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Review: The Fix (By David Baldacci)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 428 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Amos Decker, the man who forgets nothing and who has just about managed to bring his life back on track, is walking along outside the FBI Headquarters. In front of him is Walter Dabney, a well-respected family man, and patriot who has built a successful business consulting on government projects. Everything seems normal. Until Dabney shoots Anne Berkshire, a high school substitute teacher in the head, and then himself.

The special FBI team of which Decker is a part is assigned the case. But they can find no connection between the killer and victim. And yet Decker can’t believe that anything about the shooting was random. Then Agent Harper Brown of the Defense Intelligence Agency orders Decker and his team off the case; the murder is part of an ongoing DIA investigation for which they aren’t cleared and which has now become an urgent matter of national security.

Unfortunately for Brown, Decker doesn’t care about rules. He only cares about finding the truth. Forced into a shaky alliance, Decker, his team, and Brown work against the clock to discover the truth behind the shooting and the connection between Dabney and Berkshire. The right steps will help them save the nation from an impending attack of unprecedented proportions. A wrong or delayed step leaves the nation vulnerable to an unknown but dangerous and armed enemy. Time and luck are against them; and this time, even Decker’s famous abilities may not be enough to solve the case.

The Bottom Line:

A compelling read that keeps you turning more for the combination of individual story and continuing (personal) story arc than just the story of Dabney and Berkshire themselves.

My review:

The Fix is the third book in the Amos Decker series. And it’s as good as its prequels. For more info on those, check out my review of Memory Man here, and The Last Mile here.

As with many of Baldacci’s works, The Fix takes a seemingly isolated incident and merges it with matters national and political angles. The book tackles the mystery of why Dabney killed Berkshire really well, slowly developing one angle into an elaborate story with an interesting political angle.

The characters are well fleshed out. They are very real, their human-ness being at the very core of everything that happens, and yet being something that isn’t made very obvious. That is what allows the story to unfold in the way that it does – the randomness and unpredictability that is inherent in people. And, this is more shown than told, making it seem all the more relatable.

The Fix introduces us to some new characters and re-introduces us to old ones too. One of the most appealing parts of the book was the development of the relationships between the characters, with each one really coming into their own. There is inevitable conflict, but there is also growth achieved by accepting and showcasing both vulnerabilities and strengths.

At the center of it all lies Amos Decker. A haunted hero if there ever was one, Decker is one of my favorite Baldacci characters. It can sometimes get annoying as to how much people expect from him. Or how much he takes on himself. But as the characters grow, the reasoning for this is also depicted. And it makes things a lot easier to understand and accept. In fact, it manages to give you new insight into a character who you may have considered easy to figure out, a character who can be painfully simply and oddly complex at the same time. But all within reason.

Overall, The Fix shows a lot of development in the arc continued across the series. The individual story is also very interesting. It does come across as a bit over the top at times. In retrospect, I realize that it’s not really about those seemingly fantastic parts. The story is about repercussions. And as a whole, it plays out well and makes for a difficult-to-put-down read.

I’d recommend The Fix to:

  • fans of Baldacci (this has enough background to be a standalone, but you may have a better experience if you read Memory Man and The Last Mile first)
  • anyone interested in getting started on a new series (The Amos Decker one is interesting, to say the least)
  • fans of political thrillers and crime fiction

Let us know what you thought about The Fix and why you love or hate Baldacci and/or Amos Decker. Shout out in the comments below!

Thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

Review: Never Rest (By Jon Richter)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 242 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Salvation Island has a disturbing history, one that has left a shroud of darkness over the island. Ex-police inspector, Chris Sigurdsson, had experienced this darkness first-hand when he’d spent one week on the island investigating a case. The week had left him with terrifying experiences that still haunted his memories. Now, five years later, he has left his police life behind to become a successful private detective with a good reputation.

Then Erina Brennan calls him. She tells him she wants his help in finding her estranged husband, David Lithgow. A writer suffering from bipolar disorder, Lithgow had gone to Salvation Island in search of inspiration. Erina had lost all contact with him days ago. Chris decides to explore the case a little more before taking it up, unable to resist the macabre pull of the mysterious island; and unable to deny his growing desire to meet Carin Mason, the police officer he’d worked with on the island case five years ago, the woman who he’d wanted to call after, but hadn’t.

