Mama’s Gone by Leopold Borstinski: The Once and Future Lagotti Family

Mama's GoneMama’s Gone

by Leopold Borstinski
Series: The Lagotti Family, #4

Kindle Edition, 301 pg.
Sobriety Press, 2019

Read: March 13 – 14, 2019

This is the fourth installment in a series whose timeline goes back to the 60’s. Which seems intimidating and not that approachable — but Borstinski places plenty of context for the reader and ensures that you don’t get lost in chronology.

Since the days of Mario Puzo (with some help from Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and David Chase), there’s been a cultural expectation for mob families — how much of that expectation matches reality is doubtful, but when it comes to fictional depictions we know what we should expect. A strong sense of family, of propriety, of the leadership mantle being passed from father to son in some sort of warped echo of landed nobility. But what happens as the strong leadership ages? Puzo himself gave a taste of this, but Vito Corleone had an heir in place. Of course, Junior Soprano did, too — but that didn’t mean he turned things over to him. Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog showed the aging leader pass things off to the younger generation, and Robert B. Parker’s Broz family showed what it was like for a crime boss to hand things off to an heir who wasn’t capable of carrying the mantle.

But none of them approached the idea quite like Borstinski did – the first three books seem to chronicle the establishment of Mary Lou Lagotti in the American Crime scene — from robberies to hits on mob figures — Mary Lou showed herself to be brave, decisive and gutsy. With her second husband, Bobby, Mary Lou earned her territory in Los Angeles and the drug, prostitution and gambling money she and her people earned was well deserved and defended. We see a little bit of the establishment of Mary Lou’s empire in the 70’s as the novel opens, but really, things kick off in the mid-90s.

Mary Lou’s children — the driven, smart and careful Alice, and the impulsive, reckless, and rash Frank, Jr.; — are done with college when the book’s action really kicks off. Both are ready and eager to take their place in the family business. Alice is given an assignment or two, meets with success and is given more. Frank, is largely put in positions where he can’t hurt the family. He eventually grows up enough to establish something lasting (with a little help from his mother) on the East Coast, while Alice is living on her own, but near her parents helping expand and solidify the family’s business.

Then (and I don’t feel too bad talking about this, it’s in the blurb) Alice and Bobby start noticing little things that aren’t quite right with Mary Lou — she’s missing signs, she’s making decisions that seem out of character, she loses track of conversations. And the two of them make simple moves to cover for her and start to plan for the future — and try to get Frank involved, too.

Then with the breakup of the Soviet Union and the changes in Russia — Russian crime figures come to the U.S. and start taking territory and business. Mary Lou’s reactions to the challenge on her borders, and she tries to expand (and while she’s dealing with her memory problems) will determine not only her future, but the future of her family.

Watching Alice and Bobby trying to deal with this changing reality is fascinating, trying to keep the appearances of normality while protecting the family and their employees. This kind of story has been told before — with politicians or business leaders — but rarely with the kind of stakes that the Lagotti’s are dealing with.

Technically, this novel a mess — spelling errors, punctuation problems (both missing punctuation ad unnecessary), there are entire conversations without dialogue tags (sometimes you can tell who’s saying what, but not all of the time), word choices that bring out your inner-Inigo (“I do not think it means what you think it means”), etc. I’m not sure that criminals in the 1940’s actually used the phrase “stool pigeon,” I’m even less convinces that hardened killers and drug dealers in the 1990’s did. While the dialogue is full of slang (archaic and otherwise), the narrative avoids it — with one exception, “fellas.” “Fellas” is used repeatedly by characters (including a Russian mobster) and the narrative several times. It’s just jarring. All of the technical issues are repeated — I’ll cut off my list there, it’s fairly representative. It’s possible — I wouldn’t say it’s easy — to ignore the problems with the writing to focus on the characters and story.

