Escape from the ER
Review
4.5 Stars
The Wolf and the Watchman - Niklas Natt och Dag

In chaos theory, there is something called the butterfly effect. The idea is that one small action can greatly affect the outcome of a later, seemingly unrelated event. This novel is full of little moments that show how one person’s decision can permanently alter the lives of others.

 

The year is 1793 & Stockholm is a city on edge. Rebellion by lower classes in countries such as France have made the Swedish elite a tad nervous, especially after the murder of King Gustav III. This is the backdrop for a story of 4 people living separate lives until a single event causes their paths to cross. All it takes is the discovery of a mutilated body.

 

Mickel Cardell returned from the war with shattered nerves & one less arm. Now he’s a watchman….when he can be bothered to get up off his barstool. That’s where 2 youngsters find him one night with news of a floater in the lake. But the body Mickel “rescues” is not exactly what he expected. In fact, it’s not even really a body. Just a torso….no arms, no legs.

 

Cecil Winge is a lawyer who works as a consultant with the Swedish police. He’s an intelligent & private man who has fought for progressive changes to the legal system. He’s also dying from consumption. So it’s no wonder he feels a sense of urgency about his latest case….to give a name to the unidentified torso & find a killer.

 

Kristofer Blix is a handsome farm boy who heads to Stockholm with dreams of becoming a doctor. He soon realizes how unprepared he is for life in the big city but could never have imagined where it will lead.

 

Anna-Stina’s young life has been full of poverty & struggle. And it’s about to get worse. If she wants something better she’ll have to be brave, smart & resourceful. Thankfully, she has those things in spades.

 

At its heart this is an engrossing murder investigation but as we meet & get to know the 4 MC’s, it becomes so much more. Their personal stories add depth & guarantee you become as invested in them as you are in solving the mystery surrounding the torso. The historical setting, political situation, class system & living conditions are so well rendered that sometimes it feels all too real.

 

I finished this a while ago & have been struggling to write a review that does it justice. Even the rating was a challenge. If I look at it purely as entertainment, I can’t say I enjoyed every part. There are passages that are difficult, even revolting to read. But here’s the thing. Life for many people at that time WAS difficult & revolting to our modern sensibilities. It was about survival. And the reason you feel these emotions so keenly is all down to the author’s skills as a story teller.

 

He has an extraordinary ability to write prose that completely envelops you. You feel everything as you follow these characters. Fear, anger, frustration, grief & scattered glimmers of hope. All your senses are engaged. Yes, there are scenes that made me want to look away but I couldn’t. I cared deeply for these people & carried the book with me to read every chance I got.

 

Soooo…by now you probably figured out this will not be found under “Cozies”. Sometimes when I’m asked about my last couple of reads, I struggle to remember names & plot details. This is a visceral & haunting story that has stayed with me. The ability to transport a reader to another time & place is a gift & I look forward to the author’s next book. But maybe I’ll have a wee beverage before cracking the cover.

 

 

         

Review
4 Stars
Back Door to Hell - Paul Gadsby

“Choices don’t line up for you. They fall in your lap or they slap you in the face”.

 

Ah, kids these days. It’s all fun & games ’til someone steals a whack of cash from a crazy mobster. But it seemed like such a good idea at the time….

 

Nate Stokes hasn’t had a lot of luck lately. At 22, he’s lost his crummy job & gone on the dole. And thanks to his brother, he now has to spend a month working for a local gangster. For free. Nate reports to a snooker club in south London to begin a bartending gig. And that’s where he meets Jen.

 

Jen Whittaker may be young but she already knows how things work. With few prospects, she works part time at a snooker club & dreams of something better. In fact, she already has an idea on how to make that happen but she can’t do it alone. Then she meets Nate.

 

Crawford is an old school crime boss who’s worked hard for his place at the top. He has a string of legitimate businesses that are perfect for laundering money from his illegal sidelines. He’s smart & when it comes to getting the cash together, he always chooses a quiet place to avoid unwanted attention. Like his snooker club.

 

But someone IS paying attention. Jen’s been keeping track of the routine shipments & has a plan to liberate enough of the money to buy herself a future. And it’s not too hard to sell Nate on the idea. Sure, he’s dazzled by her. But he’s also intrigued by the chance to leave his crappy life behind. What could go wrong?

 

Well, as it turns out, several things. Before they know it Nate, Jen & the money are on the run with Crawford in relentless pursuit. Getting the money back is crucial for business. But it’s also about salvaging his reputation & maintaining his position in the crime world food chain.

