Book Review: Open Season by C.J.Box

The first week of the year’s over and now the second week’s nearly over too! These last two weeks have gone by quickly!
This book was part of my “you’ve had it forever, just read it already” list from my 2023 Bookish Resolutions & Goals post. I knew I had plans on reading it by the time this year ended, but I didn’t think it was going to be my first read of the year. I had needed to pick something for my first read and I had nothing. I wasn’t about to fail my other 2023 resolution of “read every day” on day 1, so I ran around my room and picked a book. I just grabbed whatever was out and Open Season was still on my bed from when I randomly picked the 3 (physical) ones to come up with that list for my New Year’s post.

In any case, I’m very glad to have picked this book up. I was able to get started on that 5 priority reads list of mine early!
So, for today’s post: My book review for Open Season by C.J.Box!

Book Title: Open Season
Author: C.J. Box
Length: 278 Pages
Edition: Physical > Paperback
Published: 31 May 2016 (first published/hardcover/ 9 July 2001)
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Mystery Thriller, Crime, Western, Suspense, Action

Goodreads: >LINK<
Amazon: >LINK<

The first novel in the #1 New York Times bestselling series featuring Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett–the book that launched one of the biggest, most reliable, and fastest growing franchises in commercial fiction!

Joe Pickett is the new game warden in Twelve Sleep, Wyoming, a town where nearly everyone hunts and the game warden–especially one like Joe who won’t take bribes or look the other way–is far from popular. When he finds a local hunting outfitter dead, splayed out on the woodpile behind his state-owned home, he takes it personally. Even after the discovery of two more bodies, and the resolution of the case by local police, Joe continues to investigate.

As Joe digs deeper into the murders, he soon discovers that the outfitter brought more than death to his backdoor: he brought Joe an endangered species, thought to be extinct, which is now living in his woodpile. But if word of this rare species gets out, it will destroy any chance of InterWest, a multi-national natural gas company, building an oil pipeline through the mountains and forests of Twelve Sleep. The closer Joe comes to the truth behind the outfitter murders, the endangered species, and InterWest, the closer he comes to losing everything he holds dear.

This book has been sitting on my shelf since I purchased it from an on-sale box in Kmart before the store closed back in 2018. Meaning, this book has been sitting on my shelf, unread, for over 5 years now and while I did get around to it once before, I never made it past the prologue of the book (although, it might’ve been because I was moving at the time). I’ll be honest, I almost DNF’d it a few times, I was just not feeling the book for the first quarter of it, but by the time I finished, I was singing praises for it.

I thought that the book was fairly interesting, even in the beginning. With a starting paragraph revolving around the sound flesh makes when it’s been penetrated by a high-powered rifle bullet, it does have a pretty good hook to it. Something dies and needs immediate investigation seems to ensue. The mystery seems to start right away. 

Joe Pickett is a game warden and it’s his job to protect the animals, especially when it’s outside hunting season and poachers are trying sneak around with their work. He’s relatively new on the job, but is an honorable and straight man. Sure, others have successfully gotten away via bribery, but not with Joe Pickett. No sir, he’s not that kind of law enforcer. No bribe and no, he won’t look the other way. If you deserve a ticket, you’re going to get a ticket. He even arrested the governor of Wyoming for fishing without a license (something nobody will ever let him live down)!

The story begins with the death of an outfitter, shot, and who dies on Joe’s property. It’s usually the police’s job to deal with crimes like homicide, but not only does he know this man, but to have had the guy succumb to his wounds in Joe’s very own backyard, this is extra personal. When things get wrapped up too quickly and swept under a rug, Joe takes it upon himself to investigate deeper into the case, sniffing out things that the police had clearly missed previously. However, when he digs too deeply, suddenly his whole life is upturned and everyone he loves is faced with dangers and threats.

My favorite thing about this book are the characters. C.J. Box has an intro (in this edition, at least, ~2016) where he talks about how he picked out Joe’s name, why is the book is set in Wyoming, and about strong female characters and strong female characters we got. Joe’s a huge family man, unlike some of his close friends, who are happy to boast about cheating, such as when Joe walks in on his friend with another woman, despite being married. But Joe? Joe is a good guy and a very loyal husband and a great father. I enjoyed the fact that he isn’t perfect. I’ve seen some cocky cops as well as cops who seem to have stellar records. Well, he has a good handful of items against his reputation by the end (some having recovered though), not to mention how unliked he can be since he simply won’t look the other way. 

“In what Joe and Marybeth later called ‘one [sic] his larger bonehead moves,’ Joe had written the wrong date for the appointment with the director in his calendar and simply missed it. When Joe screwed up, he tended to do it massively and publicly.”

Joe’s bogged down by finances (he barely makes $26,000.00 a year) along with the guilt of letting his family down because of this low income, is later further bogged down by the guilt of his involvement in the case and bringing dangers to their front steps, is a bad pistol shot, and makes mistakes that the community quickly knows about. I love a good cop that can sniff out clues like a blood hound and always seems to know what they need to do next, but at the same time, seeing a guy like Joe, who isn’t perfect and constantly anxious about the events in his life, it’s kind of refreshing.

Then there’s his wife, Marybeth, and their two children, Sheridan and Lucy. Marybeth takes care of her family amazingly well. Pregnant, and caring for the two kids, she always sticks by with Joe, despite how rough their situation is. Sheridan, their older daughter, is one of the stars of the show here, having her own POV chapters and being very involved in the case due to what she witnesses and experiences. Multiple times, she’s in such danger that my heart’s at my throat. She’s so brave in this book and is quite smart as well. 

I also enjoyed the writing. It’s easy to read and where things are needing description, C.J. Box doesn’t overdo it and the writing flows smoothly. Where things shine the most, like I mentioned before, are the characters. I admire Sheridan and loved her chapters. I especially love how C.J. Box was able to easily switch the narrative tone from the point of view of an adult (Joe) to a child’s (Sheridan). This especially shows during moments when Sheridan’s in danger. I could feel her very real fear and it’s horrifying (it’s absolutely terrifying and I’d throw up if I were in her shoes). Villain wise, they’re written in a way where I almost anticipated who they are very early in the book. These characters just ooze a slimy feeling and you immediately distrust them (and what do you know, I was kind of right, even if I did guess wrong). 
Overall, this was a great book and a good start to a new series. When it comes to mystery thrillers, the protagonists, if they are part of the government/law enforcement, I’m generally used to seeing them as spies, FBI, PI, actual police/state agents, forensic scientists, and the such. Now, adding to this mix, we have a game warden, a position I (as someone who lives in the big cities) have never really considered to lead a story. It was a great read that invoked real and helpless fear inside me. I wasn’t so much as focused on the plot itself as I was with keeping track of Joe and Sheridan’s involvement to that plot as well as reading Joe’s despair that he’s let his family down, hard. I’m so used to seeing a seasoned cop, even by the very first installment, that it’s nice to see how green Joe is. I’ve recently reached the end of one of my favorite mystery thriller series, so I’m very interested in seeing where C.J. Box will take our game warden next. Seeing as the series is currently 23 books long, including the upcoming publication for Storm Watch coming out this year (2023), I’m sure this’ll be quite the journey.

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Book Review: Righteous Prey by John Sandford

Happy Thursday, my lovely peeps🐥!
This week’s book review: Righteous Prey by John Sandford!

This was my most anticipated read of the year and I kept pushing it off as if to make the read even more rewarding the longer I wait for it. I finally got around to it, and I absolutely loved it!

Book Title: Righteous Prey
Series: Prey Series / Virgil Flowers
Book # 32 (Prey) / 14 (Virgil Flowers)
Author: John Sandford
Length: ~412 Pages (Based on Kindle Pages)
Publication Date: 4 Oct 2022
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Edition: eARC (NetGalley)
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Mystery > Crime, Thriller, Thriller > Mystery Thriller, Suspense, Police Procedural, Action

Goodreads: >LINK<
Amazon: >LINK<
Author Website: >LINK<

Disclaimer: A big thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley. An ebook copy was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. This does not affect my review in any way, and all opinions are my own.

Beloved heroes Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers are up against a powerful vigilante group with an eye on vengeance in a stunning new novel from #1 New York Times-bestselling author John Sandford.

“We’re going to murder people who need to be murdered.” So begins a press release from a mysterious group known only as “The Five,” shortly after a vicious predator is murdered in San Francisco. The Five is believed to be made up of vigilante killers who are very bored…and very rich. They target the worst of society—rapists, murderers, and thieves—and then use their unlimited resources to offset the damage done by those who they’ve killed, donating untraceable bitcoin to charities and victims via the dark net. The Five soon become the most popular figures on social media, a modern-day Batman…though their motives may not be entirely pure.

