Archive for the 'Mystery/Thriller' Category

New on the Shelves…

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

This just in from Harper Collins! Waiting for me on my Kindle, Spy Trade by Matthew Dunn:

spy tradeWhen a mission goes awry in Syria, senior CIA officer Bob Oakland is captured by aspiring members of ISIS, who demand the release of one of their own, Arzam Saud, in U.S. captivity. When their hands are tied by Washington’s refusal to negotiate, the CIA turns to MI6 officer Will Cochrane to find out what’s really going on. The threats are escalating quickly, and in order to save the CIA officer, Cochrane must uncover why Saud is truly so important . . .

Review: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

ghostsThis was an odd one. I knew it would be odd as I sat trying to sort out the cover of the novel, a photo of a hallway turned sideways; it’s a great way to set the tone for the rest of the book. A Head Full of Ghostsby Paul Tremblay is the story of the Barrett family – Mom, Dad, and two daughters, Marjorie and Meredith. They were the subject of an early reality TV show, one that ended tragically; now, years later, Meredith is finally telling her story to an author for a memoir. Interspersed with her conversations with her ghostwriter are excerpts from a blog that recounts the TV episodes in great detail.

The Barretts were sadly typical. John Barrett lost his job at a local factory. Sarah Barrett was trying to keep the family afloat on bank teller salary. The girls appear oblivious, until fourteen year old Marjorie begins showing signs of schizophrenia. The doctors they consult are unable to help. Her sister, Merry, is terrified – Marjorie has stopped being her constant friend, her story-teller, her idol, and become someone entirely new and very frightening.

I told her to get out, to leave my room, to go away.

Skeleton-white hands came out from under the blanket and wrapped around her neck. They pulled the blanket down over her face, skin tight, and the blanket formed a shroud with dark valleys for eyes and mouth, her nose flattened against the unyielding cloth. Her mouth moved and choking growls came out. Those hands squeezed so the blanket pulled tighter and she shook her head, thrashed it around violently, and she gasped and pleaded with someone to stop or maybe she said she was trying to stop. Her hands were still closed around her own neck, and I’m sure it was some sort of optical illusion or a trick or kink of memory because her neck couldn’t have gotten as thin as I remember it getting…

Scary stuff for an eight year old. Is Marjorie going crazy? Or is it something more disturbing?

Eventually, John Barrett turns to his priest for help and advice. He is the only member of the family that is religious (his wife is openly scornful) and he and the priest decide that this might very well be a case of demonic possession. And somehow, the decision is made to turn the family’s struggles and Marjorie’s exorcism into a reality TV show, although Merry was too young to know the details. The show will certainly help the family’s financial problems. Sarah is clearly uncertain about turning the whole thing into a spectacle, but John convinces her. I can’t imagine that it was what any mother would have wanted for her family.

More sad for me than Marjorie’s illness was Merry’s friendship with Ken, one of the show’s writers. She seems so desperate for attention, so lost in the drama of her sister’s illness and the way her family is crumbling around her. The idea that she has latched on to this man who is part of a team of people who are profiting from her family’s horrible situation was just heartbreaking.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the ending – a nice way to finish a mystery. You know it’s going to be bad, everything is leading up to a terrible conclusion, but you’re not sure what kind of bad it will be. Will Marjorie turn out to be faking it all, exposed on national TV, leaving the family the laughingstock of their small town? Is that worse than finding out she’s possessed by demons or that their house is haunted? Or is something else stirring in that house? Could one of these girls be an evil genius? Marjorie seems lucid much of the time, and seems to be plotting something with Meredith, but is that the demon talking?  Right up to the end, even after you know how Marjorie’s story ended, there are hints that maybe, just maybe, there is more to the story. I love that – I want a book to keep me guessing, to let me sort out alternative endings on my own.

My copy of A Head Full of Ghosts was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Review: Disclaimer by Renée Knight

Monday, May 4th, 2015

“Any resemblance to persons living or dead…” The disclaimer has a neat red line through it. A message she failed to notice when she opened the book.

disclaimerSometimes a novel really speaks to you – really seems to hit home. You can see yourself and your struggle in those pages. But what if it really was you? What if someone got wind of your deepest, darkest secret and decided to tell the world…in the pages of a “novel”? That’s the situation facing Catherine Ravenscroft in Disclaimer, a thriller by Renée Knight.