 

What follows is a fast paced & entertaining story of 2 young people attempting to survive long enough to begin again. It’s like an intricate game of cat-and-mouse as they try to stay one step ahead of a man with seemingly endless resources. The action & plot twists alone are enough to keep you turning the pages. But there are a couple of elements that make this stand out as more than a great gritty tale about a heist gone wrong.

 

First, the author’s style. The prose is smooth & clean with enough detail to provide atmosphere but never at the expense of pace. Second, the characters. Nate, Jen & Crawford are the MC’s & each is engaging & well developed. Their personal backgrounds add dimension & help us understand how & why they’ve ended up in the current situation. A large peripheral cast add colour & interest to the main story line.

 

As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think ahead & wonder how it would end. There are several choices, at least one of which would have been disappointingly unrealistic. Thankfully, the author chose an ending that is sobering yet oddly hopeful. And now I have a new (to me) author to follow.

 

 

          

Review
4 Stars
Dead Is Better - Jo Perry

“I was a failure as a living man. And so far I’m one massive fuck up at being dead”.

 

 

If you could see Charlie Stone, the first thing you’d probably notice are the bullet holes. Six of them. That’s how he ended up dead. One minute he was getting CPR, the next he woke up in a quiet, featureless place with a dog. What the hell….

 

But no one can see Charlie or Rose (as he’s named the dog). He has no recollection of why or where he was shot which quite frankly is ticking him off. He was just your typical middle aged businessman with 4 ex-wives. Right. He decides the best way to start his investigation is to attend his own funeral & see who shows up. Rose graciously agrees to be his plus-one.

 

It’s the beginning of one of the more off-the-wall, quirky crime novels you’ll read. As we hear Charlie’s story it’s soon apparent he was not the most dependable or likeable guy. His search heads off in directions he could never have imagined as he haunts police stations, hospitals & homeless shelters looking for answers. When he stumbles across some alarming information, Charlie has to wrestle with the possibility that it might not be all about him. That maybe he’s supposed to be helping someone else find their answers. Huh…what a concept.

 

Short chapters & economical prose keep the story moving. And just a heads-up…Charlie has a bit of a potty mouth. As for Rose, no worries. She doesn’t curse once. Silent & supportive, she accompanies Charlie on his journey & periodically nudges him in a different direction. There are plenty of surprises in store especially as we get Rose’s history. The ending may be a bit out there but hey this is fiction…fiction with ghosts! And by that time, there was one character I so badly wanted to see get what he karmically deserved that I didn’t care how it happened. Just as long as he went DOWN. And I’m confident all dog lovers will agree with me.

 

This is the beginning of a trilogy (so far). Although initially published elsewhere, it’s found a home with Fahrenheit Press which makes complete sense to me. By the end Charlie gets some answers & more importantly, is a slightly better man no doubt due to Rose’s influence.

 

It’s an offbeat, different take on the genre I enjoyed & I’ll be picking up book #2 to see what Charlie & Rose get up to next.

 

 

         

 

Review
4.5 Stars
When the Music's Over - Aidan Thorn

Most people look forward to retirement but it might depend on what you did for a living. For example, if you were.…oooh, I don’t know.… a hitman, you’d probably enjoy living a quiet life where no one knows your face or reputation. Wynn McDonald is that guy. And it’s why he’s less than thrilled to get a call from Alan Castle.

 

Alan & Terry Weir are hard men who’ve ruled Birmingham for years. Wynn was their hired gun before stepping away from the game more than a decade ago. Now Alan wants him back for a special job. Terry’s son Harry has been murdered by his business partner Benny Gower who’s since disappeared. The “request” is simple: find him & make him suffer.

 

Wynn is stunned. He knew both men well. And Benny has to know Terry Weir will hunt him to the ends of the earth. What was he thinking? It makes no sense. Wynn has no choice but to return to Birmingham & begins by making the rounds of Benny’s friends & colleagues. Sure, someone might know where he’s gone but it’s more than that. Wynn was never too concerned with motive in the past but this time he needs to understand why it happened to ensure he kills the right guy.

 

In alternate chapters we follow Benny as he goes on the run & begins a new life in another city. We also get the scoop on Benny’s relationship with Harry & how it all went wrong.

