society or pop culture, are extremely funny, and it is entertaining to see an older perspective on this crazy modern world.  Osman fits in quite a huge number of references to British culture throughout the course of the book, and I had a lot of fun hearing all the clever references to iconic shows and products that the character’s mention throughout the book, especially as they often talk about them in a very clever way.  Throw in some fantastic coincidences, a lot of jokes about turning old, several hilarious self-referential jabs about the trouble with writing crime novels, and the perfect banter that occurs between the four main protagonists and their exasperated cohorts, and The Bullet That Missed was an exceedingly funny read that is guaranteed to keep you wildly amused with its various antics.

As always, one of the strongest parts of this latest Thursday Murder Club novel is the characters.  Osman has created an amazing group of protagonists for this series, and he continues to build on them with each book, showcasing their strengths, personalities, and inherent vulnerabilities, as the find themselves in dangerous and unique situations.  Most of the focus is again on the four members of the Thursday Murder Club who, by this third book, are really quite well established, and the reader is already very attached.  Osman keeps up the wonderful interpersonal dynamic that was such an impressive feature of the first two books, and it continued to work extremely well in The Bullet That Missed, with several great new developments added in.  Elizabeth and Joyce are once again set up as the book’s main characters, with a huge chunk of the book dedicated to them.  Elizabeth, the former spy, proves to be an excellent manipulator, and it is always fun to see her talk about her days as a trained assassin, especially when her past comes back to haunt her.  Joyce, on the other hand, is a legitimate sweetheart, and she really is the heart and soul of the book.  I love how Osman changes the perspective in all her chapters to reflect her journalling the events of the story, and she provides some of the best descriptions of the events going on in the book.  It is also very fun to see her in action as, despite appearing to be a harmless, sweet old lady, she is a tough as nails and can be just as manipulative as Elizabeth when she needs to be (the scene in which she meets the Viking was perfect). 

Ron and Ibrahim are also used to great effect in The Bullet That Missed and both have some impressive outings in this book.  I loved the many scenes featuring Ron, especially as he really stands out from the rest of the crowd by being a blue-collar rabble rouser who holds on to the old-school tough guy mentality.  A lot of Ron’s story in The Bullet That Missed revolves around the other characters breaking through his tough exterior, especially as he has a new love interest in this book who gets him to open up in several amusing ways.  I also loved the sense of vulnerability that surrounds Ron when he starts to realise that a lot of the men of his generation are starting to go and he suddenly doesn’t have as many people to connect with anymore, which gets used to great effect when he manages to get information by playing snooker with an old criminal with a similar mindset to him.  The final main character is Ibrahim, who is honestly one of the nicest, most genuine characters you are ever likely to meet in fiction.  Ibrahim gets an outstanding showing in this book, and it was really a relief to see him recovered after the terrible beating he received in The Man Who Died Twice.  I loved how he was able to use his psychology skills in this book, and he even spent time working with the woman responsible for his beating, which results in some excellent scenes.  All four of these main characters continued to impress me in this latest book and I cannot wait to see how their next adventure unfolds.

Aside from these major characters, The Bullet That Missed also contains a substantial supporting cast of entertaining characters who Osman uses to great effect throughout the course of the narrative.  These characters include a combination of some entertaining new figures, as well as many returning characters who made such an impact in the previous novels.  Many of these returning characters have been built up in a big way in the previous books, and it was great to see a lot of their character development continue, especially as they are generally better off after having met the Thursday Murder Club.  I really loved that the three main supporting characters from the first novel, DCI Chris Hudson, PC Donna De Freitas and Bogdan, each come into The Bullet That Missed with some positive storylines surrounding them, and the new romance between Donna and Bogdan was so damn nice. 