For a crime novel, a lot more of the text is devoted to sex than to criminal activity or violence. Call me a prude ,but most of it is unnecessary to the plot and far too detailed — occasionally, it’s used to reveal character and in a way that advances the plot. But largely, it’s about crude titillation and I have no patience for that (especially in the volume this book gives us).

This is a flawed book, but a fascinating premise that’s thoughtfully executed. I’ve read (and watched) plenty of mob/organized crime stories, but the number of creators that have approached these topics is practically nil — making this something out of the ordinary and worthy of a ruminative read.

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.


BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Mama’s Gone by Leopold Borstinski

Today I welcome the Book Tour for the latest entry of the Lagotti Family saga, Mama’s Gone by Leopold Borstinski. Along with this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit.

Book Details:

Book Title: Mama’s Gone by Leopold Borstinski
Publisher: Sobriety Press
Release date: March 18, 2019
Format: Ebook
Length: 301 pages

Book Blurb:

When children grow up, the parents must die.

California gang leader Mary Lou has built a criminal empire while her adult children are desperate for their mother’s attention and love.

As her mental faculties wane, Alice and Frank Jr must acknowledge their mother is not the woman she once was and that they need to step up and take the helm, despite the stark differences between them.

But their sibling rivalry blinds both of them to their weaknesses which threatens the family when the Russian mob moves into the state. How can they fend off those attacks while fighting to decide who will lead the family now their dear Mama’s gone?

About Leopold Borstinski:

Leopold BorstinskiLeopold Borstinski is an independent author whose past careers have included financial journalism, business management of financial software companies, consulting and product sales and marketing, as well as teaching.

There is nothing he likes better so he does as much nothing as he possibly can. He has travelled extensively in Europe and the US and has visited Asia on several occasions. Leopold holds a Philosophy degree and tries not to drop it too often.

He lives near London and is married with one wife, one child and no pets.

Leopold Borstinski’s Social Media:

Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Website ~ Amazon Author Page

Purchase Links for Mama’s Gone:

Amazon UK ~ Amazon US ~ Goodreads

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

Who Killed the Fonz? by James Boice will leave you groovin’ all week

Who Killed the Fonz?Who Killed the Fonz?

by James Boice
Hardcover , 208 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2019
Read: March 9, 2018

“Everyone gets old,” said Ralph. “No one stays cool forever. Not even the Fonz.”

Like almost every American of a certain age — I have warm memories about the show Happy Days. Granted, my memories are a bit hazy — the show premiered when I was a few months old, but I was 10 when it ended. So I know I watched a lot of it between the first-run episodes and syndication (surely, someone syndicated those and I watched them) — I mean, we had 3 channels (plus PBS), what else were we going to do? I remember very little about it — I thought Potsie was kind of annoying, Ralph was hilarious, I didn’t care too much about Joanie or Chachi, and the Fonz? I mean . . . who didn’t want to be Fonzie? For everyone in my generation, our first exposure to the concept of “cool” our first symbol of it, the avatar of coolness was Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli.

I have clear memories of being 5 (+/-) and being at a semi-local amusement park riding a Carousel that in addition to animals, had some cars you could ride in — or motorcycles. I hopped on those motorcycles and every time I went around to where my parents were standing and watching, I’d give them a big thumbs up and an “Ayyyyyyy.”

What I’m trying to say is that I am a full-fledged member of the target audience for this book. But then again, pretty much everyone alive who’s roughly my age or old is, too.

This novel takes place in late October of ’84. Filmmaker Richard Cunningham’s career is on the skids, he’s got an epic movie he’s been trying for years to make, but no one wants him to (today we’d call it Oscar-bait, his agent and movie companies considered it to be Box Office poison); he’s just spent time talking to friend/contemporary “Steve” about his new time travel movie with the kid from Family Ties and his agent is trying to get him to write a script for a well-funded Star Wars-knock off.