When Chris reaches the island, he finds much more than he’d bargained for. Lithgow had hurled himself into the depths of the island’s terrifying past. Chris tries to make sense of what Lithgow had been doing before he’d disappeared in the hope that it would help him find the man. But he finds only growing chaos instead. Before he realizes, he gets pulled into a world of insanity where reality and fantasy, past and present begin to merge. And as Chris soon discovers, his mind is not the only thing he risks losing. Salvation Island has more secrets than anyone could have imagined. And someone is hell-bent on keeping them protected, even if it means killing anyone who discovers the truth.

The Bottom Line:

Terrifying at times while being a page-turner throughout, this book does extremely well until the very end where, in some ways, it falls short of excellent.

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and Bloodhound Books for an ARC of this book.

Never Rest is not for the faint of heart. It is chaotic, insane, and disturbing. Incredibly graphical, it does not just tell you about the madness inside someone’s mind, but takes you right into its depth. It starts and ends by making your skin crawl. And it keeps the pace up in between, too. Chaotic in a good way, it keeps pulling you into labyrinths of thoughts and ideas that mingle with reality, until the line begins to blur.

The characters are easy to associate with, while not being too two-dimensional. They’ve got some complexities, but are not highly complicated individuals, making them very relatable. There are aspects of the story (and to some of the characters) that, in retrospect, seem highly improbable. But this isn’t something you would notice in the flow of the story and, in fact, the oddity adds to the thrill of the tale.

The only part that left me wanting is the end. The story is well written and comfortably fleshed-out. But the end seems a bit hurried, leaving a few things unanswered and some things to the reader’s choice. While the latter isn’t a problem, a few pages extra may have made the former less of a problem.

There are three stories over three timelines referenced in the book. A disturbing past, Chris’ first case, and the current case. While the first and third are well explained, the second seems to only appear in brief mentions. As it turns out, this is because the second story is the main plot of Book 1 in the Chris Sigurdsson series (Deadly Burial). (Now I wish I’d read that first.) The end of Never Rest leaves you slightly dissatisfied because it leaves you with a lot of questions. The next book in the series will probably answer some of them (I hope).

The main thing I realized about the book is that it reminded me a lot of the work of Simon Beckett – specifically, Written in Bone (you can read my review of that great book here). It’s got this spooky, chaotic, disturbing feel that is hugely compelling and intriguing.

I’m going to read Richter’s first book, Deadly Burial, very soon. I don’t know if my experience with Never Rest would have been different had I read the first book before. What I do know is that you can read Never Rest as a standalone or start here at least, and other than a few things seeming random, you won’t really be lost.

Highly recommended to:

  • fans of Simon Beckett
  • fans of Tim Weaver
  • crime fiction and thriller fans
  • fans of psychological thrillers (this actually does check the boxes for both psychology and thriller)

Never Rest released on 30 March 2018, and is available in both paperback and Kindle editions. Let us know what you thought of Never Rest or Deadly Burial (or just say Hi!) in the comments below.

– Rishika

 

 

Review: The Chinaman (By Stephen Leather)

 

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 420 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A casual observer saw The Chinaman as little more than the owner of a small Chinese takeaway business in South London. That was the life he’d chosen when he was finally able to put behind him his years as a jungle-skilled, lethal assassin who had fought for the Viet Cong and the Americans. He had already watched two of his daughters being raped and killed by Thai pirates. So the hardworking, quiet life suited him, his wife, and only remaining daughter.

When his wife and daughter are murdered in an IRA bombing, he does what any law-abiding citizen would do – reaches out to the authorities. But he’s shunned by everyone he approaches, labeled a nuisance. That’s when The Chinaman realizes that his days of war aren’t truly behind him. And this time, he’s fighting for revenge.

The bottom line:

A hard-hitting, emotional, violent story that is much more than what its title suggests.

