Archive for the 'Mystery/Thriller' Category

Review: The Abomination by Jonathan Holt

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

the-abomination-coverEverything is a trilogy these days! I’m serious – I cannot begin to tell you how many review copies come to me that are Book One is some trilogy or other. Most of the time, as I may have said before, I’m unimpressed. Often it means that the writer can’t seem to figure out how to wrap up the story in a single book. I think it’s great if a book is so good and so well-received that it inspires a sequel, but just like movies, every book these days has to come with a sequel.

In The Abomination by Jonathan Holt, I can actually see the need for a sequel. The plot is so complex, with so many threads to follow, that you could never wrap it up in one book. A few of the plotlines you’ll need to keep straight:

- Captain Kat Tapo of the Carabinieri is investigating her first murder case: a woman found in the canal, shot in the head, wearing the robes of a Catholic priest.

-  Colonel Aldo Piola, a seasoned investigator, is supervising Tapo on this case. There’s chemistry between the two of them and Piola has a reputation…

- Second Lieutenant Holly Boland is thrilled to be back in Italy, even if the assignment – a sort of community liaison officer – doesn’t sound terribly exciting. However, Boland’s first official task – look for some documents related to a Freedom of Information Act request – may be very exciting. And Dangerous.

- Daniel Barbo, a computer genius with a tragic past, has designed the ultimate virtual reality space for Italians – Carnivia.com, a detailed and eerily accurate rendition of Venice. Like the city itself, Carnivia contains many secrets – some that might be worth killing for.

There are actually a couple of other interesting plotlines, but if that doesn’t pique your interest, you may be unpiquable. Holt does an excellent job of moving the story forward, keeping the plotlines interwoven but not tangled, and keeping you turning the pages. It’s a great mix of characters, an amazing and exotic setting, with plenty of action and intrigue. The plot takes off in completely unexpected directions, and by the end of the book, you feel as though you have wandered into a totally different story. It was an excellent read and I am actually looking forward to the sequel, The Abduction, coming out in May.

My copy of The Abomination was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge by the good folks at HarperCollins Publishers.

Review: Game by Anders de la Motte

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

game coverHave you noticed that everything is a trilogy these days? I always thought that the way things worked was that you published a book and if it did well, maybe your publisher wanted another. Maybe you could turn it into a series. That seems passé these days – now, everything is a series right out of the box.

That’s not always a good thing — sometimes, I think it’s just lazy writing. Instead of having to create a self-contained story, something that could be wrapped up in a single volume, writers can let their story meander all over the place. Instead of coming to a denouement, wrapping up the story and tidying loose ends, it’s much easier to write a cliffhanger.

Now, after all that, you might think that I was disappointed to find out that Game by Anders de la Motte was a trilgoy. In the beginning, I was skeptical, but I found that I was really enjoying the story and look forward to what de la Motte would do in the next volume.

Henrik “HP” Pettersson is a pretty typical slacker – under-employed, lacking much motivation, but with a pretty high opinion of himself (mostly unfounded). His life is going nowhere. Then one day he finds a cell phone on the train — a very snazzy, high-end cellphone that he figures he can sell for enough to keep him in beer and cigarettes for a while. That is until the phone gets a text: DO YOU WANT TO PLAY A GAME?

At first, he ignores texts, assuming they are for the rightful owner. But when the texts start to refer to him by name — WANNA PLAY A GAME, HENRIK PETTERSSON? – he’s intrigued.

He finds himself in the world of The Game. He is assigned tasks, which could be anything from stealing an umbrella to hacking the power grid. He films himself performing these bits of vandalism, and the results are posted online. Suddenly, he’s got cash, he’s got a fan base, and he is in way over his head. The tasks get more and more dangerous, until it becomes clear that the people running The Game have more power than he could possibly imagine…

It’s a pretty decent thriller! There are lots of plot twists and turns. The Game itself is so big, so involved, that it teeters right on the fine edge between Don’t Be Ridiculous and Maybe-Just Maybe. There’s a good storyline and while you can see some of the curve balls coming, there were a few that came right out of left field. Game also does a nice job of both tidying up loose ends and giving you a good cliffhanger. The ending had me literally thumbing back through the last chapter, trying to figure out whether I had missed something, it was that much of a shock. It really left me wondering about where the next book will go. For a change, I don’t have to wait to find out — the rest of the trilogy (Buzz and Bubble) is available on Amazon.