The poor guy is having a rough day . . . and then he gets home to learn that his old friend, Arthur Fonzarelli has been in a wreck on his beloved motorcycle and is dead. Granted, the two had lost touch, but the knowledge that the Fonz is dead shakes Richard to his core. He quickly makes arrangements to head back to Milwaukee to attend the funeral. Neither his mother (who lives in his home) or Lori Beth can make the flight, so he’ll stay in Joanie and Chachi’s house (they’re on vacation and can’t catch a flight home in time to attend). Shortly after arriving, he runs into Al, Ralph, Potsie — and even the jukebox.

Very quickly, Boice has set the tone (nostalgic, amusing, and wistful) and ticked off the major boxes when it comes to fan-service. He’s going to have some fun with and even re-examine some aspects of the series (see the conversation that opening quote came from) — but he’s going to do it with respect for the source material. This isn’t The Brady Bunch Movie, but it’s not a slave to the original (see, Superman Returns).

That accomplished, he puts Richard into new territory — he’s brought out to the home of a Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate, who wants him to write a commercial for the final days of the campaign — Richard even agrees to direct it. This gives him time to decide if he wants to follow his agent’s wishes as well as an excuse to stay in town. Which he needs once he’s given some information that leads him to conclude that Fonzie wasn’t the victim of an accident, but was murdered.

So Richard has to figure out the direction of his career, convince anyone else that the Fonz was killed and/or find the killer, in a matter of days. All the while coming to terms with being home for the first time since he left for Hollywood, just days after coming home from the Army.

You make this a novel about struggling filmmaker Robert Cummings, returning to Detroit for the funeral of his old friend Frankie — free and clear of pre-existing pop-culture prejudices and baggage — and I’d still probably like t his book. Not as much, but it’d still be good. Wrap this up in beloved characters? The pretty good book becomes something else.

The identity of the killer was pretty clear soon after Richard started thinking about it (maybe even before then), and the motive seemed semi-obvious. But a big reveal close to the end changed the stakes significantly and made the motive and identity much more believable. And like with so many mysteries, the “whodunit” is less important than the journey taken to get to the revelation of the identity — and this journey rocked. Richard’s introspection and self-assessment was well-handled, as was his getting re-acquainted with his old high school friends, seeing what they’d made of themselves, etc. There’s a good balance of sentiment and story here — not unlike a certain situation comedy at its best.

I read this in one sitting, which I love doing, and the book moved along so nicely I didn’t even think about putting it down for any reason. It’s a thoughtful read, but not a ponderous one. It’s a murder mystery, but there’s only one or two moments of danger — it’s very much on the cozy side of the street, and can easily appeal to people who’d never read a murder mystery. It’s lightly told and frequently amusing, but not very comedic. I will say that I laughed once — thanks to Ralph, of course. While frequently amusing, this wasn’t a comedy — but Boice was able to use Richard’s friends to lighten a pretty tense moment — and to use that incident to push the story along rather than detract from the story. It’s not a grab you and won’t let go, kind of book — but it’ll easily keep you engaged.

The nostalgia starts with the Table of Contents (I’m serious here) and flows right to the last page, but never dominates anything. Boice keeps it from being schmaltzy or cheap, it’ snot just about the show, it’s about the characters (which I think would be particularly difficult with this group). This gets a strong recommendation from me — even if you end up not liking it as much as I do, I can’t imagine anyone walking away from this anything but happy about the time they spent with it. It’s one of those that gets better the more you think about it — the way that Boice built-on the foundation of the series and yet created something wholly original (and possibly deserving of a sequel, as long as it didn’t involve a murder) is truly impressive.


4 1/2 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Pub Day Repost: The Last Act by Brad Parks: He’s in the jailhouse now

The Last ActThe Last Act

by Brad Parks

ARC, 368 pg.
Dutton Books, 2019
Read: February 26 – 27, 2019

Inspired by the Wachovia Bank scandal from a few years back, Brad Parks’ third stand-alone is a departure in a sense from his previous two. Rather than crimes close to home for his protagonists, this is crime on an international scale, with most of the figures involved never laying eyes on each other.

