Archive for the 'Mystery/Thriller' Category

Review: The Kill Call by Stephen Booth

Monday, August 4th, 2014

kill callThe Kill Call by Stephen Booth is the first book I’ve read in the Cooper and Fry series. I’m not sure this is a series I’ll keep reading, for reasons I’ll get to later, but it’s a pretty good mystery.  The story starts on a rainy moor – Sean has come up to one of his favorite quiet, deserted spot, where he goes when he needs to get away from everything. Today, something feels different. There’s a smell. And a corpse.

It’s an interesting mystery, with a couple of storylines to follow, and quite British, tied up in the odd world of fox hunting. The body was discovered during the annual Eden Valley Hunt, which is hotly protested by animal rights activists. The area was crowded with hunters and the folks who handle the horses, as well as the protesters (referred to as “sabs” or saboteurs by the police) and a host of police officers there to keep them from killing each other. The “kill call” of the title refers to the long, wavering notes on the horn that the hunters blow to call in the hounds to kill the fox. Only in this case, it wasn’t a fox.

Detective Constable Diane Fry is in charge of the case and totally out of her depth, although she would never admit it. She’s a city girl in a country police district and she has tremendous disdain for the citizens there. She quite clearly turns up her nose at the country life – from the quiet towns to the smell of horses in the barn. She’s supposed to be a great detective, but she can’t seem to see anything beyond her own nose. Even when she recognizes that she is putting people off, she can’t seem to change it. She clearly sees Detective Constable Ben Cooper as a rival, even though he not only helps with the case but tries to offer some personal support. She is so unlikable in this that I can’t see wanting to continue with the series. I may have missed some of her character’s development, and I know that some people enjoy a story with unlikable characters, but that really isn’t for me. If someone has read more of these, I would love to hear about them.

Even with those caveats, it was quite a good read. I enjoyed the various twists and turns of the story, I find Ben Cooper a very interesting character, and I am curious about what happens to Diane Fry – she seems to be at a turning point, trying to get her career back on track and resolve some personal issues. I’m just not sure that I am curious enough to put up with more of her abrasive behavior.

My copy of The Kill Call was a digital ARC provided free of charge.

Review: Face Off, edited by David Baldacci

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

faceoffNow, this is a book that had me hooked from the very first pitch!

Ever wonder who would win in a fight if the most popular thriller characters were paired against their most worthy opponents? Would you bet on Lee Child’s Jack Reacher or Joseph Finder’s Nick Heller, or even Dennis Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie over Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch?

Oh yeah! If you love your detectives the way I do, I know that you have daydreamed about pairing them up. FaceOff is less about these characters fighting it out, it’s more about them teaming up and working together. And that is worth the price of admission.

It certainly says something about the quality of work that Simon & Schuster puts out that they have so many great characters to pair up. And I will warn you, Readers: you are going to get hooked on new series. You might as well know that going in. Unless you have a lot more spare time than I do, there are going to be characters here that are unfamiliar to you, and I guarantee these stories are going to make you want to run right out and pick up a few of their adventures. (You know the great thing about a Kindle Fire? No matter how many books you put on it, it never gets any heavier.) Smart thinking, S&S.

Now, the stories! I don’t even know where to begin. The weirdest and creepiest of the bunch was Special Agent Pendergast (Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child) vs. Slappy the Ventriloquist Dummy (R.L. Stine) – it sounds bizarre, but it works. Now, I am not a Pendergast fan – on paper, it seems like the sort of thing I should love, but I don’t) and I haven’t read any of Slappy’s…adventures, but that didn’t matter. The story is great and I can’t think of a better way to pair up this odd couple.

The first of my absolute favorites was Lincoln Rhyme (Jeffery Deaver) vs. Lucas Davenport (John Sanford). I have many of the Prey novels (several of them autographed, after meeting Sanford several years ago at a book signing) and I’ve read several of the Lincoln Rhyme novels, so I knew this was going to be good. The characters are so different and they butt heads ion such interesting ways. In addition, you’ve got their trusty sidekicks – Amelia Sachs and Lily Rothenburg – to spice things up. Really fabulous – I would love a full-length novel of this pairing!

But really: Nick Heller (Joseph Finder) and Jack Reacher (Lee Child). I can’t say “versus” there, because they really end up working together. I’m familiar with Jack Reacher, read a few of the books, and I’ve already ordered a couple of Heller novels. This one was so much fun – from the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, to the fact that some poor Boston accountant got more help, for free, than he could have possibly paid for and he didn’t even know it! Great, great story.