 

And that’s all I’ll say about the plot, folks. At face value, it’s a well written & pacy example of a great Brit Grit novel. What elevates this above many is the quiet & dignified depth provided by Wynn’s character. There’s no doubt he fits the definition of a bad guy. But as we accompany him on his search for Benny, another man emerges.

 

A solitary retirement & advancing age have given Wynn a chance to think about his life & the things he’s done. The passage of time affects all of us, shifting priorities & changing perceptions. Wynn is no different & he finds himself pondering the meaning of loyalty, friendship & right vs. wrong. Childhood memories bubble to the surface as he tries to remember when he last felt happiness. All of this plus his interactions with the people in Benny’s life combine to give a poignant portrait of an aging criminal who is running out of time.

 

I really enjoyed this. The characters are compelling & the author keeps you guessing as to how it will all pan out. By the time the music stopped, somehow I’d developed a big old soft spot for a hitman. Who’d of thunk it.

 

 

          

 

Review
4.5 Stars
Dracul - Clive Barker, Dacre Stoker

Cracking way to begin a new year of reading. This prequel to the classic is about as meta as it gets. Written by Stoker’s great-grandnephew & well known author J.D. Barker (The Fourth Monkey), it draws heavily from Bram Stoker’s childhood, journals & notes he scribbled while writing the original.

 

Bram, his family & real life acquaintances are the main characters. Also worth mentioning is some tall, thin, icky guy going by the name of Dracul who manages to steal a few scenes.

 

This is a proper horror story. The writing team has done a bang-up job of creating an original tale but in a style reminiscent of classics such as Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde & of course, Dracula. It’s gothic creepiness at its best, a story that engages all your senses as it drags you kicking & screaming from Ireland to Germany & back again. (Be careful if you read this in public…you may find yourself drawing some strange looks as you mutter things like “Do NOT touch that”.)

 

Be sure to read the author’s note written by Dacre Stoker at the end. It’s full of fascinating tidbits of how the original manuscript was written then carefully edited to reflect the times. It was purchased at auction some years ago by Paul Allen (cofounder of Microsoft) & he granted access to the Stoker foundation but only after they signed a non-disclosure agreement. What is known is that the first 100 pages are missing.

 

It’s a gripping & skeery read that seamlessly combines fact, fiction & folklore. A must-read for fans of the original or Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s “Cemetery of Forgotten Books” series &  Lauren Owen’s “The Quick”.

 

 

                

Review
4.5 Stars
Black Moss - David Nolan

So I was cruising around the Fahrenheit Press website (note to self: learn the concept of “just browsing”) when I saw this striking cover. Read the blurb. Seconds later it landed on my kindle. Not sure how that happened but I’m really glad it did. This is a gritty, engrossing read with a genuine WTF ending.

 

Alternating chapters tell the story in 2 time lines. In 1990 we meet Danny Johnston, a young reporter with Manchester’s most popular radio station. The city has been inundated with press due to a riot at nearby Strangeways Prison. So it’s all hands on deck to cover the ongoing drama. Except Danny. As the junior guy, he’s left to pick up the stray stories that barely get a mention. One in particular will have a lasting effect.

 

He gets tipped to head out to Black Moss Reservoir, a bleak place on the Yorkshire border. Danny’s not even sure what he’s responding to but arrives to find police at the scene. He’s the only journalist there & the cops waste no time sending him on his way but not before he sees something that will haunt him for years……the body of a small boy face down in the sand.

 

When we meet again in 2016, a few things have changed. “Daniel” has moved on to the bright lights of London & is kind of a big deal.  His popular investigative exposés have made him a recognizable face. But fame has a down side…. like when you just crash your car & you’re so drunk all you can see is the guy filming the whole thing with his phone.

 

Right. With a court case pending, it’s time to quit drinking & take a hard look at his life. How did he get here? As he sifts through events from the past, one in particular stands out. An image of the little boy on the moors who was never identified. Maybe if he went back to Manchester where it all began he could find some of those principles he used to have & right a terrible wrong in the process.

 

This is a gripping story that deals with disturbing subject matter. As both time lines progress we learn what happened in 1990 & it’s effect on the present. We also get to know Daniel. In the present you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s a bit of a knob. But as he gets sober, he begins to see things with unpleasant clarity. By reopening the old investigation, he not only makes discoveries about the boy but about himself as well.

