Posted in All Book Reviews, Crime fiction, Thrillers

Book Review: What Lies Beneath (By J.G.Hetherton)

Thanks to NetGalley for a complimentary copy of What Lies Beneath. This is an honest review.

I’m going to do this review a little differently. For those of you who’ve read a lot of my previous reviews, you’ve probably guessed that that means it wasn’t a great book and there’s a list coming up…

And you would be right!

So, without further ado, let’s get into the review of What Lies Beneath, penned by J.G. Hetherton.

Genre: 

Mystery, Thriller

Length: 

320 pages

Blurb:

I have to deviate significantly from the blurb on Goodreads because that one almost seems like it’s for a different book. You can check that one out here.

My blurb goes like this: Journalist, Laura Chambers, gets called in to identify the remains of an accident victim. Except, the body is so broken and damaged that Laura can’t recognize the woman. Then Laura discovers that the woman’s last call had been to her. And so begins Laura’s descent into chaos. Hell-bent on finding answers, she bends rules where required, faces off against a police officer who hates her guts, and discovers that a friendship from her long-forgotten past has ties to her present. Who was the woman who died on the highway? Why had she called Laura? And what did any of it have to do with an old friend that Laura had lost touch with decades ago?

Overall Rating:

3 out of 10

Plot:

6 out of 10

Characterization:

3 out of 10

Primary Element:

6 out of 10 for its mystery

Writing Style:

4 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

Yes. This is Book #2 in the Laura Chambers series. However, most people who’ve read it said it stood on its own without much concern. I don’t know if the first one was any better, especially on the characterization, but I did feel like I may have lost out a bit by not having read the first one – especially regarding getting a feel for any of the persons involved.

What Worked and What Didn’t:

  1. What Lies Beneath has an incredible start. It jumps right in and gets you hooked. The first couple of chapters are thrilling as heck!
  2. The rest of the book just plods along. I remember thinking, at one point, “This is moving really slowly. Maybe I should stop.” And then I saw that I was 56% in. At which point I realized that it was not moving slowly, but that was its actual pace – a lot of nothing happening.
  3. I feel like the main reason for that emotion was that the story was so vastly different from the blurb. For instance, there was no mention of Laura thinking that the picture she found was of “someone she had imagined”. There was very little confusion between her fact and fiction – more like questions about why things that happened (and that she remembers happening) had happened.
  4. I have never disliked so many characters in a single book. Okay, maybe I disliked the ones in Win by Harlan Coben more (review here), but this was a close second. Laura, in spite of being a victim, was so selfish and annoying that I could not find myself rooting for her at any point.
  5. That’s not to say that there were no glimpses of her ‘goodness’. They were just so rare that she’s just an unlikeable person. And having a main character you can’t root for makes it that much more difficult to be invested in the book.
  6. There’s also a lot of assumed characterization. Relationships and emotions spill over from the previous book, but none of it is explained. As a result, you feel like you’ve walked into the middle of a conversation where everyone is mad at everyone, irrational, and intentionally obtuse. I’m not saying Hetherton should have given the entire plot away. But some introduction would have been good at specific points to help understand what was happening. I’ve started a lot of series midway and have seen most authors do this, specifically to help with characterization.
  7. Plus, the writing style gets super weird at times. The author seems to get taken in with his own similes, and I often found myself lost in paragraphs that didn’t add anything to anything.
  8. Overall, the book is okay. It moves very slowly, doesn’t really fill you with active interest to know what happens next, and is oftentimes exhausting in both narration and conversation. All in all, worth a pass.

I had a lot of expectations going into What Lies Beneath, but I wouldn’t really recommend the book to anyone. If you love thrillers and mysteries, there are other, much better ones out there. And I’m definitely not going to be reading more from J.G.Hetherton. His style may be great for some, but it just didn’t suit my tastes.

Have you read What Lies Beneath or Last Girl Gone? Tell us what you thought in the comments below. And, as always, thank you for stopping at The Book Review Station and reading this review.

– Rishika

Posted in All Book Reviews, Crime fiction, Thrillers

Book Review: The Guilty (By David Baldacci)

I’ve been reading a lot of David Baldacci lately. Part of the reason for that is that he’s another of my “comfort” reads authors. His books are generally engaging with interesting plots. The second reason is that I’m midway on multiple series, including the Will Robie and Jessica Reel, Amos Decker, John Puller, and Atlee Pine series. And I want to wrap them up before moving on to his newer ones. Right now, though, I’m focused on the Will Robie series, mainly because Robie makes an appearance in the next Amos Decker book and I just have to finish the Robie series and get to the Decker one in order. Make of that obsession what you will.

Anyway… let’s get right into the book review of The Guilty.

Genre: 

Thriller, Crime fiction

Length: 

420 pages

Blurb:

When elite government assassin, Will Robie, finds himself unable to pull the trigger on a mission, he finds himself adrift. His entire life has been about the job, and without his skills… he’s almost nothing. To recover his skill, he needs to resolve what’s holding him back – his past. He needs to return to Cantrell, Mississippi, the town he had left behind without another look twenty years ago. He needs to return to his father, because of whom he’d left town in the first place. Dan Robie had been elected town judge in the years since Robie left. But now, he was arrested and charged with murder. With the entire town sure of his guilt, Dan Robie offers no defense. Will’s return to the town is met with suspicion, by strangers and his own father. Yet Will perseveres. Supported by Jessica Reel, he begins his own investigation and soon discovers that Cantrell has a lot to hide. Can Will Robie prove his father’s innocence? Or is Dan Robie truly guilty? And will either live long enough to repair their bond?