After a woman is murdered in the Twin Cities, Virgil Flowers and Lucas Davenport are sent in to investigate. And they soon have their hands full–the killings are smart and carefully choreographed, and with no apparent direct connection to the victims, the Five are virtually untraceable. But if anyone can destroy this group, it will be the dynamic team of Davenport and Flowers.

5 bitcoin traders, immensely wealthy, and absolutely nuts in the head, conspire along with another individual to commit crimes “for the better of the world.” They kill those they deem worthy of death, post their crimes out as press releases along with the reasons that the individuals were killed, and a hefty amount in bitcoin is donated to a charity afterwards, a test to see if these non-profits would accept the money if they were to come out of these crimes; blood money. Lucas and Virgil aren’t called on, at least not until one of the killings happens on Minnesota soil and the BCA and US Marshal become involved.

Though I’ve seen books revolving around an individual or groups of people going after people who deserve justice, it was still a pretty good book and I enjoyed the plot. Beginning with weeks of staking out their victims, following their every move and tracking all of their personal securities, these five million/billionaire, along with their leader, come up with extremely detailed and well-thought-out plans that fully cover their tracks behind them. It’s nearly impossible to link the crime back to the perpetrator, at least, of course, until the killer in Minnesota slips up and it’s just enough of a clue for Lucas and Virgil to work off of. From there, the plot takes off and it doesn’t take long for the duo to identify some of the members of the Five and begin their pursuit. When The Five’s plans begins to crumble beneath them, people start to get really desperate. And desperate people are dangerous people.

In the first book where Lucas and Virgil worked together, Ocean Prey, Virgil actually worked mostly with Rae and Lucas with another team, covering background. Both having a criminal mind, nabbing clues in not so legal ways (like breaking into a house to investigate with a copy of a key made by pressing clay on it?), they have vastly different personalities when it comes to crime. Lucas sees things like a puzzle while Virgil’s more emotional (not that deaths don’t affect Lucas), but there’s an interesting dynamic between the two of them.

Lucas and Virgil were each other’s closest male friends, in the way men form friendships around shared traumatic stress and a predilection for jockstraps. Though they were friends, they were not alike.

Lucas could look at a body and become immediately absorbed in the technical details of the death: how the killing had been done, possible motives, who had the opportunity. He saw murder as a puzzle. The body was a detail, but not the only one. Murder signaled a competition that he was determined to win.

Virgil sought balance, rather than a victory. He wanted to wrench his world back into what it should be, a peaceful place where people cooperated to create a civilization. He disliked violence and rarely resorted to it. Murder was always a shock to his system.

In Righteous Prey, this time the duo really does work together, starting by visiting the scene of the Minnesota death, and “walking and knocking” on doors. Lucas being Virgil’s old boss, they’re best friends and their conversations can be pretty golden at times. There’s a hilarious supermarket scene with the most cliché undercover cop “quick pretend we’re a cute couple to avoid attention” trope that was the comedic highlight of my read. They’re funny and witty, and fantastic at bouncing ideas off each other. The bicker and banter between them reminds me of siblings and their interaction lightens the tenser parts of the book.

The woman called, “What’d you do? Did he see you?”

A male agent, also inside the store, who’d been looking at tomatoes, said, “They walked by him holding hands. [killer] wouldn’t look at them. He’s a homophobe and thought they were gay.”

Lucas, not transmitting, said to Virgil, “I won’t live this down. You will, of course, being an ambisexual hippie.”

The woman agent said, “That’s so cool. That’s really so cool.”

Lucas: “Ah, Jesus.”

There’s a lot of character development over the course of multiple books, for both Lucas and Virgil. Virgil has been writing as a side gig since the earliest books, more so as a magazine column writer, though. Soon, taking nature photographs and writing for magazines became writing fiction books for publishing deals and he’s in the middle of his third novel when Righteous Prey is taking place, with Lucas, a game maker himself, encouraging him. Because cops burn out hard and fast. Lucas, already rich off his games and only picking up the most interesting of cases can only hope that Virgil will follow because neither of them can see the latter continue to run around Minnesota for much longer. They’re getting older and their lives have been constantly at stake. They barely make it through this book (though I’ve definitely said this earlier in a few other books too, so…)

There were some places that were slow, you can’t have promising leads forever, and there are multiple times the duo run into walls. Still, the thrill is always present and there’s always some form of a chase, but the killers are just as slippery as they are elusive. Along with cash to back them up, clever alibis, and this case taking place across multiple stakes, Virgil and Lucas are just running all over the place. In fact, if The Five had kept all of this on the down low, and not going about publishing every hit to the public, they probably could’ve easily gotten away with these killings for a long time!

All in all, I had a wonderful time with it and I’m definitely going to get the physical copy when it comes out next month. My only worry is, with Lucas and Virgil growing older, having promising new careers on their horizon, family, and with Lucas’ adoptive daughter, Letty, having her own spin-off series now, we may very well be nearing the end of both Lucas and Virgil’s adventures. The book ends pretty well though, especially given the scary events that took place in the climax. It has a very open end feel to it, with plenty of possibilities to come. Another gripping and solid book from Sandford. I could not put this one down!

Book Review: Winter Prey by John Sandford

Last week, I shared my review for Silent Prey, the sequel to Eyes of Prey. That was the first time I’d seen a repeating villain in any of Sandford’s books, but in this fifth book of the series, Davenport has moved on. This time, we’re going to experience the bitter cold of rural Wisconsin and this time, his foes may endanger his life in ways even the bloody Bekker didn’t…

For this week’s review, we’re featuring Winter Prey by John Sandford! Stay tuned!

Book Title: Winter Prey
SeriesPrey/Lucas Davenport Series Book No. 5
Author: John Sandford
Length: 336 Pages (Paperback)
Published: 1 March 1994
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Mystery > Crime, Thriller, Thriller > Mystery Thriller, Suspense, Police Procedural, Action

Goodreads: >LINK<
Amazon: >LINK<

CW/TW: Blood, death, murder, arson & fire, mentions of torture, graphic violence, sexual abuse of minors, pedophilia, death of a child, alcohol abuse, attempted murder, hostage situation

The Iceman is Lucas Davenport’s most determined foe – a serial killer driven to cover his brutal tracks with blood.  Sandford again creates almost unbearable suspense as we wait for the Iceman’s razor-sharp corn knife to strike again.

“Winter Prey” unfolds in the cold and driving snow of the north country. The wilds of rural Wisconsin are the perfect setting for the chilling terror caused by the Iceman, a killer who knows Lucas’ every move – a coldly brilliant madman who can’t be stopped.  Turn up the heat and listen as Lucas Davenport faces his most dangerous challenge.

The fifth book in the Prey/Lucas Davenport series by John Sandford, this time, Lucas Davenport is taking a break from the Minneapolis police department, something he’d already done in the previous book, though he had been called over to New York as a consultant on a case instead. Here, we begin the book with a blistering and brutal winter, the coldest of blizzards, whipping through the pages, and you can almost feel the winter come alive, even as I sit here reading in the sweltering heat of August. This time, there’s no case to help in. This time, Davenport is just relaxing in his Wisconsin cabin and…he’s pretty bored. That is, until the local law enforcement hears about him staying up here and asks for his help on a homicide and arson case. Davenport is almost gleeful. Almost. Because this case gets disgusting pretty quick at the discovery of a photo of a man and an underage kid.

“‘Yeah. And now I’ve started writing simulation software for police crisis management, for training dispatch people. Most of that’s computers, dispatch is. And you get in a crisis situation, the dispatchers are virtually running things for a while. This software lets them simulate it, and scores them. It’s kind of taking off.’

‘If you’re not careful, you could get rich,’ Weather said.

‘I kind of am,’ Lucas said gloomily. ‘But goddamn, I’m bored. I don’t miss the bullshit part of PD, but I miss the movement.’

Like all of Sandford’s books, I adore his writing, especially the ease with which he could portray a scene with just a few simple, but nicely picked sentences. The scenes are crisp in my mind and the action is never ending. The thrill and fears are always jolting, and some (deserving deaths) make the endings just so darn satisfying. I love the way Sandford writes, scenes and dialogue, but I love his characters more. In fact, I think I live for his characters more than the plot, even if there’s equal attention to both.