All the new characters in The Bullet That Missed were also very entertaining: an older makeup artist who takes a liking to Ron, a gigantic Scandinavian crime lord known only as the Viking, an eccentric local TV news host, and the local Chief Constable who also moonlights as a less-than-successful mystery writer.  These great characters added a lot of flavour to the narrative, and it was fascinating to see how many were worked into the plot, especially as Osman was setting several of them up for returning appearances.  I particularly loved the retired KGB officer turned criminal finance advisor, Viktor Illyich, who is an old contact of Elizabeth and who finds himself being hunted.  He was a brilliant and entertaining addition to the plot, especially with his great methods of manipulation.  You have to love that amazing scene where he applies his techniques to a young Virgin Media representative. 

However, the best recurring character has to be Elizabeth’s husband, Stephen, who has been a bit of a tragic figure throughout the series due to his dementia, which Elizabeth tries to hide from the world.  Stephen is perhaps the best character Osman has written, as the author provides a deep and extremely powerful view of the impacts dementia has on the sufferer and those closest to them.  Watching Stephen slowly lose himself while Elizabeth suffers beside him has provided some of the most heartbreaking parts of this series.  Stephen still proves himself to be a brilliant and caring figure, and Osman writes some great scenes for him in the series, especially when he plays chess with Bogdan, and it is always fun when he provides fantastic insights into Elizabeth’s cases.  He was particularly effective in this book, especially after being kidnapped, and his knowledge and surprising criminal contacts allow Elizabeth to outsmart one of their enemies in several amazing scenes.  Of course, these scenes are also loaded with sadness; with every positive step Stephen takes, he also loses a little, and every time he forgets a detail or a person it breaks your heart a little bit more.  Honestly, every character in this book is pretty damn epic, and clearly creating amazing characters is one of Osman’s biggest strengths as a writer.  I look forward to all the amazing character work that is bound to appear in the next Thursday Murder Club, and I am sure that I will fall in love with every single cast member once again.

While I did receive a physical copy of The Bullet That Missed, I chose to instead grab the audiobook version of this novel, as I had such an amazing time listening to the first two books in this format.  As it was, I ended up being surprised and slightly disappointed to discover that Lesley Manville, who narrated the first two Thursday Murder Club books, wasn’t returning for this third entry.  However, my disappointment was exceedingly short lived when I found out that she had been replaced by the amazing Fiona Shaw, who I have loved for years in things like the Harry Potter films, Killing Eve and Andor.  Unsurprisingly, Shaw did an outstanding job narrating The Bullet That Missed, and she masterfully portrayed all the characters in a very fun and entertaining way.  I loved all the great voices she used for this awesome audiobook, and each character got their own distinctive tone that allowed the reader to easily pick up who they were.  Shaw brings a huge range of different accents to the table, and while her Swedish accent was purposely a little silly, it still fit the character extremely well.  However, what really impressed me was the effort that Shaw took in matching the voices of most of the recurring characters with Lesley Manville’s previous take on them.  All the four main members of the cast, as well as supporting characters like Donna and Bogdan, sounded extremely like their appearances in the previous two audiobooks, and while Shaw did do her own take on a couple of figures, I personally deeply appreciated her attempts to keep some continuity with the previous audiobooks.  Shaw also kept the audiobook rolling along at a brisk pace, and the 11 hour and 17 minute runtime passed along in no time whatsoever, especially as you get deeper and deeper into the plot.  Throw in another lovely interview with Richard Osman at the end and I felt that this was an absolutely incredible audiobook, and definitely the best format by which to enjoy The Bullet That Missed.  I will be extremely happy if Shaw chooses to come back for the fourth Thursday Murder Club audiobook next year.

Richard Osman continues to show the world just how much talent he has a murder mystery writer with the third exceptional entry in the amazing Thursday Murder Club series, The Bullet That Missed.  Continuing to follow his brilliant pensioner protagonists as they solve a complex murder in some clever and funny ways, The Bullet That Missed was an incredible addition to the series that is guaranteed to have you hooked from start to finish.  I cannot recommend this book enough, and if you haven’t started reading the Thursday Murder Club books yet, you are really missing out.

Amazon     Book Depository

Quick Review – The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan

The Justice of Kings Cover

Publisher: Orbit/Hachette Audio (Audiobook – 22 February 2022)

Series: Empire of the Wolf – Book One

Length: 13 hours and 45 minutes

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Richard Swan makes his highly acclaimed fantasy debut with the much loved The Justice of Kings, a slick and compelling novel that combines a murder mystery with epic fantasy and political thriller elements in some very impressive ways.

