Escape from the ER
Review
3.5 Stars
Deer Life - Ron Sexsmith

Leaves in the whirlwind, scarecrow’s clappin’
All good children ought to be nappin’.
The cows in the tree, the bird’s on the ground
For your dream’s just a nightmare upside down.

 

This is a fun & light hearted fairy tale written by singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith. The story is set in the town of Hinthoven, a bustling little village full of eccentric characters. Let’s see…we’ve got barkeep Crad Grimsby, local bully Jacques Tortière, bouncers Griff & Gruff & young Deryn Hedlight, the hero of our tale.

 

While out hunting one day Deryn has the great misfortune to run into Eleanoir, as wicked a witch as there ever was. (How do we know she’s a witch? C’mon people, she’s got purple eyes! Everyone knows the worst witches have purple eyes…sheesh.)

 

Poor Deryn. HIs life takes an extreme 180 & the story that follows is full of peril (PERIL!!), heartache, magic & the enduring power of love. The cover is gorgeous & sprinkled through the pages are little hand drawn sketches of the characters. Despite this being billed as an adult fairy tale, I think it’s better suited for kids. The chatty narrator speaks directly to the reader as they deliver a mystical & humorous coming-of-age story that is clean & full of good messages about the importance of friendship, whether it comes into your life on two legs or four.

 

So if you go out to the woods today, beware of those with a viole(n)t gaze. And bowler hats…..definitely avoid bowler hats.

 

 

          

Review
4 Stars
The Mayfly: As Chilling as M. J. Arlidge - Hazel St James

This is a creepy thriller that alternates between 2 time lines that link disturbing events in the present to a horrific chapter from the past.

 

In the present, DCI Tiff Rowlinson attends a gruesome scene in an isolated cabin in south Wales. So he’s more than a little surprised when British attorney general Sir Philip Wren arrives unannounced with a team from the Met. Wren doesn’t say much but 2 things are immediately clear. He is deeply unsettled by what he’s seen & has no intention of allowing Rowlinson to investigate.

 

In 1946 Col. Albert Ruck is tucked away in a remote english farmhouse with a handful of staff. His mission is simple: make his “guest” talk. In the messy clean-up following the war, he was charged with snatching Dr. Kurt Schneider from Buchenwald concentration camp. The good doctor is infamous for the experiments he carried out, specializing in modified poisons. Now he spends his days being interrogated in a barn & Ruck has some very specific questions.

 

Charlie Priest retired from the Met 10 years ago & became a lawyer. Now he heads up an exclusive firm with 3 carefully chosen associates. Vincent Okoro is a large, intimidating man with a brilliant legal mind. Simon Solomon is a geeky forensic accountant afflicted with a variety of ticks & zero social skills. Georgie Someday is the new girl, a tireless researcher & sharp as a tack. After Charlie is attacked in his home one night, all 4 of them will be affected by the disturbing events that follow.

 

That’s it for the plot, folks. The less you know going in, the better. But I’ll pass on some advice. Practice cringing……a lot. Oh, and if you ever get a letter with something lumpy inside? Maybe leave town.

 

Charlie gets caught up in the search for a killer & soon realizes that he himself has multiple connections to whatever the hell is going on. Former colleagues, missing women and something else…..the pervasive sense of something evil that has existed for decades. Tension builds with every discovery & as new characters are introduced, some of them will make you nervous. They’re a little blurry around the edges & you can’t help but question their motives. All you know for sure is there are people who will do anything to keep a secret safely hidden.

 

The plot is complex & the historical story line is just as compelling as the one set in present day. At about the 80% mark, I felt like I needed to take a deep breath before turning each page. There’s a whole herd of twists & each new piece of info sends you haring off after a fresh suspect. It’s a thriller with a capital T but what bumped it up to 4 stars for me was the main character.

 

Charlie is an interesting guy. He lives alone & tends to avoid social situations that require normal behaviour. Because even when he’s physically present, Charlie may not really be there. He has dissociative disorder & it’s a rather sneaky affliction. He can be in the middle of a conversation when an episode hits & suddenly he’s outside himself, watching as he flounders for something to say. At other times he may not recognize his own hand as belonging to his body. His memory of what occurred becomes spotty & time has an elastic quality. There’s a very good reason that he sometimes worries about his sanity but I’ll let you discover that for yourself.

 

Just a heads up. There is some gruesome content so if you’re a fan of cozies, step away from the book now. Actually, run. Personally, I think I’m going to hang around & see what Charlie gets up to in book #2.