Catherine is a documentary filmmaker. She and her husband have recently emptied their nest, moving their somewhat trouble son, Nicholas, into his own apartment. They’ve moved to a new, smaller home, and as they are getting their belongings sorted out and put away, she finds the book on a table and from that point, her life begins to fall apart.

E. J. Preston, the author of this mysterious book, has somehow learned Catherine’s deepest secret, a secret that is slowly revealed to us over the chapters. It involves her son, that much we know from the beginning. We know that something happened and we know that Catherine didn’t tell her husband at the time. Preston has put his own spin on the events, told the story from a different point of view, made it into something that horrifies Catherine and would devastate her family.

We meet Preston early on and learn about his family. We learn about how he comes upon this story, and why he decides to tell it in this way. He has never met Catherine, but he believes that she is responsible for one of the great tragedies in his life and this is how he has chosen to take his revenge.

There were a couple of things I really liked about this novel. First is the idea that someone could put our deepest secret out there for everyone to see. That you could pick up a novel or open a website and there you are, exposed and humiliated. In this age of self-publishing, a story like this is completely probable and completely terrifying.

I also appreciate the skillful way the secret is revealed. I have to say that what I originally thought was way off. You think you know where it’s going, you think you know what side you’re on, but you’re probably wrong. The secret was not what I expected, and the way each piece of the puzzle comes to light made for a great story.

My copy of Disclaimer is an Advance Reader Copy, provided by the good folks at Harper Collins. It is scheduled for release on May 19th.

Review: Cane and Abe by James Grippando

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

caneIn Cane and Abe by James Grippando, Miami’s top prosecutor becomes the prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance. Is she the victim of a serial killer? Or is there a connection to the women in Abe’s past?

Abe Beckham is a prosecutor in Miami, married to the lovely Angelina but still hung up on his first wife, Samantha. The relationship between the three of them is pretty complicated: Abe is white; he dumped Angelina to start dating Samantha, who was black. Abe and Samantha married, but Samantha died of cancer. Angelina worked her way back into his life, but I doubt she’s ever forgiven him. Now there is a serial killer on the loose, his victims are all in interracial relationships, and Abe’s wife has gone missing…

Abe starts out a victim, but quickly becomes a suspect. FBI Agent Victoria Santos doesn’t trust Abe and even something as innocent as a broken wine glass seems like a smoking gun. Abe makes some dumb mistakes – as a prosecutor, he really should know better – but as hard as Santos tries, she can’t quite pin this on him.

There are plenty of twists and turns in this story, and a lot of tangents that may or may not lead to the killer. There’s J.T., Samantha’s mentally unstable brother; Samantha made Abe promise to look out for him, but that may be an impossible task. There are untraceable cell phones, a possible connection to a major corporate player, and a storage unit where some long-forgotten boxes may hold vital clues. There are plenty of reasons to suspect any number of characters, and that keeps the mystery humming along. The ending managed to surprise me – though I doubt we’ve gotten the whole story.

This is a great choice for modern mystery lovers who want a twisty plot, a host of suspects, and any number of ways to interpret the evidence. I love it when a book leaves me with a few loose ends to toy with, so I can unravel bits of the mystery on my own. If you like your stories neatly wrapped up with all the questions answered in the last chapter, this isn’t the book for you.

James Grippando spent 12 years as a trial lawyer before becoming a full-time writer. He’s published 23 thrillers – Cane and Abe is #22 and Cash Landing, #23, is near the top of my TBR pile. For more about the author, check out his website.

My copy of Cane and Abe was an Advance Reader Copy, provided by the folks at Harper Collins.

 

Review: Orient by Christopher Bollen

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

orientThere are always quite a few murder mysteries in my TBR pile, so only the really good ones stand out. Orient by Christopher Bollen is definitely in that pile – I have to admit that I did not guess the murderer until the very end, and I certainly didn’t guess the motive. I like it when a book can surprise me.

Mills is a bit of a drifter, a foster kid who has fallen on hard times and is rescued by a neighbor, Paul Benchley. We know from the first few paragraphs of the book that there will be murders. We know that Mills will be blamed for them, even though he didn’t commit them, and he gives us some clues as to the murderer. The clues didn’t help me unmask the killer; they just made me suspicious of everyone we meet in Orient.

