Survival of the Fittest – Blog Hop

Today I am joining the Blog Hop for my writer friend, Jacqui Murray’s latest novel, Survival of the Fittest. So, first what is the story?

Short Summary:

Chased by a ruthless and powerful enemy, Xhosa flees with her People, leaving behind a certain life in her African homeland to search for an unknown future. She leads her People on a grueling journey through unknown and dangerous lands but an escape path laid out years before by her father as a final desperate means to survival. She is joined by other homeless tribes–from Indonesia, China, South Africa, East Africa, and the Levant—all similarly forced by timeless events to find new lives. As they struggle to overcome treachery, lies, danger, tragedy, hidden secrets, and Nature herself, Xhosa must face the reality that this enemy doesn’t want her People’s land. He wants to destroy her.

One question among many fascinated me as I agree with Xhosa’s choice of companion:

Could Xhosa (the main character of Survival of the Fittest) really have traveled with a wolf companion?

Dogs weren’t domesticated until about 10-15,000 years ago, long after Xhosa lived 850,000 years ago. But her understanding of man and animal were not what ours is. To Xhosa, the line between man and animal was blurry. She didn’t think of animals as lesser creatures. Why would she? As far as she knew, like her, they could plan, think, problem-solve, and display emotions just as she did.

So, for Xhosa to partner with a wolf made perfect sense.

Book information:

Title and author: Survival of the Fittest

Series: Book 1 in the Crossroads series, part of the Man vs. Nature saga

Genre: Prehistoric fiction

Cover by: Damonza 

Available at: Kindle US Kindle UK Kindle CA Kindle AU

Author bio:

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB and NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Quest for Home, Summer 2019. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning

Social Media contacts:

http://twitter.com/worddreams

http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

https://worddreams.wordpress.com

https://jacquimurray.nethttps://jacquimurray.net

Sample:

Chapter 1

Her foot throbbed. Blood dripped from a deep gash in her leg. At some point, Xhosa had scraped her palms raw while sliding across gravel but didn’t remember when, nor did it matter. Arms pumping, heart thundering, she flew forward. When her breath went from pants to wheezing gasps, she lunged to a stop, hands pressed against her damp legs, waiting for her chest to stop heaving. She should rest but that was nothing but a passing thought, discarded as quickly as it arrived. Her mission was greater than exhaustion or pain or personal comfort.

She started again, sprinting as though chased, aching fingers wrapped around her spear. The bellows of the imaginary enemy—Big Heads this time—filled the air like an acrid stench. She flung her spear over her shoulder, aiming from memory. A thunk and it hit the tree, a stand-in for the enemy. With a growl, she pivoted to defend her People.

Which would never happen. Females weren’t warriors.

Feet spread, mouth set in a tight line, she launched her last spear, skewering an imaginary assailant, and was off again, feet light, her abundance of ebony hair streaming behind her like smoke. A scorpion crunched beneath her hardened foot. Something moved in the corner of her vision and she hurled a throwing stone, smiling as a hare toppled over. Nightshade called her reactions those of Leopard.

But that didn’t matter. Females didn’t become hunters either.

With a lurch, she gulped in the parched air. The lush green grass had long since given way to brittle stalks and desiccated scrub. Sun’s heat drove everything alive underground, underwater, or over the horizon. The males caught her attention across the field, each with a spear and warclub. Today’s hunt would be the last until the rain—and the herds—returned.

“Why haven’t they left?”

She kicked a rock and winced as pain shot through her foot. Head down, eyes shut against the memories. Even after all this time, the chilling screams still rang in her ears…

The People’s warriors had been away hunting when the assault occurred. Xhosa’s mother pushed her young daughter into a reed bed and stormed toward the invaders but too late to save the life of her young son. The killer, an Other, laughed at the enraged female armed only with a cutter. When she sliced his cheek open, the gash so deep his black teeth showed, his laughter became fury. He swung his club with such force her mother crumpled instantly, her head a shattered melon.

From the safety of the pond, Xhosa memorized the killer—nose hooked awkwardly from some earlier injury, eyes dark pools of cruelty. It was then, at least in spirit, she became a warrior. Nothing like this must ever happen again.