Overall Rating:

7 out of 10

Plot:

8 out of 10

Characterization:

8 out of 10

Primary Element:

6 out of 10 for its suspense

Writing Style:

6 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

Yes. This is Book #4 in the Will Robie series. Jessica Reel makes her first appearance in Book #2.

Highlighted Takeaway:

With an unexpected look into the past that makes Will Robie who he is, The Guilty brings a personal perspective into an otherwise inscrutable character.

What I Liked:

The Guilty has an interesting plot that mixes past and present really well. It also brings the multiple layers you expect from a Baldacci book, with the arcs tying together neatly. While it’s not the most unpredictable, the story does pack its share of surprises.

What I Didn’t Like:

This was something I never thought I’d say about David Baldacci, but it really seemed like this was ghostwritten by someone else, with his name just added in at the end. The style was obviously different at the outset. While it still is a good read, it’s just not what you would expect. Whether it’s Baldacci trying something different or a mismatched ghostwriting attempt, it definitely affects the reading experience.

Who Should Read It:

If you’ve come this far in the Will Robie series, give The Guilty a shot. It’s a good addition to the story. Anyone who enjoys crime fiction and mysteries will also like The Guilty – at its core, it is a murder mystery.

Who Should Avoid:

If the recent David Baldacci books haven’t been meeting your expectations, I suspect this one too would do the same. Best to avoid if you’re not a fan of Baldacci, the Robie series, or mysteries in general.

Read It For:

The continuation of Will Robie and Jessica Reel’s story. (Really, at this point, it looks like the series is moving to a conclusion on their characters and storylines, after the event in Book #1, which was the catalyst for the change in the status quo.)

Although The Guilty wasn’t as great as I’d hoped, I’m still going to see the series through. And then move on to completing the Amos Decker series (which I hope to God is maintaining its quality). Share your thoughts on all these series and Baldacci, or any of your favorite books, in the comments below.

And as always, thanks for stopping at The Book Review Station and reading this review!

– Rishika

Posted in All Book Reviews, Crime fiction, Mystery, Thrillers

Book Review: You Were Gone (By Tim Weaver)

If you’ve been reading the last few reviews on this site, you would’ve noticed that Tim Weaver’s name and books have popped up quite often. I’d read a couple of his books a while ago and sort of re-discovered him more recently. And since then, his series has been getting more and more interesting. Which is why his books have become a ‘comfort read’ for me. I know that they’ll move fast and be interesting, but most of all, I love seeing the development of David Raker (the leading character).

There is, of course, always the question, “What if this isn’t as good as the previous ones?” But for the most part, Tim Weaver’s David Raker series has been consistently good.

Now that that explanation for why I’ve been devouring the David Raker series is out of the way, let’s come to You Were Gone – the ninth book in the series. Was this the book that broke the streak of ‘consistently good’? Read on to find out.

Genre: 

Thriller

Length: 

483 pages

Blurb:

When David Raker had to watch his wife slowly be consumed by the cancer that eventually took her life, he felt a part of him die too. He coped by choosing to become a missing persons investigator and helping others find closure. His work soon became an obsession, one that had repercussions on his health, and his doctor warned him that it could push him over the edge.

But years after Raker buries his wife, a woman walks into a police station, and tells them she’s been missing for eight years. She has no ID, no phone – only the name of her husband – David Raker. When Raker is called in by the DI, he finds himself looking at the woman who looks exactly like his dead wife and who knows intimate details of their marriage. She claims that Raker had a breakdown, that she had never died. And Raker is forced to question whether he knows his own truth at all. Did Derryn really die? Or is everything he knows… and lived… a lie created by his own fragile sanity?

Overall Rating:

10 out of 10

Plot:

10 out of 10

Characterization:

10 out of 10

Primary Element:

9 out of 10 for its thrill, 10 out of 10 for its mystery

Writing Style:

10 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

Yep, this is Book #9 in the David Raker series. While I have read reviews on Goodreads that say readers enjoyed this as a standalone, they did state that it took a couple chapters to get into it because of not having read the previous books. I’d definitely recommend starting from the first book, but if you’re just looking for an interesting read, this would work as a standalone too. You can find reviews of the previous book on this site too.

Highlighted Takeaway:

You Were Gone will make you question everything you believe about David Raker, leaving you in the same conundrum as the main character, and wondering if you’ve trusted the wrong (fictional) person all these years.

What I Liked:

Raker’s vulnerability and fragility, mentally and emotionally, is depicted really well, making it really easy to associate with him. At the same time, you find yourself questioning what you’ve known so far while also wondering about the truth. The mystery unfolds well, keeping the suspense going even as things get resolved along the way. Overall, the book moves fast, hits hard (emotionally), and keeps you turning the pages late into the night.

What I Didn’t Like:

There was nothing I can point out as having disliked. Like its preceding books, You Were Gone was an incredibly interesting and absorbing read.