Paul offers to take Mills to his family home in Orient, on the North Fork of Long Island. It’s an isolated town, lots of families who have been there for generations, and the town is undergoing some rapid changes as new money and new people flood in. In particular, there are a lot of artists coming to the community. Not nice folks who want to paint the lighthouses along the shore. No, these are big-time, big money modern artists, the kind who will bash through your dining room wall with a sledgehammer, expose the pipes underneath, throw glitter on them and call it an installation piece (and charge you $100,000). They have very different sensibilities than the long-time residents, and the cultures are bound to clash. Some neighbors welcome the new blood and the new money that comes with it. Others are afraid of losing the quaint and peaceful town they’ve always known. There is plenty of hostility and distrust on both sides.

In addition, there is the threat of Plum Island Animal Disease Center – a research facility that some residents believe is working on dangerous projects. When a strange, mutated carcass washes up on an Orient beach, even the skeptics begin to wonder…

Paul puts Mills to work cleaning out two generations of hoarding in the old family home, where he discovers some secrets about his benefactor and the town. He becomes friendly with Beth, a failed artist struggling with her husband’s artistic success and a bad case of “I have everything I wanted so why am I not happy?” There are conflicts on the island between the successful artists who are driving up real estate prices and long-time residents who want to keep Orient a sleepy village, frozen in time. When long-time residents start turning up dead, it’s easy to point fingers at the new kid in town.

I didn’t recognize, at the start of the book, that the places Bollen mentions – Orient, Plum Island, Oysterponds, etc – are real places. I think that adds to the appeal of the book, the idea that you could take a drive through the streets you’ve read about, stand on the beach and look towards the lighthouse.

Beth became a real source of annoyance for me (which may have been intentional, on Bollen’s part). She’s an artist who doesn’t paint because she’s afraid to fail, even though her husband is supportive and encouraging. Her husband agrees to leave New York City and move out to this little island town because his wife wants to go home again. Her mother gives her a beautiful, spacious home on the island. She and her husband want to have a baby, but now that she finds out she’s pregnant, she hasn’t told her husband and she is considering an abortion. She has everything she wants, she gets everything she asks for and she is still not happy. She is the kind of character you want to grab by the shoulders and give them a good shake, ask them if they have any clue just how lucky they have been and how pathetic they are for not appreciating it. It’s infuriating! But you hope they have time to work it all out.

Really enjoyed this one, mostly because it was tough to see where the story was going. There were several angles – conflict on the Historic Board, a drunken handyman who knows all the town’s secrets, crazy artists and the looming presence of Plum Island, which may be slowly poisoning the residents. I admit I didn’t care for that last storyline, but it didn’t keep me from enjoying the mystery.

My copy of Orient by Christopher Bollen was an Advance Reader copy, provided by the good folks at Harper Collins. It is set for release on May 5, 2015.

Review: Normal by Graeme Cameron

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

normalHe lives in your community, in a nice house with a well-tended garden. He shops in your supermarket, bumping shoulders with you and apologizing with a smile. He drives beside you on the highway, politely waving you into the lane ahead of him.

What you don’t know is that he has an elaborate cage built into a secret basement under his garage. And the food that he’s carefully shopping for is to feed a young woman he’s holding there against her will—one in a string of many, unaware of the fate that awaits her.

Oh, she’s knows what fate awaits her.

Normal by Graeme Cameron is an interesting twist on the sympathetic serial killer story. Our main character has no name and no physical description, and that is purposeful. He could be anyone. He’s no one you would necessarily notice, and even if you did, you couldn’t imagine the sort of person he really is. He says, in the latter part of the book, “The truth is I hurt people. It’s what I do. It’s all I do. It’s all I’ve ever done.”  He’s gotten quite proficient at it – he has a routine, places to dispose of the remains, a well thought-out process for satisfying these urges. Up to now, it has worked perfectly for him, allowing him to travel under the radar.

The trouble starts with a woman, of course. Erica is in the wrong place at the wrong time and she ends up in the cage under our killer’s garage. This should be simple – clearly, he has done this before, made provisions for it. The cage is sturdy, the camera affords him an excellent view of his captive, but somehow things with Erica don’t go quite the way he planned.

Then there’s the woman at the all-night grocery store. Her name tag says Caroline and she is perfect. The kind of perfect that could make a man want to change his evil ways, walk the straight and narrow. But there’s the little problem of the girl in the secret dungeon and the police who suspect him of…something. They aren’t sure what, exactly, but they are definitely suspicious. Our protagonist has some clever and very entertaining ideas about how to weasel out of this – enlisting the help of a woman he planned to murder but ending up rescuing instead – but once more, tings don’t go quite as he planned.

I really enjoyed this – I like the style, I like the bits of detail interspersed with large patches of things left up to your imagination. I like the ambiguous bits – I don’t need an author to beat me over the head with the plot. You can’t help but root for our would-be lover to sort all of this out and get his happily ever after … and then you remember how many women he’s slaughtered and wonder what you were thinking. There’s humor, there’s suspense, and enough action to keep the pages turning. If you don’t mind a little blood and guts and adore a good antihero, you should definitely check this one out.

My copy of Normal was an Advance Reader Copy, provided free of charge. It goes on sale March 31, so pre-order your copy now.

 

 

Review: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

boneshakerThis is a book I started ages ago, but I lost track of it on my Kindle (I keep forgetting that it stores galleys as documents, not books). When I managed to unearth it, I was thrilled to be back in the world of Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. It’s set in the wild and woolly Seattle of the 1880’s, with some major revisions. The city, its population swelled from the Klondike gold rush, has been devastated. The Boneshaker, a mining machine designed to dig through the Klondike ice, has malfunctioned and run wild beneath the city, collapsing buildings, creating tunnels, killing hundreds, and releasing deadly gas from deep underground. The gas, called Blight, boils up from the tunnels and clings like a thick fog. It kills plants and animals, corrodes metal, and turns the humans who breathe it into a sort of zombie, called Rotters. In an attempt to save what they could, the city was walled up, trapping the Blight and the rotters inside. The walls created a lost city, crumbling into ruin, inhabited by the walking dead and those hearty souls who have carved out a living in the basements, vaults, and any place that offers a little clean air.

Briar Wilkes has gone back to using her maiden name, because being the widow of Leviticus Blue does not endear her to her neighbors; Leviticus Blue invented the Boneshaker, after all, and many still hold him responsible for the devastation in the city. She has tried to shield her son, Zeke, from his awful history, but the curiosity of a teenage boy is a powerful force. Zeke has decided to sneak into the walled city, find his mother’s home, and bring back evidence that his father was innocent. When she realizes what he’s done, Briar has no choice but to go in after him.

Their adventures in the city make for a great read. There are pirates and villains, the Chinamen who built and maintain the machinery that keeps the underground inhabitable. There is a good-hearted woman, Lucy O’Gunning, with her strange mechanical arm, and a mysterious villain named Dr. Minnericht, who hints at an even more villainous past. It’s about a mother’s love for her son – all that she’s done, all that she’s tried to do, and all that she is still willing to do to protect him, even if he hates her for it. It’s about how you keep going after tragedy strikes and find a way to live with yourself. And all through the book there are great stories of underground palaces, murderous rotters and shifting alliances – enough to keep you turning pages well past the time you should blow out the candles and turn in for the night. The ending was great (and I’ve had too many disappointing endings lately) and makes me want to pick up the next book right away. It was a great story and my only regret is that I didn’t finish it sooner. The bonus is that the sequels are all lined up for me!

For more on the wondrous alternate universe of Boneshaker,  check out The Clockwork Century and Cherie’s homepage. My copy of Boneshaker by Cherie Priest was an Advance Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Review: Want You Dead by Peter James

Monday, December 8th, 2014

want you deadWant You Dead by Peter James is a woman’s worst nightmare. You date a guy who seems terrific — he’s handsome and charming, doesn’t mind spending money on you and seems to really enjoy your company — and he turns out to be a crazy stalker. In this case a OMGCRAZYWTF stalker. The kind that breaks into your house, burns down your favorite restaurant, tries to murder your parents…you know the type.

Bryce Laurent is a charmer — on the surface. He meets Red Cameron on a dating site and is immediately smitten with her. He is convinced she’s the one and for a while, so is she. Unfortunately, things take a very dark turn and eventually Red has to involve the police, get a protection order, move to a new flat and get a new job. But that’s not enough. Bryce still finds her, and if he can’t have her, no one can.

It’s a scary situation. A recent article I read reports that one-third of women murdered in the US are killed by their male partners. Do a quick Google search on “women killed by estranged boyfriend” and the results are horrifying. Bryce Laurent is different from many of the cases you see in the news (aside from being, thankfully, fictional)- he has money, and time, and he will stop at nothing to punish Red for leaving him. He is frighteningly clever and utterly ruthless – he wants Red to suffer and he is willing to hurt a lot of people to make that happen.