When her father, the People’s Leader, arrived that night with his warriors, he was greeted by the devastating scene of blood-soaked ground covered by mangled bodies, already chewed by scavengers. A dry-eyed Xhosa told him how marauders had massacred every subadult, female, and child they could find, including her father’s pairmate. Xhosa communicated this with the usual grunts, guttural sounds, hand signals, facial expressions, hisses, and chirps. The only vocalizations were call signs to identify the group members.

“If I knew how to fight, Father, Mother would be alive.” Her voice held no anger, just determination.

The tribe she described had arrived a Moon ago, drawn by the area’s rich fruit trees, large ponds, lush grazing, and bluffs with a view as far as could be traveled in a day. No other area offered such a wealth of resources. The People’s scouts had seen these Others but allowed them to forage, not knowing their goal was to destroy the People.

Her father’s body raged but his hands, when they moved, were calm.  “We will avenge our losses, daughter.”

The next morning, Xhosa’s father ordered the hunters to stay behind, protect the People. He and the warriors snuck into the enemy camp before Sun awoke and slaughtered the females and children before anyone could launch a defense. The males were pinned to the ground with stakes driven through their thighs and hands. The People cut deep wounds into their bodies and left, the blood scent calling all scavengers.

When Xhosa asked if the one with the slashed cheek had died, her father motioned, “He escaped, alone. He will not survive.”

Word spread of the savagery and no one ever again attacked the People, not their camp, their warriors, or their hunters.

While peace prevailed, Xhosa grew into a powerful but odd-looking female. Her hair was too shiny, hips too round, waist too narrow beneath breasts bigger than necessary to feed babies. Her legs were slender rather than sturdy and so long, they made her taller than every male. The fact that she could outrun even the hunters while heaving her spear and hitting whatever she aimed for didn’t matter. Females weren’t required to run that fast. Nightshade, though, didn’t care about any of that. He claimed they would pairmate, as her father wished, when he became the People’s Leader. 

Until then, all of her time was spent practicing the warrior skills no one would allow her to use.

One day, she confronted her father. “I can wield a warclub one-handed and throw a spear hard enough to kill. If I were male, you would make me a warrior.”

He smiled. “You are like a son to me, Daughter. I see your confidence and boldness. If I don’t teach you, I fear I will lose you.”

He looked away, the smile long gone from his lips. “Either you or Nightshade must lead when I can’t.”

Under her father’s tutelage, she and Nightshade learned the nuances of sparring, battling, chasing, defending, and assaulting with the shared goal that never would the People succumb to an enemy. Every one of Xhosa’s spear throws destroyed the one who killed her mother. Every swing of her warclub smashed his head as he had her mother’s. Never again would she stand by, impotent, while her world collapsed. She perfected the skills of knapping cutters and sharpening spears, and became expert at finding animal trace in bent twigs, crushed grass, and by listening to their subtle calls. She could walk without leaving tracks and match nature’s sounds well enough to be invisible.

A Moon ago, as Xhosa practiced her scouting, she came upon a lone warrior kneeling by a waterhole. His back was to her, skeletal and gaunt, his warclub chipped, but menace oozed from him like stench from dung. She melted into the redolent sedge grasses, feet sinking into the squishy mud, and observed.

His head hair was sprinkled with grey. A hooked nose canted precariously, poorly healed from a fracas he won but his nose lost. His curled lips revealed cracked and missing teeth. A cut on his upper arm festered with pus and maggots. Fever dimpled his forehead with sweat. He crouched to drink but no amount of water would appease that thirst.

What gave him away was the wide ragged scar left from the slash of her mother’s cutter.

Xhosa trembled with rage, fearing he would see the reeds shake, biting her lip until it bled to stop from howling. It hardly seemed fair to slay a dying male but fairness was not part of her plan today.

Only revenge.

A check of her surroundings indicated he traveled alone. Not that it mattered. If she must trade her life for his, so be it.  

But she didn’t intend to die.