So, thanks to my friends at Simon & Schuster and Meryl L. Moss Media Relations for providing this free Advanced Reader Copy of FaceOff. The rest of you – hit your local bookstores and libraries for it. And start saving your pennies, because I guarantee this book will spawn a shopping spree!

Review: The Abduction by Jonathan Holt

Friday, June 27th, 2014

abductionI was thrilled to receive a copy of The Abduction by Jonathan Holt, the second book in the Carnivia trilogy. It wasn’t long ago that I reviewed The Abomination, which I thought was a terrific mystery, so I was eager to see where the story went next.

The Abduction focuses again on the unlikely trio of detectives: Venetian police captain Kat Tapo, Second Lieutenant Holly Boland, and reclusive genius Daniele Barbo. Tapo has filed a sexual harassment suite against her former lover, Colonel Aldo Piola – and good for her, because the resolution of their affair was really unfair for her. There is tension between Tapo and Boland, as well as an entirely different sort of tension between Boland and Barbo. These characters are so very different and it is really interesting to see the way they interact.

The novel starts with an erotic swingers event at an upscale nightclub, which is a great way to begin a story! A young woman is abducted – a teenager who should definitely not have been at this party. Her name is Mia and she is the daughter of a US Army officer. There is no ransom demand, but there is a video – a very strange video – and eventually, the kidnappers’ plans become clear. It’s a chilling plan and since the kidnappers are online, it is going viral all over the globe.

And then, just like the storyline in The Abomination, the story veers off into entirely new territory. There are interesting tendrils – a secret society, hacked email, disturbing documents found in the Vatican archives. This is what I love the most about this series! No matter where the story starts, it take you places you had no idea were even on the map. It’s such a refreshing change from plodding procedurals and predictable detective stories and I have been recommending this one to everyone. I am really looking forward to reading the third book in the trilogy – but I am not looking forward to the end of their stories!

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

Review: The Neighbors by Ania Ahlborn

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

At the intersection of Blue Velvet and Basic Instinct lies The Neighbors.

theneighborsAnd that about covers it. What a fun (fluffy) summer read, for those of us who like a little blood and guts with our romance and thrills. There is absolutely nothing believable about this book, but I couldn’t stop turning the pages.

Drew Morrison thinks he’s been saved by his old friend, Mickey. Just as Drew had had enough of his alcoholic mother, of his miserable existence taking care of her, Mickey steps in and offers him a place to stay. Drew leaves his mother to fend for herself, quits his job, plans to start with a clean slate. Unfortunately, Mickey’s place is more hovel than home; dark, dreary and dirty. But next door! Next door is nirvana:

“Easing his truck along the curb, he stared at the house just outside his window. It was gorgeous, a gingerbread house pulled straight from a fairy tale. This one had a white picket fence as well, rosebushes bursting with bright red blooms. Matching hydrangeas, heavy with blossoms, dangled from pots that hung beneath the eaves of the porch. A wind chime shivered in the breeze, small rounds of capiz shell sparkling in the sun. A hammock stretched across the right side of the patio.”

The gingerbread house belongs to Red and Harlow Ward, Drew’s new, too-perfect neighbors. Whether it’s a plate of cookies or a job offer, they are right there to offer Drew everything he needs. With Mickey sulking in his room and acting strangely, Drew can’t resist the offer of a home-cooked meal, especially when it’s served up by the luscious Harlow Ward. But are these neighbors too good to be true? Why is Mickey acting so strangely – and what is behind the locked door at the end of the hallway? What secrets are hiding behind the pleasant facade of 668 Magnolia Lane?

Okay, there is nothing remotely plausible about this story, but the over-the-top quality is what makes it so much fun. The story just gets crazier and crazier and crazier! There’s no deep meaning here, just a fun story, a few sympathetic characters, and a vampy villain you have to read to believe. It’s exactly my idea of a summertime beach read.

My copy of The Neighbors by Ania Ahlborn is from my private Kindle library.

 

Review: Only the Innocent by Rachel Abbott

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

only the innocentRachel Abbott was “the epublishing sensation of 2012″ and Only The Innocent was her first novel. This is the sort of author story I love to read – I love the variety that epublishing brings us, and I hope that the trend continues. I only wish that I had enjoyed the book more.

Only The Innocent has some major issues and plot holes, in my opinion. There is still an entertaining mystery here, if you can suspend enough disbelief. The writing (aside from the plot issues) was pretty good and I would definitely give another story of Abbott’s a try, even if it wouldn’t be at the top of my TBR pile. That said, I had some serious issues with this novel.

There will be some spoilers below, so you may want to skip to the end if you don’t want to be clued in!

