Bureau: Conned – Kim Fielding
World War I veteran Thomas Donne is new to San Francisco. Always a stoic man, shell shock and a lost love have nearly turned his heart to stone. No matter–a private eye has no room for softness. Almost broke, he takes on what appears to be a simple case: finding a missing young man.
As a magician and medium, Abraham Ferencz cons his audiences into believing he can cheat death and commune with their dearly departed. Although his séances are staged, the spirits are very real, and they’ve brought him almost more pain than he can bear.
When Donne’s case becomes complicated and the bodies start to pile up, he and Ferencz must fight their way through a web of trickery and lies. The truth is obscured by the San Francisco fog, and in their uncanny world, anyone can catch a bullet.
Bureau is a series I’ve been diligently following since the beginning. Six books in and it’s still giving us lovable characters and enjoyable stories with magic and heart.
Conned is the latest installment. Private detective and former Londoner, Thomas Donne was hired by a rich and dubious wannabe politician named Herbert Townsend to find a young man. Townsend was decidedly non-specific about the details but was willing to pay good money.
Thomas’s investigations led him to magician and conman, Abe Ferencz. Abe has been employing the young man as his assistant. A series of deaths led the PI and conman to work together to uncover the killer’s identity. All the victims were known to Abe. He could be next.
Ghosts and spirits aside, this is the most spiritual of all the books. Religion played an important role with Abe’s Jewish background being a crucial part of his character. The story put emphasize on how it anchored him to his true self.
All the books in the series has always been, for a lack of better word, vague about the definitive presence of a god. I liked how the world-building didn’t limit itself to the usual religious concepts. Instead, it had a more general and inclusive ethos which makes a lot more sense in a world where literally anything can exist
Townsend explained the Bureau‘s mission something to the effect of the lines of good and evil, friends or enemy are porous and it’s their job is to nudge those lines gently until they are in the right place. It’s about protecting “everything that’s valuable in people and not just human people“.
Our heroes, Thomas and Abe, were men who had seen enough deaths to know not to waste life in regrets. So I could understand how they want to grab life by the balls and jump head first into a relationship in just a matter of days. I liked how the author executed the romantic development. She did it in such a way that you feel the strength of their connection and not how short the timeline actually is.
While I liked the pacing of the romance, I did feel the drag in the first half of story. This was the part where they found the dead bodies one by one. There was the going-around-in-circles feel to it. Thankfully, the story picked up upon the appearance of Agent Crespo.
Also, while I liked the general world-building, in this story, the paranormal elements were kind of confusing and a bit scattered in its presentation. Maybe it helps if the reader is more familiar with Judaism than I am.
The book is set in the late 1920s. There’s a great sense of time and place with a noir vibe. It was an era of cloches and speakeasies, a time I’m fascinated with but don’t want to time travel to because, wow, people smoke and drink like there’s no tomorrow.
This is a prequel of sorts to the entire Bureau world. The agency was only less than a decade old. We also meet Townsend before he was the West Coast Chief.
I’m happy we finally get a backgrounder on the Chief. He is always present but mostly in the shadows, wielding his considerable influence and power, nudging various characters towards the best outcome. There were hints of his paranormal nature throughout the series. Here, we get his origin story. It’s definitely worth the wait especially with how it was related to a key secondary character in the story.
Conned might not be my favorite book in the series (that honor goes to Creature) but it was a great addition, nonetheless. It certainly answered some burning questions I had and getting a look at the early days of the agency is a treat. You will meet men brave enough to catch bullets. You will see what a true mensch is capable of. And learn what it is about all along.
A very long game.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
The books can be read as standalones but I recommend starting at the beginning where a half angel and a captive demon discovered their cosmic connection. There will be a holiday-themed book about them soon.
Posts on Kim Fieldings works here.
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Treasure Trail – Morgan Brice
Erik Mitchell traveled the world uncovering art fraud and relic theft, which pitted him against spoiled billionaires, unscrupulous collectors, mobsters, and cartels. He worked with law enforcement across the U.S. and Europe, but then a sting goes wrong, Erik ends up injured and returns to find his partner cheating. He decides to stop globetrotting and buy an antique shop in scenic Cape May, NJ, rebuild his life, and nurse his broken heart.