 

It’s a pacy read bolstered by short, punchy chapters & lean prose. The supporting cast is full of well drawn characters from all walks of life. Several are just dodgy enough to make them viable candidates for your bad guy list. The alternating chapters are effective. Sometimes when this device is used, one time line will be stronger or more interesting than the other. Not here. I found both equally compelling, especially toward the end. There’s a growing sense of menace to the historical chapters that lends an urgency to those set in the present.

 

On one level, you can read this as just a great, gritty crime thriller. But it also has something to say about how society treats those who are outcasts, nameless or marginalized. Sadly, the reason parts of the story are so poignant is because they’re true.

 

Although the author has written plenty of non-fiction, this is a debut novel which is impressive. His familiarity with Manchester is evident through atmospheric descriptions of the area & use of real life events such as the Strangeways riot. I became very fond of several characters & would happily join them on any future outings. It’s not always an easy read but one that will definitely keep you turning the pages. 

 

 

 

Review
4 Stars
Summoned To Thirteenth Grave - Darynda Jones

Book #13…..when you’re writing a series about the Grim Reaper, somehow that seems an appropriate number to end on. Yep, you heard me. From now on you’ll have to find another reason to visit Albuquerque because Charley Davidson & Co. are signing off. But first…a few loose ends.

 

As the book opens, Charley pops up back on Earth after being banished to darkness for over 100 years. Or as she describes it “exiled in hell with no light, no hair products & no coffee”. Reyes finds her in no time & after an…er…”warm” welcome, brings her up to speed.

 

It’s kind of a good news/bad news situation. The good: he’s fine, Beep’s fine, all the gang are fine. The bad: it seems he accidentally opened up a hell dimension & demons are pouring through. LOTS of demons. While they’re busy slurping up human souls, a shade has descended on the city & it’s spreading. There’s no time to waste & Charley & Reyes are soon hunkered down with their crew as they brainstorm ways to banish the nasty creatures snacking on the good citizens of Albuquerque.

 

As usual there are numerous story lines & Charley must keep herself highly caffeinated if she’s going to multi-task her way through the whole mess. Everything is aligned for a final showdown between the forces of good & evil. And while it’s maybe not as epic as I was hoping, it does provide answers to long running questions. Trust me, there are some jaw droppers here ( looking at YOU, Uncle Bob )

 

Story lines & character arcs are tidied up as you’d expect in a final instalment. My only quibble would be this is more saccharine than we’re accustomed to given Charley’s tendency to shoot from the lip. But when you’re wrapping up a series, it has to be a challenge to say good-bye without getting a little misty.

 

The author could have kept it going (I imagine her publishers wished she had). But I applaud her for ending things while the story lines were still strong & original. Of course I’ll miss the characters but for me, one of the things I always looked forward to were the headers of each chapter. So on that note, I will leave you with this…..

 


                                                Trust me. You can dance.

 

                                                                         — Vodka

 

 

 

Ciao, Charley. Thanks for the laughs.

 

 

         

Review
4 Stars
The Silent Patient - Alex Michaelides

Do you play chess? I don’t, more of a tic-tac-toe aficionado TBH. But I’ve always admired the ability to think 10 moves ahead when faced with a worthy opponent. Here we have 2 well matched MC’s, each with a plan & motive that may end up being their downfall.

 

Alicia Berenson used to be one half of a glamorous couple. She was a beautiful, successful artist deeply in love with her husband Gabriel. Which of course begs the question…why did she shoot him in the face 5X? You’ll have to come to your own conclusions because Alicia’s not talking. At all.

 

Not to the police & not to her lawyer during a well publicized trial. Her cool, silent demeanor earned her a verdict of diminished capacity plus a spot at The Grove, a secure psychiatric facility in London. Several years on nothing much has changed. Despite the best efforts of medical staff, Alicia remains mute. But one man believes he can get her to tell her story & he’s about to get his chance.

 

Dr. Theo Faber followed the trial with interest. As a criminal psychotherapist, he became fascinated with the beautiful woman who wouldn’t speak. So when a job comes up at the Grove, Theo jumps at the chance to treat its most famous resident. Pull up a chair, dust off the chess board & let the games begin.

 

There are many secondary characters that add depth to the story. Some pop up briefly, several have recurring roles & others lurk in the background. Each brings something to the table, even in their absence. But make no mistake…this is the Alicia & Theo Show.