My copy of Game is an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Review: Killer’s Art by Mari Jungstedt

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

kilelrs artI seem to be gathering quite a collection of Scandanavian crime novels lately! I’ve got Joe Nesbo, Camilla Lackburg, Ake Edwardson…and now I can add Mari Jungstedt to the list. Killer’s Art is a very good mystery novel set in the art world of Gotland, an upscale, picturesque Swedish island. In the walled city of Visby, a killer is on the loose. He (or she) has killed a prominent art dealer, a man with secrets that will shock his friends and neighbors.

Egon Wallin is a respected art dealer on Gotland, which is described as the Swedish version of Martha’s Vineyard. He’s a married man with a successful gallery, plenty of friends and good contacts in the art world. He has recently hosted a very successful showing of a new artist, an artist who is about to sign a lucrative contract with Wallin. But on a cold February morning, a woman walking to work finds his battered body, hanging from the Dalman Gate.

What I enjoyed about Killer’s Art is the story – there are plenty of great twists and turns, and plenty to leave you wondering. Jungstedt purposely leaves you wondering about the killer, about the motives, about the next victim. The killer is quite thoughtful and the police are playing catch-up. The killer is telling a story in art and metaphor, with painting and sculpture.  You get the feeling that he is much smarter than the police and you wonder if they will ever catch up. That’s the sort of tension that keeps you turning pages.

There were some decent subplots, but a lot of the characters were more annoying than interesting. Detective Superintendent Anders Knutas is really unlikeable. He seems to dislike everyone he works with – even the coworkers he likes, he eventually complains about. His panicky efforts to keep Karin Jacobsson on-staff seemed bizarre to me – how could he be so dependent on her? Although he is outwardly friendly to Johan Berg, a reporter who has been involved in several other police matters, he is clearly resentful of him. As for Berg, the subplot focusing on his love life seemed over the top and frantic to me. All of his thoughts about Emma, the mother of his child, seem punctuated with exclamation points. I just wasn’t moved by it. I was also a little irked by the way that some of these subplots (what was bothering Karin? what happened between Emma and Johan?) were left unresolved.

Another thing I had difficulty with was the writing. It might be a matter of translation, but there seemed to be a lot of fragments, bits of sentences that should have been connected in some way. Jungstedt needed a few commas, some semi-colons, maybe even a smattering of em-dashes to make things flow a little more smoothly. There are multiple chapters where something happens — someone sees something, goes somewhere, is clearly plotting the next murder — but of course there are no clear indications of who it is. That can be very effective; in this case, it was overused.

Still, I enjoyed the book very much. I can overlook a few missteps when there is a good story at the heart of it all, and this has a good heart.

My copy of Killer’s Art by Mari Jungstedt was an Advanced reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Review: The Widow File by S.J. Redling

Monday, January 6th, 2014

widow fileFirst of all, let me tell you about Kindle First. If you have Amazon Prime, Kindle First lets you get a free book for your Kindle every month – prior to its release date! Did you see that? FREE BOOKS! (As if I needed more free books.) It’s a very cool way to get new books as soon as they are released. The Widow File by S.J. Redling is the first book I’ve picked up under the program and I can’t wait to see what the options are for next month.

Dani is a Paint. (Didn’t mean anything to me, either.) She works for a top-secret security firm, analyzing evidence and details in their investigations.

“Internally, their team went by the designation Paint, so called for their ability to cover every inch of a scene without being noticed.”