The exhausted warrior splashed muddy water on his grimy head, hands slow, shoulders round with fatigue, oblivious to his impending death. After a quiet breath, she stepped from the sedge, spear in one hand and a large rock in the other. Exposed, arms ready but hanging, she approached. If he turned, he would see her. She tested for dry twigs and brittle grass before committing each foot. It surprised her he ignored the silence of the insects. His wounds must distract him. By the time hair raised on his neck, it was too late. He pivoted as she swung, powered by fury over her mother’s death, her father’s agony, and her own loss. Her warclub smashed into his temple with a soggy thud. Recognition flared moments before life left.

“You die too quickly!” she screamed and hit him over and over, collapsing his skull and spewing gore over her body. “I wanted you to suffer as I did!”

Her body was numb as she kicked him into the pond, feeling not joy for his death, relief that her mother was avenged, or upset at the execution of an unarmed Other. She cleaned the gore from her warclub and left. No one would know she had been blooded but the truth filled her with power.

She was now a warrior.

When she returned to homebase, Nightshade waited. Something flashed through his eyes as though for the first time, he saw her as a warrior. His chiseled face, outlined by dense blue-black hair, lit up. The corners of his full lips twitched under the broad flat nose. The finger-thick white scar emblazoned against his smooth forehead, a symbol of his courage surviving Sabertooth’s claws, pulsed. Female eyes watched him, wishing he would look at them as he did Xhosa but he barely noticed.

The next day, odd Others with long legs, skinny chests, and oversized heads arrived. The People’s scouts confronted them but they simply watched the scouts, spears down, and then trotted away, backs to the scouts. That night, for the first time, Xhosa’s father taught her and Nightshade the lessons of leading.

“Managing the lives of the People is more than winning battles. You must match individual skills to the People’s requirements be it as a warrior, hunter, scout, forager, child minder, Primary Female, or another.  All can do all jobs but one best suits each. The Leader must decide,” her father motioned.

As they finished, she asked the question she’d been thinking about all night. “Father, where do they come from?”

“They are called Big Heads,” which didn’t answer Xhosa’s question.

Nightshade motioned, “Do they want to trade females? Or children?”

Her father stared into the distance as though lost in some memory. His teeth ground together and his hands shook until he clamped them together.

He finally took a breath and motioned, “No, they don’t want mates. They want conflict.” He tilted his head forward. “Soon, we will be forced to stop them.”

Nightshade clenched his spear and his eyes glittered at the prospect of battle. It had been a long time since the People fought.

But the Big Heads vanished. Many of the People were relieved but Xhosa couldn’t shake the feeling that danger lurked only a long spear throw away. She found herself staring at the same spot her father had, thoughts blank, senses burning. At times, there was a movement or the glint of Sun off eyes, but mostly there was only the unnerving feeling of being watched. Each day felt one day closer to when the People’s time would end.

“When it does, I will confess to killing the Other. Anyone blooded must be allowed to be a warrior.”

Available at:Kindle US Kindle UKKindle CA Kindle AU

The Pearl Thief – a review

When I was compiling my list for the 2019 Cloak and Dagger Challenge, I missed off a number of books including Elizabeth Wein’s The Pearl Thief. As Wein’s Code Name Verity was my top read in 2018, I was looking forward to reading this prequel. Well listening to what was my first Audible novel, though not my first audio book.

I’m now listening to another Elizabeth Wein novel – Black Dove, White Raven – but back to the review of my sixth read for the Challenge

The Pearl Thief

(Code Name Verity 0.5)

by

Elizabeth E. Wein

Before Verity . . . there was Julie.

When fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart wakes up in the hospital, she knows the lazy summer break she’d imagined won’t be exactly like she anticipated. And once she returns to her grandfather’s estate, a bit banged up but alive, she begins to realize that her injury might not have been an accident. One of her family’s employees is missing, and he disappeared on the very same day she landed in the hospital.

Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scots Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to firsthand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences that have nothing to do with a missing-person investigation.

Her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body is discovered, her new friends are caught in the crosshairs of long-held biases about Travellers. Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep them from being framed for the crime.

In the prequel to Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this exhilarating coming-of-age story returns to a beloved character just before she learned to fly.