 

 

                 

Review
4 Stars
The Good Daughter: A Novel - Karin Slaughter

Whenever I get my hands on a book by Karin Slaughter, I always have this feeling I should put on a seatbelt before I crack the cover. She tends to nibble away at the edge of your comfort zone with stories that are intense, emotional & disturbing. This one is no different.

 

The book opens in 1989 with a brutal day in the life of the Quinn family. Rusty, the father, is typically absent. He’s a small town lawyer who specializes in successfully defending the dregs of society while dodging death threats. It’s just Gamma & daughters Charlotte & Samantha at home that afternoon when 2 masked men come calling. By the time they’re through Gamma is dead, Sam has been shot in the head & Charlie is hiding at a neighbouring farm. The family has been gutted & Rusty makes some snap decisions that will haunt them for years to come.

 

In present day, 41 year old Charlie is a lawyer who just made a huge mistake. She goes to the local school to set things right. Unfortunately, teenager Kelly Wilson chose the same day to stalk the hallways with a gun. By the time the dust settles 2 people are dead, Charlie is injured & Kelly is arrested. The police response is a tad enthusiastic to say the least & in the days that follow, they form a blue wall to make sure their version of events is accepted.

 

Rusty, of course, can’t wait to defend Kelly but Charlie is blindsided by memories of the last time she was held at gunpoint. As she begins to unravel, it’s clear there is one thing she needs. Her sister.

 

We revisit the1989 attack several times during the course of the book. Charlie & Sam alternate as narrators to give their versions of what happened. A few more details leak out each time & as the whole truth slowly emerges, we begin to grasp the numerous connections to present day events.

 

But it’s not just these events that put you through the wringer. The cast also provokes strong reactions. Slaughter specializes in putting her characters through ordeals that showcase their strengths & weaknesses. As the story progresses, they can morph from good guy to bad & back again, radically affecting how you feel about them. Charlie & Sam are good examples. Both are strong personalities & at several points I wanted to knock their heads together. But there were also times when I wanted to take them to the nearest bar & get them guttered enough to forget what they’d endured.

 

Rusty comes across as a grandstander who talks a lot but says little. I spent much of the story rolling my eyes at his chatter, frustrated by the way he treated the girls. But just as you grow tired of his obscure quotes & homilies, he’ll slip up & reveal the man behind the persona. From one particularly poignant scene...

 

What a rapist takes from a woman is her future. The person she is going to become, who she is supposed to be, is gone. In many ways, it’s worse than murder, because he has killed the potential person, eradicated that potential life, yet she still lives and breathes….”

 

Several other characters deserve mention. Charlie’s estranged husband Ben is a sympathetic guy who gets dragged into the whole mess. Rusty’s eccentric assistant Lenore has known the girls all their lives & can be counted on for no-nonsense advice. But it’s Kelly who breaks your heart every time she appears. She’s from “the holler”, a trailer park on the edge of town. Her social status & learning disabilities have made her a prime target for mean girls & the cliche of a disaffected youth who finally snapped has the media salivating.

 

My only complaint (and it’s teeny) is the last 20% or so. Was it badly written? Heck no, it’s freaking fabulous. It’s more a case of everything coming to a head at once. Following a pivotal plot twist, it’s like someone opened a cage full of restless clues & they all came out screaming at the same time. So much is revealed that you’re left reeling, trying to keep up as your brain makes a dozen connections. It has a profound effect on what you thought you knew & you may need to take a moment & look at some of the characters with fresh eyes. There are some jaw droppers here. Hidden agendas, secrets & lies will alter what Charlie & Sam had believed for so long.

 

This is a layered, engrossing & sometimes uncomfortable read. It’s an unflinching look at the lives of those judged with prejudice because of their social status & family history. There’s rarely a dull moment & you’ll fly through the pages to discover the fates of these characters you’ve come to care about. Just a heads up: there are scenes that are fairly graphic but not gratuitous as they inform the story on several levels.

 

So if you’re a fan of gritty character driven drama, I’ll just leave you with 2 pieces of advice. Get it. And buckle up.

 

 

               

Review
4.5 Stars
Perfect Prey - Helen Fields

So….2 big announcements to kick off this review. For the first time in ages I picked up a book that sent me into hiding so I could read uninterrupted by those pesky people who claim to be family.

