A Prisoner in Malta (Christopher Marlowe Mystery #1) by Phillip Depoy

In 1583, nineteen year old Christopher Marlowe is visited by a man claiming to represent his benefactors. The man comes with an offer from Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s spymaster. Rumors abound of a plot to overthrow the Queen and Walsingham wants Marlowe to uncover the truth.

Marlowe has always been known as a brawler and womanizer, but he is also a genius. He’ll need all of his skills if he’s to try and solve the mystery Walsingham has handed him. For failure would mean death – not only for Marlowe but for Queen Elizabeth herself.

Christopher Marlowe is an interesting individual in that for as much as we know about him there is just as much that is unknown. Was he really a spy for Walsingham and the Privy Council? Did he write Shakespeare’s plays? Did he fake his own death?

In A Prisoner in Malta, Depoy attempts to answer at least one of those questions. In it, he has a young Marlowe “invited” to help uncover a plot to overthrow the Queen.

Historical purists are likely going to take issue with this novel. The way the characters speak is more akin to modern speech patterns than to how they likely spoke during that time. Also, there were times where it seemed Marlowe was almost too smart. In a few places he took intuitive leaps with minimal evidence that didn’t quite make sense.

Minor quibbles aside, A Prisoner in Malta was a good book. Readers who are looking for an entertaining read will likely enjoy it. It is a nice start to a series that has a good deal of promise.

A Fever of the Blood (Frey and McGray #2) by Oscar de Muriel

New Years’ Day – 1889.

In Edinburgh’s lunatic asylum, a patient escapes and a nurse lays dying. Before his escape he was supposedly heard speaking with a fellow patient – a young woman who hasn’t uttered a word in years. Why she spoke and what she said are only two small parts of a greater mystery.

Leading the investigation are local officer Detective ‘Nine Nails’ McGray and Inspector Ian Frey. From Edinburgh, the two track a devious madman far beyond their jurisdiction. While the worst storm in history swirls around them, it brings more than snow and cold – it brings danger neither man could dare imagine.

Coming in to the middle of a series – regardless of the format – can often be a bit difficult. Characters have already been introduced and set up, their motives already established. Mentions of previous adventures, previous conversations, can be made and will either make perfect sense or be utterly confusing.

This is unfortunately true with A Fever of the Blood. It is the second book of a series that looks to be promising but really should be read from the first book. Numerous references are made to events in the first book and at times I found it a bit confusing.

On the whole, A Fever of the Blood was quite enjoyable. While it was a little slow in the beginning, once the action picked up it continued at a fast and furious speed. Despite my occasional confusion I still found myself entranced and held rapt by the story.

Readers should likely seek out the first book The Strings of Murder before trying to read A Fever of the Blood. While on its own it is enjoyable, knowing more about the characters and the backstory will likely make it more so.

Humans, Bow Down by James Patterson

The Great War has ended and the robots have won. The few humans that survived have two choices – to serve the robots they created or be banished. Banishment means living on the Reserve; a barren, desolate area of land where life is cruel and the humans often crueler.

Not every one though is content with the status quo. Six, a young woman whose parents were killed during the Great War, is one such person. Along with her friend Dubs, most of her time is spent simply trying to survive. When an attempted massacre causes the two friends to run, it sets in to motion a series of events that could either spell salvation or doom for the human race.

If the basic premise of Humans, Bow Down sounds familiar, that’s because it is.  Humans create smarter and smarter robots who then rise up against their creators, resulting in war. The robots win (as they generally do) and subjugate the humans, either making them slaves or decimating them almost entirely. A plucky young human does something to garner the robots attention and while running from them somehow manages to come in contact with a secret underground organization that seek to overthrow the robot overlords.

It is a plot that has played out again and again in various media and in this book it is no different. Patterson, while definitely a gifted writer, does little to add anything new to this often overused and abused story line. And while the addition of a transgender character seeks to bring the story in to more modern views, the character herself is little more than a few lines.

The addition of oddly photo shopped pictures every few pages does little to help, either. I’m guessing that they are to help us get a picture of the characters, but I found them to be more distracting than anything else.

As much as I have previously enjoyed Patterson’s books, I found Humans, Bow Down to be rather boring and contrived. The story is nothing new and there have been others who have done it better. If you are looking for a mindless read, you can give it a go but otherwise, I advise my dear readers to skip this one.

The Girl Before by Rena Olsen

It takes only a moment for Clara Lawson to be taken from the life she has always known. With no warning she has been taken from her home; from her husband and daughters; a husband who as they are being separated orders her to say nothing.

Isolated from those she holds dear, every day Clara faces questions from the people who took her. Questions about her husband and his family and accusations about the unspeakable crimes they supposedly committed. At first, Clara vehemently denies every accusation but as time goes by she begins to wonder. Her past has always been full of secrets; of half truths and whole lies. With each new day she gains new information and new insight into herself and into what exactly was happening around her.

Let me begin dear reader by saying I devoured this book. I read it in just two days and if it weren’t for pesky things like eating and sleeping, I likely would have finished it in one. The Girl Before was just that good.

Dealing with such a subject as human trafficking is a tricky one but Olsen handles it with aplomb. Chapters alternate between modern time as Clara is held by the authorities and her past, both as a child as later as a married woman. We see just how blind and unquestioning she is to the events around her, having been raised to do just that. Her desire to make those around her happy make her not question things, no matter what doubts she might have.

Olsen’s characters are well written and quite believably so. Clara doesn’t see herself as a victim and only as time goes on does she realize the magnitude of what she was doing. She believed herself to be doing good things and when she realizes what was happening, her horror is heartbreaking.

An incredibly tense read on a sensitive subject, The Girl Before is one of those books that I cannot help but recommend. I urge all of my readers to check this one out.