The firm also employs Faces, who go out and meet with the clients, do the actual face-to-face investigating, and Stringers, who do the dirty work. She works with Fay, a vivacious young analyst and Choo-Choo, a handsome young man that Fay describes as “an obsessive compulsive nerd underwear model.” (Why don’t I work with guys like that?) An investigation has ended abruptly and Dani returns to work to find men with guns, her coworkers dead and the office under attack. Suddenly, this mild-mannered analyst is on the run from shadowy hit squads and Booker, an assassin hired to make sure that none of her coworkers survived the attack.

Booker is an interesting character. I liked the way Redling gives you an insight into his mind — how a hired killer might think about his targets, what kind of life he might lead. He finds Dani interesting and challenging in a way that most of his targets are not. But Booker is about to find out that even he doesn’t know exactly what’s going on. He himself might be a target in all this, and his only way out — and Dani’s — is to think fast and stay ahead of his opponents.

“He wanted her. He wanted to find Dani. He had to find Dani. That’s what he was getting paid for, but Booker knew firsthand the mind and the body found ways to encourage each other that had nothing to do with outside compensation. Sublimation — he knew it by name. Because of the demands of his job and the isolation it required, he sublimated his sexual urges into his professional prowess until picking a lock took on the same allure as unhooking a bra. “

There are some great plot twists and turns in this one, but it wasn’t too complicated to follow. The whole thing is a little implausible, but that doesn’t bother me much in a good spy novel. (This reminded me more of a spy novel than a thriller.) There are a few twists that you can’t see coming, but the ending was very satisfying. Definitely a fun read all the way around.

My copy of The Widow File by S.J. Redling came from my personal library, through the Kindle First program.

Review: The Absence of Mercy by John Burley

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

absence of mercyI love a good thriller and I definitely enjoyed The Absence of Mercy by John Burley. It reminds me a bit of Defending Jacob by William Landay; both begin with the murder of a teenager, and both deal with a father who is a central character in the investigation. In Absence of  Mercy, Dr. Ben Stevenson is the local coroner; his wife is a doctor at the local hospital and his sons, Thomas and Joel, went to school with the victim. As more victims pile up in the city morgue, his family is drawn deeper into the mystery.

The murder mystery itself kept me turning pages. The murders are fast and brutal, shocking to the quiet town of Winterville. Stevenson is worried about his family and their safety, and that clearly puts a strain on his marriage and family relationships. He argues with his wife, he is at odds with his son, and you have to wonder if the tension is caused by the strain of the case — or if there is something more sinister going on. There are some clues, but they are fairly subtle and don’t spoil the twists and turns ahead. When a victim survives an attack and is later befriended by Thomas, things begin to get more interesting.

There are some good themes to play with here and Burley does a good job of keeping you guessing, without making the final solution come completely out of nowhere. I hate when that happens! I want to feel that if I went back, read a little more closely, thought more critically about some of the details, I would have guessed the killer well before the ending. I hate hidden paths to the truth that let only the author know what’s going on, with no chance for the rest of us.

Burley also takes a fairly common twist (I don’t want to spoil it for you, so trust me, it’s definitely something you’ve read before) and turns it on its head. Although I had an idea where he was heading, the twist took a turn I wasn’t expecting at all. Definitely made me happy — I love to be surprised by a clever ending.

This one is a good choice for mystery lovers who like a few twists, but also don’t like to get too far off the beaten path. I suspect that you’ll be seeing this one day soon at your local movie theater — I think I would be a terrific film, lots of cool characters to play with here. I would definitely buy a ticket.

My copy of The Absence of Mercy is an Advance Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Christine’s review: The Condor Song by Darryl Nyznyk

Monday, November 18th, 2013

DNyznyk_Book-Cover_WebBilled as an environmental thriller “inspired by the Sierra Club’s 1960s battle with Walt Disney Company over a proposed ski resort in the Sierra Nevada Mountains,” The Condor Song is compelling reading. Although informed by historical fact, the writing style is likable and engaging.  You want to sit down and finish the book in one sitting, even though it spans 350 pages.