My review:

The first thing to know about The Chinaman is that it is intensely emotional, especially during the backstory of the titular character. But it is equally hard-hitting during scenes where other characters interact. You really feel for the characters because everyone has something going on beyond what the world within the book sees, and their constant turmoil is beautifully displayed.

The second thing to know about it is that it is extremely violent. There are moments when you just cannot accept the horrifying scenes unfolding in front of you as you read, and are yet are compelled to move ahead. There is no sugar-coating on death. It is displayed in all its ugliness, and in its raw, heart-wrenching honesty.

The story itself is much more than what the title claims. While the Chinaman is an integral part of it – the one who ties everything together – there is a lot more going on. A lot of people play pivotal roles in the development of the story, making it much more than a simple tale of revenge. It is built on the foundation of a political issue, but avoids being typical in its delivery when venturing into the political aspects. There is always something happening and it keeps you turning the pages.

Stephen Leather’s style is refreshing. It is strong and raw. It does not shy away from depicting the horrors of life and death. And he creates strong characters who, through their strengths, weaknesses, and flaws, are incredibly human. It is also extremely detailed, delving into the real technical aspects of skills possessed by the characters. Also, the book comes with a good amount of twists you don’t see coming.

There are only two things I thought could have been done differently. The first is the amount of detail at every step – that could have been reduced. I loved reading about the Chinaman’s skill, but it did get a bit monotonous after a while. I mean, I don’t have to know every step taken to make every single bomb. The second is the reactions that some of the characters had at certain moments. They seemed highly absurd and although these were explained at a later point, I still think that they could have been handled better. These few problems did reduce the overall quality of the reading experience for me.

What I like most about the book is that it isn’t black and white. It is various shades of gray where antagonists seem to have a good side, and protagonists carry out the most heinous of acts. And yet, they all seem to do what their lives force them to do, forever burdened or comfortable with their own actions.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Chinaman, and Stephen Leather’s style. I’m definitely going to be adding him to my list of authors to follow. I’d recommend the book to:

  • all readers who enjoy fiction
  • thriller and mystery fans

I read The Chinaman when I did because of the movie inspired by it and that was to hit the cinema sometime now. While I’m still not sure if it’s going to be screened at any cinema in my city (which is terribly upsetting because I would have loved to see the adaptation), I’m still glad it gave me an opportunity to discover Stephen Leather.

Read The Chinaman? Let us know what you thought of it in the comments below.

– Rishika

Review: The End of the World Running Club (By Adrian J. Walker)

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Source: Goodreads

 

Length: 464 pages

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Edgar Hill is an over-weight, lazy, and borderline alcoholic, who was a lacking husband to his wife, Beth, and just-about-there-father to his children, Alice and Arthur. Until the event that brings about the end of the world. When his wife and children end up at the other end of the country, Edgar knows that he needs to do whatever he can to get to them. There are no roads left and barely any vehicles, and the miles that stretch between him and his family are little more than a barren, dangerous wasteland. Edgar has only a few days to cross the barren and desolate remains of what had once been thriving cities. With no other option, he does the one thing he’s always hated – he starts running. Every second counts as Edgar pushes himself to put one foot in front of the other, every waking minute of every day. But is willpower enough? Will Edgar reach his family in time? Or will the lifestyle he’s always lived force him to fail and lose his wife and children forever?

The bottom line:

The End of the World Running Club is a highly typical post-apocalyptic novel that uses a unique angle, but fails in implementation due to poor characterization, a weak story-line, and lack of ingenuity other than in its basic premise.

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for a copy of this book!

The End of the World Running Club starts off really well. It’s really creepy, borderline horror, and hard hitting on emotion. Some parts of the entire story remain positive throughout. This includes a few characters who are likable and who remain as consistent as humanly possible. It is also descriptive enough to achieve a sense of intrigue, has a strong creepiness factor, and a very unique angle (running across the country to be with your family). Additionally, it reads fast enough and holds its suspense. The best part about the book, though, is the way it describes the act of running and the many emotional, physical, and mental aspects of it. These make for the more interesting parts of the story.