Review 5 stars

After I was bowled over by the brilliance of Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, I enjoyed re-connecting with the memorable Julia Beaufort-Stuart – albeit when she was fifteen.

This is a different genre – a mystery and coming-of-age story that my wife and I listened to engrossed. This was our first Audible book and the narration by actress Maggie Service was excellent, bringing to life the characters.

The mystery begins when Julia wakes up in hospital and realises that her injury might not have been an accident. Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scots Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to first-hand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences.

Wein artfully weaves pearl gathering in the river and a missing-person investigation into Julia’s evolving relationships. Facts are slipped into scenes in subtle ways, and the author even adds a useful addendum about Pearls and Travellers at the very end. Wein always strikes me as a writer that does her research and knows how to knit it into a tale – as she does here.

The characters were distinctive and grew over time, not just as their layers were unpeeled but also by their interactions. For instance, the complex relationship between Julia and Ellen grows from social divide to mutual understanding and deep friendship. Others grow from their shells or achieve deserved recognition in a similar way.

The Scottish setting echoed my own time there, especially along stretches of riverbank. And some of the prejudices were familiar from the class world I know.

By the end, the mysteries – yes, there I far more than one- have been solved in unexpected ways. For me, some seeds had been sown that foreshadowed Code Name Verity – subtle and poignant.

An excellent listen – and another memorable character.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – five stars

Narration – five stars

Editing – five stars

Rebecca – a review


I was unsure whether I could count Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca as my fifth Cloak and Dagger read of 2019, but at least it is the February/March book for  The Insecure Writer’s Support Group Book Club group so I can tick that off.

Then, I read the word ‘mystery’ in a description of the book.

Rebecca

by

Daphne du Maurier

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave. 

First published in 1938, this classic gothic novel is such a compelling read that it won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century.

Review 5 stars

This was a classic that I thought I had read, but I hadn’t. Now I’m glad I did as it’s memorable and worthy of multiple reads.

Although the novel is described as gothic – and by some as a romance – for me it was also a mystery. Its style by today’s standards might be called dated and yet it was ahead of its time – as was the author.

Much of the narration is as chunks of description mixed with reflection and conjecture by the un-named protagonist living in the shadow of Rebecca. In comparison with the title character, this new Mrs de Winter seems naïve, powerless and at the mercy of others. At first, it would be easy to dismiss her – even the novel – without giving either a chance…without understanding the heroine or the shy author.

I grew up in a world not dissimilar to Manderley, albeit one that had lost its glitter but not its attitudes. I felt myself intimidated by scary and overbearing people – especially when I did something wrong. Society and doing the right thing frightened me.

Especially when such amazing people as Rebecca were being fawned over.

Rebecca may be the deceased wife of Maxim de Winter, but she pervades the story, the house and the grounds. She’s on everyone’s lips. It’s a clever device making her so dominant, giving the novel her name, and naming her, not the protagonist. And it works. The reader is fooled along with the new Mrs de Winter into believing the myth – until the doubts appear.

Mrs Danvers, doth protest too much, methinks. She is the archetypal retainer that creates fear and doubts. Rebecca haunts Manderley in one way, Mrs Danvers in another – a brilliant creation, reminiscent of other classic scary presences. A living vampire?

All the characters are distinctive. All reminded me of people I had met – even worked with. The mannerisms felt familiar, whether Beatrice, the loquacious sister, or Frank Cawley, the faithful agent for Manderley. Even Maxim de Winter was real with all his faults and guilt buried.  

If I had to befriend just one, it would be Jasper. The dog? Yes, the faithful exuberant spaniel.

One other character enfolds the novel – Manderley. The house becomes character, atmosphere and setting. At first magnificent and untouchable with buried secrets. Manderley fills the narrator’s thoughts, not just the house but the gardens and the sea coves. As the protagonist’s thoughts change so do the descriptions of setting, of home, of the weather, of the vegetation. Or is it vice versa? The weather changes and then her thoughts?

But they are all one, interacting as the plot unfolds – setting and thought and events. The past even before Rebecca. Even before Manderley. The sea and the fog.