One of the things I loved about Want You Dead is that first, there’s a great thriller at the heart of it – what will Bryce do next, will the police be able to protect Red, who else is going to get hurt? In addition, the secondary characters are great – there’s a little romance, there’s a little conflict, and the personalities are really interesting. A main storyline won’t keep you reading without a great cast of characters. I also love the way that the relationship between Red and Bryce is slowly revealed. In the beginning, it’s hard to believe that such an amazing guy who could be so awful but over time, as the details come out, you are gradually more and more horrified. The reveal is really handled very well.

This is a great thriller, full of surprises and suspense. My copy of Want You Dead by Peter James was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Review: Deep Shelter by Oliver Harris

Monday, December 1st, 2014

deep shelterLet me start off by saying: I loved this book. Nick Belsey is a sorry excuse for a cop, probably a worse boyfriend, but he is smart and determined and he just does not quit.

Deep Shelter by Oliver Harris is a terrific story, full of twists and turns, with a lot of great characters. Belsey is trying to find a suspect that disappeared down a rabbit hole. Instead, he finds a tunnel that leads into an old wartime bunker underneath London. It has offices and dorms and workspaces, it’s fully stocked with food and medical supplies — he even finds cases of champagne. They were new went they went down into the tunnels, but they are vintage now. So, of course, Belsey does what any good cop would do: he calls his dealer and his fence and makes plans to sell the drugs and the booze. Then he invites his new girlfriend, someone he arrested a while back, on a romantic trip to the tunnels.

Belsey took the candle and walked into the dorm. Bunk cages danced in the wavering light. No sign of her. He waited for his date to jump out. That would be classic. She didn’t.

“Are you OK?” he called, and his voice sounded like the voice of someone on their own.

Incredibly creepy. And it gets even creepier when he starts getting text messages and emails, taunting him. He knows that if he reports her disappearance, he’ll be the prime suspect, so he doesn’t report it. Instead, he investigates on his own. The investigation leads into an incredibly twisted story of wartime preparations, top-secret cover-ups and a city beneath the city.

If you like complicated storylines, you’ll love this. There is so much going on, so much backstory, so many interesting twists and turns that I could not put this down. I like Belsey – he’s a crooked cop, but he’s trying to do the right thing. He’s got quite an assortment of equally bent contacts, and they make for an interesting crew. The book makes me want to go back to London — I’ve been to a few of the locations mentioned in the book, like St. Pancras Station, but not many — and look for the landmarks in the book and dream of a secret city beneath my feet.

My copy of Deep Shelter is an Advance Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Review: Ice Shear by M. P. Cooley

Monday, October 13th, 2014

ice shearThis is the start of a great new detective series! At least, I hope it is; I haven’t seen any indication that M.P. Cooley is planning a follow-up to Ice Shear, but I certainly hope she is working on it right now. Ice Shear combined a great mystery, some good twists and turns, interesting characters and a likable lead detective with a great back story – one that holds a lot of promise for future novels.

Officer June Lyons is nearing the end of her overnight shift in the small town of Hope Falls when she makes a gruesome discovery: a young woman, impaled on a spike of ice in the Mohawk River. Instead of heading home for breakfast with her young daughter, Lyons will be dealing with frigid temperatures and a hostile Assistant District Attorney, with even more surprises in store. The dead girl is the daughter of a powerful Congresswoman and her sketchy past is going to make this a tough case for everyone involved.

Lyons returned to her hometown during a particularly rough patch in her life. She has family here, but she isn’t totally accepted by some of her colleagues on the police force. When the FBI is called in, it gets even more difficult – now she’s also dealing with hostile former colleagues. Her interactions with the locals and the outsiders really drew me into the story – a single mom, pressure from all sides, trying to do a really difficult job – she’s a great character and there is a lot of potential for future stories.

Really, this is a great mystery from cover to cover. If you can imagine a Senator’s daughter married to the head of a motorcycle gang, that’s all the suspension of disbelief you;ll need (and certainly not the craziest thing we’ve ever seen from a Senator’s kid). Lyons’ backstory is great and there is a lot to uncover there. It will be interesting to see where her personal story goes in the next book.

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