 

Alicia is an enigma from the start. In the present, she is a shadow of her previous self. But through her thoughts & memories, we begin to put flesh on her bones as we learn about her childhood & subsequent relationship with Gabriel. Friends & colleagues chime in with their observations & put a slightly different slant on her perfect life. Whatever your impression of her, one thing is clear…her voice may be lost but there is absolutely nothing wrong with her mind.

 

It’s up to Theo to carry the conversation during their regular sessions. And initially he’s more than up for the task. It’s not just about the professional satisfaction of helping a damaged soul. He’s well aware his colleagues have tried & failed to reach Alicia. If he can get her to speak, it would mean validation of his abilities & a huge feather in his cap. As time goes by, we watch as he becomes obsessed with cracking his famous patient & desperation leads to questionable judgement on his part. You begin to wonder if its a quest for professional glory or a classic case of hubris.

 

From the opening pages I knew that even if this was a poorly written hot mess (it’s not), I would read to the final page because I had to understand why Gabriel was snuffed in such convincing fashion. It’s one of those books where it’s best to go in blind. Although this is a first novel, the author has written screen plays & it definitely shows in the expert pacing & story telling. I can easily imagine this as a film. I had my suspicions about Gabriel’s death but the motive is only revealed near the end. And what an end it is. There’s something really satisfying about a character getting what they so karmically deserve. If you’re a fan of psychological suspense, don’t hesitate to add this to your groaning TBR pile.

 

 

           

Review
3 Stars
The Witch Elm - Tana French

Well….I finished this a couple of days ago & needed to ponder how I felt about it.  French has always been one of my favourite authors but this was a departure from her usual style. Not going to lie…..this is a door stopper of a book & right up to about page 160, I considered putting it down. Toby (at that point) was just not that compelling & he really needs to be as you spend all your time with him. Then they found the skull.

 

Nothing like good ol’ human remains to make you sit up & pay attention. The story, too, seemed to perk up. Suddenly there was direction & focus to the plot & a new energy infused the prose. This part of the book I enjoyed. The interaction between Toby & certain members of his family is a master class in psychological manipulation. The mind games & gas lighting are at disturbing levels & have us (and Toby) doubting everything. If your recollection is hazy and you accept someone else’s version, is it really a memory? With his addled brain, Toby is at the whim of those around him. But the investigation gives him purpose & you catch glimpses of the man he used to be.

 

My favourite character may have been Hugo. He’s a kind, decent guy whose hidden depths are only really appreciated after he’s gone. As for the ending…..well, it had me scratching my head. I definitely never saw that coming & I’m still thinking about why it happened.

 

French is obviously a keen observer & the complicated relationships between family members is very well done. You may not particularly like your sister/cousin/uncle but when push comes to shove you might find yourself doing something you’d never consider for someone who doesn’t share your blood. Trust, loyalty, obligation…these are just some of the themes that play out as 3 cousins are forced to reevaluate the relationships they’d taken for granted.

 

So kind of a mixed bag for me. Not my favourite of hers but definitely a book that made me think. And that’s not a bad thing. Just as an aside, what’s up with the spelling change in the title for N.A. readers? The original use of “Wych” is not only more accurate but true to the story. Guess they were worried we wouldn’t figure it out. Silliness.

 

    

Review
2 Stars
Um......
Elevation - Stephen King

Odd little short story. If I'd received it in a plain brown wrapper & been asked to guess the author, King wouldn't have even entered my mind. Usually his characters are so well drawn you feel they could be your neighbour. Here they are lightly sketched & in a couple of cases, one dimensional stereotypes. And the story is...well..."fluffy" is the word that comes to mind 

Instead of any suspense or skeery stuff, he wanders dangerously close to *gasp*....dare I say it....cozy territory. By coincidence I had just finished reading/enjoying The Outsider & it's hard to believe these came from the same mind. Ah well, they can't all be homers. I'll just tight & wait for the next full length novel.

 

                  

 

Review
2.5 Stars
DNF
Transcription: A Novel - Kate Atkinson

Sorry, I just can't. I'm on page 160 which is the halfway mark & can honestly say I don't care if the protagonist lives or dies. Such a disappointment as I've enjoyed other books by this author & heard such rave reviews about this one.

 

But the glacial pace, plethora of stiff-upper-lip characters & over use of internal comments in parentheses (meant as comic relief ?) are slowly making me lose the will to live. It's probably just a case of mismatch between reader & book. I'm not enjoying it & have so many other books I want to read so I think I'll just leave this here. Might pick it back up if I have trouble falling asleep tonight.

