The Vestals Conspiracy, Tomasz Chrusciel

The Vestals Conspiracy, Tomasz Chrusciel

The Vestals Conspiracy: A Prequel Novella To The Nina Monte Mystery Thriller Series

Professor Oliveri has made some astounding archaeological finds in his time; even now, approaching retirement age, he’s a well-known name in Italy. Nina Monte, a respected expert in her own right, has been his friend and colleague since she was his student over a decade ago, so when the Professor contacts her with news of a ground-breaking discovery concerning the Vestal Virgins, she drops everything to meet with him. However, the Professor is more closely watched than he ever realised, and even before Nina arrives, news of his discovery has spread.

The Vestals Conspiracy is a great prequel to the Nina Monte series, showcasing everything that makes these thrillers worth reading; intelligent, original characters, great world-building, and adventures with a flavour of danger and history. Author Tomasz Chrusciel’s ability to evoke the areas in which his stories are set provides a fantastic underpinning to the plots. I also enjoy Nina Monte as a protagonist. She’s highly educated, quick-thinking, and has a low tolerance for bullshit, as well as enough small flaws in her self-confidence to make her thoroughly plausible as a character. However, what really made this prequel for me was the way that the author managed to weave archaeological record into a millennias-old conspiracy and an equally ancient prophecy to add that thrill of ‘what-if’ to the read.

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body, Simon Petrie

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body, Simon Petrie

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body: A Guerline Scarfe Investigation

Titan is a hostile environment. When people die, it’s the job of someone like Guerline Scarfe to make sure that all the details are correctly recorded and all angles are examined to ensure that the future of Fensal’s citizens is as safe as it can be. The investigation into the death of Tanja Noor Hainan Morgenstein should have been one like any other – despite her influential parents. However, when Guerline starts asking why the daughter of one of Titan’s most influential families would have committed suicide by Titan right outside an airlock, her investigation starts sprouting inconsistencies.

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body is a well-written mystery thriller in a science-fiction setting. Details of terrain and technology add to the backdrop, but the author has resisted allowing them to overwhelm the story. The characters are well-developed, and while Guerline is at first glance the epitome of the harassed separated parent with a spoiled child, her obstinacy makes her the ideal protagonist for the plot. The final plot twist reveal was particularly nicely handled, with enough presaging to make it credible without giving the game away too early. Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read – there’s something there for everyone from detective mystery fans through to die-hard sci-fi readers.

J159, Renee Logan

J159, Renee Logan

J159

To ensure the perfect neutrality of a juror, the Pure Juror System was developed, whereby the system would pick jurors, and provide for their needs in an isolated environment for between three and five years. Despite the system’s efforts to keep knowledge of the calendar date from the jurors, Eddie knows he must be getting near the end of his term. However, until he sees a familiar face on a courtroom camera, and a drone drops a covert note into his walled garden, he doesn’t realise that it’s been much longer than that…or what fate the system has reserved for him and others like him.

J159 is an unusual and technically excellent thriller, where the protagonist has everything to lose but almost no agency in the story. Having the Eddie so totally isolated and reliant on others for everything, including his food, shades the development of the plot with remarkable contrasts. While Eddie can do nothing to affect his fate beyond wear a ball cap outdoors, others are putting their lives at risk to break open the secret behind the system. This is a set-up with the potential to backfire spectacularly in the wrong hands, but author Renee Logan did an outstanding job of the character development, and handled the dribs and drabs of information interspersed by Eddie’s day-to-day very well. The underlying structure of the plot is used to hammer home to the reader the sensation of ‘hurry up and wait for someone else to save your life’. A must-read for fans of suspense.

The Girl at the Bar, Nicholas Nash

The Girl at the Bar, Nicholas Nash

The Girl at the Bar

Rebecca is a high-flying cancer research scientist, one of the most sought-after minds in the field. Ragnar is a down-on-his-luck ex-trader battling bipolar disorder, hanging out in bars in between job searches. When Rebecca goes missing shortly after their one-night stand, Ragnar becomes a person of interest overnight – and determined to find Rebecca, even if it gets him arrested. However, when the body count starts growing and the press gets involved, the stakes only get higher…

The Girl at the Bar is a police thriller, where the evidence is deceptive at best and the origins of the crime are buried and forgotten in decades-old events. The plot is plausible and twisty, and although those who like to try and follow the breadcrumbs of evidence through the plot and figure out the criminal themselves are going to find slim pickings, the final revelation is nicely handled. The pacing is also largely good, and the characters are refreshingly original, with perfectly imperfect motivations. The things keeping this book from a higher rating were mostly technical; there are editing errors apparent throughout, and a critique to polish some occasional awkwardnesses out of the delivery would have made this story a top-rank read. Definitely something that crime fiction fans will enjoy.

The Last Prophet, Michael J Hallisey

The Last Prophet, Michael J Hallisey

The Last Prophet

Riley McKee is a brilliant trauma surgeon, one of those rare people able to connect the dots and save a life while others are still fumbling for a diagnosis. With her best friend and fellow surgeon, Genevieve Neugold, she shares an obsession for riddles and puzzles, and a compulsion to save lives. However, when Riley’s determination to solve a centuries-old mystery gets her killed, Genevieve is drawn into Riley’s last and greatest puzzle – the secret of healing the sick and bringing the dead back to life.

Michael J. Hallisey’s The Last Prophet is a twisty story of murder, crime, and hidden connections, from Riley’s CIA brother to the secrets hidden in the lost paintings of Caravaggio, carving a path across time and space from a modern trauma wing in America to one of the last hidden bastions of the ancient Knights Templar. Think Indiana Jones meets the Da Vinci Code. The only thing standing between this book and a much higher rating was strictly technical; the author’s detailed research and depth of knowledge occasionally impacted the pacing of the story, and the punctuation was odd to the point where it was frequently difficult to figure out if someone was talking or not, and if so, who. It’s a shame, because with a solid edit under its belt, this book would be a top-flight read. As it is, definitely worthwhile, but there are issues that impact the read and will sometimes yank the reader out of the story.