 

Second, we have an early front runner for my world famous “ Dickhead of the Year ” Award * (* fiction category, not to be confused with the one bestowed on a real person). You know those characters you love to loathe? Well, keep your blood pressure meds nearby. This book has one that made me wish I could reach through the pages and smack the daylights out of. More on that later.

 

This is book #2 in the series & DI Luc Callanach has been in Edinburgh for 8 months now. It’s festival season & the downtown is hot, loud & heaving with music fans. In the midst of the crowd, a young man quietly sinks to the ground. Before long, Luc & his crew are on scene trying to figure out how a man was killed without anyone noticing.

 

Meanwhile, DI Ava Turner is called to a very different murder. There’s nothing subtle about this one. Only the question of who would want to kill a hospice nurse.

 

And that’s just the beginning of a spree that soon has Edinburgh’s panicked residents locking their doors. These aren’t your “typical” victims of crime & Luc & Ava are soon reeling from an abundance of bodies but few clues. To make matters worse, someone is leaking confidential info to the press. Adding to the fun is the presence of a cyber crime task force that is taking space & staff from the murder squad. It’s led by DCI Joseph Edgar (aforementioned DOTY award nominee), an ambitious cop intent on rekindling his history with Ava.

 

With Ava distracted by personal issues, Luc has no choice but to go outside the department for help & winds up with a couple of unlikely partners who add an interesting edge to the story.

 

What a great read. I’ve been waiting for this ever since I read “Perfect Remains”. Luc & Ava are complex, compelling characters & the fact it’s set in one of my favourite cities is a bonus. Much of the colourful peripheral cast is back, adding smart & humorous dialogue to the suspense. It’s a true head scratcher as the big picture slowly begins to take shape. The author provides several credible paths to follow & you’ll have to decide which trails lead to the killer & which are clever misdirection.

 

At the 3/4 mark, my condolences to anyone who tries to come between you & your copy. The pace ramps up as investigations reach a critical point with some of the answers falling into place. Others are reserved for the final pages as Luc & Ava deal with sudden changes to their personal & professional lives. An unexpected twist throws a spanner in the overall story line & guarantees I’ll be watching for book #3.

 

This works as a stand alone but I’d recommend reading the first one so you fully understand references made to the characters’ pasts. It’s the perfect “make-the-world-go-away” book, ideal if you’re stuck for several hours in a plane/train/automobile at some point this summer. Who knows, by the time you look up all bleary-eyed, you might be in another country. Bon voyage.

Deer Life - Ron Sexsmith

A "humorously dark" adult fairy tale by singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith......how can I resist? Up on Netgalley if it strikes your fancy.

Review
4.5 Stars
Etched in Bone  - Anne Bishop

I don't read a lot of fantasy but this is one of my favourite series. Every time I pick up the latest instalment, I'm struck again by the incredible imagination & world building of this author. She has turned vamps, ponies, crows, wolves & intuits into real "people" you come to care about deeply.

All of the books work as pure entertainment. But if you care to ponder them on a deeper level, you'll find an allegory for the world we live in. Societal issues such as racism, prejudice, xenophobia, war & family drama are all dealt with, albeit in a slightly furrier way.

There are many reviews out there already so all I'll say is I highly recommend this complex, multi-layered story. And don't even think of starting here. This is one you where you need to start at the beginning (Written in Red).

 

 

         

Review
4 Stars
Nothing Stays Buried - P.J. Tracy

In 2003 I picked up a book called “Monkeewrench” & was instantly hooked. Fourteen years later, nothing has changed. As usual there are multiple story lines that develop separately until evidence begins to weave them together.

 

Leo Magozzi & Gino Rolseth are homicide detectives with the Minneapolis PD. Which is a good thing because they’ve got a dead body on their hands. A young woman was found murdered in a park & unfortunately the distinctive MO is ringing a few bells. Several months ago another woman was found in a similar setting but the case was never solved. Before they can make much headway, the body count begins to rise. And things get even more complicated when FBI agents show up & aren’t keen to explain why.

 

Meanwhile, over at Monkeewrench, Harley is doing his best to talk the crew into taking a missing persons case. Sheriff Jacob Emmet arranged for him to meet Walt Gustafson, an old farmer whose daughter Marla disappeared without a trace 2 months ago. Harley figures it’s the perfect case. They’ll get to help some decent people while keeping the 6 months pregnant Grace away from the usual brand of bad guys they chase.

 

Every now & then we spend a chapter with the killer & it’s an uncomfortable experience. Slowly we realize there’s something fundamentally wrong with them, some glitch on a cellular level.