In Winter Prey, we are introduced to a new recurrent character, Weather Karkinnen, someone who became and remains a very important person in Davenport’s life as she shows up again and again, and even cross series. My first introduction to her was in the spin-off/parallel series, Virgil Flowers, and there, I don’t know much about Weather other than her relationship with Davenport. It’s so fleeting and impersonal, small mentions here and there, a drop in on their home now and again, and so on. Getting to know Weather more (and yes, that’s her actual name), was just as fun as getting to know younger Davenport. Both are so much more wild in their earlier days, and that, of course, makes sense since this is the main series and Weather is more involved with Davenport here rather than just giving off the “a friend of a friend” vibes like in Virgil’s story. I rather enjoyed her character and interaction with Davenport.

As we often see in the other Virgil Flowers and Prey books, we get to see the story from the perspective of the villains in the book, and they are absolutely awful people; rotten to the core. This was a hard book to read because of the disturbing series of events, though it’s not the first time I’ve read a Sandford book with criminals involved in sexual abuse against minors. That would be Bad Blood over in the Virgil Flowers series as he investigates a sex cult (and it was just as bad…). Just as the antagonists in that book were dirtbag levels of vile, so are the group in this book, particularly the main antagonist, who seemed to be the leader of the sex ring, the “Iceman.” They lack all signs of empathy and humanity. There are plenty of sad folks between both series, some bad guys I even feel kind of sorry for, but here, I felt none of that. I hated them from the moment I got to know them, and cheered at every success that Davenport came across.

The book begins with the Iceman and though, through his perspective, we know who the other people in the ring are, we don’t ever know who the Iceman is and what his true identity is until nearly the end when things take off with insane speed and this time, Lucas may end up in more danger than he’s ever been so far, and that’s including his two encounters with a serial killer that has a thing for poking out eyes as his signature.

I thought this was a pretty good read. It started somewhere medium paced with Davenport and his team just finding clues only to meet with wall after walls as their leads either turn up empty or evidence and clues unusable due to damage. Things eventually work out and I kind of liked how it ended (minus the several terrible deaths). Another wonderful and gripping thriller. I can’t wait for the next Davenport adventure.

Book Review: Silent Prey by John Sandford

Hello, my lovely peeps🐥!

It’s been a long week, especially Tuesday!
But, we’re nearing the weekend and that’s always a cause for celebration.
For this week’s review, I’ll be talking about Silent Prey by John Sandford!

Book Title: Silent Prey
Series: Prey/Lucas Davenport Series Book # 4
Author: John Sandford
Length: 338 Pages (Paperback)
Published: 1 March 1993
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Mystery > Crime, Thriller, Thriller > Mystery Thriller, Suspense, Police Procedural, Action

Goodreads: >LINK<
Amazon: >LINK<

Dr. Mike Bekker, a psychotic pathologist, is back on the streets, doing what he does best-murdering one helpless victim after another. Lucas Davenport knows he should have killed Bekker when he had the chance. Now he has a second opportunity and the time to hesitate is through. 

***Spoilers for the previous book: Eyes of Prey
Usually each Prey or Virgil Flowers book can be read as a standalone (for certain with Virgil’s stories, now that I’m through with all current publications on that end, but I’m not sure with the further Davenport ones) with the only thing you miss being maybe references and character development through the series, but Silent Prey is different. There are things here that are major spoilers for the previous book, Eyes of Prey, especially the ending of that last book.

After about 16 Sandford books, split between the Virgil Flowers and the Lucas Davenport/Prey series, I think I’ve finally come across one that was lukewarm for me. It’s not quite as interesting as the first few in the Prey series and I think part of that comes down to how there’s a repeating antagonist, Bekker. Yep. Nuttier than a squirrel’s pre-hiberation meal, after his capture in Eyes of Prey, Bekker manages to escape and hides away in NYC where he continues to kill for his sick and twisted “research.” Serial killers will be serial killers and with his obsession with eyes being a signature of his, it’s not hard to track him down. Except, he’s a little different here. A genius will remain a genius, but while Silent Prey Bekker is just as smart, frustratingly elusive, and dangerous as Eyes of Prey Bekker, this Bekker continues the inevitable downward spiral that the previous Bekker started. Drugs. Don’t do them, kids.

He missed it. He didn’t miss the police department, with its meetings and its brutal politics. Just the hunt. And the pressure.

In this fourth installation of the series, Davenport is back at it again, but he’s no longer a cop. Instead, he’s loaning his skills and talents over in New York and helping the NYPD with tracking down Bekker, the serial killer having taken refuge in NYC, and people are getting pretty desperate with bringing him in, or down. The body count is starting to ramp up, the media chewing people up, and they need to put a stop to this ASAP! As if Davenport needs to be told twice. His vengeance against Bekker is personal. Somewhere in between this whole interstate insanity with the “Damn, should’ve killed him back when you got the chance, and now he’s here causing this mess” NYPD has a problem of their own with a vigilante taking people down; professional hits too clean for just a normal crime. They dub him, “Robin Hood” with just about as little detail as you can spare for leads. Something is fishy, and too many people seem to be hiding things to trust the police to handle this case.

Bekker is the most interesting person here. His gruesome crimes have moved states, but he’s still him and his obsession (and profound fear) of eyes remains the same. The only difference is, he’s so far gone with drugs that it’s like two different people. I thought he was downright nuts in Eyes of Prey already, but you haven’t seen him here. Completely desperate for escape and staying out of prison (where he would have no access to drugs) and still obsessively researching eyes and death, he’s nothing but a lunatic here. In Eyes of Prey he was the head of operations on a two-man team, the brains and the beauty to the “beast” (his acquaintance). Now, he’s flying solo, not trusting even his own shadow and unable to survive seconds without his drugs, and he’s got quite the rainbow running through his veins. At this point, even if he’s taken in, alive, he wouldn’t be going back to prison.

Bekker could count the drops, each and every one, as the shower played off his body. The ecstasy did that: two tiny pills. Gave him the power to imagine and count, to multiply outrageous feelings by ineffable emotions and come up with numbers . . .

The writing is something I’ve always loved in Sandford’s books. It’s wonderfully thrilling, but kept simple and to the point. You can occasionally find the most beautiful sentences with his prose. There’s no need for strings of text to describe the emotions just one of his sentences can provide. Here, though, the writing felt a little different from the previous book and I just can’t seem to place a finger on it. Now that Davenport’s no longer a cop, his old buddies and even street connections are gone. There are a few mentions here and there, not to mention him being in a different state, but the difference in writing and tone could be just the overhaul of characters and background support. It could also be character growth (Poor Davenport’s gone through the wringer in the last four books!) and development, or even just the new setting (NYC vs Minnesota).

Silent Prey is also quite dialogue heavy. However, I have no complaints on this end. Sandford’s characters, dialogues, and character interactions are my favorite and, for me, there’s no such thing as “too much dialogue” if it comes from him. Still, there’s way more of back and forth dialogue in this one book than I’ve ever seen before…in the 16 Sandford books I’ve read so far!

I really enjoyed the change of scenery, but I could be biased here because it takes place in a city I’m very familiar with. It’s fun to be able to recognize streets and neighborhoods as you come across them in the book, especially if it comes from the eyes of someone not from NYC. Davenport did originally feel like a bit of a misfit, a square squeezing through a round hole, this middle-of-nowhere hick from Minnesota lost in the big cities. People underestimated him until they realize he’s got the skills to back up all the stories. As much as I really missed Sloan and Del, it was fun to see him with this new band of characters, even if it’s temporary. The way the cops do things in NYC and even their criminals, compared to those in Minnesota, are so different, and I think even Davenport was overwhelmed at this change.

“The main thing is, there’s an infinite number of assholes. You never know where the shit is coming from. You can’t get an edge on anything. You can’t know about the place. Here, if somebody hijacks a goddamn Best Buy truck and takes off fifty Sonys, we got an idea where they’re going. Out there . . . Shit, you could make a list of suspects longer than your dick, and that’d only be the guys that you personally know might handle it. And then there are probably a hundred times that many guys that you don’t know. I mean, a list longer than my dick.”

Overall, this was a good book. I didn’t like (but didn’t dislike) that there was a repeating antagonist, but Bekker has spiraled so far into the depths of hell that he’s practically a different person and this did help slightly. His signatures have changed (just a bit), but he’s mad and nuttier than ever now. The side plot, of the Robin Hood case, felt like it was just there as a background thing to keep the story fresh. I did not care for it in the slightest, though the ending and how things connected and linked up did give me a jolt of joy. I do looove my twists and turns!

