In Irina’s Cards by Christine Hart

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In Irina’s Cards by Christine Hart
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (209 PAGES)
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Rose

Irina Proffer leaves mundane small-town life behind when she experiences visions inspired by a strange deck of tarot cards. To get answers, she travels from her northern British Columbia home to the province’s coastal capital. She quickly discovers a world of fringe genetic science and supernatural mystery.

Working for Innoviro Industries, Irina is drawn in by a powerful first love and compelling, yet dangerous questions about the nature of the company’s business. Meeting other ‘variants’ brings Irina closer and closer to the dark truth about her origins. She finds herself at the heart of two overlapping love triangles as she scrambles to escape her employer’s grip. Before she leaves the city, Irina realizes she has merely scratched the surface of a frightening conspiracy on a global scale.

I thoroughly enjoyed In Irina’s Cards, the first book in the Variant Conspiracy series, in which we are introduced to Irina and find out, along with her, that her life may not be exactly as she thinks it is. She begins having strange visions after purchasing a deck of old Tarot cards and – out of character for her (she’s not exactly the adventuresome type)—packs up her backpack and sets off to discover the meaning of them.

The story is told from Irina’s POV so the reader can take the journey along with her and discover as well the mystery behind Innoviro. We bond with other variants on the journey and enjoy the feeling of being part of a larger group.

I really like the character of Irina—once she gets out and gets on her own (even if the way is paved for her by Innoviro) she really begins to come into her own. We get to see her grow up a bit.

The story is well-written (there was one minor issue at the beginning that took me out of the story a little where a key became a key card, but that was the only bobble I can remember). I was sucked into the story and stayed up way too late reading it because I had to know what happened next.

Because this is the first in the series, do not expect a clear cut ending—there is a bit of a cliffhanger that leads you into book two—which I will be starting this weekend! The third book in the series is being released soon and I want to make sure I’m caught up!

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Sister Agatha: The World’s Oldest Serial Killer by Domhnall O’Donoghue

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Sister Agatha: The World’s Oldest Serial Killer by Domhnall O’Donoghue
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (122 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Sister Agatha is a colossal 118 years of age, whose vim and vigour would put the most robust athletes to shame. During a routine check-up, however, her doctor claims she has just a week to live, news that proves to be quite inconvenient, seeing as the beloved sister has one ambition in life: to be the oldest person in the world. At last count, she was the fifth.

However, never one to admit defeat, Sister Agatha concocts a bold Plan B. Dusting off her passport, she decides to leave Irish shores for the first time in her very long life, and using the few days remaining, plans to travel across three continents and meet the only four people whose birthday cakes boast more candles than hers.

And then, one by one, she intends on killing them.

You’re never too old to get into some mischief.

Getting to know Sister Agatha was delightful. I admired her intelligence and resourcefulness, but what really made me like her was her uncanny ability to reveal something new about herself just when I thought I had her all figured out. There were so many cleverly-hidden parts of her personality to discover that I wished her tale would never end so that I could keep learning more and more about her.

This book had a slow beginning. It took me a long time to get into the storyline because of how little was happening to move the plot forward. A big part of the reason why it moved so slowly was because the narrator kept flashing back to things that happened when Sister Agatha was growing up. While I found those scenes interesting, having so many of them did make it hard for me to stay focused on the mystery itself due to how little time the characters spent on it in the first several chapters.

The dialogue in this story was lively. Some of my favorite scenes to read were the ones where two or more characters had in-depth conversations about what was happening around them. Every character had an unique voice and something important to share with the audience. Listening to them talk to each other gave me many opportunities to guess what was going on and what might happen next, so I enjoyed every minute of their discussions.

Sister Agatha: The World’s Oldest Serial Killer should be read by anyone who is on the lookout for something completely unexpected.

A Twist of Betrayal by Allie Harrison

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A Twist of Betrayal by Allie Harrison
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (266 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

Justine Franklin is taken hostage during a store robbery and little does she know the robbery is just a stage for something much bigger. She soon discovers her husband, the man who holds her heart, a respected officer of the law, is not the man she thought he was.

When Dan Franklin learns his wife has been kidnapped, he knows the past he’s kept hidden from everyone, even Justine, has come back to haunt him. While their memories give them strength, their deep love will soon be put to the greatest test.

Dan’s terrified he can’t save Justine or the child she carries. And though he is not afraid to do whatever it takes to get Justine back, can he do it and keep safe the secret he’s kept for the last decade? Or will his past destroy them both?

This book is an awesome adventure of suspense and as the title states its truly a twist of betrayal. Justine Franklin a Public Defender has been seemingly happily married to police officer Dan Franklin for six years. The majority of the time any bad deed done in our past will surely catch up with us. Dan is a man that can vouch for this. The book opens with the couple having a heated disagreement prompting Justine to leave the house in anger. Her decision to go to the grocery store is timed with the grocery store robbery. Unfortunately Justine is kidnapped. Will Dan be able to save his wife and still keep his unlawful past a secret?

From the very beginning this book had my attention. To discover early on that the kidnappers know Justine personally only made my suspense greater. The timely flash backs give a back story of Justine and Dan’s past and also adds dimension to the storyline. The author timed the flashbacks at the appropriate time and gave enough suspense to keep me entertained and still had my interest on how the story would unfold. True enough I had a feeling that Justine would be saved, but boy were there many twists that the author complied to make this a book that I enjoyed and would recommend to any reader that is looking for a good suspenseful read.

I enjoyed the writing style. How the novel flowed was perfect. The plot was told with true talent. This is a book that you can’t judge by the cover. The blurb is interesting enough but the cover lead me to think the context would be something totally different.

The bad guys were truly bad. They devised a plan and I guess with all bad intentions they thought they would actually get away with it. Dan is a man of determination. He is a strong officer with attractive features. A man that is adamant on upholding the law and has a deep concern about public safety. He was a favorable character to read about. He is a man with faults but inspire to do right. Justine is a professional woman and as with any relationship she balances work and marriage as best she can. With the turn of events of an unexpected pregnancy and the kidnapping Dan and Justine’s marriage is put to the test. This is a well written, well thought out story a reader of suspense and action wouldn’t want to miss out on.

Old Money by Bobby Cole

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Old Money by Bobby Cole
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (288 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

Jake Crosby has traded in a stockbroker’s suit and tie for a standard-issue uniform. As a newly minted Mississippi game warden, he has two tough cases to cut his teeth on—the ongoing robbery of wealthy hunters and the ruthless search for a rumored hidden fortune.

According to local gossip, several million dollars have been missing since the conviction of local conman Bronson Bolivar, and following his death in prison, his two grown children have torn his property apart looking for the funds. As Jake searches for the robber who targets well-to-do outdoorsmen, he finds a trail leading to the Bolivars. But the allure of quick cash also draws unexpected interest from both Bronson’s former cellmate and an upstanding federal judge. Will Jake understand the severity of the situation in time or get caught up in a web of deceit?

I am a Bobby Cole fan and this is another book that I thoroughly enjoyed. This one is full of suspense, action and humor that I’ve enjoyed from all of Mr. Cole’s books. Jake Crosby has recovered from his injuries along with making a drastic career change from stockbroker to game warden. This new career brings about many time consuming cases from wealthy hunters being robbed to keeping up with the Bolivar twins as a favor for Judge Ranson Rothbone.

When unclaimed money is concerned people are liable to do just about anything to get their hands on it, each person for their own personal reason; be it for a good or for selfish pleasure it doesn’t stop one from dreaming and even going on the hunt for the almighty dollar. The town story is that Bronson Bolivar hid money, not even disclosing the location to his children. The line of people wanting or just dreaming to get their hands on the money is quite lengthy.

Judge Ranson wants the money to get his wife’s medical treatment. So he places Jake to keep a close eye on the Bolivar children. I was a little puzzled why his wife wasn’t on dialysis for her kidney problems, but I’m not in the medical field and there was too much other story to focus on so I left that as an afterthought. The Judge’s love for his wife and her getting the proper treatment was very heart touching.

This is a book that just doesn’t focus on one storyline. I felt it bought about many tangents that the author could touch on later and as a reader it gave me a more filling read because it made the characters seem so real and their life as though it’s not fiction. My favorite character would be Virgil Fain, Jake’s coworker and his yellow lab, Kramer.

Virgil has experience and knowledge in all things. He adds a certain flare to the book with his logic and humor in what he says and does. One thing I did notice that the author didn’t reveal how Virgil’s banana diet turned out at the end of the book. Kramer was a handful for Jake’s wife Morgan and the things he got into brought about realness to the family life.

I enjoy this author’s writing style. This novel flows with a unique plot that is told with true talent. The suspense and action!  I felt sorry for the Bolivar twins, Chase and Chance. Their father had money but didn’t disclose to them where it was located before he passed. As a parent we know our children and perhaps Bronson knew the money would be his children demise, but then on the other hand it could have been that Bronson was just as selfish as his children and didn’t want anyone to end up with the money. The hunt for the money ruled his children’s lives. Tracking down their father’s cellmate to see what information he has about the money, to fabricating lies, stealing, and to finally each twin having their own secret from the other. This was not a model family but following their journey and the depths they would go to to get their hands on their father’s hidden money is a story that is worth reading.

Jigsaw by Stella Barcelona

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Jigsaw by Stella Barcelona
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (406 pgs)
Heat: Spicy
Rated: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Poppy

Foraging the cyber-world for puzzle pieces…

Zeus Hernandez, a Black Raven partner, is pulled away from a top-secret project to be the personal bodyguard to lawyer Samantha Fairfax. Terrorists have rendered the future frightening and uncertain, but Zeus and Samantha’s past makes two things crystal clear: she’ll be furious to see him and he can’t refuse the job.

Sorting pieces as stakes rise…

Danger surrounds the International Terrorism Tribunal, a court convened to combat terrorism. Samantha is thrust into the limelight when her mentor dies as the trial convenes in Paris, France. Her role requires steadfast focus and nerves of steel. She’s determined to do her job and move her life ahead, according to plan…without Zeus. He’s determined she’ll reconsider.

Completing the puzzle as their worlds collide…

As personal drama escalates behind closed doors, terrorists take aim at an Achilles’ heel that is capable of crippling Zeus, Samantha, and Black Raven. While forcing puzzle pieces to click into place, a personal reckoning looms for these two strong-willed people. There’s no denying they might be better off apart…but they fit together so well.

Wow! What a ride!

Jigsaw is everything I expect in romantic suspense. It has the perfect balance of sexy romance and edge-of-your-seat suspense. I was engrossed from the very start.

Sam is a bright, ambitious woman. She has some familial advantages that open doors for her, but she earns the spots she gets. Her latest job, though, comes when the previous person dies … and they aren’t sure if it was a natural death or murder.

Enter Zeus. Hand-picked by Sam’s grandfather to guard her, he and Sam have a past. A very hot, very emotional past. It’s hard for him to agree to taking care of her, but he doesn’t think anyone else will do as good a job (despite how much he trusts the other Black Raven people).

The book starts out quickly, with a member of Sam’s inner circle dying and Zeus and his people hit the ground running. There’s a running theme about privacy being a thing of the past. Jigsaw refers (mostly) to a program they use to find things out about, well, anyone. It sorts through every bit of data available online and reminds the reader just how much is out there.

The romance between Sam and Zeus was the only reason this wasn’t a solid five star book. Zeus is ready to give their relationship another try, but Sam is stubborn and resistant. While I understand her desire to not be hurt again, it’s clear to the reader that Zeus is sincere and that she’s crazy about him. Their physical relationship starts up again pretty quickly, but she’s not willing to commit emotionally. It doesn’t help that she has a boyfriend she’s intending to marry down the road.

Also, near the end, Zeus’ brother shares something with her that felt a little intrusive. I get he wanted to help his brother, but it kind of felt as if the author wasn’t sure how else for Sam to find out about this, and instead of just finally trusting Zeus and opting to give their love another try, she suddenly had everything wrapped up in a little bow about the past.

That said, I really did love the author’s voice. She’s a master of the written word. Everything flows, there’s nothing that felt stilted or that pulled me out of the story. The ease of the writing made the book like a movie in my mind. Clean. Clear. Interesting. So well done.

Also, this is book two in a series, and I didn’t feel at all lost. Yes, I could tell I was missing out on some things that might have made my experience even richer (for instance, the book opens at a wedding and was likely between the characters from book one). But the author does a bang-up job filling a new reader in. It stands alone very nicely.

All-in-all one of the best books I’ve read lately. Recommended.

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Marvelry’s Curiosity Shop by John Brhel and J. Sullivan

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Marvelry’s Curiosity Shop by John Brhel and J. Sullivan
Publisher: Cemetery Gates Media
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (156 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Retired stage magician Dr. Marvelry prefers to stock his antique store with strange and occult items. He has always enjoyed meeting odd people and hearing their stories, the legends attached to mysterious objects. A phonograph that seemingly replays a tragedy. Fertility dolls that are more than decoration. A bedeviled mannequin. These are just some of the relics this eccentric shopkeeper has collected over the years.

No two customers will have the same experience in his curiosity shop — some walk away satisfied, others are never heard from again. But one thing is certain – when you purchase an item at this store, you often get more than what you paid for.

Follow Marvelry and his hexed objects through twelve tales of suspense, magic, terror, and transformation. Meet his new assistant, fellow illusionists, and some irregular characters along the way. Whatever macabre artifact of the human psyche you’re seeking – you’ll find something special in Marvelry’s Curiosity Shop.

Every antique has a story to tell if you know how to listen to it.