 

As both investigations progress, we catch up on the characters’ personal lives. Leo is over the moon about becoming a dad (despite Gino sharing his domestic horror stories) & continues to work on the lake house he bought. Grace has been softened by the pregnancy & is beginning to entertain the idea that not everyone wants to kill you.

 

There’s a subtle shift in tension & pace as information begins to trickle in & before they know it, they’re facing a cold killer, wild weather & a horrific discovery on Walt’s farm. Oh, and what’s the deal with the lion?

 

Earlier books were more focused on action & hi-tech toys as the characters, their backgrounds & relationships were established. This is a more character driven plot with emphasis on how the investigations affect their personal lives as the situation becomes increasingly dangerous.

 

I must confess that around book #6, I grew tired of Grace & Leo’s idiot dance as they continued to circle each other. Thankfully the old will-they-or-won’t-they situation was resolved but because the authors took their time, the evolution of Grace’s character is more believable. She’ll never be described as a hugger but the fact there’s a little Magozzi on the way makes it obvious she no longer sheaths herself in emotional (or physical) armour.

 

If like moi you have a book budget, sometimes it’s hard to decide where to spend your hard earned cash. No drama here, these are a no-brainer. The characters have become old friends & it remains one of my go-to series. These books were written by the mother/daughter team of PJ & Traci Lambrecht . Sadly, PJ passed away in Dec. 2016 but according to the website, Traci intends to carry on entertaining us with suitably tangled cases for the Monkeewrench crew to solve.

 

 

          

Review
3.5 Stars
Final Girls - Riley Sager

3.5 stars

 

If you met Quincy Carpenter, you’d think she had the world by the tail. She’s a pretty young woman with a successful baking blog who lives in a swanky NY apartment with Jeff, lawyer & boyfriend extraordinaire. And she’d be thrilled you bought it because that’s exactly the facade she’s been trying to maintain for 10 years.

 

A decade ago she became the “lucky” one. Quincy & her pals rented a cottage for a weekend away from the stress of college life. It should have been a hoot. Instead she ended up the lone survivor of a bloody massacre. All Quincy remembers is running for her life & the police officer who saved her.

 

That’s when she joined a very small, select group of women…..the only ones to walk away from the scene of multiple murders. Borrowing a term from horror films, the media refers to each of them as a “final girl”.

 

It’s the only thing Quincy Carpenter, Lisa Milner & Samantha Boyd have in common. None of them wanted to join the club & each handled their notoriety in different ways. Lisa wrote a book & went on to help others. Sam went off the grid & disappeared. And Quincy became a borderline agoraphobe who embraces her selective amnesia.

 

But the one thing that gets her to leave her apartment (with a helping of Xanax) is a visit from Coop. He’s the cop who stumbled across the scene 10 years ago & saved her. Their connection was instant & ever since, he travels to Manhattan to check on her several times a year.

 

As the book opens, Coop has called to meet at their usual place & this time he’s got some news. Lisa was found dead with her wrists slashed. Quincy is shocked. She always thought of Lisa as the stable one. Was she also wearing a game face? After she gets home, Quincy becomes more distressed when she finds a message Lisa left her on the night she died.

 

Then things get really weird. Long lost Samantha Boyd shows up on Quincy’s doorstep. She’s a blunt, tough woman who’s lived a hard life. Quincy is equally fascinated & repelled by her while Jeff is less than thrilled, especially when she offers Sam a place to stay. This is where the book really begins. From here on we watch as Sam takes Quincy for a walk on the wild side & challenges her to remember the night she became a final girl.

 

If you’re going to hitch a ride with these two, you will have to suspend your disbelief a bit. Quincy’s characters isn’t consistent & I wondered if the author intended this as a way to show how she evolved but it seemed to happen really quickly. I don’t want to risk spilling any beans but some of her decisions were hard to believe, especially given the way she lived her life before Sam appeared. She is also remarkably accepting of explanations of certain events which should have raised red flags. This is someone who was unable to walk down the street without suspecting each pedestrian & jumping at every sound.

 

The first half moves at a slower pace as the cast is introduced & events are rehashed several times for the benefit of other characters. But as it heads for the finish, better brush up on your ability to bob & weave or you’ll be knocked over by a herd of twists & reveals.

 

So maybe think of this as your summer psychological drama/slasher read, perfect for the beach. The last third is a full on sprint to the finish that will keep you entertained as the pages fly by.

 

 

          

             

 

Whatever the cause, thinking of London tonight.....