Mitch Dupree was a high-level bank executive who was convicted of aiding a Mexican drug cartel by laundering a lot of money. He’s been sentenced to a minimum security prison in West Virginia. If after reading this — or even while reading it — you want a few more details about what happened with Dupree before the novel starts (or more specifics about the events leading up to his arrest), check out the prequel short story, The Whistle Blower. He has made it known both far and wide that he has a large amount of evidence against the cartel tucked away safely — and as long as he and/or his family are alive, that evidence stays hidden.

Naturally, the DEA, FBI and the cartel want to get their hands on it — and are willing to do some above and beyond work to get it.

Enter Tommy Jump — he’d risen to fame and prominence (and a Tony nomination) as a child on Broadway, but as he aged into adulthood the parts dried up. He’s on the verge of calling it quits — at least for a couple of decades. He’s approached by a childhood friend, Danny Ruiz, flashing a shiny FBI badge and an interesting job offer. Danny and his partner, Rick Gilmartin, want Tommy to go undercover with an assumed identity of a bank robber and serve time in the same prison. He has six months to get close to Dupree, win his trust and get the location of the documents. If the intelligence he gathers leads to indictments, he gets a hefty bonus on top of the pretty nice initial paycheck (all the funds come from civil forfeiture, and the well seems to run pretty deep). Given that his fiancé — a painter waiting to be discovered — just told him she was pregnant, any kind of pay-day sounds good to an out-of-work actor, one with a pay-day that could set them up for years? How can he pass that up?

The early stages of the plan go pretty smoothly — Tommy’s given a new identity, develops a cover story and is sentenced to the same prison. He arrives and gets settled — not really making friends, but getting well acquainted with fellow inmates, who show him the ropes and help him get acclimated. It goes so smoothly, actually, that it bugged me a little. Sure, he’s an actor, but this isn’t a play, there’s no script, and it seems easy. But, Tommy’s such a likeable guy, a winning narrator that I just kept shrugging off my skepticism and rolled with it — I wanted things to work out for Tommy and Amanda, I wanted to see what happened with Dupree — so whatever it took to get me to seeing if things would work out for them I could accept.

And then — because this is a thriller, because Parks is good at torturing his readers (that’s why we keep coming back), and because no one is as lucky as Tommy seemed to be — everything got nearly impossible. On a dime, the momentum changes and suddenly thing look incredibly grim for Tommy, Amanda, Dupree and several other characters. Naturally, at the same time the bottom fell out and I was reeling from a pretty significant reveal, my lunch break ended and I had to get back to work with no time to process things. I know it’s stupid, but it felt like Parks planned it that way.

The novel alternates between Tommy chapters and chapters with Amanda, one of the cartel’s higher-ups and his efforts to find the evidence, Danny and Rick, and Mitch Dupree’s wife. I was honestly surprised how much time we got with Amanda and Mrs. Dupree — both of whom had their own character arcs independent of (although influenced by) Tommy and Mitch. I could’ve used a little more of both of them — not that Parks short-changed them in any way, but their stories were so interesting that I would’ve enjoyed it. Alternatively, by the end of the book (especially in light of The Whistle Blower), I was surprised how little time we got with Mitch Dupree — again, it’s not that he was short-changed, I just would’ve assumed we’d have more time with him. And what time we do have with him was by and large mediated through Tommy or his wife.

Beyond that, all the characters are well-drawn, well-developed and the kind that you would like to spend more time with. Parks has always displayed a great knack at creating characters that you can easily imagine coming across in real life — no matter their walk of life. They’re not all good people (particularly those who are aligned with the cartel), but they’re all believable people.

Before I get back to what Parks did right, I have a couple of problems that I want to talk about — as always, I’m afraid that the amount of space I spend talking about them is going to give the idea that I had real problems with the book as a whole. I didn’t. It’s just a couple of issues — issues that take more space to explain than the bits I like take. Still, they’re worth talking about.