Book Review: The 6:20 Man by David Baldacci

Hello, my lovely peeps🐥! Allergies are getting the better of me this morning, but I’m hyped because there’s going to be a Nintendo Treehouse Live Presentation in a few hours! I’ve never played Splatoon, but I am very excited for Harvestella (though I’m a little surprised at this random appearance in the direct). Only 67 more days until November! My wallet is ready!!

(No, not really)💸

This week’s review is for The 6:20 Man by David Baldacci! Exciting, riveting and gripping. An unputdownable book!

Book Title: The 6:20 Man
Author: David Baldacci
Length: 417 Pages
Published: 12 July 2022
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller > Mystery Thriller, Mystery > Crime, Contemporary, Action

Disclaimer: Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for this gifted copy! All opinions are of my own.

Goodreads: >LINK<
Grand Central Publishing: >LINK<
Amazon: >LINK<

Every day without fail, Travis Devine puts on a cheap suit, grabs his faux-leather briefcase, and boards the 6:20 commuter train to Manhattan, where he works as an entry-level analyst at the city’s most prestigious investment firm. In the mornings, he gazes out the train window at the lavish homes of the uberwealthy, dreaming about joining their ranks. In the evenings, he listens to the fiscal news on his phone, already preparing for the next grueling day in the cutthroat realm of finance.

Then one morning Devine’s tedious routine is shattered by an anonymous email: She is dead.

Sara Ewes, Devine’s coworker and former girlfriend, has been found hanging in a storage room of his office building—presumably a suicide, prompting the NYPD to come calling on him. If that wasn’t enough, Devine receives another ominous visit, a confrontation that threatens to dredge up grim secrets from his past in the Army unless he participates in a clandestine investigation into his firm.

This treacherous role will take Travis from the impossibly glittering lives he once saw only through a train window, to the darkest corners of the country’s economic halls of power…where something rotten lurks. And apart from this high-stakes conspiracy, there’s a killer out there with their own agenda, and Devine is the bullseye.

I’ve never read a David Baldacci book before, despite seeming them everywhere, and I can see why he’s so popular! Right off the bat, his writing has me amazed, the characters intriguing, and the first chapter had me already hooked! The mystery behind the guilt the fuels our protagonist’s every day struggle to work in a place that makes him loath his life had me fully invested in his life in just the first 5 pages.

The book is 84 chapters long, but at only 417 pages long, this means that each chapter is relatively short. Most are less than 10 pages, and some are less than 5. I love books that break things into tiny little chapters because I feel like I’m flying through the book, especially whenever chapters end on a cliffhanger. Besides the formatting, the pacing and the prose itself was wonderfully done. It’s fast and every time I open the book, I find myself lost in the story; there’s never a not exciting moment.

Our protagonist here is Travis Devine. From the very start of the book, we know that Devine had been a ranger before he randomly just left the services. But “leave and never look back” was not something he did. Devine left due to the guilt of having gotten away with a crime that he has not ever forgiven himself for and so, he punishes himself by getting up at 4 in the morning to work out before begrudgingly heading off on the 6:20 train to work in a place that he hates with a passion, grinding away with all of the other “burners” making money for people who don’t need more money. If he hates his life, good. It’s working.

The train started to fill, station after station, with the young gladiators in their suits and skirts, their laptops and clouds fired up and gestating future wealth for those with already too much of it. Later, the train climbed the little knoll, slowed, and then stopped, like a thirsty animal does at creekside for a drink.

I liked Devine. He’s smart, careful, stoic, analytical and observant. The first few chapters, I had thought he was going to be some one-worded or short sentenced, near silent protagonist, kind of character. He kind of does. He speaks in ways that feel like an interrogation and when he’s done with you, he leaves. There’s no need to rile people up more than needed and generally gives people more chances than they deserve (such as the time he beat up a few dudes, who followed him, after giving them MULTIPLE warnings, before asking a woman to call the ambulance rather than leave them in the alley). He’s intimidating and looking to punish himself for his past crimes, but, as another character points out, he’s kinder than he lets on and deeply cares about those close to him.

Devine thinks things through and often has some plan to get out of trouble, but if he didn’t have one, he’d be quick on his feet to think one up just as well. If that didn’t work, his ranger training never left him, and he’s able to get himself out of a tough situation, though he’s no invincible man and doesn’t always walk out without some injury.

When he does find himself cornered with no way out, he has people looking out for him, including some badass female characters. Devine lives with three other roommates, a woman who is studying to be a lawyer, Helen Speers, another the CEO of her own online dating company named Hummingbird, Jill Tapshaw, and then there’s Will Valentine, the hacker from Russia. All brilliant people with their own important roles in this book. They all assist him in some way, or another, as Devine investigates the murder of a woman he’s once dated, Sara Ewes. Then, there’s Montgomery, a very important character who sells herself short in being just a trophy girlfriend when she’s anything but; accompanying Devine even when she’s probably terrified for her life. She strikes me the most and is probably my favorite character, having helped Devine on so many levels.

The plot was fantastic; I could barely put the book down. When I was reading, I found myself flying through the book, and the short chapters aren’t the only reasons why, either. The plot and story, the interesting characters and dialogue, the mystery and suspense behind all of the crimes, the need to find out how things all tie up in the end, the adrenaline rushes, the plot twists, the writing in general, all of it made for a wonderful and explosive read.

Devine starts off trying to get to the bottom of a single “suicide” only for it to turn all the weird corners and suddenly, he finds himself in deep muck. A deal is proposed in which choice is just an illusion. Declining the deal means his past can get him in a great load of trouble so the only thing left is to agree, accept, and move forward. The more he uncovers things about Sara, the more things begin to surface, and they’re not good things either. Some things, even when discovered, are far too great for a single individual, or even a whole organization, to handle. Because money means power, and power can get you just about anywhere, so long as you don’t step in one of the dozens of minefields.

“But if you have enough money, the laws don’t apply to you.”

The ending was great as well, just short of mind-blowing. I was wrong in so many different ways, and Devine was actually not far off from me either. There’s a whole reveal chapter that ties all of the events together, from the first death to the last. That was the only slightly jarring chapter (I can’t say it was a bad chapter either, especially as my eyes widened, and my jaws dropped at every consecutive sentence that came out of the antagonist’s mouth) as it was essentially a whole confession chapter, on a nearly info dumping level and mostly dialogue. Devine was always so close to the truth, but was never able to finish the puzzle; having laid the connected clues in chunks to the side. The antagonist gave us (and Devine) that connection and closure that ended things neatly, with no pieces left over for us to question and guess on about. The last chapter was bittersweet, but I liked it. I think even Devine felt just a bit lighter as he, once more, rides the 6:20 train.

Book Review: Old Country by Matt & Harrison Query

Happy Thursday everyone!
Last week, I was extremely hyped over the upcoming Pokemon Scarlet & Violet games in November, but in the last few days, I’ve been thinking more and more about Square Enix’s debut into the life/farm simulation world with Harvestella, also coming out in November. It’s going to be a hard hitting month on my wallet!

For this week’s review, I’m sharing my thoughts on Old Country by brothers, Matt & Harrison Query!

Book Title: Old Country
Author: Matt Query & Harrison Query
Length: 341 Pages
Published: 26 July 2022
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy > Paranormal, Fantasy > Supernatural, Horror, Thriller > Mystery Thriller, Adult

Disclaimer: Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for this gifted copy! All opinions are of my own.

Goodreads: >LINK<
Grand Central Publishing: >LINK<
Amazon: >LINK<

Based on the Reddit sensation, a horror thriller of a young couple who buys the perfect, secluded house—only to discover the terror within.

It’s the house of their dreams. Former marine Harry and his wife, Sasha, have packed up their life and their golden retriever, Dash, and fled the corporate rat race to live off the land in rural Idaho. Their breathtaking new home sits on more than forty acres of meadow, aspen trees, and pine forest in the Teton Valley. Even if their friends and family think it’s a strange choice for an up-and-coming pair of urban professionals, Harry and Sasha couldn’t be happier about the future they’re building, all by their lonesome.

That is, until their nearest neighbors, Dan and Lucy Steiner, come bearing more than housewarming gifts. Dan and Lucy warn Harry and Sasha of a malevolent spirit that lives in the valley, one that with every season will haunt them in fresh, ever-more-diabolical ways. At first, it seems like an old wives’ tale. But when spring arrives, so does the first evil manifestation, challenging everything Harry and Sasha thought they knew about the world.