Review
4 Stars
The Right Side: A Novel - Spencer Quinn

How could I not read this? Just look at that cover…..a woman & a dog. It’s not exactly love at first sight but they just might end up saving each other.

 

When we meet Sgt. LeAnne Hogan, a few things are immediately clear. She has PTSD following a horrific attack in Afghanistan that also cost her an eye. Her brain is seriously scrambled. And she’s really, really angry. Thank God for Marci, her one-legged hospital roommate.

 

LeAnne’s memory of the attack is as fragmented as the right side of her face. But when an army investigator shows up with a briefcase of questions, she begins to wonder if she screwed up. Any interest she had in cooperating goes out the window when Marci suddenly dies. The hospital becomes an unbearable place & LeAnne is soon on the first bus out of town.

 

She has no idea where she’s going but it feels good to be on the move. Her prickly personality & damaged face keep people at bay as she struggles to adapt to her new reality. Just keeping track of her slippery thoughts can be exhausting. It’s the memory of Marci that eventually gives her direction & LeAnne  heads to Bellville, Washington to visit Coreen & Mia, Marci’s mother & daughter.

 

Once there, she discovers not only has she missed Marci’s funeral but Mia is missing. And while some people are welcoming there are others who’d prefer she move on. LeAnne rents a small cabin & soon acquires a new friend who is large, black, pushy & opinionated. And she has sharp teeth to back up the major ‘tude. But she also senses her new human’s frailty & as LeAnne begins to search for Mia, her furry partner becomes a constant presence on her right side.

 

It’s the beginning of a mystical relationship that gives LeAnne strength as she digs for clues in the present & faces up to her past.

 

Mia’s story line doesn’t appear until the second half of the book & despite the blurb description, it’s really a vehicle for the development of the MC. This is LeAnne’s story. Through her character, we experience all the fear, confusion, anger & hopelessness that shadows someone struggling with PTSD. She begins as a lost soul who can’t even trust herself let alone others. When she finally attempts a relationship, it’s with another outcast & I loved that the author chose to make that character a dog. Anyone who’s had a furry child knows there’s something about their silent acceptance & unconditional affection that makes the worst day a little easier to get through.

 

In LeAnne’s case, she finds a companion whose circumstances mirror her own…..another scruffy looking stray trying to figure out where she belongs. Like most friends, they have their disagreements. But when the chips are down, they also have each others’ back.

 

By the end most of the past & present has been resolved. Instead of a cheesy miraculous transformation, LeAnne is changed in subtle ways which is much more realistic. She’s an interesting, compelling character & if she & the ferocious furball decide to hit the road again, I’d happily go along for the ride.

 

 

 

                    

Review
4 Stars
Love Like Blood: A Tom Thorne Novel (Tom Thorne Novels) - Mark Billingham

Book #14 in the Tom Thorne series gives us a proper twisty police procedural that deals with a delicate issue.

 

DI Nicola Tanner is convinced her partner’s murder was a case of mistaken identity & she was the real target. Tanner has a theory about some recent honour killings in London. It’s a sensitive subject & she hasn’t exactly endeared herself to members of the religious communities involved.

When she’s put on compassionate leave, some of her colleagues are hoping a little time away will help ease tension between the victim’s families & police.

 

But Nicola has other plans. She figures her partner was killed because she was getting too close. All she needs is another cop willing to help, someone with a fluid regard for the rules who won’t mind colouring outside the lines if necessary. Someone like….oooh, I don’t know….Tom Thorne, maybe.

 

They met on a previous case (“Die of Shame”) & although Tom is initially reluctant, Nicola isn’t above playing the sympathy card to get him on board. Besides, there’s a good chance one of his old unsolved homicides is related.

 

“Nuff said about the main plot line. There are plenty of zigs & zags to keep you guessing, especially when you throw in several characters with questionable loyalties. But what really grips you is the subject matter. People of all religions find the concept of honour killings difficult to understand. Here, we are privy to the domestic situations of young men & women who are caught between parents’ traditional expectations & the freer lifestyle that a big city like London has to offer. The book also looks at the challenges faced by police when they attempt to investigate the crimes. Finding someone from the community willing to break the code of silence is difficult. If they press too hard, they may be accused of cultural insensitivity or racial prejudice. It’s a political hot potato that leaves both sides frustrated & many of the cases end up unsolved (see author’s comments at the end for a sobering dose of reality).