Undercover Newark cop Ben Nolan went down in a hail of bullets when a bust went sideways, after a tip-off from a traitor inside the department. When he recovers, he spends a couple of years as a private investigator, only to tire of seeing the worst of human nature. So when his aunt offers him the chance to take over her rental real estate business in Cape May, it seems too good to be true. Now if he could just believe he could ever be lucky again in love.
Sparks fly when Erik and Ben meet. But when a cursed hotel’s long-ago scandals resurface, the two men are pulled into a web of lies, danger, and deception that will test their bond—and might make them Cape May’s newest ghosts!
Treasure Trail contains sexually explicit material intended for adults 18 and over. This is book #1 in the Treasure Trail series.
Treasure Trail is off to a great start!
This new paranormal series by Morgan Brice is part of her inter-connected world of supernaturals. It’s something I’ve always liked about her work.
The story starts with Erik Mitchell just moving in to Cape May, NJ and setting up Trinkets, the antique shop that came along with the house he bought. He also just started on his blog, Treasure Trail, to promote his merchandise.
Erik had traipsed all over the world as part of his work as consultant with the FBI. It’s a dangerous job which had him crossing paths with people who had no qualms with deadly force. On one of his missions, he was shot. He decided to live a quieter life in a town he often visited in childhood.
Cape May is a charming seaside town. Unlike in most stories, the paranormal elements were dealt with quite openly. They even say it’s rare to find a person who has not seen a ghost. There are psychics, a coven of witches, cursed antiques and a very cursed hotel that was torn down 20 years ago.
This hotel plays a central role in the story, a villain of sorts that has caused the deaths and misfortunes of several owners and hotel residents. It has been owned by mobsters, corrupt televangelists and shady new age gurus, all of whom died violent deaths. Even after it was demolished, its evil presence is still strongly felt. It is part of the town’s history and many memorabilia were collected by various interested parties.
The mystery involved some of those memorabilia. A box containing assortments of ephemera from the hotel was sold to Erik. It was a veritable Pandora’s box, containing objects related to famous deaths. Not long after, somebody tried to break in his shop, tried to shoot him and attempted to run him over by a van.
The why was easy to guess, the who was what they needed to find out. While the bad guy was somewhat obvious, I still enjoyed how the various elements tied in together. It’s a book where you savor the process of getting to the answer, more than the answer itself.
There’s seems to be a red string of fate that runs throughout, fate being the main theme. Everything fell into place for Erik. He saw the house and Trinkets online the moment it was put up on sale. The ad even seemed tailor-made for him.
Then he met a very attractive guy he connected with right away while he was waiting at the bar for an online date which turned out to be an epic fail. And what are the chances that said attractive guy would knock on his door the next day?
Ben Nolan was a cop, turned private investigator turned real estate manager. His aunt passed him their rental business. Ben came to Trinkets to have an antique dealer assessed an object he found hidden in one of the houses he manages.
Erik and Ben had a lot of similarities. They were men who could handle themselves in a fight. Erik has a PhD and rocks the well-read, well-traveled, professor look but he had martial arts training and license to carry. Ben is all bad boy ex-cop with ink but is really nice. Both of them had dealt with traumatic experiences that made them change careers. Both were not close to their families. They came to Cape May for a fresh start.
The romance between the two was as insta as they come. They already had the L-word percolating in their minds within one day of being together. I’m not a fan of this fast a pace but the way they synced together that quick was in keeping with the hand of destiny thing the story had going.
It also headed down the miscommunication route especially with the trust issues but happily avoided needless conflict. I really liked how the author set-up my expectations for that awful scenario then deftly turned it into a reasonable plan of action. Shout out to Erik’s cool neighbor, Susan Hendricks, who talked some sense into the guys.
The world-building was a very enjoyable experience as always. Being part of the Morgan Brice/Gail Z. Martin shared world, various characters from other series popped up, including psychic Simon Kincaide and vampire Soren. This is a nice set-up because it opens the series to many possible story lines. We could expect everything from ghosts, witches, demons and fae.