As each season passes, the spirit grows stronger, the land more sinister, and each encounter more dangerous. Will Harry and Sasha learn the true meaning of a forever home before it’s too late? Haunting and bone-chilling, Old Country is a spellbinding debut in the horror genre.

This book had its ups and downs, and most of the downs revolved around a particular character, but otherwise, it was actually a pretty good read and I enjoyed the general theme and atmosphere as well as intrigued over the different rituals that were needed to appease the spirits in each season. I generally space my books over the course of a single week (two weeks if they are longer fantasies), but I managed to eat through this book to finish it up early. There were moments when I noted that it was kind of slow, and almost felt like the [in-book] days was dragging on and felt repetitive, but it’s followed by moments and chapters that kept me flipping through the pages like a mad woman, eager to see what happens next; cliffhanger chapters that make you gasp and all.

That’s a lot of swear words. It’s amusing.

The second half of the book felt like it had a slightly different writing style than the first half. This was the case in not just the story, but the characters and tone as well. I’m always curious how the writing in books with multiple authors, are split up; whether one person did all the writing and the other added bits in, or they split up sections to each other. The first half was sprinkled with swear words in a way if you were to hand the toppings to a kid and told them they had free rein to the ice cream. Don’t get me wrong! I have nothing against swears, I just happen to take notice of repeating words (there were 71 fucks/’ers/’ing in the first 100 pages alone!). It was amusing, to say the least. The only other thing I noted was, despite there were two POVs (Harry and Sasha), the two seemed to meld into each other. There were times I’d flip back to check on which POV I was reading in.

I mention writing styles because towards the middle, the swearing suddenly dies down by quite a lot. The tone feels different, the characters feel slightly different, and I’m able to start recognizing which chapter is narrated by which person. Rather than having a hard time distinguishing the two from each other, Sasha’s side of the story really felt like Sasha and Harry’s his.

Regardless of how it’s written or split, it’s easy to read and I enjoyed the book thanks to other aspects. The descriptions are fantastic and it doesn’t matter if it’s visual and something the characters see or if it’s physical and something they felt, everything they experienced is right there for you to experience with them, and it’s not pretty.

Seasonal manifestations of a malevolent spirit older than you can imagine!

There are four main characters in this book. There’s Harry (Harold) and Sasha (the two protagonists) and their neighbors, Dan and Lucy, who is this adorable and caring older couple that immediately takes a liking to Harry and Sasha, making sure to provide them with tips and tricks on both this new country lifestyle they’re living (both Harry and Sasha were city folks, so this rural ranch life is new to them) and, most importantly, the rituals that Harry and Sasha must follow.

In this valley, there is a malevolent spirit that manifests itself in different ways across the seasons, with winter being the only time it seems to take a vacation and not bother most of the residents of the town. With each different manifestation, there were rituals that Harry and Sasha must follow in order to not face its wrath.

In spring, when a light appears in the pond, you must light a fire in your house. If you don’t, you will hear drums outside your house and at that point, you’d better prepare to hunker down and bear the “storm” that follows.

In the summer, a bear will chase a man wearing his birthday suit, both running out of the forest in an almost slow jog. The man will be screaming his head off (as one would expect of a guy being chased by a hungry bear) and you must put a barrier between you and the man, not the bear. There’s no extra special ritual to follow other than to make sure that the man doesn’t get a hold of you. But, to purposefully sit, watch, and not interfere with a man being torn apart is definitely hard to watch.

The autumn one (which I thought was the creepiest) involves waking up to a scarecrow standing somewhere on your property, and you must burn it before sundown of the same day. There will be short bursts where the scarecrow will come alive and beg for its life, but, like the screaming crying man, you must ignore its pleas.

“‘How the hell is it standing like that?…It looks like it’s gotta have a frame or something to hold it up.’

That was, indeed, perhaps the most abnormal characteristic of the scarecrow. Its weird, lumpy feet were barely touching the ground, yet it stood upright, healthy posture and all.'”

The manifestation and rituals themselves were probably the most exciting part of the book. Knowing that each season will be worse than the last, you start to wonder what will happen next. The first season is the easiest, the second was kind of scary, so by the time you’re mid-book, it’s already a gripping tale because what is the last hurrah before the spirit, apparently, takes a break until spring?

I hated Harry from the beginning to almost the end.

Where I had the most problem were the characters, or rather, the one character of Harry (Harold). He and his wife, Sasha, are the two prospective in this book, and I actually kind of liked Sasha. She felt a bit flat and almost boring, though this begins to improve towards the end when Harry is nearly emotional incapacitated due to consequences of his own actions, and she starts to take charge of the situation for him. However, from the start, she was immensely more careful regarding the spirit. Of course, the disbelief was still there, but at the back of her mind, the spirit always lingered. She would ask Harry to at least humor Dan and Lucy and maybe entertain the idea of “but what if it’s real?” She always played it somewhat safe and this made me like her so much more than Harry.

Harry though, was nothing more than this stereotypical angry frat boy jock from the movies that somehow is always alive and kicking. Maybe a bit bruised up and scared, but still very much breathing. He’s so angry, can be mean, gives no chances to people, has no patience to speak of, doesn’t trust anyone, so reckless, and there are even times when he’s pretty childish. Because of this, he ends up putting multiple people in danger, including Sasha, the one person that he goes on and on about protecting.

From the start, Dan and Lucy try to talk to them about these rituals and what needs to be done each season to ward off harm. I get it. I really do. Imagine moving from the big cities to this rural countryside and your only neighbors, who, at first appeared to be this sweet old couple, turns out to be loons telling you about some crazy spirit of the valley. Of course there would some doubts that will surface! But, before they can even finish their next sentences, Harry has already unceremoniously booted them from his land.

At least, until the first signs of the spirit (light in the pond) begins to manifest themselves and suddenly things are starting to feel very scary and very real. There are still doubts and even when the town sheriff drops by to warn him that they’d better follow the rituals, thus confirming the spirit’s presence. From there, Harry turns his anger from disbelief into bullying the spirit. There are times when he mocks and taunts the spirit, and he doesn’t do it just once, but twice! The first time he taunts the spirit, he immediately knows he messed up big time…he could feel it…and then he does it again.

He kind of grows towards the end and learns from his mistakes. It’s hard not to when the consequences slap you in the face like a truck on fire. The part where a character rips into him and tells him he’s gone and messed up hard with disastrous results to follow was the single most satisfying moment of the book. Dan and Lucy, as well as Sasha and Dash (their golden retriever) are honestly the only reason he’s alive when he should’ve been dead ten times over.

Overall

The mood was creepy and kind of somber; so many bad things have happened in this valley and land in the past that the residents almost seem to just accept their shitty haunted life as normal. When it comes to acres upon acres of ranch land in the middle of absolutely nowhere, and you have like…one pair of neighbors that stops by? It’s creepy and feels so isolated! There are more people towards the end (like…two extra) and there was one sheriff towards the beginning, but that’s about it. In that general area? It’s Dan, Lucy, Sasha, Harry, and their dog (and their farm animals). You get this vibe where, you know you need to take care of each other because were anything to happen, things get really lonely really fast.

The spirit manifestation changing between the seasons and the rituals you have to perform were scary and interesting to read. The descriptions of the spirits and its wrath is bone-chilling. There’s a bit of mystery too, Dan and Lucy having their own secrets to hide. This secret and the history of the property is unknown to Harry and Sasha, so throughout the book, you get to have your own wild guesses about it until eventually things are revealed.

I kind of wish there was more lore regarding the spirit, but overall, it was a good book. I enjoyed some of the characters and certainly enjoyed the atmosphere around the settling as well as the different manifestations across the seasons. It wasn’t as creepy as I thought it would be (I’m a huge chicken when it comes to horror) so even the scare level was perfect for me.

Book Review: The Noise by James Patterson & J.D. Barker

Hello, my lovely peeps🐥!
Happy Thursday! I have a lot of cleaning to do in anticipation of a family gathering next week, so I know what I have to look forward to this weekend.

Yesterday was Pokémon Presents, and I haven’t played the series since [the original] Pokémon Pearl (though I did play the remake version recently). None of the new games have appealed to me except this latest Scarlet & Violet that’s coming out in November. There’s not a single word, or even a string of words, that I can use to show my excitement. I’m practically vibrating!

Today’s post is this week’s book review and today, I’ll be featuring The Noise by James Patterson & J.D. Barker.