Few authors have gained the respect of the fantasy community as quickly as Richard Swan did this year as he made the jump from science fiction to fantasy in a very big way.  The Justice of Kings is an intriguing and awesome novel that serves as the author’s first entry in his new Empire of the Wolf series.  Following a magical lawman as he investigates a terrible murder while also attempting to keep the political peace in the realm, The Justice of Kings has a lot of great parts to it and it received a lot of kudos as a result.  I read it several months ago and neglected to write a review for it, which I making up for now.  I had a great time getting through The Justice of Kings and it lives up to a lot of the hype surrounding it.

Plot Synopsis:

NO MAN IS ABOVE THE LAW

The Empire of the Wolf simmers with unrest. Rebels, heretics and powerful patricians all challenge the power of the imperial throne.

Only the Order of Justices stands in the way of chaos. Sir Konrad Vonvalt is the most feared Justice of all, upholding the law by way of his sharp mind, arcane powers and skill as a swordsman. In this he is aided by Helena Sedanka, his clerk and protege, orphaned by the wars that forged the empire.

When the pair investigate the murder of a provincial aristocrat, they unearth a conspiracy that stretches to the very top of imperial society. As the stakes rise and become ever more personal, Vonvalt must make a choice: will he abandon the laws he’s sworn to uphold in order to protect the empire?

Introducing an unforgettable protagonist destined to become a fantasy icon, The Justice of Kings is an unmissable debut where action, intrigue and magic collide.


The Justice of Kings
is an excellent book which manages to bring together a lot of different genres for an excellent story.  Told from the perspective of Helena Sedanka, the Justice’s protégé and clerk, the book follows Sir Konrad Vonvalt, a Justice of the Empire who acts as a travelling judge, lawyer, investigator and executioner.  Able to wield unique magic, Vonvalt and his staff arrive in a small provincial city to investigate the murder of a local noblewoman.  As they dive into the case, the Justice and his team discover that this is no simple murder, instead the victim was killed as part of an elaborate conspiracy infecting the town, forcing them to dive into a dark web of blackmail, bribery, religious corruption and assassination to find the killers.  At the same time, Vonvalt finds himself going up against some deadly politics of the realm as a group of religious zealots with an ambitious and ruthless leader attempt to make a play for power in the Empire, specifically choosing to target the Order of Justices.  These two separate concerns come together as the story unfolds, and the characters find themselves in an intense battle to save themselves.

Swan came up with a particularly strong narrative for The Justice of Kings, and I deeply enjoyed the interplay of the different elements.  Not only does it perfectly introduce an outstanding and impressive fantasy series and realm, but it also presents the reader with a complex story of politics, intrigue, war and religious turmoil, overlaying an intense murder investigation.  Swan starts the story off strong, introducing the protagonists, as well as the deliciously evil series antagonist, and the reader is soon quickly enveloped in the main mystery, finding out who is behind the brutal murder.  The investigation embarks at a rapid pace, and it was fascinating to see how the magical protagonist and his cohorts attempt to solve the murder.  At the same time, the protagonists get involved in some of the more urgent politics of the realm as they attempt to bring a group of religious zealots to justice.  Things really intensify in the second half of the book, as the narrator is dragged into a disastrous undercover operation and the culprits of the murder are uncovered, resulting in a cool court trial sequence which gives the book an additional legal thriller edge.  However, solving the case brings everyone further misery as the culprits are connected to the wider antagonists who arrive, seeking their own version of justice.  This leads to a major and brutal confrontation, which really amped up the intensity and ensured you really could not put the book down.  I had a brilliant time getting through this captivating narrative, and Swan really ensures you will come back for the next read, especially following some epic character developments and major confrontations.  I cannot emphasise how amazing this story was, and Swan did a brilliant job of bringing so many different elements together into one exciting story.