 

But this is not a sermon about who’s right & who’s wrong. Instead, Billingham personalizes the issue by giving us relatable characters of all stripes who are just trying to live their lives. There are some nice twists along the way & he reserves a couple of whoppers for the final pages. One in particular, I gotta say….man, I did NOT see that coming.

 

As usual, we get to enjoy Tom trading insults with ME Phil Hendricks over a few pints. I love Phil. If Lisbeth Salander & Quincy had a child (ok, a much younger Quincy) Phil might be the result. More time is given to Tom’s personal life & we get a closer look at his relationship with Helen as well as the challenges faced by 2 cops living under one roof.

 

It’s an intricately plotted & pacey story that keeps you turning the pages to see how it all shakes out. Picking up one of these books is like running into old friends & I look forward to #15.

 

 

          

Review
3.5 Stars
The Awkward Squad - Sophie Hénaff, Sam Gordon

A crime writer, a drunk, a gambler, a rat & a s**t magnet….these are just a few of the police officers Commissaire Anne Capestan inherits when she is “promoted” to lead the newly formed cold case unit of the Police Judiciaire of Paris. But then she’s in no position to judge. She got the new assignment due to her tendency to shoot people.

 

Anne’s boss is cleaning house & that means getting rid of all unsolved cases right along with officers who have been deemed “undesirables”. Their mandate is clear. The unit will set up shop in an old apartment building, furnished with boxes of cold case files. They can work on whichever ones they want. Or not. Show up each day as if they have a real job. Or not. Just stay away from police HQ. Approximately 40 cops of various rank are assigned to the unit. On the first day, 3 report for duty.

 

Eva Rosière is a flamboyant woman who made a fortune moonlighting as a crime writer. Unfortunately she wrote about what she knew….her colleagues. But she still loves being a cop & will get to work right after she does something about the deplorable lack of decor in their new office.

 

Lóuis-Baptiste Lebreton already knows Anne. He investigated her in his previous job with Internal Affairs & they didn’t exactly part on the best of terms.

 

“Malchance” Torrez is like a black cat. After losing a series of partners due to injury or death, no one wants to cross his path & he can clear a room by walking in the door.

 

Anne decides they have nothing to lose & after digging through all the boxes, 2 cases stand out. Yann Guénan was a sailor who was murdered 20 years ago in a professional style hit. Old age pensioner Marie Sauzelle was killed in her home 8 years ago in what looked like a robbery gone wrong. Anne & her colleagues pair up & begin to dig into the past. Turns out they’re not complete screw-ups after all & before they know it, that digging results in a fresh body.

 

In alternate chapters we follow 2 additional story lines. One introduces us to Alexandre & his wife Rosa as they await the birth of their first child in Florida. In the other we meet Gabriel & Manon, a young couple in Paris who just got engaged. The two stories play out decades apart, keeping the reader intrigued as we gradually discover how they are related.

 

This is the first in a popular French series featuring colourful characters who are the dregs of the Paris police force. While the crimes are serious, the story is full of dry offbeat humour. It’s just as much about these fallen heroes as it is about the cases & we gradually get the scoop on how each ended up an outcast.

 

The author loves her characters & she handles them with care. At first, they have much in common with the derelict apartment they’ve inherited…..abandoned, unwanted & a little worn around the edges. When Eva takes on redecorating the place (with some interesting choices) the others begin to contribute bits & pieces, unaware they’re creating a home that reflects their new “family”. These are people who were singled out in old jobs due to their mistakes. As they make progress on the cases, there’s a genuine esprit de corps that gradually develops as they learn to accept each others’ tics & foibles. As the apartment is transformed, so too are the detectives as they find a place where they no longer stand out for all the wrong reasons.

 

There are some great twists as the story lines converge. The old murders are just the tip of the iceberg & Anne & her crew are in for a few surprises. There’s a genuine warmth to this story of oddballs & it makes for a nice break from some of the grittier stuff. They’re an engaging bunch & here’s hoping Sam Gordon (who provides an excellent translation) is hard at work on book #2.

 

 

       

Review
4 Stars
MatchUp - Andrew Gross, Karin Slaughter, Lee Child, Val McDermid, Michael Koryta, Kathy Reichs, David Morrell, Lisa Scottoline, Lisa Jackson, Lara Adrian, C.J. Box, Peter James, Charlaine Harris, Gayle Lynds, Christopher Rice, Sandra Brown, Eric Van Lustbader, John Sandford, Steve B

I love these collections. Some days it’s so hard to find time to block out the rest of the world & disappear into a great book. With these shorties, you can spend 20 minutes in your favourite hiding spot & enjoy a complete story from some of the best known thriller writers.