Brent and Kevin Buckley’s experiences in “The Victor Talking Machine” was a wonderful introduction to this collection. Their happy relationship contrasted sharply with the strange phonograph they’d just brought home. I enjoyed seeing how they reacted to all of the weird things going on around them. It made me curious to find out what would happen next, especially once both characters agreed that something needed to be done about their situation.

There were a few tales that would have benefited from having a little more attention paid to their endings. “The Letterbox” was one of them. Josh, the main character in it, accidentally found an antique letterbox that used to belong to his grandparents while browsing Marvelry’s shop. Since Josh had just purchased his grandparents’ old home, he was thrilled to begin outfitting the house with some of its former possessions. I was completely fascinated by what happened after the letterbox was installed in the same spot where it used to hang when the main character’s grandparents lived there. With that being said, I was a bit thrown off by how quickly the storyline ended. There was so much tension being built up that never had a chance to be fully resolved. If not for these missed moments in some scenes, I would have given this book a five star rating as it was otherwise a thrill to read.

In “The Painter’s Premonition,” an artist named Justin got more than he bargained for when he brought home an old easel. The foreshadowing was fantastic in this one. While I did have a pretty good guess about what the twist ending might be ahead of time, it was still a lot of fun to see the main character slowly move closer and closer to the conclusion. I also appreciated how much effort the author put into describing the paintings that Justin was making. Those details made me eager to know what he would paint next and if my guess about the meaning of his work was correct.

Marvelry’s Curiosity Shop was delightfully eerie. Give it a try if you’re in the mood for something spooky.

Tales from Valleyview Cemetery by John Brhel and J. Sullivan

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Tales from Valleyview Cemetery by John Brhel and J. Sullivan
Publisher: Cemetery Gates Media
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Paranormal, Horror, Holiday, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (184 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Welcome to Valleyview, where bodies lie buried but an ancient curse never sleeps. A father hears strange voices on his daughter’s baby monitor. A trio of gravediggers faces a swarm of supernatural creatures. A group of teenagers puts a mausoleum legend to the test. A husband and wife take a stroll through a corn maze that they’ll never forget.

Tales From Valleyview Cemetery contains seventeen interconnected tales of terror — legends of a town and cemetery entrenched in occult practice, macabre history, and a demon elemental waiting for his people’s return.

Death doesn’t always bring peace.

This isn’t your typical anthology. It was fascinating to see how all of the short stories were connected to each other. I liked the fact that I got to experience the same places and people from different points of view. Sometimes my opinions of them completely changed once they popped up in a new tale and showed me a new side of their personality or history, so it was really interesting to guess who I might meet again as I kept reading.

I would have liked to see more details included in this book. There were times when I had trouble imagining what the characters were experiencing because everything was described so quickly and sparsely. This was especially true when it came to what the ghosts and other supernatural creatures looked like. While I could picture some of them quite well, many others were harder to bring to mind because I had so few clues about how they looked or what they sounded like.

Some of the plot twists were extremely well done. “All Hallows Eve” was by far my favorite example of a great surprise from these authors. The characters in were a snooty, young couple who decided to mock everything they saw at a rural Halloween carnival. When they were invited to find their way through a corn maze, I was sure I knew how their night would end. The fact that I was wrong about what happened next only made me more curious to know their fate. If you’re planning to read this collection out of order, this would be a wonderful place to start.

Give Tales from Valleyview Cemetery if you’re in the mood for something spooky.

A Stranger’s House by Clare Chase

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A Stranger’s House by Clare Chase
Publisher: Choc Lit
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (233 Pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Sorrel

What if you were powerless to protect the person you cared about most?

When Ruby finds out that her partner has done the unforgivable, she has no option but to move out of their home. With nowhere else to go, a job house-sitting in Cambridge seems like the perfect solution.

But it’s soon clear the absent owner hurts everyone he gets close to, and Ruby’s faced with the fallout. As violent repercussions unfold, her instinct is to investigate: it’s a matter of self-preservation. And besides, she’s curious…

But Ruby’s new boss, Nate Bastable, has his eye on her and seems determined to put a stop to her sleuthing. Is he simply worried for the welfare of a member of staff, or is there something altogether more complicated – and potentially dangerous – at play?

Ruby is a writer, but when her long term relationship ends she takes a job house sitting with the help of her best friend. However, this job becomes life threatening when people start dying.

It took several pages for me to really get into the plot and grasp what was going on because it was a little confusing, but then it got good. Really good!

The owner of a house contacts a company that deals with the house sitting. The owner, whom Nate and Ruby never meet face to face, becomes a very important part of the story. Though they never meet the elusive man, they discover a lot about the kind of man he is and what it means for Ruby because she is house sitting. Ruby comes to work for Nate, who owns the house sitting company, through a mutual connection. What starts as a convenient working relationship evolves into so much more when Ruby begins to uncover the secrets of the house.