I was pretty impressed with the detailed and compelling new fantasy universe that Swan created for this series.  The divided, multi-nation Empire of the Wolf provided rich ground for the many conspiracies and plots that were uncovered in this book and readers are going to have a lot of fun exploring it.  I also really loved the interesting magic elements of the book, especially as it revolves around the Justices.  The idea of magical roaming lawmen bringing justice to the outer reaches of a massive empire is exceedingly cool, and Swan introduces it extremely well in this book.  I also enjoyed the fantastic magical abilities that Swan featured in The Justice of Kings, although they are subtle compared to other fantasy books.  Magic in this universe lies primarily with the Justices and each of them can wield one or two abilities at a time.  Since there are only two Justices featured in this book you only really see a few of these abilities in action, although they are impressive in their own way.  The main ability is The Emperor’s Voice, which is a bit of low-level magical mind control, forcing unsuspecting and weak-minded suspects to the tell the truth and admit their crimes.  This ability is used to great effect throughout the book, and I loved the idea of a magical lawman’s primary power being the ability to force out a truthful confession.  The other major ability was a bit of necromancy that Vonvalt can do which allows him to talk to recently deceased people to gain extra information from them.  The scenes that feature Vonvalt talking to the dead are terrifying and they hint at some darker forces in the universe, which are no doubt going to be featured later in the series.  I felt that these magical abilities and the wider world were perfectly introduced in The Justice of Kings and you really get an idea of how impressive the Justices are, as well as how unstable the Empire is.  I look forward to some more worldbuilding in the future, which will hopefully feature some deep examinations of the Justices, perhaps in a magical school setting.  No matter what, though, Swan really showed off his aptitude for fantasy fiction here and I very much enjoyed his magical inventiveness.

I will admit that I had a bit of a mixed reaction when it came to the characters in The Justice of Kings, which really did impact my overall enjoyment of the story.  This mixed reaction was mainly down to the main character of Helena Sedanka, the book’s narrator and point of view character.  While Helena was an interesting character and her unique perspective on the events as the Justice’s clerk moved the story along, I personally did not connect with her as a character.  No matter how hard I tried, I found a lot of her actions to be annoying and I was constantly groaning at her dialogue and narration.  While I realise that many of her actions were done to highlight the character’s youth and inexperience, I had a hard time enjoying the story when events where focused on her, and my dislike never abated.  Considering that she was the only voice of the book, this naturally affected my overall experience of The Justice of Kings and it was the major hurdle in my enjoyment of the novel.  I am really hoping that Swan will tone down the characteristics of Helena I disliked in the future books, and perhaps I will have a much better time with the next book in the series.

Luckily, the other major character in The Justice of Kings were pretty damn awesome, and I felt that they did a great job offsetting my dislike for Helena.  This character was the Justice, Sir Konrad Vonvalt, who serves as the complex and intense protagonist of the story.  Vonvalt is pretty damn epic from the very start of the book, and even before it (he looks very cool on the cover above).  A tough but fair Justice, Vonvalt is one of the few honest men left in the Empire and his primary concern is his duty and the administration of the law to anyone, no matter their station.  You honestly can’t help but like Vonvalt throughout this book, as his straight forward and honest approach to the situations, as well as his general kindness and deeper fury at injustice, really struck a chord with me.  Unfortunately, after getting you to like him, Swan ensures that Vonvalt goes through a lot of pain, which slowly start to change him, especially when his own naivety about the state of the Empire and his own order comes back to bite him in a big way.  This really wounds Vonvalt, and you really see him change, especially towards the end of the book, where he becomes harsh, bordering on cruel, in his search for justice and revenge.  All of this is extremely hard to watch for the reader, and you have to both hate and love Swan for making Vonvalt such a great character that these events also hurt you.  This change in character is obviously going to be a major part of Vonvalt’s character arc in the future, and I can’t wait to see the more vengeful version of this once noble night. 