 

Each is a collaboration between 2 authors & there are some interesting pairs here. There are 11 tales in all, representing a diverse range of sub genres…..contemporary, historical, paranormal, romance & pure crime. Everyone will have their personal favs so I won’t review them all. Instead, here are some random thoughts & my top 3 picks.

 

If you read thrillers at all you’re going to recognize these iconic characters who have become just as famous as their creators. Dr.Temperance Brennan, Cotton Malone, Reacher, Carol Jordan & Roy Grace are just a few. But I bet you didn’t expect to run across John Rambo (yes, THAT Rambo…). Even that F**kin’ Flowers puts down his fishing rod long enough to get in on the action. And for every reader who swoons when Jamie Fraser stalks by, kilt a-swinging….well, nuff said.

 

My picks were “Faking a Murderer” starring Dr. Temperance Brennan & Jack Reacher; “Deserves to be Dead” featuring Virgil Flowers &  Regan Pescoli; and “Short Story” with Joe Pritchard & a young Jeffrey Tolliver.

 

As with all collections, some of the collaborations are more successful than others but the list of winners will vary from reader to reader. As much as I enjoy catching up with “old friends”, this is also a great way to try on a new-to-you author & maybe find another series to add to your groaning TBR pile.

 

 

                                        

Review
4 Stars
The Fourth Monkey - A.J. Barker

 

Chicago homicide detective Sam Porter has spent much of the last 5 years hunting for the “Fourth Monkey Killer” (4MK). Seven victims, twenty-one little white boxes…..each containing first an ear, then the eyes & last, the tongue. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. But it’s the fourth monkey that is the clue to the killer’s motive. Do no evil.

 

Each victim is related to someone guilty of crimes that went unpunished & 4MK stepped up to act as judge & executioner. Now Sam & his partner Nash have reason to believe he’s been stopped. Literally.

 

They’re called to the scene of an accident, a case of man vs. bus. The bus won. And on the pavement beside the dead man’s body is a small white box. The good news is their search for 4MK is over. The bad news: somewhere out there is a new victim with one ear.

 

They realize they’ve only got 2 or 3 days to find her & the old 4MK task force is quickly reassembled. The dead man had no ID but was carrying a journal that turns out to be his memoir. It begins with descriptions of his childhood & ends by taunting police to decipher the cryptic clues he’s left behind.

 

This is a fast paced thriller with a sea of red herrings to keep you guessing. There are many side stories that run parallel. Secrets, old crimes, hidden agendas & historical connections are just a few of the threads the task force has to unravel before they can figure out 4MK’s master plan. Chapters alternate between their investigation, the victim’s ordeal & entries from the killer’s journal.

 

Despite the publicity blurb, this doesn’t have the pervasive menace of Se7en or Silence of the Lambs. Descriptions of crime scenes are graphic (should answer all your burning questions about maggots) but it’s offset by the characters we spend most time with. Sam, Nash & their crew work well together & their dialogue is full of lame jokes & gentle ribbing. These are cops who actually wouldn’t be out of place in a cozy & they provide a marked contrast to the actions of the killer. There’s a refreshing lack of the plethora of personal issues & office politics that seem to afflict so many fictional detectives.

 

The crimes are brutal but I actually found the chapters detailing 4MK’s childhood to be the creepiest part of the whole thing. From idyllic to surreal, his story contains all the clues needed to understand his motivation.

 

It’s a pacey read with a whack of twists to keep you turning the pages. Sam & his posse are a likeable bunch & judging by the final pages, we’ll be hearing from them again.

 

 

                           

Review
3.5 Stars
The Only Girl - Andrew Pyper

Ack!! The hardest review to write? One for a book that is well written but just not a genre you particularly enjoy reading. It’s simply a case of a slight mismatch between book & reader, for which I take full responsibility. So here’s the deal. I’ll tell you what I did like & why I think those with a taste for tales of horror with fantastical beasts should snap this up.

 

The MC is 36 year old Dr. Lily Dominick. Lily is a psychiatrist who works with the scariest, most diseased minds incarcerated at the maximum security Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Centre in NYC. She’s a private, insular woman whose experiences as a child pretty much sealed her fate in terms of career choice.

 

When Lily was 6, she & her mother were living in a remote cabin outside of Fairbanks when the unthinkable happened. It began with a knock at the door. Her memories of that night are hazy at best but what she does remember is the shadow of a large creature standing over her mother’s broken body. The resulting investigation ruled it a bear attack but Lily would beg to differ. Something carried her out to the nearest road where she was found. And even the most well mannered bear doesn’t usually knock before entering.

 

Lily has a gift for connecting with the “monsters’ in her care & she’ll need all her skills for the latest arrival. He’s a man with no name who claims to be over 200 years old. He seems to know all about her, something he explains with another bombshell. He’s her father.

 

Over the next 24 hours Lily witnesses events that cause her carefully constructed world to crash & burn. She doesn’t know it yet but it’s the end of normal & she soon sets off on a personal journey that takes her across Europe & back again.

 

In alternate chapters, we get her father’s story from his journal. He calls himself Michael & tells how he was created in 1811. He’s led a violent & fascinating life, showing his true self to a select few along the way. In an interesting twist he describes how meeting Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker & Robert Louis Stevenson resulted in disappointing versions of himself.

 

There are other threads to the plot including a shadowy group hunting Michael, a possible love interest for Lily & her gradual recovery of memories surrounding her mother’s death.

 

The first 25% of the book was a bit slow. We spend a lot of time in Lily’s head & are privy to her every thought, comment, action & memory. She comes across as oddly flat & although the reason for this is explained later, it makes it difficult to connect with her initially. I much preferred the historical chapters detailing Michael’s life. They’re richly atmospheric & really put flesh on the bones of this original character. For me the book got better as it progressed although the love interest angle seemed unnecessary as the whole story revolves around the relationship between Michael & Lily. But either way, it probably won’t prepare you for the ending. It’s a humdinger that leaves the door open for a possible sequel.

 

So just to be clear…..the rating reflects my enjoyment factor, not the author’s skills as a story teller. If you’re someone who enjoys horror with a twist of fantasy, I urge you to pick up this original tale derived from 3 classics of the genre.

 

 

         

Review
4 Stars
The Killing Bay: Faroes novel 2 - Chris Ould

DI Jan Reyná is in limbo. He’s still on the Faroe Islands, weighing his future while recovering from a case he worked with local detective Hjalti Hentze. There’s nothing really keeping him here but he’s in no hurry to return home where a meeting with professional standards awaits.

 

He’s a British copper who came to the islands to meet his father. His mother Lýdia was born here & at age 18, married a much older man after getting pregnant. She soon grew restless & fled to Copenhagen with Jan in tow.  When he was 5, she killed herself & he ended up being raised in the UK by her sister. He came back to get answers but after a brief & chilly meeting, his father suffered a stroke & never recovered.

 

So he’s hanging out in cousin Fríđa’s guesthouse pondering his next move & using the time to dig into his mother’s past.

 

Hjalti is also dealing with fallout from the last case. He’s a smart, quiet man with no time for office politics. Things were returning to normal until a group of activists arrived to protest whale hunting. They’re a dedicated, savvy bunch who hired Faroese photographer Erla Sivertsen to capture the bloodiest shots possible for social media & online response has been swift. International condemnation ramped up tension between islanders & activists & is putting a major strain on police resources.

 

When a young woman’s body is found beneath anti-activist graffiti, Hjalti & his colleagues are under pressure to solve it ASAP before there’s any more violence. The evidence points in one obvious direction but Hjalti’s not sure it’s that simple. Before he knows it, one of his family members is implicated & he finds himself removed from the investigation.

 

There’s much more to the plot that is slowly revealed as Hjalti quietly keeps digging. Jan spends most of his time researching his mother’s past but becomes involved in the case when Hjalti needs help. They make a good team. Despite their differences, they’ve come to trust & appreciate each other’s methods. There are some odd things happening within the police force & Hjalti values having an outsider to bounce things off of.

 

Location plays a huge role & the author does a great job describing the physical beauty & traditional fishing culture of the Faroes. It’s a richly atmospheric read with a subtle, rising tension as it becomes clear there’s much more going on here than one tragic death. We get a bit more info on Jan’s family to add to what we learned in book #1 but there are still unanswered questions.

 

I’m hoping this signals book #3 is in the works but it will be a tricky balancing act for the author. The Faroes is a quiet, peaceful place with low crime rates & there’s a danger more murders will result in it becoming a Scandi version of Cabot Cove.

 

Maybe it will focus more on the MC’s & that’s fine with me. I really like these interesting, complex characters & enjoy their interaction. By the end of the story, both have some decisions to make & I look forward to seeing where they end up next.

 

 

                    

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