I’m not 100% convinced that Parks adequately gets the point across about how dangerous this cartel that Tommy’s mixed up in is. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like he portrays them as cuddly or anything. But I’m still not sure I got a large sense of threat and doom from them–Tommy and Dupree carry that sense, they’re adequately scared (especially Dupree), but I’m not sure that Parks gets the readers to be. I know he’s capable of it, I’m just not sure he did it here.

Similarly, I think he could’ve done a better job depicting life in the minimum security prison, the daily ins and outs — the lack of privacy, the loneliness, the hardships. I’m struggling for words here — the deprivations from a life of liberty that make prison a place you want to avoid, even a minimum security prison.. . It honestly felt like Tommy had an easier time getting up to stuff (including out-of-the-building excursions) in the middle of the night than Harry, Ron and Hermione did at Hogwarts. Or to put it in a different light — Say Nothing‘s Scott Sampson’s pretty sizeable home and nice office, felt far more confining than the prison did. And the small house that Melanie Barrick called home in Closer Than You Know seemed much more restricting and frightening than Tommy’s incarceration (as did the county jail she spent time in).

That said — what Parks was able to convey very strongly was the life-and-death nature of the situation that Tommy, Dupree, and Dupree’s wife was in. Also, the questions of identity, the future consequences of everyone’s actions loomed large here and dominated their thoughts, motives and actions. Where Scott and Melanie’s stories were much more immediate in their focus (yes, with long-range repercussions, but a very intense focus on the immediate future), Tommy’s story and his own focus is on the future. He spends very little time thinking about the now of things, most of his eye is on a decade away — which is likely tied in to his sentence.

As I mentioned earlier, when things started going bad for Tommy, they went really bad — and the rest of the book didn’t lighten up on him. It’s almost as if Parks lulled readers into letting their guard down before hitting them hard (actually, it’s probably exactly that). The twists and turns start to come fast and relentlessly. The beginning of the book is interesting and winning — and then once the hook is set, Parks just messes with you and you can’t relax until everything is over. In his previous stand-alones, Parks pretty much kept the tension and suspense going from the first chapter theory the end. In this book, he saved almost all of it until the end, so it hits you harder. So it stops being about characters that you’d like to see succeed or find out more about, to characters that you like and have to know if they’re going to survive with their wits, health and family intact — and you have to know it right now.

About the same time that things got intense, I had a realization — I think I’ve figured out what makes Parks’ novels work so well, how he gets his readers to commit — in The Last Act — and everything else he writes — what matters most is family. Ultimately, all his books are celebrations of family, and what people will go through for the sake of family. It’s tucked away in some of the Carter Ross books — but, without going back to reread any, I’m pretty sure its there. But especially in his stand-alones, this is Parks’ recurring theme. It’s the way he connects his audience to whatever his protagonist is going through and to the protagonists themselves. There’s something instinctive, primal about the way that Parks portrays family and the lengths that individuals will go through for them — whether the family is just starting or well-established. something that Tommy and Dupree have a conversation about made that click with/for me — and thinking about it is the only thing that got me to think about putting this book down for a moment.

I’ve yet to be disappointed by a Parks book, I’ve enjoyed all of them — and this is no exception. I do think there’s something special about this one, both in Park’s construction of the novel and what it’s saying about the characters. He takes some risks, and does some things he hadn’t done before, and I was pleased to see the results. There’s a lot of heart in The Last Act, a lot of tension, and more hope than you might expect. There’s also some things said about the drug war and the prison system that are worth reflecting on. I’m not sure what else I can say to convince you to try this, so I’ll just call that good.

Disclaimer: I received this ARC from Dutton Books, which did not influence anything I had to say about it — it just means I was able to say something about it before the publication date. I do thank them for the opportunity, however.


4 Stars

Slow Horses by Mick Herron: A solid, if slow-building, entry point to a spy series.

