“NCIS? Yeah. Love it. You?”
I nodded. Despite watching each of my favorite characters leave, one by one, I still love the show. All of the shows, actually. “Yep. And Los Angeles—”
“Yeah, that one’s okay. I like Hetty a lot.”
So do I. I call her Edna Mode when I want to be silly. “She’s awesome. I also like New Orleans—sometimes not as much, but…”
“Don’t like that one at all.”
I get why. It’s an odd version of the series. I mean, NCIS original works out of a D.C. office, does things mostly by the books and is pretty much an over-glorification of what NCIS is. Simple, yes. But trust me. The local NCIS guys at our base mostly deal with checking out people’s base clearances or showing up when someone is found dead at their desk. True local story. A friend married the guy’s widow.
Also true story—and a beautiful one, but that’s beside the point.
Los Angeles tends to try to gloss over the fact that they’re always ignoring the rules to do their own thing (although, lately they’re more upfront about it). But New Orleans? Maybe the city’s history influenced it, but Dwayne Pride doesn’t give a hoot about rules, doesn’t pretend he does and gets in trouble for it—non-stop.
I like that.
That’s why when I had the chance to review Stratagem by Robin Caroll, I jumped at it. Something about the synopsis made me think of NCIS New Orleans—but without the navy aspect. I jumped at it and requested a review copy.
Not only that, but I’ll be honest. I was also prepared to send the book to my sister if even one fact about the area felt off. Did I like it? Here’s a hint. Vyonie’s not getting this book.
Links used may be affiliate links that provide me with a small commission at no extra expense to you. Additionally, I requested a review copy of this book and it was my pleasure to review it.
3 Excellent Things I Found in Stratagem
Okay, I’ve said it before (Actually, in this blog post HERE). One of the worst things about being an author is that you learn so much about the craft of writing that it becomes difficult to enjoy just average writing. Once upon a time, I didn’t care how a sentence was constructed unless I happened to see an excellent one. Now I care—and I really care when the horrible sentence is mine and my blinders didn’t let me see it until six months after publication. Just saying.
That’s why I’m starting this review off with three excellent things I found.
Sometimes suspense authors get a little lazy with their “voice” because they can. The tension and action carry their stories well enough not to need a strong voice. But Robin Caroll has one—and it’s awesome. Each character came off distinct, interesting, and… alive. And she did it through her writing style as much as through their actions and the personalities she gave them.
The best part is that while I can tell this book is written in her voice, it doesn’t take over the narrative, either. She balances those two with skill that I will learn from. Yes, I’ve already gone looking for her other books. Yes, there just might be a box of them on the way to my house. No, I will not feel guilty about that—even with Christmas coming.
But maybe I should wrap them up and tie them with bows just in case my family disagrees. Hmmm…
Second—excellent mystery-slash-suspense plot.
A lot of times you’ll see me talk about the writing, the characters, how I liked this or that… I might even mention a cute plot twist or whatever. This time I really want to drive one point home.
Robin Caroll wrote a book with many fine layers. I was halfway through the book before I was sure who did it. Halfway. That’s huge. Add to that a last-minute, “Oh, no. If it turns out to be that person…” that was so far off the mark it wasn’t even funny, and she nailed one of the hardest things for me. She made me work for the guilty party and then made me doubt my self in favor of the least-likely person to have done it.
Not only that, but I don’t think that was even something she meant to do. It’s just that good!
Add to that, characters with multiple layers in their personalities that also added new motives at every turn and red herring, and you have a really fun, rich storyline.
Third—excellent handling of the characters.
Notice that I did not say characterization. I see this as very different from that. While the characterization is excellent as well, what really stood out is how she handled her characters. Robin Caroll created a horrible person. Seriously, the victim is a terrible person. There isn’t a single redeeming thing about her. And this author made me see and believe that people loved her anyway.
It shows in the other characters as well. In fact, she did such a fabulous job making me believe her husband loved her that I kept saying to myself, “If it turns out that the husband actually did this, I won’t be shocked.”
That’s some good character handling right there.
What wasn’t excellent?
If I have any quibbles at all, aside from a couple of editing misses that are almost not worth noticing, I’d say it was one conversation between two of the detectives on spiritual matters. The lead up to that—brilliant. The points made in that discussion? Awesome.
But something didn’t ring true. It was a little to “on the nose.” In how it came up, was addressed, and instantly resolved. Had it been broken up a bit more to read a little less like a sermon, I’d be lobbying for a sixth star right now. Maybe. But yeah… maybe.
That’s it. Quibbles aside (and they are so teeny tiny I’d feel like I had to confess a crime if I took off any points for them), Stratagem is an excellent book, rich storytelling, multi-layered plot lines, multi-faceted characters, all in one quick-paced novel that just kicked my budget in the bum.
Okay, I’ll drop .01 points for that. Still rounds up to five stars. Just sayin’.
Suspense and mystery lovers. If you want romantic suspense, you’re not going to find it. And that is part of what I loved so much about it. It didn’t need it, so Ms. Caroll didn’t put it in there. Bravo. *insert slow, sincere hand clap here*