But the positive aspects aren’t really enough to make you ignore the many problems in the book. The main one would be Edgar Hill himself. Although the book is meant to be a journey of realization for him, his entire personality is downright annoying. He fluctuates between determined, whiny, and pathetic, and is too inconsistent to make any real impression. Furthermore, his relationship with his family is meant to be with its share of problems, yet strong. But it comes across as barely-existent, and that weakens the entire foundation of the story itself. As a result, you end up not really bothered about whether he actually achieves his goal or not.

Most of the other characters are annoying too. There is no consistency in the personalities of a majority of the characters, nor in the relationships they share with one another. And that makes their entire journey very tiresome to witness. It seems like Walker only made the characters say and do what he needed for the story to proceed a particular way. Often, that went against the personalities depicted until that point, and made them too random to associate with or even follow. While it did help the story proceed, it also led to it making less and less sense.

Another thing that doesn’t work for the book was its very commonplace elements. It has everything you expect from a post-apocalyptic thriller. It has the random murders, looting, gangs, and everything that you’ve seen before. While the running club aspect was innovative, that inventiveness doesn’t really extend into the other arcs of the book. So, you end up feeling like you’re reading something that you’ve either read or watched before (I found a strong resemblance between a few scenes from the book and scenes from the movie, The Book of Eli).

All in all, The End of the World Running Club has potential, but does not see it through. This book wouldn’t be very high on my list of recommendations for others. But, if I had to recommend it, it would be to:

  • die hard fans of post-apocalyptic novels
  • people who don’t really mind a loosely woven story

Let us know what you thought of this review and/or The End of the World Running Club in the comments below!

Review: The Lucky Ones (By Mark Edwards)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 380 pages

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Fiona had never been happier. In fact, today was the happiest day of her life. The only thing she didn’t know was that it was also the last day of her life.

Ben Hofland moves from London back to his small hometown of Shropshire after the discovery of his wife’s infidelity. Along with him is his eleven-year-old son who is struggling to come to terms with the separation and fit into this new life. Ben believes that the quietness of the town that had driven him away years ago is the very thing he needs to heal and build a new life for his son and himself.

Detective Inspector Imogen Evans had similar expectations when she left London, the city she’d grown up in, and its painful memories behind to move to Shropshire. The last thing she’d expected from the sleepy town was murder. But when another body turns up, Evans realizes that she’s dealing not only with murder but with a serial killer. And one who has already left three victims in picturesque locations with their eyes open and lips turned into frozen smiles of deadly bliss.

When Ben finds work and learns that his son’s bullies have decided to leave him alone, he finally feels like his bad luck has ended. That it’s finally time for him to have the happiness he deserves. But Ben has no idea that someone is watching him – someone who wants him to have much more than happiness. Someone who wants him to have eternal bliss. Will DI Evans be able to understand what drives the killer before he claims another life? Or will Ben pay the ultimate price for his happiness?

My take:

First off, I’d like to give a big ‘Thank You’ to NetGalley for a copy of this book and the opportunity to read (and review) it.

Now, to the book itself.

The Lucky Ones has all the right elements for a serial killer themed psychological thriller, and they’re all executed really well. It’s got great suspense with the end being quite unexpected. Even if you have figured out a part of it, there’s a whole lot more to the conclusion that you will not see coming. It’s got the right amount of gore, disturbing descriptions, and suspicious characters. And it’s got a relentless pace with something interesting happening on almost every page.

What I liked most about the book was the depth with which it went into the antagonist’s point of view. Many novels tend to have more implied explanations of why people do the things they do. But Edwards leaves nothing to your guessing capabilities. He lays it all out clearly, and that gives the story this rounded feel that I have always enjoyed. At the same time, it gives you insight into some seriously twisted ideologies that act as motivation for the antagonist’s actions. In fact, Edwards even goes on to say that the inspiration for this book was a conversation he’d overheard at a café. And this leaves you wondering just what people of our the world may be capable of thinking and doing.

All the characters are well-defined and you get a very real view of their struggles. Although protagonists, Ben and Evans have their own demons. Their decisions and emotions aren’t clearly segregated into black and white. Much like with most people in real life, they fall in a gray area. This realistic take on his characters adds good value to the book and allows you to relate with it on a much stronger level.