Slow HorsesSlow Horses

by Mick Herron
Series: Slough House, #1Hardcover, 329 pg.
Soho Constable, 2010
Read: March 1 – 4, 2019

’What you have to bear in mind’–the O.B.’s words–’is that worst sometimes does come to worst.’

The worst had increased exponentially over the last few years.

The O.B.’s words of advice for his grandson turns out to be a bit more. I don’t think Herron placed this on page 2 to be a thesis statement for the book — but it really could be one. River Cartwright was musing about the way things were going for Intelligence officers (and people in related vocations) when it came to predicting what terrorists of various stripes would do. If September 11, July 7, and similar dates have taught Intelligence officers (and people in general), anything it is that sometimes the worst case is actually what happens. (actually, what do I know, maybe it was a thesis for the novel)

Of course, it doesn’t just happen for terrorist attacks — sometimes it happens for someone’s career. Take River Cartwright — after the events on page 2 (and the rest of that first chapter) — and his colleagues. Each of them had worked for the Intelligence service, many of them were rising stars (or stars that had already risen), until they messed up. Sometimes it’s in a large-scale drill, sometimes it was in the course of duty — but they all made an embarrassing mistake, misstep or failure of another stripe, resulting them being assigned to Slough House. In Slough House, all the officers still technically do intelligence work — reviewing transcripts of cell phone conversations for certain words and phrases, for example. But it’s all low priority, low importance work. Far from the important work that the rest of MI-5 (and the rest) do. They’re dubbed the “Slow Horses” and if they aren’t forgotten about by the rest of the service, they’re mocked.

One day, a Slow Horse brushes up against something that approaches “real” work and River takes the results are taken to MI-5’s HQ for them to follow-up on (after making a copy). About the same time that happens, a young Pakistani immigrant is kidnapped by a nationalist group that promises to behead him on the Internet. River decides to try to follow up on this intel, thinking it might lead to the kidnappers. And well, chaos ensues, and let’s leave it there.

Honestly, I had a lot of flashbacks to the show MI-5 (aka Spooks), throughout. The story has a very British spy feel, with more clandestine meetings, history and significant looks than an American spy story (which largely revolve around attractive people shooting things). But these Slow Horses aren’t the type that Nicola Walker, Peter Firth, and Miranda Raison would deal with — at best, they’re the ones those people would pass in the hall. But all of them wanted to get back to the major leagues — they all had the drive, the chip on their shoulder, the need to lose the embarrassment. It makes for an interesting motivation — it’s not just about saving the young man, it’s about them doing it.

The characters are quite a rag-tag bunch, who really don’t like each other much at the beginning — they all know that Slough House is a dead-end and resent being there — and transfer that resentment onto the others stuck there with them. An actual team gets forged through the events of this novel and the characters find things about each other that they can relate to — and maybe even admire.

It’s a solid spy story, and one told with restrained humor — it’s not a comedy by any means, but there are comic sensibilities throughout. Herron could’ve easily turned it into a humorous spy story about rejects trying to save the day. But he plays it pretty straight, there are things to grin about — or at least smile wryly about. But by and large this is a serious story told seriously. And it’s well done — it’s a well-constructed story and by the time the big twist is revealed, you care about the players enough to react appropriately.

But man, it was slow. Once things started happening, it flowed pretty smoothly and quickly. But those early chapters, where Herron was setting up his dominoes, were a slog. It took awhile to figure out why we were spending so much time with X, Y and Z. But when he started knocking the dominoes over? You understood why he’d spent the time and were glad he did. The slow pace of the early chapters were entirely justified, thankfully. Still, I think we could’ve had a better hook early on.

I do think that the later books in the series will be able to build on what’s established here and be less slow, and using the characters we met here get into the action quicker. I’m planning on reading at least a couple more in this series because I did enjoy this one, and think that Herron can build this into a great series. It’s a good entry point into something that promises to be better.