Book Title: The Noise
Authors: James Patterson & J.D. Barker
Edition: Kindle & Audiobook (Libby/Library Copies)
Length: 422 Pages / 11 hours and 48 minutes
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Mystery Thriller, Horror

A mysterious explosion kills thousands in the Pacific Northwest—and only two young girls survive. The newest in psychological suspense from the mind of James Patterson.
Two sisters have always stood together. Now, they’re the only ones left.

In the shadow of Mount Hood, sixteen-year-old Tennant is checking rabbit traps with her eight-year-old sister Sophie when the girls are suddenly overcome by a strange vibration rising out of the forest, building in intensity until it sounds like a deafening crescendo of screams. From out of nowhere, their father sweeps them up and drops them through a trapdoor into a storm cellar. But the sound only gets worse…

James Patterson’s astounding imagination has made him “a legendary novelist” (CNN). Now from its darkest corners comes The Noise, a thriller that takes hold of the emotions, defies the senses, and is like nothing you’ve ever read before.

The stink of death in the air came in ebbs and flows, and as they followed Holt across what was once the village center, it grew worse. She couldn’t help but think about what Fravel had said. Was it physically possible for a human body to disintegrate from pressure?

I can picture it all.

I’ve only ever read one or two other of James Patterson’s books, but that’s pretty few in numbers and J.D. Barker is an author that’s new to me, completely! Still, I really enjoyed this book for many things, including the writing. Whenever I see that chapters will reach up to the hundred some-odd mark, I know I’m in for tiny chapters, and man were they TINY chapters. If you toggled the font size and font and read on an iPad, some chapters were small enough to be displayed on a single page! I actually ended up really liking this kind of form splitting because everything’s bite sized and the pacing isn’t affected by it. Sometimes, we leave on some insane cliffhangers that make you want to keep reading on and on and this was how The Noise had me feeling. Trying to eat three slices of chocolate cake can be too much, but have you ever stopped at just a single Reese’s cup? As someone who likes to stop my daily readings at the full chapter mark, it really helps that the chapters are small.

The writing was also vivid and detailed. Every emotion and horror that our characters felt and saw was fully displayed in my mind. The ear-splitting noise, the feeling of running out of time and unease through most of the book, the sit of people whom are not exactly dead, the absolute chaos and madness that happens around you such as what must’ve been the most horrific image of hundreds of thousands of unfeeling human running at breakneck speed, the sights of people running even though they may be missing limbs, the dripping of the blood down ears, eyes, and noses. It’s all so clear and the book makes for some scary nightmarish fuel if nothing else.

I had borrowed both the audiobook and kindle versions of this book and both were fantastic versions of The Noise. The narrator, Amanda Dolan, I thought did a terrific job with reading the passages and the dialogue. Especially whenever a possessed person begins to speak and she dicates this in the form of gritty and demonic speech, the first time I saw her move from a normal person to a “possessed” (I’m calling it possessed, though it’s definitely something else) was bone-chilling and to be a loved one of that “possessed” individual must be so unnerving; those drawn out sentences and that unnatural voice, it’s quite scary to listen to and I did read off the Kindle version more often than the audio version, from the few moments I did listen to Amanda, I felt myself lost even deeper into the already abyssal attraction this book puts out.

Unforgettable cast of characters.

Each of the chapters follows a particular character’s POV. From the start, there are a lot of people that will be getting introduced aside from the two main prospective of Tennant and Dr. Martha Chan. Having gathered a team of specialists and experts, outside of the military (Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Fraser), there’re other scientists such as Sanford Harbin (climatologist), Russel Fravel (astrophysicist), Brennan Hauff (planetary biologist), Brian Tomes (geologist), and Joy Reiber (Dept of Agriculture). There’s also a separate doctor in camp along with Keenen Holt from the State Department.

You get to know certain people quickly, their personalities and presence are strong, but some of the scientists more so than the others and even then, the smaller side characters may occasionally get their own chapters as well and from their few minutes worth of cameo, there’s a lot to learn behind the scenes of what goes on.

I liked the split between everyone’s personal and professional investment into the strange and bizarre case/”infection” that affects the population. For example, the book begins from Tennant’s perspective and through her eyes, we watch the annihilation of her entire village. Her home, neighbors, maybe even family, trampled and gone. There’s so much emotion in the beginning because all is lost and for Tennant, the only thing left is her sister, who is no longer herself and very ill.

From the scientists and military’s perspective, with the exception of a handful of people that are very sympathetic to the sisters and their case, much of the base treats this anomaly in a cold, scientific, and professional way. While a couple of the “kidnapped” scientists have some emotional connection to the two sisters (they have kids of their own, etc.) there are some really unsettling moments where “It’s two girls vs the death of hundreds of thousands” and treat the two like guinea pigs.

The three main prospective in this book are Fraser, Martha, and Tennant. Martha is the medical doctor of the team and she, having kids of her own, is immediately protective of Tennant and her sister, Sophie, making sure that no harm would come their way while trying to help stave off the “infection” from both herself and those around her as the team attempts to wrap their mind around this anomaly. Fraser commands the ground team and his side of the story has my adrenaline pumping most of the time, especially anytime he needs to go front line in order to deal with the “infected” people or gather data that the scientists themselves cannot do. Tennant is the first character we really meet, and she’s here for her sister (but also, being a survivor of an anomaly that nobody can understand) she’s not exactly free to leave either. All three sides are fantastic to follow, and no matter where I turn, there’s adrenaline and fear. Of the three main prospective though, I think Fraser and Martha’s would be my favorite, though this may be due to them having more screen time than Tennant and Sophie.

Wild story gets wilder and the ending was insane.

A mysterious anomaly happens in the mountainside that decimates an entire town of villagers, survivalists that have lived off the grids just fine until this event essentially wipes the citizens off the map. Having torn the village apart, people, animal, houses and even water wells crumbled to ruin, leaving only a straight path, much like a tornado, in its wake, the story begins with two young girls, the only survivors. When help and the military finally arrive, there’s nothing left of the place. Even the people are gone! The team of scientists and the soldiers that go to survey and learn about the damage are completely stumped.

As the story progresses, things become more desperate and time is ticking. Things go by so fast with not a single soul knowing what exactly is happening. Martha and her team, and the readers, are kept guessing at what this anomaly really is the entire way through, up until near the end when everything comes crashing down and boy does that truck hit hard. Before that, we never know what it is that causes all the strange events. Is it a secret and devastating new weapon created by enemies of the US? Is it an actual infection with zombies and all? What about alien life finally comes to Earth and this is part of it? This plot is one of the best I’ve read in a while and I really enjoyed it. If you know me, I enjoy my guess work through mystery books, and this anomaly really hits the mark.

The ending though, was so far out and insane that I took a breather after finishing the book, my mind tingling in trying to process that actual cause behind the infections and events. It left me with quite a bit of questions, and wasn’t particularly satisfying when you understand what it implies.

Overall

All in all, this was a great read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the pacing, loved the short chapters, loved the writing and narrator. I enjoyed the characters in this book (there are a few people I loathed) both the major and minor characters and the story was pretty interesting and intriguing. When it comes down to things that can be affected by infections (mind, organs, etc.), noise and the auditory scenes was not what I expected. There’s no great big monster out there, just humans (not even zombies) that run forever like a mindless army of ants or cattle in a stampede. It kept me reading and going, that’s for sure. The book was equally as amusing and exciting as it was disturbing, especially towards the end when everyone felt so powerless against the deadline.

Fantastic read, I’d say, it might even be one that I may pick up once more and reread in the future, and that’s from someone who generally doesn’t reread books.

Book Review: Eyes of Prey by John Sandford

WOW! Pretty messed up book!
Hello, my lovely peeps🐥!
Today’s post is a review for the third book in the Prey series, Eyes of Prey by John Sandford! I actually started to read this as I was reading Ocean Prey and to see and compare the young[er] Davenport to the current and older one was pretty fascinating to say the least.

Still, I had a blast with this book and one of my best reads of 2022 so far!

Book Description

Title: Eyes of Prey
Series: Lucas Davenport / Prey Series Book: 3
Author: John Sandford
Edition: Ebook > Libby
Length: 357 Pages
Genre/s: Fiction, Mystery, Crime, Suspense
Rating: 5 Golden Eggs

Blurb (Goodreads)

Lieutenant Davenport’s sanity was nearly shattered by two murder investigations. Now he faces something worse…Two killers. One hideously scarred. The other strikingly handsome, a master manipulator fascinated with all aspects of death. The dark mirror of Davenport’s soul…This is the case that will bring Davenport back to life. Or push him over the edge.