The condor is the crux of the narrative.  Its mere existence makes the “golden staircase” deadly in more ways than one.  While most of the parties involved think they are doing what is best for the land, this book explores the ethics of developing what little wilderness we have left.  (The “Golden Staircase” is a part of the John Muir Trail (JMT), and since 1993 a part of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  One site with photos and a description of the area is authored by Social Hiker.)

This thrilling story is primarily told from the point of view of Sean Donovan, anti-hero.

A dangerously bright and ethical man, Sean suffered at the hands of a greedy former colleague, Richard Wolf.  The case of the Silver Lode Valley will be waged by Richard, Sean, and an unidentified killer.  By taking on the pro bono case for a friend of the family, Sean has an opportunity to rebuild a successful life for himself and the endangered condor.

Nyznyk’s thriller makes for an exciting read.  There’s so much to envision: the grandeur of Silver Lode Valley, the brutal beauty of the condors, the anonymous killer.  The only thing that stretches plausibility in my view is the background sketch of Sean Donovan.  He’s so beaten down that there’s nowhere to go but up. Sean is such an underdog that it’s hard to see him as a successful person. However, this underdog is what makes the book so interesting on a personal and environmental level.  Sean’s past sets up several complex relationships which make the book a great read.

My copy of The Condor Song was an advanced reader copy, provided free of charge.

~Christine Linial (from Austinista.net)

Review: The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

Monday, November 11th, 2013

TheCuttingSeasonCaren Gray has tried very hard to escape her roots in Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season, but for all that, she is back at Belle Vie, the antebellum plantation where she grew up. She manages the plantation, works with the clients, handles the personnel, and deals with any unforeseen circumstances — such as a body found in a shallow grave on the plantation grounds.

The Cutting Season has a decent mystery at its center. There are some good twists and turns on the way to uncovering the murderer and some good misdirection along the way. There are a host of subjects — an angry young man working on the plantation, who admitted he was there at the time of the murder; the manager of the farming operation next door, a man with a vicious reputation; the townspeople, many of whom resented the migrant workers. Even Caren’s daughter may have information that she is withholding.

The one problem I had with the story was Caren herself — she is not a very likable character. She makes some terrible decisions; she withholds and even tampers with evidence, her behavior makes the police suspect her and her decisions regarding her daughter’s father? Good lord. Someone needs to give that woman a good hard shake. As we learn about her history, this is a long-established pattern. It was frustrating for me as a reader and kicked me out of the mood of the story on several occasions.

I also thought that there were a lot of opportunities for tension and drama in the story that weren’t followed up on. You have a black woman working on an antebellum plantation for the white man who owns it. You have migrant farm laborers, mostly Hispanic, at odds with the black workers that they have replaced. I don’t expect an author to follow up on every single thread, but I thought there were some missed opportunities. I also was not entirely happy with the ending, but I can’t say more without giving too much away. It’s something that happens in a lot of mysteries, and it is never satisfying.

Even after all that, I enjoyed the book. There is a lot of good reading in this story, plenty of suspense and it certainly gives the reader a lot to think about. An unlikable main character isn’t an impossible obstacle to overcome and other readers may react differently to Caren and her flawed decision-making, and her bad decisions play perfectly into a pretty absorbing mystery. I would definitely add Locke’s earlier novel, Black Water Risingto my TBR list. For more information on the author, check out her website.

My copy of The Cutting Season was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

New to my shelves…

Monday, October 21st, 2013

Dextersfinalcut
I have loved Dexter since I first read Darkly Dreaming Dexter. What an interesting hero for a novel! I loved watching the way Dexter struggled with his darker nature, struggled to honor his stepfather, and with the pain of his childhood. In all that, he still managed to have some fun, Dexter style.

The newest novel is Dexter’s Final Cut by Jeff Lindsay:

 Hollywood gets more than it bargained for when television’s hottest star arrives at the Miami Police Department and develops an intense, professional interest in a camera-shy blood spatter analyst named Dexter Morgan.