There were two aspects, though, that I thought could have been done better. There should have been more detail about how Ben and Imogen felt about their own emotional lives individually before that aspect abruptly appears in the latter part of the book (I would’ve called this a spoiler but c’mon… like you hadn’t already expected this angle to be present!). The second is that there were some parts, although not exclusively evident, that seemed to be missing depth. This was more of a feeling than a line or paragraph that I could point out – but the result was that it made certain parts of the story, and hence the book, stay just below the ‘this is brilliant’ line.

In spite of those problems, I would highly recommend The Lucky Ones to:

  • fans of thrillers, serial killer stories, crime fiction, and psychological thrillers
  • people interested in trying out a new author – Mark Edwards does not disappoint
  • people wanting to add a new author to their ‘I need to read all his books’ list

I’m definitely going to be reading more of Mark Edwards’ work. In fact, I’d had another of his books on my TBR pile for a while. Which is why I was even more excited when I got this book from NetGalley.

The Lucky Ones is expected to come out on June 15. Don’t miss this psychological thriller and let us know what you thought of the book and/or this review in the comments below!

– Rishika

 

 

Review: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (By Stieg Larsson)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 554 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Harriet Vanger disappeared without a trace forty years ago. Her uncle Henrik Vanger was the head of the Vanger Corporation, one of the largest and wealthiest business families of Sweden. Now retired and aged, he is still obsessed with Harriet’s disappearance and is convinced that one of his own family members is responsible for her murder.

Mikael Blomkvist is convicted in a libel case for the publication of an article in his magazine Millenium against Swedish business bigwig Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. His unproven article destroys his reputation and brings his career to a standstill.

Lisbeth Salander is a private investigator, one of the best of Milton Security. Unbeknownst to her own boss, she is an exceptional hacker. But she is also young, dangerous, and keeps to herself. Behind her silent demeanor, she hides scars of a traumatic life. She trusts no one, least of all the police. Those who commit injustice against her are answerable to her, and her alone.

The paths of these three individuals cross when Henrik Vanger hires Mikael to find Harriet’s murderer in exchange for proof that will reinstate his good name in the field of financial journalism. Lisbeth finds herself aiding him in the investigation, and the most unlikely of bonds is formed. As the investigation continues, Mikael and Lisbeth find new evidence in the case after more than forty years. But someone does not want the case solved. And, as Mikael and Lisbeth learn, he will go to any lengths to ensure that old secrets remain buried forever.

My take:

The English translation of the original Swedish name of this book is ‘Men who hate women’. That should tell you exactly what to expect if and when you decide to read it.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is primarily based on the misogyny in Sweden – in the form of sexism, rape, murder, and any other heinous act you can think of. This central theme is supported by financial crime and journalism and a simple murder mystery. The story follows multiple avenues that come together in quite a neat little bow.

It has decent elements of suspense and a good thriller vibe. It’s even got some abnormal psychology tossed in. All in all, as a story, it’s quite good and hard hitting, as expected from a book of the genre.

But there are a lot of things that could have been altered to make for a better reading experience.

Larsson’s writing style, at least when translated into English, is very in-the-moment. He tells you every activity of every character, however irrelevant. I suppose it’s a scene setting tactic, but avoiding it could have saved on about 75 pages of unnecessary reading. It also leads to some very dry storytelling of potentially edge-of-your-seat thriller material.

One of the main things is that approximately 25% of the book is done before the girl with the dragon tattoo actually comes into the limelight. Until then, she remains in the background, with the story occasionally covering her life, like a secondary character who you think will have an impact in some small way. But the fact remains that she has a massive role to play in the unfolding of the story and so, her delayed appearance does seem a bit odd.

The most difficult part of the book to digest, though, was the abrupt transition. True to its theme, the book describes the most horrifying rapes and atrocities you could imagine in the disturbing contrast of vivid, yet almost mundane, detail. Then, it shifts to scenes of consensual and casual sex as experienced by another character altogether. Frankly, after reading the former, I could’ve done without reading about the latter for a good three days. A double line spacing was not enough of a break!