 

                                            

 

 

Well, that'll learn me....

Sorry to bombard the feed today. I've been away, a combination of life stuff & long overdue vacation. I went travelling for a bit & left the phone behind, taking a break from social media & blogging. Soooo....had a little catching up to do. 

 

    

 

The upside was coming back with a clear head. Downside (if I can call it that) was finding a whack of books waiting for me courtesy of the library & the evil Netgalley. Which is great. I spent all my money & came back to find winter had arrived in my absence so it's time to turn on the fireplace & hunker down with a stack of books for a few months.

 

And I have a lot of your reviews to catch up as well. Hope y'all are ok, promise I'll go back to my usual subliminal (and more timely) self. Happy reading!

 

       

Review
5 Stars
Flights and Falls - R. M. Greenaway

Vancouver’s Sea to Sky highway can be a beautiful but treacherous drive. So when a young woman rolls her car, it’s hardly front page news. Sadly, despite the help of 2 men who stop to help, she dies. Oddly enough, both are seriously assaulted in the days following the accident.

 

One is found by demoted detective Cal Dion & his partner. Once upon a time it would have been his case. But these days he hands over the reins to former colleagues Dave Leith & JD Temple. When the second man is shot, the RCMP have to wonder if/how these events are connected.

 

All those involved were strangers & you know what that means…..endless hours of interviews & shuffling paper trying to find a common thread. Cal finds himself seconded to the team & it’s the last place he wants to be.

 

If you’ve been following the series, you’ll feel his pain. You see a couple of years ago, Cal did a bad thing (although we still don’t have the full 411 on that yet). Another cop died & Cal’s injuries left him with a wonky brain. His spotty memory was legitimate at the time & everyone bought his version. But someone else was there & saw what happened. And then there’s that anonymous phonecall made to Sgt. Mike Bosco, head of the elite unit. 

 

Bosch is a smart, affable man who deals in secrets. He can’t shake the feeling Cal remembers more than he let on & enlisted Leith to keep an eye on the young cop. Unaware of their alliance, Cal went to great lengths to avoid Bosco while working with Leith. So when he got demoted all he felt was relief. Now he’s back with the team & squarely under Bosco’s watchful eyes once again.

 

As far as the investigation goes, all I’ll say is you get a killer with a most unique M.O. Who’d have thunk it?  There are plenty of twists, subplots & red herrings to keep you on your toes. But a couple of elements in particular made me really enjoy this. One is a bigger role for JD Temple. She…is…hilarious. I love her dry sarcasm. She’s a smart, tough cop who’s casual asides had me grinning like a loon in the middle of a dramatic scene. And through one of the sub plots connected to the investigation, we get to see the softer side she usually keeps under wraps.

 

The other thing was the progression of the overall story line of the series. In the previous 3 books we got a slow drip of information re: the night Cal lost his partner & scrambled his brain. We know the end result but still have so many questions about what led up to it & the mysterious witness. In this outing things take a huge leap forward & the identity of the anonymous caller made my jaw drop. Holy cats….uh, Cal? Might be a good time to look into a transfer, buddy. To somewhere like…oooh, I don’t know…Guam, maybe? However, the final pages make it clear the informant might face a few challenges of their own.

 

As always, it’s a pleasure to spend time with Cal & watch as he, Leith & Bosco engage in their intricate dance. The situation feels like it’s coming to a head & adds a growing background tension to the criminal investigations. So I’ll close with a note to the author: please write faster. In the meantime I’ll check out job opportunities in Guam.

 

          

Review
3.5 Stars
The Darkness - Ragnar Jónasson

If you’ve read this author’s Dark Iceland series, take note. This has a decidedly darker, moodier tone with a completely different MC.

 

DI Hulda Hermannsdóttir has been dreading retirement but thought she had some time to get used to the idea. That changes when her boss announces he is replacing her with a shiny, young “high achiever”. In 2 weeks. She has a couple of choices. She can leave immediately or use her remaining time to take a fresh look at a cold case. The thought of endless days alone in her tiny flat holds no appeal so Hulda quickly picks up a shelved investigation into the death of a young Russian woman.

 

In alternate chapters, we follow a young woman who gives birth to a daughter in 1948. Shamed by her family, she has no choice but to temporarily relinquish custody while she struggles to build a life for herself. The story of her relationship with her daughter gradually unfolds to reveal its link to the present.