Mega-star Robert Chase is famous for losing himself in his characters. When he and a group of actors descend on the Miami Police Department for “research,” Chase becomes fixated on Dexter Morgan, the blood spatter analyst with a sweet tooth for doughnuts and a seemingly average life. To perfect his role, Chase is obsessed with shadowing Dexter’s every move and learning what really makes him tick. There is just one tiny problem . . . Dexter’s favorite hobby involves hunting down the worst killers to escape legal justice, and introducing them to his special brand of playtime. It’s a secret best kept out of the spotlight and away from the prying eyes of bloated Hollywood egos if Dexter wants to stay out of the electric chair. The last thing he needs is bright lights and the paparazzi. . . but even Dexter isn’t immune to the call of fame.

Jeff Lindsay’s razor sharp, devilish wit, and immaculate pacing prove that he is in a class of his own, and this new novel is his most masterful creation yet.

Be sure to check back for Teasers and my review, and check out Lindsay’s wesbite for more information on his work.

Christine’s Review: Hang a Crooked Number by Matthew Callan

Monday, October 21st, 2013

Extra special stuff today – the first review from my new associate reviewer, Christine Linial! She’s a long-time on-line pal who also loves books, and I am sharing some of my bounty with her (and getting more reviews on my pages at the same time).

crooked numberIf you’re a baseball fan who loves intrigue, Hang A Crooked Number is your next read. Callan’s newest book delves into the near future, where America has become a post-terrorist police state.  For Backstop, a Triple-A catcher, being left alone is not easy. He’s a man on the edge, and the Society won’t back off.  Are they the CIA? the Mafia?  Even his manager is tied up in a mess that goes way beyond Backstop’s pay grade.  Plus, a femme fatale is digging into the disappearance of his former roomie and teammate, Mark.  Backstop won’t be able to lay low until this situation works out, or until he hits the majors–if he ever makes it. You’ll have to read to find out how professional baseball is now tied up with the underbelly of this new America.

This book is exasperating–in a good way.  You have to ferret out the mission of the Society and Backstop’s role in it.  While he would prefer to lay low, he’s got to decide who to trust. Will your decisions for Backstop match his actions?  Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  The game and the underlying tension between teammates was excellently woven into the plot. Once I had a better idea of the futuristic setting, I was engrossed and found the book hard to put down.  My only disappointment was in the ending.  While logical, it left too many loose ends for my taste. Hang a Crooked Number brings you into a version of the future that I hope never actually comes to pass. (While I’m a baseball fan, I had to look up the term, “hang a crooked number.”  It means that your team has scored at least two runs in an inning against the pitcher.)

This title is available as an eBook with availability in all current formats.  My copy of Hang A Crooked Number was an advanced reader copy, provided free of charge.

~Christine Linial (from Austinista.net)

New to my shelves…

Friday, October 11th, 2013

policeThe easiest way to tell that Jo Nesbo is not an American author is that in the US, you could never get away with naming a character Harry Hole. That’s just one of the things I love about this series. Harry is such a great character, and I think Nesbo is a fabulous writer, so I was thrilled to get a chance to read this one! It’s the newest installment in the series, Police.

Harry Hole returns–or does he?–in a terrifyingly paced, vertiginous new roller coaster of a thriller by the internationally best-selling author of The Snowman and The Redeemer, “the king of Scandinavian crime fiction” (Kirkus).

The police urgently need Harry Hole . . . A killer is stalking Oslo’s streets. Police officers are being slain at the scenes of crimes they once investigated but failed to solve. The murders are brutal, the media reaction hysterical.

But this time, Harry can’t help . . . For years, detective Harry Hole has been at the center of every major criminal investigation in Oslo. His dedication to his job and his brilliant insights have saved the lives of countless people. But now, with those he loves most facing terrible danger, Harry is not in a position to protect anyone.

Least of all himself . . .

The first Harry Hole novel, The Bat is finally available in the US. Check back here for teasers and my review — also check out Jo Nesbo’s website. Scroll down a bit to find a link to the first chapter of the audio version of Police.