Laura Kennedy is a modern young career woman, working for a film company, when she meets Sir Hugo Fletcher. Hugo is older, very rich, very married, so of course she immediately starts dating him. The hilarious thing is that Laura has just won an award for a documentary film on abusive relationships, and yet she falls into every cliche – he cuts her off from friends and family, makes her quit her job, demeans her and criticizes her at every turn. He refuses to meet any of her family until the wedding – won’t even let her see his house until after the wedding, every detail of which he plans right down to her dress and flowers. No way a woman like the Laura they describe would fall for it – and if she would, she wouldn’t make a very likable or sympathetic character.

After her husband’s murder, Laura “reconnects” with her former best friend, Imogen. They haven’t spoken in years and there is a lot Imogen doesn’t know about Laura’s marriage and their estrangement (entirely due to Hugo, of course). Over the years, Laura has written letters to Imogen, letters that she has kept hidden and never mailed, explaining the bizarre circumstances of her marriage. When Imogen shows up after Hugo’s death to comfort Laura, Laura gives her the letters to read.

Okay, some of that is plausible – except for the fact that first, we learn that Laura was writing these letters to Imogen, undetected, while she was forcibly confined in a mental hospital, drugged and keenly observed. How could she have written them and where would she have hidden them? Makes no sense. And we later learn Laura and Imogen have been back in contact for quite some time. In fact, Laura has drafted Imogen to assist in her plan to blackmail her husband. And she did this without telling her about the sham of  a marriage and her reasons for needing protection? That also makes no sense.

There are a number of mysterious, italicized asides from a mystery woman. We glean that she is locked up, chained actually, in a remote room somewhere, without food or water, waiting for her mysterious benefactor to return. As soon as we learn that Hugo’s family charity dealt with helping young prostitutes, we know who she is and who her captor must be. The book would have been considerably better without those snippets; they gave way too much away.

In the end, I kept reading just to see how Abbott would finally resolve the story. It was pretty much what I suspected, and not terribly satisfying. For someone who was under constant observation by a husband who had threatened to kill her, Laura had a lot of leeway, it seems. The explanation for Hugo’s sexual proclivities was pretty ridiculous. It just wasn’t satisfying for me. I could see the glimmers of a great story here – the writing was quite good, there were some interesting characters, and Abbott created a pretty intricate plot – but in key ways, it fell apart for me.

My copy of Only The Innocent by Rachel Abbott came from my personal Kindle library.

Review: Cadaver Blues by J. E. Fishman

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

cadaver_20blues_20cover_20finalCadaver Blues is an interesting idea for a series. Phuoc Goldberg (what an awesome name!) is not your typical private detective – in fact, he’s not a private detective at all. He’s a financial advisor to the down-and-out, the guy you call when the collection agencies are knocking down your doors. He helps people who are over-extended and under-financed keep a roof over their heads – doesn’t seem like a lot of opportunities for solving mysteries. Until he meets Mindy.

Mindy Eider is smoking hot, kind-hearted, and a little gullible. Her Uncle Gunnar, more of an honorary uncle, is off on one of his annual retreats – Mindy doesn’t know where he goes or how to reach him – and Mindy is looking after things in his absence. She has come to Phuoc because someone is trying to foreclose on Uncle Gunnar’s house and she doesn’t know why. There has never been a problem with the bills during these little walk-abouts before, and since it isn’t her account, she can’t speak with anyone at the mortgage company. She hopes that Phuoc can help.

The book is a reminder that the world tends to bow before a beautiful woman. If Mindy had been an ordinary-looking schoolteacher, there is no way that Phuoc would have ended up risking his life for her. Maybe I’m a little cynical. Anyway, what follows is a pretty entertaining mystery. Part of what makes it entertaining is that Phuoc is clearly not a detective – he’s doing all this for a beautiful woman in distress. The situations he gets himself into are pretty funny, even if I found the mystery itself a little implausible. (Okay, more than a little.) They start out in Wilmington, Delaware, spend a weekend snowed in at a resort in the Poconos and end up skulking around mysterious mushroom farms in the dark of night. Throw in some cool friends, a few decadent chocolates and perhaps some magic mushrooms and you’ve got a fun story that kept me turning the virtual pages.

Now, I don’t know where the series will go from here. How many mysteries can a debt consolidation specialist in Wilmington, Delaware run into? Still, you can get me to suspend a lot of disbelief if you have good characters and a snappy storyline, and this had both. I enjoyed this one (a bargain on Amazon) and I would definitely give the next in the series a try.

My copy of Cadaver Blues by J. E. Fishman came from my personal Kindle library.

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.