I grabbed The Justice of Kings on audiobook, which was a fantastic and fun way of enjoying this intriguing read.  Coming in with a run time of a little under 14 hours, The Justice of Kings audiobook has a descent length to it, although dedicated listeners can easily power through it quickly.  I felt that this format did a great job of enhancing the complex story contained within this book, and you really appreciate some of the compelling details of the new universe when they are read out to you.  I also quite enjoyed the narration of Lucy Paterson, who brings the story to life with her excellent voice.  Paterson gives some amazing voices to all the key figures in the book, especially Helena, and I appreciated her take on all the characters.  As such, this was a pretty awesome format to enjoy The Justice of Kings on and I will definitely be grabbing the next book on audiobook when it comes out.

Overall, The Justice of Kings was a particularly cool and enjoyable book that has rightfully put Richard Swan on the fantasy fiction map.  Swan was deeply impressive with his fantasy debut here and it is hard not to love the amazing blend of mystery, magic, politics and the search for justice that were contained within.  While I did have some dislikes when it came to The Justice of Kings, I felt that this was a wonderful book and I plan to come back to the series in the new year, especially as there is an awesome, potential laden sequel out very soon. 

Amazon     Book Depository

Quick Review – Black River by Matthew Spencer

Black River Cover

Publisher: Allen & Unwin Australia (Trade Paperback – 31 May 2022)

Series: Standalone/Book One

Length: 349 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Fantastic new author Matthew Spencer presents one of the best Australian crime debuts of 2022 with the powerful and intense Black River.

Plot Synopsis:

A long, burning summer in Sydney. A young woman found murdered in the deserted grounds of an elite boarding school. A serial killer preying on victims along the banks of the Parramatta River. A city on edge.

Adam Bowman, a battling journalist who grew up as the son of a teacher at Prince Albert College, might be the only person who can uncover the links between the school murder and the ‘Blue Moon Killer’. But he will have to go into the darkest places of his childhood to piece together the clues. Detective Sergeant Rose Riley, meanwhile, is part of the taskforce desperately trying to find the killer before he strikes again. Adam Bowman’s excavation of his past might turn out to be Rose’s biggest trump card or it may bring the whole investigation crashing down, and put her own life in danger.


Black River
was a highly compelling Australian murder mystery thriller that I was lucky enough to receive a copy of a few months ago.  The debut novel of veteran Australian journalist Matthew Spencer, Black River was an impressive read that dove into the dark heart of Sydney with a brilliant mystery.

Spencer comes up with a pretty exceptional and clever mystery for his first book, as Black River sees a damaged journalist and a dedicated cop investigate a deadly killer haunting Sydney.  The investigation in question is a combination serial killer hunt and standard murder investigation, with the main question being whether a murder at an elite boarding school is connected to the larger case or whether it was the work of a copycat.  At the same time, there is also a captivating dive into the mysterious history of the fantastically dreary and haunting boarding school setting, which seems to have a deeper connection to the case, especially as central protagonist, Adam Bowman, has some major history there.  Spencer takes the investigation on several great tangents throughout the book and presents a powerful story with some clever twists and turns.  I loved the balance of clever investigation, deep character examination, and psychological twists as you try to determine who the killer is and whether the two cases are linked.  Spencer introduces some great side plots and red herrings to distract the reader from the solution, including some concerning revelations about the main protagonist.  The eventual solution to the mystery was extremely good, and I loved just how shocking the main reveal was, especially as there is a very cool twist surrounding the identity of the killer.  Everything came together extremely well, and I was spellbound throughout the entire book as Spencer delivered a great, dark Australian mystery. 

In addition to the excellent story, I loved Spencer’s amazing use of Sydney as a background setting to the intense mystery, especially the parts of the city that border the Parramatta River.  Watching the police characters slowly traverse the elegant river, trying to work out how the killer uses it to choose their victims, is a brilliant touch that is sure to bring a shiver to any readers familiar with the area.  I also need to highlight the cool private school setting where the book’s primary murder takes place.  The old elite school with its coating of history and tradition makes for a memorable background where murder and tragedy feel like they belong.  Spencer really built up this school throughout the book, no doubt using his own personal experiences of such educational institutions, and it played into the plot extremely well, especially when aspects of class, privilege and money start to influence the investigation.