3 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Killing State by Judith O’Reilly: I Can’t Suitably Encapsulate this Gripping Thriller

Killing StateKilling State

by Judith O’Reilly
Series: Michael North, #1

Kindle Edition, 496 pg.
Head of Zeus, 2019

Read: March 5 – 7, 2019

           “You should come with me.”

He turned over the offer in his mind.

Why would he?

Because she was stop-your-heart beautiful.

Then again, the world teemed with beautiful women. Because he wanted to know how it ended.

Badly, he predicted.

What happens when an assassin doesn’t get the expected reaction from his target? Honor Jones, MP, tells him to let her finish her cigarette and asks him a question, “Where’s Peggy?” The assassin in question, Michael North, doesn’t know who Peggy is, much less where she is. What he does know is that he can’t kill this woman — maybe it’s because (unlike the rest of his targets) he wasn’t given a reason for her execution, maybe it’s her attitude, maybe he’s just getting tired of killing (not to be confused with Martin Q. Blank’s newfound respect for life) — certainly her beauty doesn’t hurt.

His refusal to kill her doesn’t go down well with his employer — an extra-governmental body dedicated to the preservation of the British government. That morning, he’s contacted in person with strict instructions to get the job done or face the (fatal) consequences. Instead, North tried to get her out of the country and ends up saving her from a different assassin. Not very shockingly, North also finds instructions to kill him on this assassin’s corpse. By this point, North is smitten with Honor and is committed (whether either of them consciously realize it) to helping her survive and find her friend Peggy.

At the moment, it’s clear that Honor’s search for her dear friend is tied to the kill order. Peggy’s an astronomer, largely apolitical, and not tied to any endeavor that would normally put her on the radar of anyone outside of astronomical/academic circles. Nevertheless, she’s somehow set these dominoes falling, and now Honor and North are running from killers across the country as they seek to learn why Peggy has disappeared.

This hunt for Peggy will push North and Honor to — and past — their limits. It will see them both injured. Both under threat of grave bodily harm (and death) through violence — and both will have to take steps to defend themselves. Around them, the culture and government face shifts and challenges from within that threaten to change everything that Britons know about themselves. On top of all that — there are some great character moments, real growth and change that happen ways that you can believe — not just the clear result of authorial fiat, but because that’s what happens when people face what they did.

Plots involving large-scale conspiracies frequently leave me cold — O’Reilly not only convinces me that her conspiracy is worth reading, but she’s effective enough with it to make me enjoy it. I struggle to accept plots involving psychiatric professionals and loved ones trying to convince a character that the reality they know (and the audience knows) isn’t real, but is the result of delusion brought on by some psychological condition. Now this one isn’t as involved as say, “Normal Again” from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it’s there — and O’Reilly sticks with it long enough to accomplish what she needs to for her story, but she doesn’t milk drama out of it. There are a few other things like this — tricks, plotlines, tropes — that I typically avoid or get annoyed by, but I accepted and enjoyed here.

My notes are filled with “O’Reilly isn’t going to try ___, is she?” entries, followed by “Yeah, she is — and it works.” She squeezes in so many of these things that I’m tempted to doubt my memory about them — and I’m writing this less than a day after I read it! For reasons of space, time, and readability I’ve limited myself in what I’ve addressed in this post. I had a lot of other things I wanted to say, and even had drafts talking about. But I ended up restricting myself — not just because of spoilers (though, as always, that’s part of it) — but because O’Reilly stuffs this novel with so many ideas, plot points and details that I can’t talk about it all without the post becoming unreadable. I don’t know how she manages to put it all in while maintaining the pounding pace. It’s truly noteworthy and laudable that she pulls it off. I can’t even express this without producing an ungainly paragraph.

Michael North is a larger-than-life character, but honestly more grounded in reality than many assassin/lone warrior types in Thriller fiction. Part of that comes from O’Reilly’s restraint in describing him — he’s never depicted as anything superlative. He’s simply a skilled and surprisingly dedicated combat veteran in a series of tight situations that even he is shocked that he survives as long as he does.