As a writer, Ruby is naturally curious and there’s plenty to discover on this assignment. First and foremost is the absentee owner who likes to play with women. And then there are the mysterious deaths.

The characters were for me what made this book special. Nate and Ruby had an instant attraction from the beginning. Though this book is more mystery than romance, I was able to watch their relationship develop and witness them learning to trust each other through the incidents and deaths that occur in the book. Through everything they learn a lot about each other.

The mystery and attraction turned romance is a perfect beach read. The mystery took some time to develop but that time was insightful towards knowing more about Nate and Ruby and their relationship. The climax was the highlight because all of the clues and bits and pieces that Ruby unraveled. It all came together for a realistic and satisfying conclusion.

The Inventors Game by Demetrius Sherman

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The Inventors Game by Demetrius Sherman
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (27 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A writer gets an idea that could get him killed. Dr. Ormond Sacker is a writer who meets a strange but brilliant young detective. When the sleuth goes on a hunt for a missing inventor, the doctor joins him. A case to write about, Sacker thinks. But things turn deadly when the two come face to face with killers.

Sometimes there can be serious consequences for sticking your nose into other people’s business.

What I liked the most about Mr. Sherman’s writing style was how vivid it was. Whether he was talking about blood seeping out of a fresh corpse or the dull appearance of a old building, I felt like I was standing alongside the characters and experiencing what they were experiencing every step of the way.

The storyline was hard to follow at times because of how much information the author was trying to pack into the plot. There were times when I had to stop and reread a scene in order to get some idea of what the narrator was trying to hint it. While I appreciated how subtle and complex the clues were, I would have liked to have more time to absorb them. Everything happened so quickly and with so little explanation that I had trouble keeping up with the latests twists in the case.

I was fascinated by the dialogue for two reasons. The first one was that all of the main characters had completely unique speaking styles. The second one was that the characters didn’t speak out loud a great deal, so when they did start conversations I paid close attention to what they were talking about. Every word that passed through their mouths was important. It didn’t take long for me to realize who was talking and what they were trying to say even before I finished reading their dialogue.

Give The Inventor’s Game if you’re interested in a modern take on an old classic.

The Gun by Daithi Kavanaugh

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The Gun by Daithi Kavanagh
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full (236 pages)
Rated 4 stars
Review by: Rose
Garda Detective Tadhg Sullivan leads a special unit that investigates politically motivated crime. A man known only as The Deerstalker is a cancer who has infected the Irish political system.

Sullivan teams up with journalist Helen Carty, and together they try tracking down the mysterious killer. Carty adds to Sullivan’s problems, when he finds himself falling in love with her. And further complicating things, he starts losing trust in his partner, Detective Pat Carter, who appears to be on the side of the Garda Commissioner, who Sullivan is rapidly falling out with.

Sullivan’s case is further thrown into confusion when a copycat killer, Tommy Walsh, is shot dead by the CIA. When the CIA discovers that they’ve killed the wrong person, the two agents involved–Simon, who has become disillusioned by his time stationed in the Middle East, and Joey, a psychopath who confuses zealotry with patriotism–are also in pursuit of The Deerstalker.

Sullivan finds himself in a race against time, if he is to arrest The Deerstalker before the CIA take him out, and use his death as a pawn in a political game of chess. Who will win out in the end?

The Gun is the first book in the Tadhg Sullivan series and introduces us to Tadhg Sullivan, the head of a special task force within the Irish Police. I was very interested in reading this book, because… let’s face it… Ireland holds a special place in my heart…and I was not disappointed.

Because this is the first of the series, there was of necessity some setting up so we get to know Tadhg and his personality (he’s facing burn-out in his job and he drinks way more than is good for him). However, this case comes along and really revitalizes him—and the developing romance with journalist Helen Carty doesn’t hurt either. Of course, it has to be kept quiet, because not only are they romancing, they are also working together to help solve the crime.

It’s not a mystery, as such. The reader knows from the very beginning who the culprit is, and I love getting to know (and understand) his motivation. The suspense for this story comes from wondering if Tadhg is going to be able to discover who he is before he kills more people.

I love these characters; they are well-drawn and multi-dimensional)– as I was reading it, I felt like I was watching a BBC series or Masterpiece theater! (producers, are you listening?) I could see the action playing out on the TV screen of my mind– set against the backdrop of Ireland (and being able to visit several different cities as The Deerstalker seeks his revenge is a nice extra!)

I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series! Good job, Mr. Kavanagh!

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