Spencer caps this all off with a great cast of excellent and captivating characters that add to the power and impact of the story.  Most of the book focuses on the character of Adam Bowman, the damaged journalist who is dragged into the case thanks to his personal connection to the private school.  Bowman is forced to revisit some of the worst moments from his past in this book, which helps to turn him into quite an intriguing protagonist, especially as you begin to wonder just how connected he is to everything.  Bowman is well balanced out by police character Rose Riley, who serves as one of the primary investigators in the book.  Rose is a great foil to Bowman and acts as the professional member of the cast who keeps the police storyline on track.  I liked the connection and partnership that develops between Bowman and Rose in this novel, especially as it was lacking any romance.  They make a great team, even though Rose considers him a possible suspect, and it will be interesting to see if Spencer revisits these characters again the future.

Overall, Black River is a pretty impressive crime fiction debut that really made an impression on me in 2022.  New author Matthew Spencer came up with a dark and memorable mystery story that makes great use of its Australian setting and cool characters.  A brilliant first outing from an amazing new talent and a must-read for all fans of Australian murder mysteries.

Amazon     Book Depository

Dead Man’s Hand by James J. Butcher

Dead Man's Hand Cover

Publisher: Ace (Hardcover – 29 November 2022)

Series: The Unorthodox Chronicles – Book One

Length: 373 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Murder, magic and mayhem are about to be unleashed in the impressive urban fantasy debut from exciting new author James J. Butcher, Dead Man’s Hand.

I think it is fair to say that no recent urban fantasy book has intrigued me more than the compelling Dead Man’s Hand by James J. Butcher.  Not only did it have a striking cover, a cool name, and an awesome synopsis, but the author himself is very interesting.  Despite the fact this is his first novel, Butcher is a name that comes with some expectations, due to him being the son of legendary fantasy author Jim Butcher.  Jim Butcher has pretty much set himself up as the gold standard of urban fantasy fiction thanks to his iconic Dresden Files series that follows wizards in modern Chicago.  I am a pretty big fan of the Dresden Files and when I first heard that Jim Butcher’s son was releasing his own book, I was immediately curious about it.  As such, I made sure to get a copy of Dead Man’s Hand as soon as it came out, and I was very happy that I did.  The first book in his series, The Unorthodox Chronicles, Dead Man’s Hand was a superb read that I had an amazing time getting through.

On the mean streets of Boston, a dark murder has occurred whose ramifications will shake the city’s magical community.  The victim was Samantha Mansgraf, an extremely powerful witch and one of the most effective agents of the Department of Unorthodox Affairs, the government department that polices magic users and keeps the peace between the ordinary Usuals and the paranormal Unorthodox.  Her body has been found mangled and tortured, and the only clue is a secret message she left behind which simply reads, “Kill Grimsby.”

This message can only relate to one person, Grimshaw Griswald Grimsby, whose future as an Auditor for the Department of Unorthodox Affairs was unceremoniously ruined by the victim.  Now working in a terrible fast food job extremely close to where Mansgraf was killed, Grimsby seems the most likely suspect for her murder.  However, there is one major flaw in this theory; Grimsby is magically incapable of committing the crime.  Only able to cast a few minor spells and hampered by an old injury, there is no way that Grimsby could have killed the victim.  But this fact isn’t going to be enough to stop everyone coming after him.

Targeted by both the Department and the monsters actually responsible for Mansgraf’s murder, Grimsby finds himself in a whole lot of trouble.  His only hope of survival is to team up with Mansgraf’s old partner, the legendary Huntsman Leslie Mayflower, an expert at killing all things magical, and find out who is really behind this gruesome murder.  However, Grimsby and Mayflower soon find themselves caught in the midst of a deadly magical conspiracy, one where every potential loose end needs to be killed.  To survive, Grimsby and Mayflower will need to dig deep and uncover the darkest secrets from Boston’s magical community.  However, can an old broken down Hunstman and a failed witch manage to take on the evil coming for them, or are they about to be as dead as Mansgraf?