Review

Eyes of Prey is the third installation of the, soon to be, 32 book long Prey series by John Sandford and it focuses on a younger Lucas Davenport from back when he worked in the police as Minneapolis’ detective lieutenant. Having barely scrapped by a serial killer followed by a group of killers resulting in his daughter’s injury and his partner, Jennifer, to take their kid and go off, it’s been a hard hard time for Davenport. He’s majorly depressed and starts his side of the story off by pummeling a teen, for injuring one of his best snitches, someone who was so close to Davenport, she was “almost a friend”.

The story starts off with Stephanie Bekker, the wife of Dr. Bekker, who is killed one night, her face destroyed in the act of violence, and her eyes mutilated. A narc, by the name of Del Capslock, was there with Davenport when he beats the living hell out of the teen, and just manages to drag Davenport away before things escalate even further. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help with the internal affairs claim that shortly follows, parents of the teen accusing Davenport of police brutality with no good proof…

Everyone’s worried about the poor guy and to help him back into the game, his boss, Daniel, suggests that Davenport take up the case of Stephanie Bekker, coupled with the fact that she was Del’s cousin and this would be helping him get to the bottom of things. It’s an intriguing case for sure, the eyes were of special interest. No lover’s quarrel would usually result in eye gouging or mutilations…

Davenport agrees to just take a look into the case, but eventually finds himself very very deep in the craziest of crazy cases as he finds himself with not just one, but perhaps two people working together and of the two, at least one of them was batshit crazy. More and more bodies begin to show up, seemingly connected to the Stephanie Bekker case; all victims with their eyes either destroyed or gouged out.

I couldn’t get into this book at first. It felt slow and I didn’t know where it was going to go. Here, we are slowly [re]introduced to more characters that eventually come back again and again in the series, people like Sloan and Del. But the main point is not Davenport, or any of the good guys. Sure, he makes for a pretty good, pushing the boundaries, kind of detective, and while I love the main characters in both the Prey and Virgil Flowers series, this time I was much more interested in the killers. As things picked up, I found myself unable to back out and found none of the earlier hesitation I had when I’d first started reading.

This time, the highlight is on two killers, both awful in their own ways, but one of them is nuts while the other is somewhat more pitiable. Their names are immediately given away in the first chapter, but occasionally, Sandford refers back to them simply as “Beauty” and the “Troll” and to avoid spoilers, I’ll call them as such here too. Complete opposites, night and day, one of the killer is beautiful, so beautiful that Sandford points out multiple times through the story just how beautiful he is, either via other characters or by “Beauty” checking himself out in the mirror. The other killer works with “Beauty” and is nicknamed “Troll” for his disfigured face from a childhood burn incident, the main muscle of the duo compared to “Beauty”‘s brain behind the plans. The “Troll” is more apathetic towards the killings while “Beauty” is elated, nearly ecstatic. His own colleagues at work secretly call him Dr. Death!

I thought that “Troll” was slightly less interesting, although I felt just an ounce bit of sympathy towards him since he’s pretty much never had a friend in his life and had simply gravitated towards “Beauty” and with every successful killing and with “Beauty”‘s praise, “Troll” seemed to smile with happiness and that made me feel a little sad (still awful people though).

Of the pair, the more interesting character is “Beauty.” A doctor who self-prescribes enough drugs to kill a field of elephants, this guy’s downing pill after pill and is simply insane. I joked halfway through the book that Eyes of Prey‘s “Beauty” was a walking “Don’t Do Drugs Kids” commercial. He goes after kids, the elderly, anyone. It doesn’t matter, so long as he can watch as they pass away, stare into their eyes as they experience their last minutes. There are some terrible terrible moments in this book. He does a little “jig” dance every time he experiences a high of some sorts; sometimes from a drug high and others from watching people die. Already unhinged from the start, his mental decline from the beginning to the end was terrifying to watch.

The book takes some massive turns and there are twists everywhere, right up to the very end with the book finishing off on a plot twisting last sentence. A fantastic book and of the handful of Davenport books I’ve read so far, this has probably been the best one yet. My emotions were all over the place, heart soaring and dropping with every few chapters, especially towards the end.

I already have a favorite Sandford book (Shock Wave), and in Ocean Prey‘s review, I remarked that that had been a close second, but now, I think Eyes of Prey beats even Ocean Prey, maybe even Shock Wave! Still, there are a little over 25 books I have yet to read in the Prey series and it’s still too early to pick favorites.

Midway through Eyes of Prey, I’d begun to schedule my March and April reads. I had picked up and read the blurb of book 4 so it kind of spoiled book 3 here, but nevertheless, I cannot wait to see how things will follow, especially with how Eyes of Prey ended.

5 Shiny Shiny Eggs

Book Review: Bloody Genius by John Sandford

Hello, my lovely peeps 🐥 !
It’s time for Thursday Reviews and this week, we have Bloody Genius by John Sandford, the [current] last Virgil Flowers book as from here on, at least for the next two books, it’ll be a duo between Sandford’s two main series, Virgil’s and Davenport’s!

Book Description

Title: Bloody Genius
Series: Virgil Flowers Book # 12
Author: John Sandford
Edition: Physical (Paperback Book)
Length: 406 Pages
Genre/s: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Mystery Thriller, Suspense, Crime, Police Procedural

Blurb (Goodreads)

Virgil Flowers will have to watch his back–and his mouth–as he investigates a college culture war turned deadly in this thriller from #1 “New York Times” bestseller John Sandford.

At the local state university, two feuding departments have faced off on the battleground of PC culture. Each carries their views to extremes that may seem absurd, but highly educated people of sound mind and good intentions can reasonably disagree, right?

Then one of the department stars winds up dead, and Virgil Flowers is brought in to investigate . . . and he soon comes to realize he’s dealing with people who, on this one particular issue, are functionally crazy. Among this group of wildly impassioned, diametrically opposed zealots lurks a killer, and it will be up to Virgil to sort the murderer from the mere maniacs.

Review

Virgil Flowers is back at it again but this time, instead of his usual small town case, he finds himself in the cities investigating a college professor’s death involving a laptop and possibly revolving around an academic war. Things get bloody and with the trail growing cold and leads ending nowhere, it’s time to call a fresh pair of eyes to take a look at the case.

The book starts off from the viewpoint of the professor and his unknown companion, both sneaking around the library for a midnight hookup, in the professor’s carrel, when the professor bumps into someone else who isn’t supposed to be there. Both surprised, the killer takes the moment’s opportunity, with the professor turning his back to call the police, and strikes him down with the professor’s own heavy (12 pounds!) laptop and before fleeing the scene. Of course, an investigation takes place, but eventually the Minneapolis police ends up stuck and Virgil comes in.

This was a pretty good book and had me guessing all the way to the end, though there was one character who kept telling Virgil hints and clues on who he thinks the killer is. Virgil thinks that guy’s profile of the killer is eye-roll worthy (but it does bug him a little) but the character is dead set on his guesses. Thanks to this random character, after 12 books, I have laid down my final answer and was right for once.

Unlike in book 10 where Virgil was running himself in circles with too many leads but not enough motive to drive on, Virgil isn’t as stuck here. The two major characters here are Virgil and the previous cop on the case, Margaret Trane, who is NOT happy to see Virgil. She knows that having been stuck for so long, if Virgil were to dig up any progressive clues, the media would blow right up in her and her department’s faces and deem the Minneapolis police to be incompetent. Virgil suggests that perhaps he could be Trane’s “assistant” and would introduce himself as such so that he could have an excuse to re-interview people Trane and her team had already gone through. Of course, wherever Virgil goes, strange things follows.

“Until you showed up, I was running a nice logical investigation. Somehow, Flowers, you got me up to my hips in weird shit. How’d you do that?”

Suddenly, the investigation takes all sorts of weird turns and new clues are popping up everywhere (though the end explains why new clues were showing up now rather than when Trane had investigated). Besides the academic feud, already known prior to Virgil’s arrival, now there are drugs, sex, blackmail, hackers, and even espionage happening. It reminds me of how Virgil had previously simply gone to investigate a bunch of random dogs and stepped into a meth mine and a crazy school board. I wouldn’t want to be his friend or neighbor, guy’s got weird luck.

As usual, the most adrenaline roaring moments were in the last couple of chapters. That last scene was a pit in the stomach kind of horror and I shiver at the thought of what would have happened if Virgil was just a second later at arriving.