There were no big reveal shockers. Cape May residents were a liberal-minded bunch. People were used to the spooky. More often than not it was a case of Erik being reluctant to reveal his supernatural experiences only to have the other person be easily accepting of the fact. And share similar experiences.
The best thing of all is there is a vast improvement in the writing with new narrator, John Solo, breathing new life into it. While I mostly enjoyed most of the author’s works and Kale Williams’s narration, I do find a certain blandness in them which was highlighted by Williams’s sometimes too calm cadence. Solo’s delivery made the prose’s energy come through.
Also, there were no TSTL moments here. They contacted the police. They did not make any reckless attempts at heroics. And yet the story succeeded in having a chilling, suspenseful climax that managed to make both heroes shine.
Treasure Trail opens this new series in the best way possible. It treaded a familiar path but went in directions that were not exactly new but tended to get bypassed in favor of creating conflicting and excitement. I am eager to see where the author will take this. I say it’s definitely worth the follow.
Posts on Morgan Brice books here.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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The Hitman’s Guide: The Hitman’s Guide to Making Friends and Finding Love – Alice Winters
What happens when a snarky hitman and a by-the-book PI cross paths?
Being a hitman has its perks, but I never thought getting an accidental mooning by an attractive PI while he’s caught on a fence would be one of them. While it’s not exactly love at first sight, he’s captured my interest and won’t let go.
Suddenly, I find myself caught in a game of cat and mouse, determined to attract the attention of Jackson, the PI who should be my enemy. He pretends like he’s not flattered by my flowers and the mentions of my totally-not-fictitious blow-up doll Randy (or was it Dandy?), but I know better. Why else would he be teaming up with me to bring down Hardek, one of the city’s most ruthless criminals?
Even though the cops are telling me that the hitman is a notorious contract killer, I can’t help but admit that I’m drawn to him. He’s funny, charismatic, and attractive. There’s no way this ridiculous man can be the person the cops are after.
But when Leland ends up at my doorstep injured, I’m faced with a tough choice. It’s my duty to hand him over to law enforcement, but my heart has other plans. I want to keep him. To protect him. To be with him.
Though one question remains: why in the world does the man have so many d*mn guns?
Contains: shenanigans on a swing that you would NOT find at a playground, a car chase that sadly doesn’t have flips or explosions, a horsey ride sans horse, cuddles, an exuberant mutt, a suspicious chief of police, and lots and lots of laughs.
Expect a whole lot of cray in Alice Winter’s hyperactive novel, The Hitman’s Guide to Making Friends and Finding Love. Like any mania, it’s all damn good fun but it could leave you exhausted too.
I had a great time reading about Leland and Jackson’s shenanigans but I could hardly keep up with Leland’s ADHD? Question mark because I’m not qualified to say if he has it or not. The man jumps from one outrageous idea to the next with lightning speed. He is serious about every single one of them. He makes them happened too!
I don’t know how he keeps sane while doing so (maybe he’s not) but Jackson lets himself be swept away by the force of nature that is Leland. At the same time, he keeps the hitman grounded. I think that is the beauty of their relationship. Their snark and banter were hilarious AF. Their polar opposite dynamics really made the book.
I loved how OTT everything is. There were indeed moments when things got a bit tiresome and repetitive but overall the author was able to deliver action-packed insanity wrapped around a sweet and tender romance.
This novel is my introduction to Alice Winters’ work and definitely not my last. Recommended if you like lovers from the opposite sides of the law, (kinda) enemies working for the same cause and fence jumping with varied levels of success.
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
Fog City: Prince Of Killers – Layla Reyne
No indiscriminate killing. No collateral damage. No unvetted targets.
These are the rules Hawes Madigan lives by. Rules that make being Fog City’s Prince of Killers bearable. Soon, he’ll be king—of an organization of assassins—and the crown has never felt heavier. Until the mysterious Dante Perry swaggers into his life.
Dante looks like a rock god and carries himself like one too, all loose-limbed and casually confident. He also carries a concealed weapon, a private investigator’s license, and a message for the prince. Someone inside Hawes’s organization is out to kill the future king.