Butcher comes out the gate swinging with his first magical adventure, and I really enjoyed the result.  Dead Man’s Hand is a clever and cool new novel that sets up Butcher’s planned series while also presenting the reader with a captivating character driven story, filled with mystery, murder and magical mayhem.  I managed to knock this book out in a couple of days, and it proved to be a wonderful and impressive debut.

Dead Man’s Hand has a great urban fantasy narrative to it that follows two interesting and complex characters caught in the middle of a magical conspiracy.  Butcher kicks the story off quickly, with Mayflower getting involved in the hunt for his former partner’s killer, which leads him to Grimsby, who is initially a suspect, until it becomes very clear he couldn’t have pulled off such a destructive killing.  When Grimsby is attacked by the apparent murderer, the two start to work together and they focus their investigation into finding a dangerous artefact that the victim had hidden before her death.  That leads them into all manner of trouble, including demonic gangsters, freaky constructs, and Department agents, all of whom are coming after them with lethal intent.  This results in a great twisty and slick narrative, as the characters need to uncover multiple mysteries while also confronting the many unusual creatures coming for them.  There are several great action-packed confrontations loaded into this book, and Butcher makes excellent use of his distinctive new magical universe to create some memorable sequences.  Everything leads up to a big and powerful conclusion where, after some personal betrayals, the two protagonists are forced to come together to take out the culprit and save the day.  While the ultimate reveal of who the killer is was a little predictable, Butcher did it in an entertaining way and the stakes were pretty damn high by the end of it.  Butcher also ramped up the tension for the final confrontation and you honestly had no idea how the book was going to conclude and who was going to pull through.  I was personally hooked all the way to end and I came away pretty happy with the conclusion, especially as Butcher sets up some potential sequels in the future and I have a feeling that this is the first entry in an awesome long-running series.

I quite enjoyed Butcher’s writing style for Dead Man’s Hand and I think that the excellent story came across really well in the end.  The story moved at a very quick pace, and Butcher really did not slow down for anything, hitting the reader with a ton of action, intrigue and moving character development from start to finish.  Like most good urban fantasy novels, Dead Man’s Hand had a fantastic blend of mystery and fantasy elements, and you are soon swept up in the hunt for the magical killer, especially as it reveals a complex and deadly conspiracy.  This helped to create quite a compelling and exciting read, which comes across like a buddy-cop romp thanks to the entertaining partnership between the two main characters.  The story is broken up between these two character’s perspectives and you get to see how they come together as a dysfunctional but effective team, and I loved the fun veteran/extreme-rookie dynamic that their partnership achieved.  Butcher further enhances the story by featuring a ton of comedic humour, most of which was brought in by the chatty and snarky main character.  Readers will no doubt notice that Butcher took some inspiration from his father when it came to writing humour, especially when it came to the main character’s snark, as well as some of the very over the top scenes and inclusions.  There are some pretty ridiculous moments, especially surrounding the character of Grimsby (his stint as a food entertainer was fun at the start), and things only get more over the top as you go (let’s just say that there is something very interesting in a box, and leave it at that).  While this was amusing, I was glad that most of the focus remained on the more serious elements of the book, which came together extremely well.  This ended up being a very strongly written book, especially for a debut, and I was pretty impressed with Butcher’s great style and writing ability.