What is unusual is that, compared to the previous books, there were far fewer POV chapters from the killer’s angle. Sure, in the previous books, sometimes the killers are hidden behind aliases, but here, there were only a few glimpses written from the killer’s POV and it left the readers guessing. While I greatly enjoyed reading the thoughts of the bad guy (like in Deep Freeze where the book starts with the killer’s name) I think I actually prefer this style. Instead of a hot and cold game, the readers are left to investigate with Virgil, guessing until the very end, and it’s a lot more fun that way.

There’s plenty of returning characters and with being in the cities, there’s even crossover characters like Del Capslock who I found to be quite the riot! I certainly need more of him! There’s also Jenkins and Shrake, the BCA’s usual go-to thugs who do the muscle work for Virgil (a cop who constantly “forgets” his gun). As always, I find the wit, dialogue, and character interactions to be the most interesting and strong points of the series.

The build up to the climax was great and the last few scenes benefitted from this build up. There were moments where you got a glimpse of the killer, from an outside perspective, and you know how dangerous of a guy he could be. It added to the stress that all of the characters were already feeling because we’re dealing with someone who has nothing left to lose. The most disappointing thing about the killer had been the motive. It’s facepalm worthy. It’s “Are you serious?? Was the prize worth the sentence??” bewildering.

Trane said, “Oh, no. Nope. Nope. Nope. Shut the drawer, I don’t want to see that.”
“Could be laundry detergent,” Virgil said. “You know, like Tide? I could snort a little to see if it is.”
“How much you think?”
“I never worked dope,” Virgil said. “But I’ve seen cocaine, and that’s cocaine. Not much, but we don’t know what he started with.”
“Our murdered boy’s got cocaine stashed in a secret cubbyhole? That’s the cherry on the cake, you know? That’s just fuckin’ perfect. I hope the television people find out about it so they can go berserk.”
“Could be Tide . .

“All right, then. We’ll leave the door open. You develop a problem, just yell.”
“He’s gagged, Del,” Virgil said. “He can’t yell.” Capslock turned back to the man. “If you get in trouble, make some of those strangle sounds. We’ll hear you.”

Time for some golden eggs! Bloody Genius by John Sandford gets…

4½ Shiny Shiny Eggs!

Book Review: Deep Freeze by John Sandford

Book Description

Title: Deep Freeze
Series: Virgil Flowers Book # 10
Author: John Sandford
Edition: Kindle (Libby/Library) & Hardcover
Length: 390 (Kindle) & 391 (Hardcover)
Genre/s: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Mystery Thriller, Suspense, Crime, Police Procedural

Blurb (Goodreads)

Class reunions: a time for memories—good, bad, and, as Virgil Flowers is about to find out, sometimes deadly—in this “New York Times” bestselling thriller from John Sandford.

Virgil knows the town of Trippton, Minnesota a little too well. A few years back, he investigated the corrupt—and as it turned out, homicidal—local school board, and now the town’s back in his view with more alarming news: a woman has been found dead, frozen in a block of ice.

There’s a possibility that it might be connected to a high school class of twenty-five years ago. It has a mid-winter reunion coming up. So, wrapping his coat a little tighter, Virgil begins to dig into decades of traumas, feuds, and bad blood. In the process, one thing becomes increasingly clear to him. It’s true what they say – high school can be murder.

Review

On the day that I’d finished reading this book (06 Feb) I had been at the 70% mark when I’d gone off to do a little writing in my journal first before continuing with the read, stating that with where it was standing, the book’s already at a solid 4.0 but considering that most of my favorite moments in [nearly all of] the Virgil Flowers series comes from the shockingly well written climaxes and final chapters of the book, I wouldn’t be surprised if Deep Freeze ended up the same. It did.

This was a good book, but it started off a bit slow, and damn it, I’ve never seen poor Virgil run himself in circles as much as he did than in this book. In most of his other books (and plenty of mystery books in general) you get glimpses of the answer, which finally breaks through in the very last few chapters. There’s plenty of other times Virgil get stuck trying to crack a case, but in Deep Freeze, he was frozen (pun intended?).

In book ten of the series, Virgil is back in Trippton, Minnesota, where he had previously found himself investigating a meth mill case, dog-napping incident, and faced with a corrupt and murderous school board (yes, all three cases in one town; sounds like a lovely vacation spot, yes?). It’s also where his best friend and fishing buddy, Johnson Johnson lives.

Unlike last time, where he had visited Trippton as a favor to Johnson Johnson, this time, Virgil is called in to investigate the murder of a very wealthy, and soon to be divorced, woman named Gina Hemming. Besides this, his boss, Jon Duncan, is asking him to investigate and aid a private investigator, Margaret Griffin, in tracking down the creators of some sexually modified Barbie and Ken dolls so that she could serve them their cease-and-desist letters and GTFO out of the brilliantly cold Minnesota and head on back to her warm home in California.

The thing about this book, as in many of Sandford’s other books, is that the name of the killer is already handed to you in the first chapter. Hell, it’s the second word into the book. Instead of guessing who the killer is, you get to guess how long it takes for Virgil to find said bad guy and it takes him a WHILE. In a town full of very gossipy, tight-knit, but generally friendly citizens and people, nobody could believe such a crime could exist in their lovely town (except ya know, the crazy school board a while back in the same general neighborhood as the dog-nappers and the meth factory?). With absolutely jack squat to go on, Virgil’s at a loss and no amount of turning up stones would be helping him. What he does end up unearthing is that the crime is related to a high school class from twenty-five years ago, and winds up digging up plenty of very unpleasant things.

But then, you have the other case and it seems the town DOES know about the person and team behind the manufacturing of the Barbies and Kens. There’s a funny running joke in the beginning where just about everyone and their mother lies about knowing the suspected person when Virgil could tell that they’re all lying through their teeth. Still, his priority is the murder and not the dolls, at least until a group of people turn the case personal against Virgil.

Some of my favorite things about the Virgil Flowers series are the people and dialogues, and in Deep Freeze the characters are not short of personality. While we have plenty of recurring characters (Johnson Johnson, Sheriff Purdy, Jenkins and Shrake, not to mention some of the Tripptonites) we also have a new character and this time, she’s from out of state (sunny state of California and oh so ill prepared for the Minnesota blizzard…I mean she arrived in thin-soled flats!). An ex-LA cop turned PI, it’s interesting to see how she investigates things and views people versus Virgil. I liked her at first, intense and cool, but when she showed a bit more of unnecessary violence, I started to dislike her. I didn’t hate this character, but I certainly didn’t enjoy her as much towards the end.

When he got back, the woman had flopped over onto her stomach, bleeding heavily into the snow. Virgil grabbed one wrist, and she tried to push up with her other hand, but Griffin stepped over, put her heel on the woman’s cheekbone, and pushed down. The woman squealed, and Virgil said, “Don’t hurt her,” and Griffin asked, “Why not?”

Virgil said, “She’s hurt bad enough already.” Virgil got the woman’s other wrist and locked it up, and said to Griffin, “Help me get her into the backseat of my truck.”

The rest of the book was a fun ride and while not always full of adrenaline and downright insane events, especially compared to Deadline (the previous book set in Trippton), this book has its perks. For example, I’ve never seen Virgil so lost on what to do before. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, nor were the slow parts, because it feels like everything builds up to a fantastic “Holy shit, I got it!” moment (and indeed it did).

While Deep Freeze stands well enough on its own, unlike the other books, I wouldn’t say it would be the best standalone you could read (if you choose to do so or start the series in this book). Because this book sets in the same town as a previous book had, with the entire town is still ringing in shock from the previous events and long story short, there’s not just nudges towards previous cases, but perhaps even major spoilers for Deadline. Time and time again, people in town will mention the events from Deadline so if you don’t like spoilers much, I’d avoid starting this book until you at least read that book.

“I like your murders. They give you something to think about. In L.A., it was BANG! BANG! BANG!, two dead, one of them a gang member, the other a five-year-old girl on her way to buy a Popsicle. Simple, in-your-face nutcake homicide. Here, you’ve got to ‘detect.’”

“I’m not talking about religion. I’m talking about God,” Virgil said. “I’m a Lutheran minister’s kid, and, believe me, there’s a difference between a religion and God. I sorta cut out the middleman.”

When Virgil was working as a St. Paul homicide cop, he’d known of two separate killings done for single eight balls of cocaine. An eight ball, at the time, was worth maybe a hundred and fifty dollars. Kill somebody for a million? No problem. No fuckin’ problem at all.

Time for some golden eggs! Deep Freeze by John Sandford gets…

4½ Shiny Shiny Eggs!