Who Should Read It:

Anyone who loves thrillers and mysteries will like Tim Weaver’s work, including You Were Gone and its prequels. The David Raker series remains one of my favorites, book after book.

Who Should Avoid:

If you’re not a fan of mysteries, cold case books, or thrillers, or hate picking up books mid-series, I’d recommend avoiding this one.

Read It For:

The most personal case David Raker has ever found himself in.

As you may have realized by now, I’m definitely going to be finishing the David Raker series soon, finally catching up to the latest releases. I’ve got The Shadow at my Door bought and ready, but will buy and read No One Home prior to starting that (as I would like to go through this series in order).

In the meanwhile, I’m reading other authors (of course!). So stay tuned for more reviews coming up very soon. And as always, thanks for stopping by and checking out the posts on The Book Review Station!

– Rishika

Posted in All Book Reviews, Crime fiction, Mystery, Thrillers

Book Review: The Chase (By Candice Fox)

A big thanks to NetGalley for an ARC of The Chase by Candice Fox. The blurb of the book was really interesting and I got into it as soon as I received the book. So, without further ado, let’s get into what it’s about, what works, what doesn’t, and why you should (or shouldn’t) read this book.

Genre: 

Mystery/Thriller

Length:

432 pages 

Blurb:

John Kradle is on death row for the murder of his wife, son, and sister-in-law. The Supervisor in charge of the row, Celine Osbourne, has always had a special hatred for him. And when a hostage situation leads to all 600 of the Pronghorn Correctional Facility inmates going free, Celine is determined to capture Kradle on priority. But Kradle is determined to stay one step ahead – because this is his last and only chance to prove his innocence. While other departments swoop in to help with one of the biggest manhunts in US history and chase down some of the most dangerous criminals ever captured, Celine and Kradle become entrenched in a game of cat-and-mouse. Is Kradle really innocent? Will Celine’s past keep her from seeing the truth, whatever that may be? And how many innocents will die before the manhunt comes to a successful end?

Overall Rating:

6.5 out of 10

Plot:

7 out of 10

Characterization:

5 out of 10

Primary Element:

9 out of 10 for its mystery; 7 out of 10 for its thrill

Writing Style:

6 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

No. Although, it could become the first of a series.

Highlighted Takeaway:

Candice Fox weaves an engaging tale of how personal demons and traumas can both make and break people, influencing everything big and small that they do.

What I Liked:

The main story – that of John Kradle, Celine Osbourne, and their interactions – was the most interesting part of The Chase. While the rest of the book covered the other criminals’ storylines, with a large part of the book focusing on non-Kradle stuff, the main pitch remained the strongest.

What I Didn’t Like:

While the characterization of Osbourne and Kradle was good (with Kradle’s being better), I found the rest of the characters to be very limited. Plus, some of the characters were incredibly unlikeable and, in my opinion, probably more so than intended. There were so many story arcs that the book couldn’t really get into too much detail of anyone, but at the same time tried to share a lot of information. The end result was that the story seemed very choppy in quite a few places, being more ‘telling’ than ‘showing’.

Who Should Read It:

Anyone who likes manhunt-style stories will definitely enjoy The Chase. You’ll probably also like it if you like the ‘justice seeking vigilante’ stories. I read The Chase without too many breaks – it moved along briskly, kept me engaged, and definitely kept me wanting to discover the truth. In spite of the few issues it had, it was an interesting read and I’d definitely read more from Candice Fox.

Who Should Avoid:

If you don’t like stories that have numerous arcs, multiple storylines, and a few unstable characters, I’d recommend avoiding this one.

Read It For:

A fast-moving, easy-to-read page-turner that is perfect as a travel-time read or to curl up with while the storm rages on outside.

Got any book recommendations for new or old thrillers that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below. And, as always, thank you for taking the time to stop by the Book Review Station and read my review!

– Rishika

Posted in All Book Reviews, Mystery, Thrillers

Book Review: Origin (By Dan Brown)

Dan Brown’s Origin seems to leave readers harshly divided. You either hate it or love it. That happens to be true for most of his books, though. I had really enjoyed The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. I remember his other books being alright. They had some good parts and some pretty ridiculous ones.

Origin, though, was a different kind of ‘alright’. And in the interest of sharing all my thoughts (which, I admit, are a bit all over the place), I’m making this review a little different. Read on to know more!

Genre: 

Mystery, Thriller

Length: 

456 pages

Blurb:

Futurist, billionaire, and Robert Langdon’s old student, Edmond Kirsch, is hosting a major announcement at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Langdon and a closely vetted list of exclusive guests have been invited to the event that little is known about but that has promised to “change the world of science and religion forever”. Kirsch’s announcement aims to answer two of human existence’s fundamental questions. But the presentation turns out to be much more controversial than expected, threatening the very foundation of all religion. But Kirsch is assassinated in the moments before his big announcement. As chaos erupts, Langdon finds himself forced to escape Bilbao. With him is the beautiful Ambra Vidal – fiancée of the Crown Prince of Spain and Director of the museum who helped Kirsch put the presentation together. They both attempt to uncover and release Kirsch’s mysterious discovery before it is lost forever. But the man who assassinated Kirsch will stop at nothing to keep the announcement unaired. And that is not the only obstacle in Langdon and Vidal’s way as they traverse the world of enigmatic symbols and modern art… all in an attempt to avenge their dead friend and ensure that his discovery is made public.