Butcher’s series, The Unorthodox Chronicles, has an interesting urban fantasy setting to it, and I was impressed with the new world.  While I am sure that some will try to unfairly compare it to his father’s urban fantasy world, I felt that Butcher did a good job making it stand out on its own the reader is successfully introduced to many cool key details in this first book.  This series takes place in a version of Boston where the world is aware that magic exists, and magical creatures and magic users are kept in line by the Department of Unorthodox Affairs and their deadly agents known as Auditors.  I was quite intrigued by the inherent bureaucracy surrounding an unhidden magical world and it was fun how wizards are treated in a world where people are aware of them.  The visible magic itself is pretty simple, but effective, with magic users drawing their own inner-magic (Impetus) from within and launching it out using simple keyword spells.  Some of the effects of these spells are pretty fun and the protagonist manages to achieve a lot with some very basic combinations.  Butcher further populates his world with some freaky magical creatures, who give the book a darker and intense edge, especially those human familiars, who make for quite an effective and deadly enemy.  However, one of the most distinctive features of this universe is the Elsewhere, a dark, alternate magical realm that most wizards can perceive and which have its own rules.  The Elsewhere is so weird and crazy that all magic users need eye protection on all the time or else they will be driven mad by the things they see.  One excellent extended sequence sees the protagonist forced to visit the realm (which can be achieved by travelling through mirrors), and it came across as a pretty gruesome place to journey, thanks to all the creepy creatures and its inherent time dilation.  I loved all the cool details contained in this new world and I am quite excited to see how Butcher plans to expand on it in the future.

Aside from the amazing story and intriguing fantasy elements, one of the main strengths of Dead Man’s Hand was its excellent main two characters, who Butcher uses to great effect as alternating narrators of the story.  Both central protagonists are very damaged and complex in their own ways, and their eventual team-up helps them both to develop and escape the ruts they find themselves in at the start of the book.  The main character is Grimshaw Griswald Grimsby, an orphaned wizard who was badly scarred as a child in a fire that killed his family.  Grimsby previously attempted to become an Auditor for the Department, but he found his path blocked by the murder victim, mainly due to his inability to do complex spells and because his scars weaken his magic.  Now trapped in an embarrassing dead-end job, Grimsby starts the book off depressed and resentful, with zero confidence in himself.  However, this changes as the story continues and he is able to prove himself to his new mentor character, Mayflower, who, while gruff, helps mould him into a better person.  The one thing he cannot change is his motor mouth as Grimsby is constantly talking and joking, giving off a magical level of snark.  Much of the book’s humour comes from Grimsby’s irreverent view of the world and there are some great jokes flying out his mouth here.  I also loved seeing Grimsby’s inventiveness throughout the book, especially as he can only really cast three weaker spells, which requires him to be very imaginative in how he uses them, especially in self-defence.  There are also some fantastic storylines surrounding his traumatic past, as well as some more contemporary storylines about whether he actually belongs in this dangerous lifestyle or whether he should seek a quieter life.  While it would be easy to compare Grimsby to another snarky urban fantasy protagonist (say the one written by Butcher senior), I think that Grimsby stands on his own, and there are still quite a few layers for Butcher to uncover in the future.

The other major character is Leslie Mayflower, better known as the Huntsman, a bitter retired agent who specialises in killing magical creatures and beings.  Eternally grouchy and bitter at the Department, Mayflower dives into the case seeking revenge and comes across Grimsby, eventually partnering with him.  Mayflower is the direct opposite to Grimsby for much of the book, and I loved how Butcher portrayed him as a past-his-prime killer who returns for one last job.  Shown to be full of regret, self-loathing and a desire for revenge, Mayflower was a powerful part of the book, especially once Butcher pairs him with Grimsby.  These two made for a great team, and watching the positive Grimsby start to have an impact on Mayflower’s personality was a fun part of the book.  Despite still being mistrustful for most of the book, Mayflower soon grows to appreciate the partnership with Grimsby, and it was quite moving to see the character have something to live for again.  While you do see a lot of his personality and intensity in Dead Man’s Hand, I liked that Butcher was a little vague when it came to his past, and I am hoping that the author will dive into more of his history in future books.  Both central protagonists were extremely well written and very damaged in their own way, and this makes for a great story focus, especially as there are some excellent scenes when they start working together.

Overall, I thought that Dead Man’s Hand was an excellent and captivating first book from James J. Butcher, and it is one that I had an amazing time reading.  Fast-paced, hilarious, and filled with all manner of magical chaos, Dead Man’s Hand served as a powerful and enjoyable first entry in the author’s new series, and it comes highly recommended as a result.  I will definitely be grabbing the next book in this series when it comes out and I look forward to seeing how Butcher’s career progresses from here.

Amazon     Book Depository