Infiltrator (Agent G #1) by C.T. Phipps

The International Refugee Society has twenty-six cybernetically enhanced “Letters”, and for the right price they will eliminate any one. These “Letters” have given up their families and their memories, exchanging them for ten years of service and a life of luxury when the time is done.

Agent G is one of these “Letters”. He’s been sent on a near impossible mission to infiltrate the Carnevale – the Society’s most dangerous competitor. It is while on this mission that clues from his hidden past begin to emerge. In the midst of all the violence and deceit, G will need to keep his wits about him and trust only a few.

After all, if an organization like the International Refugee Society will kill for the right price, how far would they go to keep the truth hidden?

One of the reviewers on Goodreads described Agent G as “If the agencies behind Johnny Mnemonic and Jason Bourne merged their R&D departments” and it is a description I completely agree with.

G is a highly trained agent, enhanced with what is referred to as Black Technology. Along with wiping his memories, his emotions are kept under strict control via the chip that is embedded in his brain. His body has also been subjected to several modifications, turning him in to the so called perfect weapon.

There is a lot of violence in Infiltrator – and I mean a LOT. Phipps does not skimp when it comes to that particular detail. People are killed left and right and not all of them are bad guys. Concepts like “collateral damage” are not even considered in G’s world of espionage. When an elderly couple comes across the carnage after G and one of the members of Carnavale have been ambushed, they are shot almost point blank before they can leave and possibly report what they saw. Deaths like this are fairly common throughout the book, underlining the fact that these are not nice people.

Overall, the plot line driving Infiltrator isn’t that original. Any one who is familiar with the manga and movies Ghost in the Shell or Battle Angel Alita have seen similar storylines – augmented individuals with forgotten pasts trying to remember the people they were, for better or for worse. Even the big reveal at the end, which has enough hints dropped through the story to make it fairly easy to guess, isn’t that original. Other books and movies have done the same thing and done it better.

At times I also found the dialogue a bit awkward and clunky. Even when the dialogue was between two characters it sometimes became difficult to tell who was speaking and there were a few times I had to go back to reread a passage to make sure I was following it properly.

The bottom line is Infiltrator is an okay book. Very violent and not very innovative, it gives us a story that has been done before but unfortunately doesn’t present it in a new way. While it might appeal to some, I wasn’t terribly impressed and I won’t be seeking out the rest of the series.

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Sherlock Holmes: The Legacy of Deeds by Nick Kyme

It is 1894; Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson have been summoned to a Covent Garden art gallery. Dozens of patrons lie dead in a portrait gallery, their means of death unclear.

The search for clues leads them to cross paths with a mysterious figure in black, whose amazing speed and agility make capture impossible. This same person is suspect in a second murder when the servant of a visiting Russian grand duke is found mutilated in a notorious slum. The question is what connects these two events? And how are they connected to the apparent suicide of a teacher at a nearby girls’ boarding school?

So begins a case that reveals the shadows that past misdeeds can cast and the limits the detectives can face.

As a fan of the characters Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, I am always interested in the interpretations different authors can bring. What one author does, another might not, even if both are using the same characters set in the same universe.

Such can be said about Kyne’s The Legacy of Deeds. For while the characters bear the names we readers are familiar with, at times they did not seem to be the same individuals from the original Doyle stories.

To start with, the titular character Sherlock Holmes. While he is still the brilliant detective; brooding moodily when he is bored, cold and blunt when questioning others, skilled in combat, and completely dedicated to the pursuit of justice, his softer side is more evident. Something we do not see often – if at all – in Doyle’s version. It is certainly not something I am complaining about, dear reader, but it is something I thought pertinent to point out.

John Watson has also gone through a few minor changed from the original canon. He is still loyal to Holmes, clucking over him much like a mother hen and always trying to do the right thing, yet he is a bit overly melodramatic at times. Something Holmes himself comments on towards the end of the story. This does not detract from him doing what he can to assist Holmes and Scotland Yard in following the clues to their eventual conclusion.

One thing I did find different about The Legacy of Deeds was the actual conclusion. More often than not the culprit is revealed and arrested and the case is closed. This doesn’t quite happen here. For fear of giving away the end of the story, all I can say is that there is no clear cut resolution. The ending is shrouded in shades of gray much like the foggy streets of London where the majority of the action takes place. Some readers – much like our dear Sherlock Holmes – might find this bothersome. To not have an ending to a mystery that is neat and tidy can be irksome to some.

My overall impression of The Legacy of Deeds is a favorable one. While Kyme tends to use more modern day vernacular and phrasing for his prose, he has a good handle of the characters and uses them well. Fans of the Holmes genre will likely enjoy it and add it to their bookshelves as I have.