Overall Rating:

3 out of 10

The Review:

Let’s jump right into it!

Dan Brown’s Origin is okay at best. It’s really, really slow throughout. Sure there’s some action going on. But the entire premise is how Kirsch would answer two crucial questions:

  • Where did we come from?
  • Where are we going?

Except, because of how often these questions are posed in an attempt to generate excitement in the reader… you simply end up not caring.

I mean, by the time I was a few chapters in, my feelings could be summarized as, “Interesting premise. Too bad I don’t give too much of a damn about finding the answers.”

But!

It does just enough to keep you sort of interested to see it to the end. Which is also a bit of a letdown after all that hype. The book definitely has action – murders, conspiracy, and suspense. But its pace just doesn’t allow you to really get into it. The story itself is okay, with different arcs running in parallel as they often do in dan Brown’s work. It attempts to build a lot of hype as it heads to its climax, only to fall pretty flat. If you’re a big Robert Langdon fan, you might enjoy Origin. Although, if you love the art that the Langdon books focus on, you might want to skip this one, which is based more on modern art.

I’m definitely disappointed at how this turned out, even though I hadn’t gotten into it with high expectations in the first place. It was the first book I picked up in 2022 and was a slow start to the year for sure. But I’ve got other books lined up (and read) so more reviews are definitely coming up soon.

Share your thoughts on Dan Brown, his books, and his characters in the comments below. And as always, thanks for stopping by The Book Review Station and reading this review!

– Rishika

Posted in All Book Reviews, Mystery, Thrillers

Book Review: I Am Missing (By Tim Weaver)

Missing persons investigator, David Raker, returns in I Am Missing. Except, this time, the case he’s presented with is not like anything he’s ever worked on.

I am a big fan of the David Raker series. Its chilling, fast-paced books have always been my ‘comfort reads’. While not all have been great, the series does a fantastic job of keeping the quality of almost every subsequent book as high as its predecessor. So, unsurprisingly, I went into I Am Missing with high expectations. Read on to know if they were met.

Genre:

Thriller

Length:

519 pages 

Blurb:

David Raker is presented with an unusual case – the person who hires him, wants him to find none other than himself. Richard Kite has no memory of who he is or where he came from. Nor of how he ended up beaten and bruised by the shore. The media named him ‘The Lost Man’. He assumed the name ‘Richard Kite’. Months later, in spite of media coverage and police investigations, Kite still has no answers. Which is why he turns to Raker. Now Raker needs to find out just who Kite is, why no one knows or remembers him, and what may connect him to a two-year-old, unsolved murder. As Raker delves deeper into the case, he’s faced with growing threats, and a single question – is Richard Kite a victim… or murderer?

Overall Rating:

10 out of 10

Plot:

10 out of 10

Characterization:

10 out of 10

Primary Element:

10 out of 10 for its thrill and its mystery

Writing Style:

10 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

Yes, this is Book No. 8 in the David Raker series. While the story will probably be an interesting read as a stand-alone, it is best read on order, especially if you really want to know what makes Raker who he is. Reviews for all the previous books in the series are available on the website.

Highlighted Takeaway:

In part wonderfully creepy and in part delightfully suspenseful, I Am Missing offers a unique take on missing-person mysteries that keeps you turning the pages relentlessly.

What I Liked:

The ‘past’ section of the book really gets quite under your skin, giving you the thrill that is typical of Tim Weaver’s work. Combined with the suspense and twist-filled ‘present’, you get a thriller that ties in multiple arcs really well and leaves you guessing until the end. Also, although the book is quite lengthy, it actually moves really quickly, not dragging at any point.

What I Didn’t Like:

There is nothing specific to dislike in I Am Missing. Although a part of it may seem fantastical, it actually provides convincing context.

Who Should Read It:

Anyone who enjoys thrillers set in small towns, and anyone who has read (or not read) any of the Raker books. While it may be best read in order, many first-time Tim Weaver readers have found I Am Missing to be a perfect starting point.

Who Should Avoid:

Anyone who doesn’t enjoy thrillers.

Read It For:

David Raker’s attempt and efforts at solving a case so different from his norm, and so very twisted.

Tim Weaver’s David Raker books continue to remain one of my favorite thriller series. I will definitely be reading the few remaining in the series, and would strongly recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a new thriller/mystery series or just a standalone book or two in the genre.

As always, thank you for stopping by The Book Review Station and reading my review! Got something to share? Drop us a line in the comments section below!

– Rishika

Posted in All Book Reviews, Thrillers

Book Review: The Target (By David Baldacci)

Happy New Year!

I am incredibly late to the wishes as well as to posting book reviews. In all honesty, I have been occupied with reading and trying to get back into the groove of working on my ongoing novel.

But! Here we are – and although we’re more than a month into 2022, I’m starting this year’s reviews off with the book that took up most of December 2021 for me.

Will Robie and Jessica Reel return in The Target. After the introduction of Jessica Reel in The Hit, and the related growth of Robie’s character, the series became one that I definitely wanted to follow.

Unfortunately, The Target didn’t keep the momentum going as expected. It had some stuff really going for it, but other stuff that seemed just… blah. So is it worth reading, whether to just continue the series or otherwise? Read on to know.

Genre: 

Political Thriller

Length: 

420 pages

Blurb:

Jessica Reel and Will Robie aren’t in the best position with the Head of the CIA after recent events. Yet, when a mission of utmost importance arises – one that is against every rule in the book – Reel and Robie’s skills make them the go-to team. First, though, they need to pass rigorous training so that the CIA can trust them again. Even as they face grueling routines, plainly designed to break them, people from Reel’s past return, thirsty for revenge. Will Reel and Robie make it through their ordeal? What mission lies ahead for them if they do? Or will none of that matter as Reel’s past and her and Robie’s present clash?

Overall Rating:

4 out of 10

Plot:

4 out of 10 (some plot lines were more around 1 out of 10, while others were around 8, so I’m including a sort-of average)

Characterization:

7 out of 10, especially for the character growth

Primary Element:

4 out of 10 for its thrill, because the story tended to be a hotch-potch rather than a well-woven tale of different arcs.

Writing Style:

6 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

Yes, this is Book 3 in the Will Robie series. Check out the details and reviews of Book #1, The Innocent, here and Book #2, The Hit, here.

Highlighted Takeaway:

Although most of the arcs are easy to forget, The Target brings forth Reel’s very interesting past, making it that much easier to root for her.

What I Liked:

The development of Jessica Reel’s story and its tie-in to the present, as well as the growth of the other characters.

What I Didn’t Like:

Other than Reel’s story, the book is just okay. The multiple plot lines are, surprisingly for a Baldacci book, extremely disjointed. While the end result is satisfying enough, it’s a bumpy road to get there.

Who Should Read It:

If you enjoy the Will Robie series, you should read The Target. While it may not be the best in the series, it is instrumental in following the development of the characters.

Who Should Avoid:

If you’re looking to start a new David Baldacci series, the Will Robie one (including The Target) may be best avoided.

Read It For:

A bridge between the rest of the Will Robie books, and the history of Jessica Reel.

I was genuinely disappointed at how The Target did not hold its own before its prequels. While Will Robie isn’t my favorite Baldacci character, I had grown to like his series, especially the addition of Jessica Reel. The weak storyline as well as lack of interconnectedness made it little more than an average read. I’ll still continue with the series, of course, but I can only hope that the next one is better.

And, most importantly, I’m so very, very glad that this wasn’t the book on which I ended 2021. This ended up being the second-to-last one of the year, with Tim Weaver’s I Am Missing being the last. Book review of that thriller will be up very soon!

As always, thanks for stopping by The Book Review Station and reading my review!

Rishika

Posted in Author Interviews

Author Interview: Robert McCaw

Robert McCaw has been a math major, Second Lieutenant in the Army, and a lawyer (for over 40 years). The common thread that motivated him through it all was a love of solving complex puzzles. When he first visited Hawai’i, he fell in love with the place. Repeated visits to Hawai’i allowed him to pursue another interest – astronomy. With a second home in Hawai’i and intrigued by the richness of the land and people, he studied the culture, history, and language of the region.

He was still actively pursuing his legal practice when he first began to write. His first novel was completed only after retirement though, when he was able to dedicate more time to it. And just like that, he found something else he loved to do. His first novel, Death of a Messenger, introduced Hawai’ian Chief Detective Koa Kāne, whose adventures continue in Off the Grid and Fire and Vengeance. The series is one of the most unique and interesting mystery ones out there.

The latest Koa Kāne mystery, Treachery Times Two, releases on 4 January 2022. You can check out the review of the book, which is one of the best in the series, here. Ahead of its release, we interviewed Robert McCaw and got his thoughts on writing, publishing, the home of Koa Kāne, and a preview of what to expect from the upcoming book.

Rishika S.: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Robert McCaw: As an army brat growing up around the world, I had opportunities early in life to experience cultures other than my own. As a young adult, I graduated from Georgetown University as a math major, served in the US Army as an artillery officer, and, upon leaving the military, decided upon a legal career, earning my law degree from the University of Virginia (UVA).  In retrospect, I’ve come to understand that the intensity and professionalism I experienced in the Army and at UVA Law became the foundation upon which I built a formidable legal career.  Coincident with my chosen profession, I had the opportunity to visit Hawai’i, where I became fascinated with the Islands’ geography, history, and culture.  Over the years, I went back time and time again before establishing a second home on the Big Island. For more than twenty years, I made it a point to travel Hawai’i’s back roads and absorb its unique topography ranging from lava moonscapes to snow-covered volcanic summits.  I “talked story” with real Hawaiians and generally fell in love with this complex Pacific “paradise.”  And, now, I pour all that fascinated me into the Koa Kāne series of mystery novels.

Rishika S.: You have written four books in the Koa Kāne series. Tell us a little bit about how this series came to be, especially the inspirations behind the setting and the character of Koa.

Robert McCaw: The more I learned about Hawaiʻi, the more I felt compelled to write about the “real Hawaiʻi,” far from the tourist haunts of West Maui and Waikiki. My law practice involved litigation and criminal law – with lots of factual investigation – and I have always loved mysteries. So, I decided to share my love of Hawaiʻi through detective stories and thus created the character of Koa Kāne, Chief Detective of the Hilo, Hawaiʻi police force. He is a pure native Hawaiian with his own personal criminal backstory. His backstory makes him unique, motivates his compulsion to hunt down killers, and explains his fear that a perp might outsmart him as he had once outwitted the police.

Rishika S.: You’ve got a new Koa Kāne book coming out soon – can you tell us a little bit about that?

Robert McCaw: Treachery Times Two (January 2022) weaves together two stories. In one, Koa Kāne’s criminal past comes back to haunt him. The other involves an effort to sabotage Deimos, an American military superweapon under development at the Pōhakuloa Army Training Area in the saddle lands between the Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes on the Big Island. In the first story, events force Koa to revisit the circumstances of his own crime as, step-by-step, his carefully constructed cover-up unravels until another man is falsely accused. Koa must ultimately face the possibility that an innocent will go to prison for a crime that Koa committed. The second story throws Koa into the midst of an FBI espionage investigation. The deeper Koa digs, the more he realizes the possibility that the Feds are not telling all they know.

Rishika S.: What do you love the most about the Hawaiian culture?

Robert McCaw: I have a special affection for the spoken Hawaiian language, which is lyrical and quite beautiful. I think of it as a recovered gem. In 1896, after the US takeover of the Islands, the territorial government banned the use of native Hawaiian in schools and government offices, and many Hawaiian elders recall being punished for speaking their native language in these settings. According to the University of Hawaii Foundation, in 1985 – some 90 years after the government banned Hawaiian in schools – only 32 children in the Islands spoke Hawaiian. Fortunately, there’s been a renaissance in all things Hawaiian in recent years, and the Hawaiian state constitution now protects the study of this musical language. Today, people throughout the Islands speak their native language.

Rishika S.: Let’s talk a little about writing in general. What was the final push that made you decide that it was time to write that first novel? And what was the experience like?

Robert McCaw: The genesis and ultimate publication of Death of a Messenger, the first Koa Kāne novel, is somewhat complicated, beginning some twenty years ago. That’s when I first started writing fiction. Back then, I had an extremely active law practice and wrote only intermittently, grabbing a few hours a week while traveling or on vacation. Only when I hung up my shingle did I get serious about finishing and publishing the first story, which had incubated for more than twenty years. My mother and my wife Calli were instrumental in encouraging me to get over the finish line, and for that, I’m most grateful.

Rishika S.: Has the experience changed over time? In what way – good and bad? And what drives you to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) day after day?

Robert McCaw: Lots has changed over time. Foremost among those changes was my transformation from legal writing – where the author has little control over the facts – to novelist where I could make up the facts to fit the story I wanted to tell. Over time, my imaginary characters became ever more real, growing and evolving like real people. With experience, I began to “see” scenes like they were on a movie screen playing in my mind. Lastly, the writer’s tools have gotten better. The Scrivener software I now use allows me to reorder scenes effortlessly, and Grammarly goes far beyond early spell-checking programs. And, the “read aloud” feature of Word is a marvelous proofreading aid.

The book-selling process in today’s world brings both joy and pain. Publishers, large and small, expect authors to play a significant role in promoting their books. As a result, I meet fascinating people and am privileged to engage with readers, something I love to do. On the other hand, while necessary in our virtual age, social media is a royal pain.

Creativity drives me to the keyboard. There is something immensely satisfying about crafting a story that excites readers and hopefully leaves them with a better understanding of the setting’s people, geography, and history.

Rishika S.: Can you tell us a little about the ‘business behind the creativity’ regarding getting published, working with agents and publishers, and your thoughts on the practical stuff involved after the writing?

Robert McCaw: Getting published is easy. Anyone can self-publish an e-book on Amazon with little or no cost. The difficulty is in achieving quality publication and a system of distribution. Quality requires careful editing, formatting, proofreading, and cover and jacket design. Distribution beyond e-books requires a publisher, distributor, provision for shipment and returns, and lots of publicity. One can purchase these services but only at considerable expense.

Finding a publisher who will assume most or all of these costs and pay a royalty is tough. In this endeavor, an agent can be invaluable. But make no mistake, both finding an agent and securing a publisher are daunting, especially for new authors. I got lucky that Mel Parker, an experienced and highly qualified agent, Pat and Bob Gussin at Oceanview Publishing, a terrific specialty publisher, and Fauzia Burke of FSB Associates, one of the best literary social media publicity firms in the country, had faith in my work.

Rishika S.: What is the one thing you love and one thing you hate about being an author?

Robert McCaw: I love plot twists and hate proofreading.

Rishika S.: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Robert McCaw: Be authentic. Write what you know. Find a trusted editor to improve your work. And lastly, don’t give up.

Rishika S.: Is there anything else you would like to share with our audience?

Robert McCaw: I have long believed that to reach your highest potential, you must do something you love. That may be even more true for writers than in other fields of endeavor.

If you’d like to pre-order Treachery Times Two (and you definitely should if you like mysteries and thrillers), you can do so from many different stores here.

As always, thank you for stopping by The Book Review Station; we hope you enjoyed reading the amazing tips and insights from Robert McCaw.

Posted in Author Interviews

Author Interview: Robert J. Harris

Scotland author, Robert J. Harris (born in Dundee, settled in St. Andrews) has been a bartender, a game creator, and an author (among other things). Having co-written novels and short stories with Jane Yolen, including Queen’s Own Fool and the Young Heroes book series, Harris had his first solo novel – Leonardo and the Death Machine – published by Harper Collins in 2005. His latest novel is A Study in Crimson (read its review here), where he reimagines Sherlock Holmes in 1942 London.

So, without further ado, let’s jump into discussing writing, publishing, and everything else with Robert J. Harris.

Rishika S.: Tell us a little about yourself.

Robert J. Harris: I am a Scotsman married to a fabulous American lady. We live in St. Andrews, Scotland, where we met as grad students and have three grown-up sons. My wife Debby became a published author while I was creating my very successful board game Talisman. Later, our friend Jane Yolen took me under her wing and made a writer out of me. I enjoy a good cigar, a fine whisky, and listening to the Blues. My sporting activities consist of highly competitive croquet and petanque (French boules).

Rishika S.: What are the genres you love reading and that you enjoy writing?

Robert J. Harris: As a teenager, I read almost nothing but science fiction. As a student, I branched out into classic Russian and American literature. Later still I finally discovered Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and other great writers. Most recently I have been reading classic Scottish authors Scott, Stevenson, Conan  Doyle, and Buchan. Like any civilized person, I enjoy a good mystery and am absorbed in the novels of Fred Vargas and Christopher Fowler.

I consider myself to be a writer of adventure stories for all ages, now mostly for grown-ups. I feel I am following in the tradition of the four Scottish authors mentioned above, to whom I should add Alistair MacLean.

Rishika S.: Is there one (or two) of your books that you absolutely loved writing (or that’s closest to your heart)?

Robert J. Harris: My second novel, ‘Will Shakespeare and the Pirate’s Fire,’ was a real pleasure, as I immersed myself in Shakespeare’s plays while writing it. That was a very enriching experience and I felt inspired all throughout the writing of the novel. Aside from that, my favorite is always the current one, in this case, my second Sherlock Holmes novel ‘The Devil’s Blaze.’

Rishika S.: Who are your favorite authors, and what have you learned from them that you have tried to imbibe (or successfully imbibed) in your own writing?

Robert J. Harris: My first writing was done in collaboration with my great friend Jane Yolen. From her, amongst other things, I learned the importance of interior landscaping, making the personality and history of the main character part of the texture of the novel. My favorite mystery writer is John Dickson Carr often called the master of the impossible crime. He inspired me to create impossible crimes of my own, such as the activities of an invisible thief in ‘Artie Conan Doyle and the Scarlet Phantom,’ and the two mini locked room mysteries that feature in ‘A Study in Crimson.’

Rishika S.: Who are your favorite literary characters and who are the ones you most dislike, and why?

Robert J. Harris: The best characters are to be found in Dickens. My favorite is Sam Weller in ‘The Pickwick Papers.’ On the other hand, it is very hard not to dislike intensely Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop.

Rishika S.: What do you like the most and hate the most about the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as they were originally created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?

Robert J. Harris: I like the fact that there is a spark to their relationship and that Watson is occasionally able to score a point off Holmes by puncturing his vanity. Holmes is sometimes rather mean to Watson, but that too is part of the charm of the stories and there is never any doubt of the affection and respect they feel for each other.

Rishika S.: Tell us the one thing you love and one thing you hate about the process of writing.

Robert J. Harris: I love it when I am on a rush of inspiration and the words are flashing through my mind faster than I can type. On the other hand, there is the odd day when I stare at a blank screen and can’t think of what comes next. Best thing then is to go away and do something else for a while.

Rishika S.: You have worked on books individually and also as a co-writer. What is the biggest positive and biggest negative difference between the two?

Robert J. Harris: It’s very stimulating to toss ideas back and forth with another author and to hear them come up with ideas you hadn’t thought of yourself. There’s a lot to be learned that way. Writing by yourself gives you great freedom but doesn’t come with the security of having somebody else to blame.

Rishika S.: Tell us a little about what it’s like being married to another author. How do you help each other out and drive each other up the wall (if at all)?

Robert J. Harris: It’s great to have my own personal editor here in the house to give me advice and encouragement. That said, Debby is my most demanding editor, sometimes to the point of actual cruelty.

Rishika S.: Which of your past books would you say is your best work and why?

Robert J. Harris: A number of people have told me that ‘A Study in Crimson’ is the best novel I have written to date. Who am I to argue?

Rishika S.: What are some upcoming projects you’re working on as an author?

Robert J. Harris: I have just completed a second Sherlock Holmes novel (The Devil’s Blaze: Sherlock Holmes 1943). I am currently working on ‘Redfalcon’, the third of my Richard Hannay Returns trilogy which began with ‘The Thirty-One Kings’. For the future, I have in mind a medieval murder mystery and two cinema-related detective novels set in the 1960s.

Rishika S.: Tell us a little bit about the games you’ve created.

Robert J. Harris: Talisman is based on a game I made at high school in which the players are all teachers out to become head of the school. When I started playing Dungeons & Dragons at university, I had the idea of changing that game into one where the players are warriors, wizards, etc. seeking to become the ruler of a magical land. I later created another fantasy game Mythgardia which has a long and complex history. I self-published a limited edition of this and am still hoping to find a proper publisher.

Rishika S.: Are you working on any new games?

Robert J. Harris: No, I’m too busy writing novels, and I already have some games to offer around.

Rishika S.: Any books that you would recommend emerging writers as a ‘must-read’?

Robert J. Harris: That’s a bit of a tall order. I can recommend a mixed bag of books by authors I am friends with, which are favorite books of mine by favorite people. I know that they have all had their struggles and yet have produced these marvelous stories.

  • The Mysteries by Lisa Tuttle (genre-bending detective story)
  • Dark Lord: The Teenage Years by Jamie Thompson (hilarious teen fantasy)
  • Walking Mountain by Joan Lennon (wonderfully imaginative tale)
  • The Dark Side by Anthony O’Neill (lunar murder mystery)
  • The Unscratchables by Cornelius Kane (a dog and cat detective team investigate brutal murders in Kathattan)

Rishika S.: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give someone trying to cut it as an author on each topic – the activity of writing and on the publishing industry as a whole?

Robert J. Harris: Don’t be afraid to write badly. Get a flow going so that you write your story through to the end. Then you can go back and polish it. Second, don’t be discouraged by rejection, and don’t get too caught up in the reasons publishers give for rejecting your work. These are sometimes quite random.

Rishika S.: Would you like to share anything else with our readers?

Robert J. Harris: If they go to www.quantumfridge.org.uk they will find a series of comedy podcasts co-written and produced by myself and my friend Alan McFadzean and performed by our marvelous cast The Peak Performance Players. The shows are:

  • Watch the Skies! (eccentric scientists protect the Earth from alien invasion)
  • The Adventures of Saffron Star (space opera with a glamorous heroine)
  • Jack Standish the British Lion (two-fisted spy stories)
  • Backlash (the president of a newly created country comes up with various schemes to finance his miniscule nation)

We hope you enjoyed this insight into Robert J. Harris. To know more about him and his other works, you can check out his website at http://www.harris-authors.com. You can also follow him on Goodreads here. As always, thank you for stopping by The Book Review Station and reading this author interview.



Posted in All Book Reviews, Crime fiction, Science fiction, Thrillers

Book Review: The Remember Experiment (By Joanne Elder)

Big thanks to Voracious Readers Only for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Remember Experiment brought together two things that I find interesting – the concept of reincarnation and serial killer thrillers. So obviously I went in with quite a few expectations. Did the books meet those expectations? Read on to know!

Genre: 

Thriller, Sci-fi

Length: 

335 pages

Blurb:

Jake Monroe is a PhD. student working with nanobots. He becomes instrumental in the first experimental treatment on an Alzheimer’s patient. But the results of the treatment are barely in when Jake finds himself being injected by experimental nanobots. Slightly different than the ones used on his patient, the nanobots have an unexpected reaction – Jake begins to have horrifying memories of being murdered in a past life. As he attempts to find out who could have injected him with the experimental tech, his memories continue to grow… until he remembers that the person he used to be, was a serial killer. Framed for theft of nanotech worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, facing terrible effects of the unexpected procedure, and with his past and present clashing together, Jake begins to question reality, and his sanity. Will he find answers to the unending list of questions plaguing him? Or will the strange impulses taking over him, changing him, finally win and turn him into something – or someone – capable of horrific things?

Overall Rating:

7 out of 10

Plot:

7 out of 10

Characterization:

8 out of 10 for most of the characters; 5 out of 10 for one specific character whose arc was more convenient than convincing

Primary Element:

6 out of 10 for its thrill and sci-fi

Writing Style:

8 out of 10

Part of a Series:

Maybe. Although this is currently a standalone and the book does not end on a cliffhanger, it definitely ends with potential for a series.

Highlighted Takeaway:

An interesting and not-too-often-done concept coupled with the much-loved serial killer thriller theme makes for an intriguing premise that is well explored.

What I Liked:

Some of the scenes, especially those that referred to Jake’s nightmares and memories, were done really well – pulling you right in. The story itself is interesting, and the premise is intriguing.

What I Didn’t Like:

The story, although not too long at 335 pages, definitely seemed a lot longer. There were times where it seemed like it just wouldn’t get to the point. The blurb on Voracious Readers Only and Goodreads also point to an aspect of the story that is made to seem a lot more central than it actually is. That set inaccurate expectations from the story, which was possibly why I felt like it moved slow. Also, a couple of the characters were terribly unlikable, and they weren’t actually meant to be unlikable. That is where I felt the characterization wasn’t as good as in other places.

Who Should Read It:

If you enjoy psychological thrillers or thrillers where the main character tries to make sense of not just what’s happening to them, but also what they’re experiencing (emotionally, physically, mentally), you’ll probably enjoy The Remember Experiment. It’s more about that than the actual serial killer theme.

Who Should Avoid:

If you are firmly against the idea of reincarnation, then I would strongly recommend avoiding The Remember Experiment. It definitely assumes the existence of the concept (although, to be very honest, its implementation has been very different than everything I’ve read on the topic).

Read It For:

The odd mix of reincarnation, sci-fi, and a serial killer theme, which manages to make an interesting tale.

If you’re an avid reader and enjoy reviewing books on Goodreads, Amazon, or other portals, check out Voracious Readers Only. And drop a comment below if you’d like to share anything about the site that’s bringing readers and authors together or Joanne Elder’s The Remember Experiment.

And as always, thank you for stopping by The Book Review Station and reading this review!

– Rishika