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.

Icarus, David K Hulegaard

Icarus, David K Hulegaard

The Noble Trilogy: Book One – Icarus

Miller Brinkman is a private eye in small-town 1950’s USA, with his usual cases whatever the widely-respected town sheriff doesn’t want or doesn’t have time for. However, when Jane Emmett, the town’s problem child, vanishes abruptly from the public eye and a rumour is spread that she’s been sent away to school, her only friend begs Brinkman to find out what happened to her. Following the clues left in a disturbing series of Jane’s diary entries that indicate something very different than an involuntary departure to a finishing school, Brinkman has no idea of what he’s about to discover…

Icarus combines two of my favourite genres in a page-turning read. With an economical turn of description that allows the spotlight to shine on the events of the plot, author David K. Hulegaard creates an atmospheric mystery with enough darkness woven into it to keep the reader on edge. Brinkman, our protagonist, comes with enough human flaws to make him plausible and keep him from the superhuman trope. All of the characters show excellent development, with enough background to make them solidly real in the story without straying into the territory of the fatal info-dump, and many with the characteristically ‘small-town’ scandals and links that support the main plot. All in all, I don’t give out five stars very often – this book definitely earnt them.

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.

Killing Sanford, Mike Kershner

Killing Sanford, Mike Kershner

Killing Sanford (Gary Cannon Book 1)

Gary Cannon is an assassin, working for Sanford International Holdings. Killing Sanford sees Gary reluctantly working on US soil, with a quadruple hit slated to take place in Omaha. He hopes that sticking to field protocol will shift the intense unease that’s been dogging him since he climbed out onto the runway, but old nightmares continue to dog him as he makes his reconnaissance of the targets. Eventually, driven by the nagging sense that something is badly amiss, he calls in the details of one of the hits to his HQ, only to find that he’s pulling on the tail of something bigger and much more dangerous than he’d anticipated, bound up in old history.

Mike Kershner’s style features cameos of the history underpinning Gary’s current situation, the story weaving between 1976 Omaha and the period just after WWII and later, describing the events leading to the founding of Sanford International. Killing Sanford pulls this off better than many stories, with the various timelines transitioning smoothly from one to the other. I did find that the pacing of the story was held back by the level of description, and in places repetition, as well as the writing style, which was awkward enough in places to pull me out of full immersion in the storyline. Aside from that, however, the plot was strong, with some interesting twists and turns. Definitely a good read in the Jack Higgins genre for thriller fans.

Who By Water, Victoria Raschke

Who By Water, Victoria Raschke

Who By Water (Voices of the Dead Book 1)

Jo Wiley is one of those anomalies: an American living in Slovenia. With a group of friends, she manages a tea house in Ljubljana and keeps the various aspects of her social life strictly separate. When Jo accompanies a friend to the opening of a new archaeological exhibit in town, the worst she’s expecting to have to deal with is being polite to a slimy bar owner who fancies himself irresistible to women. She’s not expecting to see one of her lovers murdered, or to suddenly receive a warning from her dead father…

Who by Water layers realistic fantasy and fantastic reality over the ancient setting of Slovenia’s capital, weaving in allusions to the Catholic Inquisition, witch hunters, and older than both, the Roman settlement of Iulia Aemona that preceded the city. Victoria Raschke’s writing provides an eminently plausible scenario of ancient artifacts and psychic abilities drawn to Ljubljana’s historic nexus, with Jo Wiley, our pragmatic protagonist, front and centre with a talent for speaking to the dead that she wasn’t aware she possessed. I found the pacing of the novel was excellent, and while some of the characters hinted at far more backstory than was actually explored in the book, the story was well-written and a highly enjoyable start to the series.