Cliffhanging language that I need to immerse myself in again.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

Ten Minutes Past Teatime – a review


This is the first post written with my new ‘one-handed’ keyboard – well, smaller than my UK-bought one so easier to use when my left-hand cramps and claws. Just need to adapt to its idiosyncrasies.

On to my review of a short story that a writer I follow sent her subscribers.

Ten Minutes Past Teatime

by

Elizabeth Chatsworth (Goodreads Author)

Please note, this is a short story/novelette.

A Victorian spinster-scientist and a Viking shield-maiden find passion and danger in dark-age Ireland.

1896: Forty-three-year-old scientist Miss Minerva Minett is determined to become the first female member of an exclusive inventor’s club. To win their annual membership competition, she invents a time-traveling submersible, and launches her vessel into the Irish sea for a quick trip to the dark ages. But when she sinks a Viking longship, accidentally joins a monastery raid, and falls into the arms of a grizzled shield-maiden, she discovers that time may not be on her side.

Review 4.3 stars

This entertaining steampunk short story had me amused and entertained as forty-three-year-old Victorian scientist Miss Minerva Minett attempted to become the first female member of an exclusive inventor’s club, by launching her time-traveling submersible into the Irish sea for a quick trip to the dark ages.

From the amusing opening through her encounter with the grizzled shield-maiden, Alfhild to the twist at the end, I chuckled at the inventive mind of Minerva and her creator.

The experiments and inventions were as memorable as the characters, including the one that delivered the twist at the end. Being steampunk, I expected alternative history, so I won’t over-judge the authenticity beyond wondering about some oddities such as a misplaced dragon-head.   

The romance between Alfhild and Minerva is a bonus with neat contrasts across cultures and time. And with a name like Minerva, there had to be goddess references.

Alfhild was the true goddess, not she. Or maybe they both were?

It was a thesis she would have to explore in more detail. For the sake of science.

But the humour is always there.

Minerva cocked her head. Surely, she didn’t hear the word goldfish in the chorus? “ . . . Minerva’s Magic Goldfish. Answers every sailor’s wish . . .” Oh, dear.

A fun read, although short.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – three stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – four stars

Tremor Warnings

Two recent events have shaken my routine. One a post and one a game. Nothing earth shattering, more tremors – warnings of what might or will occur.

This post about ‘diversity’, Social Justice Warriors, and the withdrawal of Amélie Wen Zhao’s Blood Heir set me thinking about my current WIP, Fevered Few and what I was attempting.

I’m a WASP hetero male trying to write a novel with a female queer protagonist in the North Wales Police. Am I heading for the pillory or worse – even if I am trying to use diversity readers?

I had already realised I needed to tread carefully after a somewhat different controversy arose over the sexuality choices in the game Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey.

It probably doesn’t help that I’m making my protagonist Welsh with a deaf sister, since I’m English and I’ve never even committed a crime – other than parking illegally or speeding. Okay, I’m disabled, with Quaker abolitionist ancestors and splashes of Latin and Scottish blood. But none of those are qualifications.

Okay, SF writers write about aliens but aren’t from another planet. However, we don’t see the aliens protesting; or is that why there are abductions and experiments?

Is the solution to stop writing my Welsh police procedural series and tackle a topic that I know about? Horses?

Dang, I’ve done that and got criticised for my lack of knowledge.

Falling? My life-story could be fictionalised, but who is inspired by that? Not me.

Insecurity 1. Meltdown imminent.

Later the same day, I went into Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and got thrown into a quest that required me to press/punch/mash keys in quick succession.

Fail. Retry. Fail. Retry.

Fail. Retry. Fail. Retry.

Fail. Retry. Fail. Retry.

The fingers on my left hand locked up, and my hand became a useless claw while my head thumped.

Insecurity 2. Meltdown imminent.

That was not the first time that my hand and my reactions failed.  I had the same problem in Shadow of the Tomb Raider last week. Plus, it occurs when I type so when I’m working on a novel or a post – like now.

Meltdown

The harsh reality is that my multiple sclerosis is threatening to disrupt my life again – if I let it. I need to amend the rules…move the goalposts. Or change rackets.

Well, keyboards.

But not the typing element as half the keys are missing.