At the end of it though, without your even realizing it, you’ll really like Lisbeth Salander. You will feel for her. And even though there are many things that turned me off about the book, I want to read the remaining two parts of the Millenium Trilogy – only to know what happens to Lisbeth. It’s weird that way – even with the many avenues the book took, it came through on its (English) name. It really is about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo… and she’s worth reading about.

Recommended to:

  • fans of thrillers, crime fiction, and psychological thrillers
  • those who have a strong stomach (because you need to digest a lot of graphic violence)
  • patient readers who can push through around 200 pages of random stuff before the main story begins (it can be very annoying at some points until then)

Let me know what you thought about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and/or this review – drop a comment below!

P.S.: Mikael Blomkvist is equal parts annoying as hell, and likable.

P.P.S.: Do the characters in this book do anything other than work, have sex, eat the occasional sandwich, and drink hundreds of cups of coffee? I mean, c’mon, eat real food now and then!

– Rishika

Review: Cause to Kill (By Blake Pierce)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 184 pages

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Avery Black was one of Boston’s most notable criminal defense attorneys – until she successfully got a Harvard professor off murder charges, only for him to kill again, and dedicate his last murder to her. Avery’s life fell apart after the event and she lost everything in its aftermath, including her husband and daughter. She began a new life as a cop in an attempt to put away the kind of people she earlier fought for, and her skill and talent has finally gotten her promoted to Homicide Detective. Yet, she continues to face the scorn of her colleagues who still hate her and the public who is yet to forget what she’d done.

Then a girl from an elite college turns up dead. Avery’s ability to truly get into the head of psychopaths gets her assigned to the case, and she is forced to fight against the prejudices, mistrust, and hatred her colleagues have for her as she attempts to solve it. But as the body count continues to rise, Avery finds herself pitted against a serial killer who is as brilliant as she is. Consumed with trying to redeem herself, Avery allows the case to become her entire life. But even she could not have expected the horror into which it would lead her, and from which she might not escape.

My take:

The basic story line of Cause to Kill has the potential to be an extremely good book. Its execution, however, does not let that happen. Its potential was wasted by problems such as bad characterization, weak connections between events, and an average writing style.

The story’s main protagonist, Avery Black, was quite annoying as a character. Her need for redemption for definitely stressed upon, but she did little to actually make it reality. She was as arrogant as she was earlier, while constantly reiterating that she was no longer the same person. For someone who was supposed to be brilliant, she made very stupid choices in spite of being aware of the repercussions, and then blamed life for being unfair. Not exactly the best behavior for someone whose main goal was to begin taking responsibility for her actions and decisions. Then there was the way she kept switching from serious to flirty to friendly to God-knows-what – you just could not get an idea of what she really was as a person. So associating with her was very difficult.

Another annoying aspect was that Pierce seemed very keen on labeling her antagonist as a serial killer. And she went on to do so before the appearance of a second body and while the first case was still being worked upon as a personal crime. Serial killer based crime thrillers definitely have a following – but Cause to Kill did not unfold like one, it was just assumed to be one from the get-go, which gave the entire investigation a muddled-up feel.

The story also seemed choppy. Some aspects could really have been elaborated upon to give it that well-rounded feel, but they were left short. As a result, the story felt like it was trying too hard on the unexpected twists, which ended up being abrupt, often pointless, and forced.

Finally, the killer’s motive and psychology were also not explored to their full potential. It began really well, with great promise, but wasn’t really delved into or even bothered with, which left you with that uncomfortable this-story-didn’t-end-in-a-neat-little-bow feeling. And it also just took away all the impact with which the killer’s story had begun.

What Cause to Kill did have going for it was the relatively fast pace and storyline which, at the very crux of it, was decently intriguing. That’s why I would recommend it to:

  • people looking for a quick crime thriller junk read
  • hardcore crime thriller fans

After the slight disappointment that this book was, I would not bother with the rest of the Avery Black series by Pierce. But, I had definitely enjoyed Once Gone more than I did Cause to Kill (you can check out my review for that book over here), so I may read some of her other series if I need a short and fast crime thriller fix.

Share your thoughts on Cause to Kill and Blake Pierce’s other works in the comments below!

– Rishika