In the chaos that follows the timely warning, Hawes comes to depend on Dante. On his skills as an investigator, on the steadiness he offers, and on their moments alone when Hawes lets Dante take control. As alliances are tested and traitors exposed, Hawes needs Dante at his back and in his bed. But if the PI ever learns Hawes’s darkest secret, Hawes is sure to get a knife to the heart—and a bullet to the brain—instead.
There’s no shortage of twists and turns in this new romantic suspense trilogy from Layla Reyne. Prince of Killers is book one of three. Fair warning: buckle up, cliffhangers ahead!
Like many Layla Reyne fans, I was super excited to start on her new series. Obviously with all the glowing reviews, my expectations were skyhigh. Now that I’ve read it, in a word, Prince Of Killers was FAST.
So fast that I was still savoring my tour of San Francisco with the Madigans before I realized it, they were already about to do the big reveal. I hardly felt the 5+ hours of the audiobook. Even with that kind of pacing, the story didn’t feel incomplete. The author was able to establish the need-to-knows, build-up, conflict and mystery efficiently. It’s just that I was lulled by the great writing and Tristan James’ narration. I had fun listening to Hawes and his siblings going about their business. Assassins going through the step-by-steps of their jobs never failed to fascinate me and I could listen to that kind of shit all day.
I was expecting many twisty and shocking events though, but there were only one or two twists that were actually surprising.
Dante Perry literally walked into Hawes’ life and I was taken aback at how easily the Madigan scion trusted this stranger. This from the leader of a family who trusted no one. Then Dante proceeded to breeze through everything.
They started sleeping together from day one and from that point on, Hawes fantasized about his getting his HEA. He knew not everyone would be as lucky as his grandparents, Papa Cal and Rose, given his line of work. Still, can’t blame a man for being hopeful. But really? Day one? His brother Holt hasn’t even finished vetting the PI.
I liked Hawes but for a master assassin, he came across as, well, not bad-ass. I know giving him ‘weaknesses’ was intentional in order to emphasized his humanity, especially to Dante, but I share the sentiment of those who gave lower ratings. Him making this poor a decision on something as major as to who he lets into his inner circle doesn’t ring true to his character. What would Papa Cal say, Big H?
All this griping aside, I have faith in Layla Reyne and gladly suspended disbelief. One of her strong suits is creating characters you can root for and their awesome family dynamics. She did it in Agents Irish and Whiskey and its spin-off, Trouble Brewing. She also did it again here. She made me rally for the Madigans. As to Dante, I need to get inside his head first. Not warming up to him yet.
Hawes for all his weaknesses and grey morality, his heart’s in the right place. His twin, Holt, best hacker in town and father of the year. Helena, their sister, now she is bad ass. A ninja moonlighting as a lawyer. Emilia, Holt’s wife, devoted mother and their on-call nurse, is a woman who can do scary things with your pressure points. Together they form a warm, cozy family who just happened to have a deadly business on the side. I really liked how they worked together which why I had a rude awakening when they finally unmasked the traitor. Tsk tsk tsk! To think I liked that character. Too bad. A great twist nonetheless.
Which made me expect a big Madigan showdown. It was anti-climactic. The boss fight was over in a snap. I nearly missed the part and had to replay it just to be sure. Oh well, they did promise not to hurt the traitor.
Prince Of Killers is a good series opener. It’s a fun, suspenseful book that promised more action-packed goodness in the future. It did not entirely not wow me but that’s par for course with many series openers I’ve encountered including LR‘s series so no biggie. I know the next book is going to be EXPLOSIVE. I am so hyped up for King Slayer because damn that cliffhanger! Also, Dante’s POV!
I recommend the Fog City series if you like high-stakes romantic suspense stories about assassins with souls and LEOs finding love outside the law.
Layla Reyne books here.
3 Stars – not exactly setting my world on fire but I liked it
Seven Of Spades: Cash Plays – Cordelia Kingsbridge
The Seven of Spades is back with a vengeance—the vigilante serial killer has resumed their murderous crusade, eluding the police at every turn. But a bloodthirsty killer isn’t the only threat facing Sin City. A devious saboteur is wreaking havoc in Las Vegas’s criminal underworld, and the entire city seems to be barreling toward an all-out gang war.