Similarly, Honor is one of many beautiful women in the world (as North himself notes above) — she’s one of many dedicated elected public servants, she’s one of many people who’ve overcome difficult pasts thanks to the help of a friend/loved one. She also isn’t depicted as a superlative anything — just the right person in the right place at the right time. Even if that right place is in front of Michael North’s knife. And yes, the name Honor is ripe with possibilities and symbolism — O’Reilly takes advantage of it. Not as much as some authors would’ve, but she gets her money’s worth out of the name.

There is an plausibility-stretching character — a young computer whiz (actually, she’s something beyond whiz, but I can’t think of a term that fits her), who North allies himself with temporarily. But between her attitude and role in the overall story, I can’t see any reader not suspending disbelief enough to embrace her.

Most of this book takes place in moral gray areas (as it almost has to given North’s profession), but that doesn’t stop O’Reilly’s villains from clearly being villains and her heroes clearly being heroic. Killing State doesn’t try to go for some sort of situational ethics or a “yes, but” approach to the morality of te characters — which may or may not have been successful.

The plot moves like the proverbial roller coaster — ups, downs, rushes, and loops all at a pace that you just hope to keep up with. Fair warning — once the hook is set (and it’ll be early on), you won’t want to put the book down and you’ll likely get in trouble with deadlines and schedules. Things won’t really end the way you expect them to — I had a handful of expected conclusions that I had to discard along the way (although some I didn’t have to discard until the last moments) — but when you’re finished with the book, you’ll likely realize that there’s no other way for things to have fallen out.

There’s a sequel expected later this year — I honestly can’t imagine that it’ll be able to live up to this. But I wouldn’t put it past O’Reilly to confound my expectations again. I had a lot of fun with this novel and was regularly impressed with O’Reilly (and North and Honor). I expect that I’m not alone, and soon I’ll see a lot of very positive buzz surrounding this book.

My thanks to Love Books Group for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.


4 Stars

Head of Zeus
Love Books Group

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Killing State by Judith O’Reilly

Today I welcome the Book Tour for the gripping Killing State by Judith O’Reilly. Along with this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit.

Book Details:

Book Title: Killing State by Judith O’Reilly
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Release date: March 7, 2019
Format: Hardcover/ebook
Length: 496 pages
Killing State Cover

Book Blurb:


Michael North, assassin and spy-for-hire, is very good at killing bad guys. But what happens when his shadowy bosses at the dark heart of the post-Brexit British government, order him to kill an innocent woman and North can’t bring himself to do it?

The woman is rising political star, Honor Jones, MP. She has started asking dangerous questions about the powerful men running her country. The trouble is, Honour doesn’t know when to stop. And, now that he’s met her, neither does North…

Praise for Killing State:

“A terrific future-shock thriller.” Lee Child
“Fast-paced and packed with action.” Mick Herron
“A gritty, action-packed page-turner.” Andy McNab
“New thriller writers come and go. I suspect this lady will stick around.” Frederick Forsyth
“Thought-provoking, pacy and thrilling.” Sunday Mirror
“Gripping and twisty” India Knight
“Grabs you from page one and won’t let you go… Action-packed from start to finish – but with tenderness and great characterisation too. Fast, sharply-written, clever and intense.” Jeremy Vine, BBC2
“A high-octane plot that centres around the dark heart of British political power. A great debut.” Sunday Times

About Judith O’Reilly:

Judith O'ReillyJudith O’Reilly is the author of Wife in the North, a top-three Sunday Times bestseller and BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week. Judith is a former political producer with BBC 2’s Newsnight and ITN’s Channel 4 News, and, when she isn’t writing novels, she writes for The Sunday Times. Judith lives in Durham.

Judith O’Reilly’s Social Media:

Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

My thanks to Love Books Group for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

Head of Zeus
Love Books Group