  • Step Two – Dictation software. I’ve ordered Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium 13 – arriving on Saturday. However, training my Dragon will take time, especially as my speech is slurred – MS side-effect. It will mean that in a few weeks, I might get to write as fast as I talk.

Even after spending this money, I still need to decide if I’m writing the right novel – the one that will cover all these extravagances.

MS is a frustrating MonSter, and I must learn to roll with its punches and fight back. There will be other rounds, but I’ve got this one.

Yes, I need to consider Audible as my eyes are at risk – not just from reading. Double vision was my initial symptom back in 1999, so the warning is there.

More rabbit holes beckon.

Worse than Dead – a review

My fourth Cloak and Dagger read of 2019 was a return to familiar territory with Stephen Puleston’s Inspector Drake series, set like my current ‘work in progress’ in North Wales. I have already reviewed Brass in Pocket, the first book in the series.

On then to my review of Book 2.

Worse than Dead

(Inspector Drake #2)

by Stephen Puleston (Goodreads Author)

A ferry leaves Dublin…The chief engineer lies dead on the car deck …There’s a killer on board…
Inspector Drake is called from a seminar on cyber crime to meet the ferry docking at the port of Holyhead. Frank Rosen the chief engineer lies on the car deck a knife through his heart. For the first time Drake knows where the killer is but he doesn’t know who. 
When Rosen’s house is ransacked the night after he’s killed Drake knows the killer was looking for something. The data stick Rosen’s wife finds may hold the clues. But the codes and numbers on it only complicate the investigation.
And then Drake’s cousin makes contact and tells him he has information. But can Drake rely on him or does he have another agenda? And when the team discover a direct link to drug dealing in North Wales and beyond there are powerful forces at work. 
Drake’s cousin drags Drake’s family into the middle of the case that piles the pressure on Drake who’s facing regular counselling for his OCD and the prospect of losing his father to cancer.
When Drake’s superior demotes him and acts entirely against protocols Drake knows that something is wrong. Establishing the evidence takes him to Dublin and Cardiff and then on a last minute chase over North Wales to the ancient Fort Belan hoping that he will catch the killer.

Review 4.3 stars

I was hoping that this second Book in Stephen Puleston’s Inspector Drake series would transport me back to North Wales. I was not disappointed.

This was the country I remembered from living there a few years – without the criminal element. That darker side was the world of the first book, providing Detective Inspector Ian Drake with another baffling case.

When Frank Rosen, a ferry’s Chief Engineer is found murdered on the car deck, Drake knows that the killer must still be onboard. But the investigation is complicated when his team is forced to let everyone disembark before a suspect can be identified. A link to drug dealing complicates matters further, especially when different police departments must be involved.

Puleston uses his background as a retired criminal lawyer to lend authenticity and detail to the working of the police and the criminals. Both sides play devious games – fortunately, Drake is not easily fooled in the end.

But he continues to struggle with his OCD as he did in the first book. This idiosyncrasy and his addiction to Sudoku make him a memorable protagonist, although I don’t warm to him. The rest of his team – Caren Waits, Dave Howick and Gareth Winder – have their own traits that we see through Drake’s OCD eyes primarily. I wondered if this was an unusual team or maybe not.

Drake’s Detective Sergeant, Caren had more scenes in her POV than in Book 1, and these helped me get to know her better. POV scenes for Howick and Winder added their perspective but to a lesser extent. Even though Puleston called Caren by her first name throughout, and all the male officers by their surname – which felt strange – I still couldn’t relate to even her.

Conflict weaves its way in the story but comes with the territory even for police with their own rivalries. The domestic tensions are there for Drake and others, echoing real-life experiences of police families as well as the impact of crime on lives.

There are again too many cast members – especially with multiple suspects and witnesses. This is a failing in many books so perhaps forgivable in the final analysis when the plot comes together. A few surprises were in store and most complexities were resolved. But one scene from a different POV confused me – or is to be resolved in the next case.

This is a recommended read and I will be checking out Book #3 as this novel whet my appetite for more from North Wales. The place and people of this beautiful country infused the writing, from scenery to language.

Story – four stars

Characters – four stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – four stars