Spot and Smudge (Spot and Smudge #1) by Robert Udulutch

The Hogan family weren’t looking to start a war. All they wanted was to move closer to grandma, maybe adopt a dog, and hopefully leave the troubles of the big city behind.

But the quaint little town has several dark secrets behind it’s shiny facade. And the strange puppies the family adopts are more than what they seem to be.

There’s a strange connection between the two orphaned puppies and the town’s criminals; and that connection is pulling both sides towards one another in what will be an epic battle. One which the Hogan family aren’t prepared to fight, much less win.

But the grit of one devoted family, like the loyalty of a pair of pups, should never be underestimated. Especially if the pups are unlike any dogs the family…or any one…has ever seen.

As a dog lover, I was intrigued by the plot of Spot and Smudge, and when the opportunity came to get an e-copy, I jumped on it. Who doesn’t like a story like the one described above?

Turns out, dear reader, that person would be me.

First of all, let me say that Spot and Smudge has a great deal of disturbing scenes. There is drug abuse, alcohol abuse, human abuse, as well as animal abuse. This is a very dark book and the story does not stray for very long in the light.

Aside from the titular dogs, the majority of the human characters are sadly one dimensional. Even the “good guys” that we are supposed to be rooting for are like this. We are given very little information about the Hogan family aside from names and the most basic of backgrounds. We are told they are wanting to “start over”, but start over from what? They are wanting to move closer to Ms. Hogan’s mother, who loses her husband before the start of the book. A certainly believable reason, but sadly, once again an idea that is never fully looked in to.

The “bad guys” are bad because we are told they are. Aside from greed there is no ulterior motive for any of them. As I was reading, I kept hoping for some kind of back story – anything to flesh out these characters and keep them from turning out to be little more than pieces of walking, talking cardboard. Sadly, I was let down, because even the main bad guy (who appears for only a handful of pages) left me feeling flat. Pun definitely intended.

As much as I was looking forward to reading Spot and Smudge, I was unfortunately left sorely disappointed. And more than a little disturbed. This is not for any of the more squeamish readers, and sadly not one I can recommend. It is unlikely I will be reading or reviewing the subsequent titles in the series.

The Hangman’s Daughter (The Hangman’s Daughter #1) by Oliver Pötzsch

It is 1659 and the Thirty Years’ War has finally come to an end. There has not been a witchcraft mania in the area in decades but the discovery of a drowned boy changes things. Badly beaten and tattooed with the mark of a witch, the boy is recognized as one of the many orphans in the small village. With the boy being seen at the local midwife’s home on more than one occasion, fingers soon begin to point in her direction.

Jakob Kuisl is the town’s hangman; living with his family of wife and children on the outskirts of the village. It is he who is charged with getting a confession from the midwife and torturing her until it is given. He, however, believes her innocent. He is also not the only one; his daughter Magdalena and the village doctor’s son, Simon, believe her to be innocent as well.

When another tattooed orphan is found murdered, and then a third, the village becomes frenzied. Walpurgisnacht is approaching, a night when witches are said to dance in the forest and have consort with the devil. Some have even claimed to see the devil himself – a man with a hand made completely of bone. With the deadline fast approaching, Jakob, his daughter and the doctor’s son must try and find if they are dealing with mass hysteria or a very real enemy.

The Hangman’s Daughter is one of those books where the title and the description do not quite match the story inside. If one were to go by the description on Goodreads or on Amazon, one would be led to believe that Magdalena is the main character. Unfortunately, she is not and is at best a secondary character; one might even argue that she is a tertiary character.

The book description leads us to believe that Jakob Kuisl is a secondary character when in truth it is HE who is the main character. It is he who does the most when it comes to proving the accused’s innocence or guilt. It is he who first learns the truth behind the killings and who eventually faces the man with the hand of bone.

Description differences aside, The Hangman’s Daughter is a fairly well written story. Jakob Kuisl was a real hangman and his family as described did exist. The town he lived in and some of the people also did exist. Everything else though must be taken with a healthy grain of salt.

It is evident that Potzsch often takes dramatic liberty. However good a man that Jakob Kuisl might have been, it is quite unlikely he would have gone to the same lengths to prove a person’s guilt or innocence. Jakob is also one of the few characters that is actually “fleshed out” for want of a better word. Many of the characters, especially the townspeople, are little more mannequins – used to voice the cruelty and superstitions of the time.

The mystery itself is quite slow to develop. And when resolution finally comes, it feels almost anticlimactic. As if Potzsch ran out of steam when it came to the end of the book. Although maybe this could be attributed to the translation, one cannot be truly sure.

All in all, The Hangman’s Daughter is fairly enjoyable. The reader must of course take in to consideration the liberties the author has taken, but even with that it is a decent read. Over time I am sure I will be seeking out the rest of the titles in the series.