As Detective Levi Abrams is pushed ever closer to his breaking point, his control over his dangerous rage slips further every day. His relationship with PI Dominic Russo should be a source of comfort, but Dominic is secretly locked in his own downward spiral, confronting a nightmare he can’t bear to reveal.
Las Vegas is floundering. Levi and Dominic’s bond is cracking along the seams. And the Seven of Spades is still playing to win. How many bad hands can Levi and Dominic survive before it’s game over?
I know that the things that happened with Levi and Dom here were big, but can we stop first and take a moment to appreciate the bittersweet romance between the Slavic Collective boss Sergei and his boy Rocco? They need their own book!
Also, somebody give Stanton some love. The poor man has a good heart, he deserves an HEA. I liked him since book 1.
So Levi and Dom…
It started very sparkly and lovey dovey with the two men taking a long vacation, flowers and exchanges of I-love-yous, also meeting Levi’s parents. Levi’s mom declared Dom Levi’s bashert which means soulmate. All very squee-tastic and heartwarming. It will lull you into thinking that everything’s coming up roses. But I KNEW!!! Shit’s going down!
Dom landed a case of a missing woman. The investigation took him to a hidden casino and Dom was recovering from his gambling addiction so gadammit Dom, WALK AWAY NOW!!!
Meanwhile, the Seven of Spades was uncharacteristically quiet for weeks but LVMPD is ramping up the investigation by bringing in the Feds. FBI profiler Rohan Chaudhary came in, dazzled Levi with his good looks and put his moves on Dom. He also detailed the profile of the SOS which unfortunately fit Levi to a T. It didn’t help that that Levi’s anger issues were getting harder and harder to control which was obvious to everyone.
“I can’t invite that kind of darkness inside myself. I don’t know what it would do to me, and I can’t risk finding out…”
All in all, they were not in a good place.
But these only made the story so much more compelling and brought out strong emotions that had me hanging on to every word. I love how Cordelia Kingsbridge developed these characters. Levi’s demons, his trauma and Dom’s downward spiral, as cliche as it sounds, their struggles were real. Great representation too, in terms of racial and gender diversity, that was done in a way that was natural and realistic.
I liked how this installment slowly built up all the frustration and tension until it went nuclear. There’s so much anger in this book. Even the SOS was ragey and it showed in their work. The profiler and Levi agreed that the SOS was evolving. It was established that they were connected to law enforcement and had experienced severe trauma in the past which made them go after the bad guys who got away with their crimes. The killer’s vigilante justice earned them many sympathizers even among the police ranks. One significant fact was that many people who joined law enforcement had some past trauma which made them want to bring justice. This made practically everybody in the LVMPD suspects.
Interestingly, the serial killer seemed to have a vested interest in Levi’s love life, offering him comfort when he and Dom had that ugly fight. Theirs was the kind of blow up that caused cataclysmic cracks. And it ended with Levi walking away. Nooo!
The fact that the SOS is too attached to Levi confirmed my suspicions that it’s one of his friends from work. Coupled with the knowledge that Rebel doesn’t react negatively to them, it’s definitely someone he and Dom were close to. I hope I guessed right. I could already imagine how devastated Levi would be.
The SOS is one of those serial killers who has an omniscient presence and they are playing an even bigger game. They were not afraid to take on organized crime. Three major gangs were on the brink of an all-out gang war. This tied together with Dom’s case and his relapse but the SOS had to pull some strings to make Levi see what’s really happening. That shoddy undercover work and not having back-up was foolhardy on Levi’s part but definitely in character. Wen should really give him that talk about his poor decision making skills.
As with the other books, Cash Play is cleverly written. It’s very twisty and suspenseful. Everything came together in the most satisfying way, though in this case, you will end up in a raging fit yourself because THAT CLIFFHANGER. Fuck.
With Levi afraid and needing help and Dom eaten alive by his demons, the cards are stacked against them. It’s one bad hand after another and the SOS is holding all the aces. Time to cut losses and walk away from the game.
Seven of Spades books here
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits