Escape from the ER
Review
5 Stars
Creep: A B.C. Blues Crime Novel - Kate Greenaway

This book picks up where Undertow left off & there have been a few changes for our 2 MC’s due to the fallout from their last case. Cal Dion is back in uniform, pounding the beat with a shiny new partner who might be a good cop if he ever stopped talking. But oddly enough, Cal is almost content with his lot.

 

When we first met him (Cold Girl), Cal was returning to work after suffering a head injury in a car crash that killed his best friend. Cognitive blips & difficulty reading/writing were his constant companions. And while he became adept at hiding his limitations from coworkers, Cal was only too aware he was no longer a hotshot detective. Frustration & depression ensued & in book #2 we watched as he went off the rails & risked everything. Now he’s in a better place. Cal’s accepted his faulty wiring & is lucky to still have a job.

 

Dave Leith was Cal’s partner in homicide. He’s still working elite crimes & trying to get used to big city life. Now their paths cross again as a series of bizarre crimes begin to pop up around the North Vancouver detachment. First a body is found on a derelict property & it’s been there a while. Then a hiker dies mysteriously on a densely forested trail & walkers are spooked on wooded paths. Excluding nosy neighbours, tips are hard to come by. Well…unless you count reports of a wolf-like creature spotted around the cycling trails. Wait…was that a howl?

 

In alternate chapters we meet Stefano Boone, a young guy who works at a diner. He lives in his parents’ basement, has no friends & he’s…em…kind of going through something. Best to leave that alone until you meet him yourself.

 

There are other characters that flesh out the story lines & several will trigger your spidey senses. As the investigations progress, Cal also has his suspicions. Thing is, it’s hard to know if he’s on the right path. Is the person of interest really a little hinky or has Cal’s memory just sprung another leak?

 

This is book #3 in the series & it’s my favourite (so far…). It’s not just the multi-story lines, great twists & characters I’ve come to know. It’s also the writing. I can’t help but feel the author has really hit her stride. The flow & pacing make for an effortless read with little nuggets of info dropped in all the right places that make it hard to put down. The prose is self assured & economical with enough description to create an atmosphere that is dark, foreboding & tense.

 

The pace picks up near the end as the puzzle pieces begin to click together. It’s like a fog lifts to reveal startling truths. There are some satisfying conclusions (for 1 character in particular…what a git!)  but not everything is neatly folded up & put away. An event from Cal’s past has lingered in the background like a spectre since the first book & it’s starting to take shape. If details surrounding the crash that re-wired his brain come out….well, Cal’s going to have a very bad day. Or decade. That alone guarantees I’ll be in line for book #4.

 

Recommend reading in order due to ongoing story lines that reference the characters’ personal histories & evolving relationship.

 

          

Review
5 Stars
The Fire Pit - Chris Ould

Another gem that's been hiding in my TBR pile for yonks. A few years ago I was lucky enough to visit the Faroe Islands. They are unbelievably beautiful & a hiker's paradise. While there I picked up the first book in this trilogy set in the Faroes & started following the story of 2 police men, Hjalti & Jan.

 

This is a great end to the trilogy. The plot is intricate with several story lines that Ould skillfully pulls together for an exciting finish. Some of the regular characters have changes in store & their futures are left up in the air but we (and Jan) finally get answers concerning the death of his mother 40 years ago. 

 

Ould has been quoted as saying it was best to leave the series at 3 books. Probably wise....in a place with such a small population, killing off more people would mean running the risk of it becoming a Faroese version of Cabot Cove. A really satisfying read.

 

The assault on my TBR pile continues.....

 

 

   

 

Review
3.5 Stars
Hangman - Daniel Cole

Sooo….book #2. A daunting task, particularly when the first one was a huge hit. But this author really upped the ante by leaving out his popular MC William “Wolf” Fawkes & switching the focus to another character.

 

That would be DCI Emily Baxter. She worked the Ragdoll case with Fawkes & is still reeling from the fallout. To make matters worse, her professional life is a nightmare. Fawkes is AWOL, former colleague Edmunds transferred to Fraud & she got promoted. She just wants to forget it ever happened but it seems the universe has other plans.

 

FBI Agents Curtis & Rouche land on her doorstep with news of a copycat murder in the US. It’s a double homicide designed to attract maximum attention & they want her help. They don’t know it yet but it will be the first of many in New York & London as they join forces to find the mastermind behind the carnage.

 

So here’s the deal. I loved Ragdoll. From the first page, I was firmly in its grip & became seriously cranky if interrupted. Alas, I can’t say the same about this one. I think part of the reason was how much I enjoyed the black humour served up by Fawkes’ character. It gave the reader little moments of  humorous relief from the grisly tension & I keenly missed his presence here.

 

Baxter is a compelling character but she’s also a physical & emotional hot mess. I desperately wanted to take Thomas (her doormat…er…boyfriend) out for a chat over a pint. She & Rouche spend the majority of their time haring around New York & London as a legion of bodies pop up on both sides of the pond like some macabre game of Whack-a-Mole. Bruised & bloody from multiple attacks, it’s defies belief they’re even breathing let alone leading a multi-agency manhunt.

 

One thing that hasn’t changed is Cole’s ability to come up with new & inventive ways for people to die. Practice your “ewwww”…you’re gonna need it. I was happy to see Edmunds return & enjoyed his input as Baxter secretly keeps him in the loop. But i just didn’t find Baxter to be fleshed out or layered enough to be the star of the show. Without a strong MC to hang the story on, it became a succession of frenzied action sequences until the final chapters revealed all.

 

As always, it depends on what keeps you turning the pages. For me there was a certain spark or something that was missing. But if you’re a fan of full on action, grab this & settle in for a fast paced read.

 

 

            

 

 

 

Review
3.5 Stars
Macbeth (Hogarth Shakespeare) - Nesbo Jo

When I was in high school, I was that weird girl in your english lit class who actually liked Shakespeare. The Hogarth Shakespeare project gave 8 authors a chance to recreate one of the Bard’s classic plays & when I heard Jo Nesbo was taking on MacBeth, I had to read it. And he’s done a remarkable job.

 

It’s a daunting challenge. After all, we already know who did what & how it ends. But Nesbo has given it a modern facelift by turning it into a dark, violent tale of cops vs criminals set in an unnamed city drowning in drugs & corruption. Poor old Duncan is the shiny new Chief Commissioner of police while MacBeth heads up the SWAT team. Other familiar names have been assigned to characters on both sides of the law, their roles staying true to the originals.

 

I won’t dwell on the story except to say this is decidedly bloodier than “the Scottish play”. But there are several things that make it work. First, the setting. Nesbo vividly describes his city & it’s a pretty bleak place. Relentless rain, dark streets full of skeletal junkies & rusted out factories litter the landscape. Now add in cops & politicians who have been bought & paid for by the rival drug gangs that rule the city. The result is a grim & gripping read that practically oozes moral decay.

 

And that of course is the point. Shakespeare wanted to shine a light on the psychological & physical ramifications for those who seek power for power’s sake, how ambition without morality leads to carnage. He also distinguished between the sexes. Not that women can’t be just as reprehensible. It’s just their methods that differ. In this story, MacBeth’s wife may not care to actually get her hands dirty but she’s more than capable of inciting violence with well chosen words whispered in the right ears.

 

Nesbo has nailed the themes & even sneaks in symbolic moments such as blood that won’t wash off. What I found most startling is how relevant something written over 400 years ago still is. But then all you have to do is read the news to find modern examples of his characters. It’s not an easy read but Nesbo pulls it off with style. My only quibble is the wealth of long descriptive passages that at times  stall any building tension.

 

As always, the wonderful Don Bartlett has done an outstanding job of translation. Recommended for fans of Shakespeare and/or gritty crime drama. If you’re keeping track of this series, next up is Gillian Flynn of “Gone Girl” fame taking on “Hamlet”.

 

 

                                       

Review
4.5 Stars
Last Orders (The Dublin Trilogy Book 4) - Caimh McDonnell

And so it ends. If I could I’d insert a picture of me having a tantrum that would leave any self respecting 2 year old in awe. On second thought that might be too scary. But I digress…

 

This is the one fans of the Dublin Trilogy have been waiting for & it doesn’t disappoint. We’ve followed Paul, Brigit & Bunny through murders & mayhem that made us cringe & laugh in equal measure. As this one begins, their private investigation firm MCM is barely solvent. Brigit seems to be the only one showing up for work these days & is royally done with stalking cheating spouses.

 

Paul is engaged in prank warfare with a rival firm run by the Kelleher brothers who are responsible for his breakup with Brigit. And Bunny…well, Bunny is mostly AWOL. He’s spending a lot of time with 2 men who were with him at a particular incident about 20 years ago. Which would be fine if they were alive. Unfortunately they’re figments & Bunny is getting more than a few looks as he’s seen arguing with himself around town.  Could it be the feared & infamous ex-copper is finally losing the plot?

 

It seems to have started about the time DSI Susan Burns & sidekick Det. Donnacha Wilson were called to a remote area outside of Dublin. New construction unearthed human remains. The bodies are old with nothing to identify them. When the coroner deems them at least 20 years old, all Susan can do is turn to forensic testing. And boy, does she get results. Before she knows it FBI Agent Alana Dove is on her doorstep, demanding to be part of the investigation.

 

Meanwhile Brigit gets news the firm is being sued & there’s a better than average chance they’ll lose it all to the Kellehers. No more about that. The ensuing game of spy vs spy between the 2 groups adds tension mixed with insanity that may have led to some unladylike snorts on my part.

 

But the heart of the story belongs to Bunny. Dear, hurley-weilding (& arguably sociopathic) Bunny. After the first 2 books of the trilogy the author released “Angels in the Moonlight”, a companion book that gave us the details of Bunny’s past. It’s a fantastic read that made me look at the big guy in a completely different way as I began to understand how he became this solitary man with an oddly honourable code of ethics. That past has come back to haunt him. He’s done some dodgy things & you get the feeling he’s finally going to pay.

 

As usual, the characters are colourful & so well described you feel like you would recognize them on the street. One standout is Susan Burns. She’s a whip smart cop with a sharp mind & sharper tongue & I enjoyed her scenes immensely. Dialogue is sharp, witty & full of vernacular that gives you plenty of laughs to break the building tension as all the story lines begin to converge. There’s a big finale ahead & no doubt that things at MCM will never be the same.

 

This series has been such a pleasure to read. The books are smart, well paced & endlessly entertaining & I highly recommend reading them in order of publication. There are hints some of the characters may pop up in future projects so….tick tick, Mr. McDonnell. No time like the present. Now if you’ll excuse me I have a tantrum to finish.

 

             

Review
3.5 Stars
Hangman - Jack Heath

Whoa…what did I just read? Before I start my blab, first things first. This is a well written & gripping crime/suspense story with a compelling MC. But…it’s not for the squeably. Seriously. Ok, we’re going in.

 

Timothy Blake is not your typical FBI consultant. He has little education, lives with a paranoid drug dealer & has about $5 to his name. Years ago he had a run-in with a cop named Peter Luzhin that left a lasting impression on both of them. Luzhin is now director of the FBI office in Houston & when a case can’t be cracked, he calls Blake. A successful resolution means Blake gets paid with the only kind of currency he wants.

 

It all begins with a missing teenage boy. There are plenty of red herrings & inconsistencies but eventually Blake is sure he’s got it sussed. Besides, he really needs to collect his fee. Unfortunately it’s not that simple & Blake is soon caught in a complex web designed by a devious & intelligent killer. Being partnered with a new handler is not helping. Special Agent Reese Thistle is not thrilled about her new assignment, either. She doesn’t understand why Luzhin has brought in this odd outsider who looks likes a homeless guy. But then she sees him work.

 

Blake is a master at solving puzzles. His sharp, analytical mind notices the tiny details everyone else has missed. Anything out of place, something missing & all the little facial tics & vocal tells that make up a lie. Initially you wonder how this brilliant guy ended up in such dire straits. But through flashbacks interspersed with the story we get the 411 on Blake’s childhood & begin to piece together how the little boy became this man.

 

The investigative aspect of the story is fast paced & layered, But what really kept me reading was Blake. And believe me, given his proclivities, that’s no small feat. He’s smart, complicated & dryly funny. His history & present circumstances are heartbreaking at times. Then reality would come crashing in & I’d be utterly repelled by his behaviour. No matter what you end up thinking about him, you have to be impressed by the author’s ability to make you feel such polarized emotions so keenly.

 

So there you have it. It won’t be for everyone & no doubt there will be lots of chatter about this one. My best advice if you’re thinking of cracking the cover is choose a brightly lit room, take your heart medication & maybe keep a wee beverage nearby. You’ll probably need it.

 

 

           

 

Review
4.5 Stars
The Weight of Shadows (Shadow Series) (Volume 1) - Karl Holton

4.5 stars rounded up

 

“The weight of shadows can be devastating. I’ve been collecting them since I was a young man….”

 

Three years ago Danny Benedict was the resident genius with homicide at the Met. In a chilling prologue we learn why he carries physical & emotional scars from what turned out to be his last case. Now he’s an investigator with NCA Organized Crime Command & the team has its hands full trying to track down mobsters with foreign ties.

 

DI Wallace is a whip-smart detective with the Flying Squad. Her team is sent to the scene of a major jewelry heist & it’s not long before she realizes things just don’t add up. But even she couldn’t have guessed where the investigation will lead.

 

Ray Hanson is a billionaire with a decidedly shady past. He left London years ago but personal reasons have brought him home. Besides, he has some scores to settle. First he needs to assemble a team & he has specific people in mind to execute his plans.

 

These are the 3 MC’s & initially we follow them in alternating chapters as their story lines take shape. By circumstance & design, they eventually cross paths in this fast paced, intricate & intelligent thriller. They’re compelling but very different characters which makes for entertaining interactions & great dialogue.

 

But it’s Benedict that really shines. He’s usually the quietest character in the scene but you get the feeling he was born with a few more grey cells than the rest of us. When he does speak, his lack of social skills frequently (if unintentionally) has darkly funny results. This is a man who can piss off an entire room with a single sentence & I thought he was a hoot.

 

There is a large cast of peripheral characters including government agents, mobsters & cops. Of note are DCI Evans, an old nemesis of Benedict’s & asshat of the highest order. And then there’s the Doctor, a man with all the charm of a Komodo dragon. Let’s not go there.

 

All these elements combine to produce an entertaining read that keeps you turning the pages. And that ending. I don’t know who’s more gobsmacked…Benedict or the reader. There’s a big question mark left hanging after it’s all done & dusted that guarantees I’ll be moving book #2 up on my reading list.

 

        

 

Review
2.5 Stars
Three Weeks Dead: A DC Sally Poynter Novella (DI Hannah Robbins Prequel Novella) - Rebeca Bradley

This year I've been diligently tackling my TBR pile in an effort to clean up my kindle. The first two were great, leading to my picking up more books by these authors which....I know, I know....kind of defeats the purpose.

 

No worries here. Despite an interesting blurb this was a ho-hum shortie with a female MC who commits the ultimate crime. She's boring. The silver lining is it's the beginning of a series I've been eying for while & now I know it's just not for me. 

 

On to the next contestant....

 

 

                                        

Review
3 Stars
Holy Island: A DCI Ryan Mystery (The DCI Ryan Mysteries Book 1) - LJ Ross

The one New Year's resolution I made was to seriously tackle my TBR pile, especially my groaning kindle. The plan is to post mini reviews for older books that already have a ton of feedback on sites such as Goodreads, unless it really catches my fancy & I feel the need to gush. 

 

Sadly, no gushing will be occurring here. The good: beautiful, mystical & atmospheric setting of Holy Island. It's the kind of place you want to immediately add to your travel bucket list. I enjoyed some of the peripheral characters & the main plot is suitably creepy with an excellent little twist at the end.

 

The bad: I'm kind of a crime/police procedural kind of gal & I'd categorize this as more romantic suspense. Which is too bad because the insta-love between the 2 MC's is completely unnecessary to the plot. For me, their relationship would have been much more interesting as just colleagues bouncing ideas off each other on their way to nabbing the icky bad guy. I desperately wanted to know who was behind it all but felt like I needed a machete to cut through all the smouldering glances & lingering looks that kept getting in the way. 

 

Still, I'm glad I read it. It's the first of a series & I now know it's just not for me. And my kindle just got a little lighter.

 

 

        

 

Review
3 Stars
Now We Are Dead - Stuart MacBride

Oh man…this is a tough one. First let me say I’m a huge fan of this author. HUGE. When I see a new book of his on the horizon, I break out the happy dance. And immediately begin plotting how to make it mine.

 

I’ve read all the Logan McRae & Ash Henderson books & although this one is tagged as belonging to the former, it heads off in a new direction starring DS Roberta Steel, Logan’s sometime partner & author of his nightmares. She was his boss, then peer but after events of the last book, she’s been busted down to DS & tasked with chasing down pickpockets & wandering pensioners. So it comes as no surprise that Roberta is not happy. And if Roberta’s not happy, no one in Aberdeen is safe.

 

Except Jack Wallace. He’s the reason she was demoted & ok, maybe she did “find” some evidence in an effort to put him away for the rape/assault of local women. But now he’s free & proclaiming to anyone who’ll listen that he plans to sue Police Scotland. So Roberta is duly warned: do not approach, speak to or even look at Jack Wallace. Apparently she’s supposed to let him live his scumbag, dickhead, perverted, weaselly life unhindered.

 

Fine. There are other men to use for target practice such as Logan (who she’s not speaking to) & DC “Tufty” Quirrel, her shiny new partner. But then a woman is violently assaulted…..and another. Roberta knows Wallace is responsible but she’s on a short leash where he’s concerned & another screw-up won’t mean further demotion. She’ll lose her career.

 

So here’s the deal. Like other books this one has the multiple cases & eccentric characters that make the stories so entertaining. Full points for providing a bad guy we desperately want to see get what he karmically deserves. And bonus points for turning a farmer’s demonstration into a literal shit-show.

 

What I discovered was that, while I’ve enjoyed Roberta in a supporting role, she’s a bit much for me as the MC. She’s an original, you have to give her that. But shadowing her raunchy, potty mouthed, perpetually itchy character 24/7 soon lost its appeal. For me, she’s like cilantro…a little goes a long way.

 

Also, while there are multiple story lines that unfold & wrap up, the emphasis is on putting Roberta & Tufty in situations that become slapstick routines. Bumping heads, tripping, falling, knocking things over, being sprayed with multiple substances…some of it is genuinely funny but the sheer number of incidents causes the book to quickly devolve into the realm of farce with the Roberta & Tufty Show. Which is ok if you’re a fan of bathroom humour & the Three Stooges. Also, her habit of greeting every woman she meets with comments full of sexual innuendo would surely land her on the #metoo list & makes for uncomfortable reading at times. 

 

It all depends on where you keep your funny bone. Having said all that, I give full props to her & wife Susan for the final scenes. High five, girl. (em…note to any male readers: you may want to down a few beverages before you hit this part. Just sayin’.)

 

So there you have it. Just one person’s opinion & as always, it’s a matter of personal preference. I’ll continue to wait impatiently for the next book featuring Logan or Ash. As for Roberta, I think it’s best we maintain a long distance relationship.

 

 

                                  

Review
5 Stars
London Rules (Slough House) - Mick Herron

In the murky world of the British secret service, there’s a tacit understanding that everyone plays by London Rules. These aren’t the ones neatly compiled in official binders. No, these are the unwritten rules, the real ones.  #1: Cover your arse.

 

And when it comes to MI5, it doesn’t matter whether you work at Regent’s Park or Slough House. The former is where all the cool kids get to be spies. The latter is home to agents who’ve screwed up royally but can’t legally (or at least, quietly) be killed.

 

As the book opens, Regent’s is on high alert. A group of armed men drove into the centre of a village in Derbyshire & opened fire. People died, the men vanished & Islamic State claimed responsibility.

 

News of the attack doesn’t exactly brighten the current mood In the UK. The public is still bitterly divided over Brexit, right wing politicians are pushing their xenophobic agenda & previous attacks have left everyone a tad jumpy. MI5 desperately needs a win but before they literally have a clue, a second attack takes more lives. Regent’s Park #2 Diana Taverner is running on fumes & the last thing she needs is to deal with Slough House’s resident fossil, Jackson Lamb.

 

Lamb’s not sure if he has a problem or not. It seems someone may have tried to run over Roddy Ho. “The Rodman” (as he thinks of himself) is Slough House’s IT guy. He has 2 gifts. The first is his way with computers. The second is an unshakeable belief he’s a chick magnet with basic social skills. Lamb’s at a loss. Why would a stranger want to kill Ho? He’d understand if it was someone who knew him. Everyone at Slough House has thought of killing The Rodman, pretty much on a daily basis. Colleague Shirley Dander was the one who saved him & she’s already apologized.

 

From these 2 threads the story goes haring off in multiple directions before doubling back to give you the big picture. There are several new characters added to the returning cast of (ir)regulars & as usual, not everyone will survive. A couple of things make this outing a little different than the others. We get more one-on-one time with each of the Slow Horses as they reflect on personal problems & the remnants of their career. These more serious moments add layers that make us sympathize with their situations. Well…except Ho. But you do have to admire his refusal to let reality dent his delusions. Herron also shines a light on current issues such as government bureaucracy, the rise of overt racism & how easily the media can influence & manipulate public opinion.

 

I don’t have a great track record when it comes to slowly savouring Herron’s books & once again I failed. It was just too damn good to put down. It’s well paced & full of colourful characters. Many come across as thinly veiled stand-ins for some of the country’s well known figures & you get the sense it’s Herron’s chance to take satirical jabs at some of the ridiculous behaviour of late. The dialogue is clever & frequently laugh out loud funny. Each of the characters has a personal tic that helps bring them to life or in the case of Lamb, a whole herd of them. They alone ensure this is an entertaining read. What elevates the book is smart, intricate plotting that will have you scratching your noggin as you try to figure out how the story lines tie together.

 

This is book #5 of what has become my favourite series (Heron also has a number of stand-alones). I adore black humour & for my book dollars, you can’t beat smart & funny. So…you may have caught that I’m a fan but this is just me babbling. If you’re interested, pick up “Slow Horses” & see if it suits.

 

Before I go, I’d like to apply what I learned here & add 2 new rules to the playbook: Never turn your back on a can of paint. Avoid penguins.

 

 

                     

My semi-festive attempt at 2017 Top Reads (so far...)

 

https://tuerchen.com/49f596eb

 

Mostly mystery, crime & suspense so if that's not your cup of tea, here's a cat attacking a tree.

 

 

 

                   

Review
4 Stars
The Force: A Novel - Don Winslow
I’m late to the party with this one & there are already a ton of reviews to help you decide whether or not to add it to your TBR pile. I doubt I have anything new to add so I’ll just toss out a few thoughts.

First of all, this came with an incredible amount of buzz…always dangerous. But I picked it up after hearing it compared to Ken Bruen, an author I’ve long admired.

I’ll be honest…by the time I reached about 150 pages it was firmly in 3 star territory. Denny Malone is the MC & we spend a massive amount of time in his head. Every character & location is seen through his personal lens & it’s a somewhat distorted view. As he tours his “kingdom” we get a full history lesson on every colleague, criminal, building & intersection that comes to mind as he reminisces about his impressive career. I confess I found this part a tough slog as it’s all Denny all the time & I can’t say I particularly enjoyed his company.

The story picked up at about the 200 page mark as the plot finally kicked in & things got interesting. Other characters began to get more air time & they’re a compelling crew from all walks. Very few of them come off well & Machiavelli himself wouldn’t stand a chance. The level of corruption on all sides is breathtaking & there’s no question of it ending well, just who will be left standing. 

Winslow’s knowledge of the history of New York’s crime, cops, politicians & scandals is encyclopedic. I can’t begin to imagine the hours of research & the whole thing reads like a dark, violent love letter to the city.

Perhaps that is where the comparisons to Bruen came from. His books are also bleak, gritty cop tales. But that’s where any similarity ends. His MC Jack Taylor is far from angelic but is honest with himself about who he is, unlike Malone who shies away from examining himself (and his motives) too closely. Instead he convinces himself he’s a man of the people & doing everything for the sake of the city he loves. Make no mistake…Denny is all about Denny. Taylor’s philosophical musings are full of self deprecating black humour & combined with Bruen’s elegiac prose, the result is a character you become invested in. For me, that makes all the difference. So while I can stand back & admire this book as a whole, ultimately I just couldn’t muster enough interest in Denny’s fate & it was other characters that kept me reading.

Renewed pace & intricate plotting in the second half bumped it up to 4 stars. But as usual, it’s all about personal taste & there are many glowing reviews on here that may give you a better idea of what to expect.
Review
4.5 Stars
The Vanishing Season: A Mystery - Joanna Schaffhausen

For the past 3 years, Ellery Hathaway has received the same card on her birthday. From a relative? Perhaps a friend. Uh, no. The cards may be unsigned but she knows exactly what their arrival means.

 

Ellie is a cop in the rural town of Woodbury. It’s a sleepy place where crimes range from petty to domestic. The cop shop is small & the only outstanding mysteries are 3 missing persons. One each July when Ellie turns another year older. She’s desperate to reopen the cases but until she comes up with some new info, her boss doesn’t want to hear it. As far as he’s concerned there’s nothing to connect the 3 & he’s satisfied with what they found.

 

But Ellie has more insight than most & with good reason. Turns out she has a secret & it’s a whopper. When she was 14, she became famous as the final victim of a prolific & sadistic kidnapper. She only survived because of a brilliant FBI agent named Reed Markham. But survival can take many forms. The time she spent with a mad man & ensuing media crush left Ellie with obvious & hidden scars. In an effort to escape her past, she changed her name & broke all ties. No one in Woodbury knows who she is or at least that’s what she thought. As another July approaches, Ellie fears someone else will disappear & there’s only one person who can help. Because she just got another card.

 

Got your attention? I hope so because this taut, atmospheric read deserves a space on your TBR pile. It succeeds on several levels but I’ll just speak to a few. First, the setting. A small town is the perfect backdrop for setting the tone. Everyone knows everyone…or thinks they do. There is a closed culture that desperately wants to believe in “stranger danger” because horrific crimes couldn’t possibly be committed by someone they know, right? The sense of security borne of familiar faces & routines can be the first casualty when a killer strikes. But that familiarity also means that someone must know something.

 

Then we have the 2 MC’s. Their personalities are very different but both are dealing with fallout from the case that brought them together all those years ago. There’s a plethora of crime protagonists out there that come saddled with PTSD/tortured/hidden pasts & how much I enjoy their story often depends on how they’re portrayed. When it comes to Ellie, this author struck a perfect balance (IMHO). Her public persona is cool & collected, designed to discourage anyone from getting too close. But we are privy to private moments where her thoughts & habits reveal how she copes with the permanent psychological damage from her ordeal. Especially effective are the descriptions of her home which provide a telling mirror reflection of its owner. Reed is also well developed, a likeable flawed man whose career peaked when he rescued teenage Ellie. A subsequent screw-up erased his status as golden boy of the FBI’s Behavioural Unit. When Ellie calls it’s a chance to revisit his greatest success & perhaps find a little personal redemption in the process.

 

There’s a subtle underlying unease that gradually builds as we, like Ellie & Reed, wait for the killer to make their next move. Questionable behaviour from several characters means you may change your mind more than once as you try to identify the bad guy. And just so you know, details from Ellie’s past are sparing & kept to a minimum. The author chose to reveal a few choice tidbits instead of full on graphic descriptions which allows your imagination to run amok & fill in the blanks.

 

It all adds up to deliver a creepy, satisfying read & I sincerely hope a book #2 is in the works.

 

       

Review
4 Stars
The Trouble with Twelfth Grave - Darynda Jones

My favourite Grim Reaper is finally back. On the surface, Charley Davidson may look like your average boot-wearing, taco-scarfing, coffee-swilling PI. But that’s her day job. To souls of the dead, she’s a bright light who provides safe passage to the other side. Oh, and turns out she’s a God. You know, like one of those really ancient, powerful beings but with better hair.

 

There’s never any shortage of weird & wacky cases for her & partner Cookie to solve. But right now Charlie has a more pressing problem. At the end of the last book, she sort of sent her husband to Hell. Literally. Reyes is also a God & it was supposed to be a quick business trip. Just pop down there, clear up a few things & get home in time for dinner. The good news is he’s back. The bad news? While the entity that returned may look like Reyes, lets just say he’s in a really bad mood & Charley’s pretty sure it’s not down to jet lag.

 

Meanwhile her Uncle Bob has a few weird cases of his own. He’s a detective with the Albuquerque P.D. & the discovery of some oddly burned bodies has him scratching his head. No human could be responsible for the injuries & it’s not long before all eyes turn to Reyes 2.0.

 

Charley is heartbroken but to tell the truth, she barely recognizes the man she’s loved for eons. He’s always been the dark side to her light but now she has to wonder if there’s anything left of the old Reyes. If not, he’ll have to be taken out & the only one powerful enough to do it is Charley.

 

That’s the story line in a tiny nutshell. As with the other books, there are multiple subplots & part of the fun is trying to figure out which are related. The regular gang is back & resigned to the fact that sooner or later Charley will drag them into battle against some scary critter intent on wreaking havoc. Dialogue is sharp & frequently hilarious to distract you from the possibility we humans are about to become snack food. Each chapter opens with a “Charleyism”, random snippets of words to live by that always make me smile (I want a throw pillow stitched with: “I never said I’d die without coffee. I said others would.”)

 

I don’t read a lot of paranormal/urban fantasy but this is one of 3 series that are exceptions to the rule. First, because I’m a fan of writing that is smart. Second, because this author has created an incredible world. The back stories of the characters & how it all works is so intricate & well thought out. That’s why I wouldn’t recommend this as a stand alone.

 

It’s a mad dash of a story full of colourful characters, action & reveals that further the overall arc of the series.  But that ending…..seriously?!  Guarantees I’ll be in line for #13.

 

 

                 

Review
5 Stars
The Chalk Man - C.J. Tudor

Thirty years ago, five misfits banded together while growing up in the small town of Anderbury. Eddie, Mickey, Hoppo, Gav, & Nicky weren’t cool or popular. And sometimes they didn’t even like each other all that much. They shared adventures, pranks & secrets. They even had their own way of communicating by leaving chalk stick figures for each other on pavement & fence posts.

 

Looking back, it’s hard to pinpoint when it all began. Maybe it was the summer of 1986. That was when new teacher Mr. Halloran came to town. And when Eddie, Mickey, Hoppo & Gav found the body.

 

In the present, Ed is a bachelor still living in the same house. His days are spent teaching at the local school & occasionally meeting Hoppo & Gav for a pint. He’s a quiet, solitary man who rarely thinks about that summer. But someone wants to jog his memory. Ed receives a letter with only the drawing of a stickman in a noose & a piece of chalk. Then Mickey suddenly reappears on his doorstep after a long absence. And he’s got a proposition. Somehow you know this won’t end well.

 

Not another peep about the plot. It’s layered with so many twists that it’s better you go in blind to get the biggest bang for your buck. All you need to know is this is a fabulous read. The past & the present are told in alternate time lines. As we follow Ed the adult, we slowly learn what happened to those kids 30 years ago. And it’s quite a tale.

 

Chapters set in the past will feel familiar to anyone who grew up in a small town. There’s a clannish culture where everyone knows your business & outsiders are viewed with suspicion. We get to peek over their shoulders as the kids struggle to fit in & deal with family problems while something sinister stalks them from the shadows. Each character has such a distinct personality that they pop off the page fully formed as you meet.

 

There’s a definite Stephen King vibe to the story & it reminded me of the movie “Stand By Me” which was based on on his novella “The Body”. But the creepiness is balanced by humour, heartbreak & poignant moments that resonate as they remind you what it was like to be 12. With the possible exception of finding a body…you probably missed out on that.

 

After the chalk man arrives, Ed is forced to remember what it was like to be Eddie. As he sifts through events from that pivotal summer, he reexamines his own actions & how they affected the terrible crimes. Looking back with adult eyes, he sees things he couldn’t understand as a child. And he realizes he is surrounded by people who have kept their own secrets for decades.

 

This is a spooky, addictive read that forces me to trot out that tired old phrase….I couldn’t put it down. It’s a gripping mix of chilling suspense & coming-of-age.  And it’s not just great story telling. Once finished, I found myself thinking about memories & how they can be coloured by a specific place & time. Why I can remember a throw-away moment so clearly while something others would deem significant is a blur.  It’s a running theme on several levels from beginning to end where the author takes one final jab at your heart on the very last page.

 

I’m now officially freaked out by stick men. And…sorry kids…henceforth, all chalk is banished. So speaketh the boss.

 

        

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