 

This is a quick, easy read with an interesting MC. There are not many 65 year old female detectives out there & I enjoyed the perspective her maturity & life experience brought to the story. She also has a potential love interest after being widowed for many years.  With retirement looming, Hulda spends time reflecting on her life & we learn about her marriage & early years as a cop. That’s how her secret is revealed. And it’s a whopper.

 

Make no mistake, Hulda is not the fuzzy grandmotherly type. When she joined the force, women were scarce & despite her high clearance rate, she watched one man after another get the promotions she deserved.  It’s left a bitter taste in her mouth & the ageism that’s developed in recent years hasn’t helped.

 

The cold case heads off in directions no one could have predicted & Hulda meets her fair share of dodgy characters. I was clipping along wondering how it would all play out & thinking this was a solid 3 star read. Then I reached the end. Wait…what? Well, that was not on my radar. So I added points for taking the road less travelled. It was an unexpected & risky finish for book #1 in a series.

 

 

        

Review
4 Stars
She Lies in Wait - Gytha Lodge

DCI Jonah Sheens has been a cop for more than 30 years & heads up the station in Southampton. Between cases, management & meetings, days off are hard to come by. As the book opens he’s enjoying a rare chance to cycle in the hills until his phone rings. A body has been found near a campsite in New Forest. No clues, no witnesses. No problem. Jonah knows who it is.

 

Thirty years ago, he was a fresh faced newbie who joined the search for missing 14 year old Aurora Jackson. Her sister Topaz was camping with 5 of her friends, unhappy about being saddled with her baby sister. After a night of drinking, they crawled out of their tents to discover Aurora’s cold & empty sleeping bag. The alarm was raised & cops, friends & neighbours combed the area for days to no avail. The 6 teens were questioned endlessly but Aurora was never found.

 

In the present, Jonah mounts a new investigation after getting the autopsy results & his team of 3 detectives get to work. They can’t help but notice their boss is a tad antsy. For Jonah it’s not just another case. Turns out he went to school with these people although he was never one of them. They were the cool kids, the ones everyone wanted to emulate. As the investigation progresses, long suppressed memories come flooding back & Jonah begins to worry what his team might uncover.

 

That’s it for the plot. It’s best to go in knowing as little as possible so your jaw drops in all the right places. The story unfolds in 2 alternating time lines & both are engrossing. The past is narrated by Aurora & she’s a compelling character. Through her eyes we meet the 6 campers as teens & get caught up in all their angst, drama & petty jealousies. In the present we meet them again as they deal with Jonah. Some have changed, some haven’t. The difference is they may finally be ready to spill the secrets they’ve been keeping for 30 years.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this. In some ways it reminded me of “Everything You Want Me to Be” by Mindy Mejia. There’s something about small towns & the intense relationships formed (or not) in high school. Everything is heightened because the world is so small at that point in a teen’s life. Each member of Topaz’s “golden” gang is integral to its survival & I’ll bet more than one of them will remind you of someone you knew at that age.

 

The detectives are also well portrayed & Jonah’s team are an interesting group. DC Juliette Hanson comes across as being wound a bit too tight & we gradually find out why. DS Domnall O’Malley is the calm voice of reason & experience, a deceptively low key guy who misses nothing. And then there’s DC Ben Lightman. Self contained & fastidious, he made me think of the old adage about still waters. I’m willing to bet there’s more to him than an analytical mind & pretty face. As for Jonah, he’s a decent man in a tight spot. You can’t help but sympathize with him as he struggles to maintain a professional distance in a case that is so personal. It’s clear he has some memories he'd rather forget & I dreaded what might come out.

 

But it’s Aurora who steals the show. I found her captivating, a girl on the cusp who comes across as so authentic you can almost hear her voice. She’s at the age where she’s letting go of childhood & plagued by the insecurities & shaky self esteem that afflict so many young girls. But she also has an ethereal quality that sets her apart, completely unaware of her allure.

 

All is revealed by the end & Aurora can finally be laid to rest. And the 6 who were there that night will never be the same. As for Jonah…well, he has to deal with some ramifications of his own. It’s a book you’ll resent having to put this down & I look forward to book #2. 

 

 

            

Review
4 Stars
No Mercy - Joanna Schaffhausen

So she killed a guy. Hellooo..…he was a vile, psychopathic murdering dirtbag. Why all the fuss? Well, it might be due to the fact she’s a cop. But it’s probably because she’s Ellery Hathaway.

 

At least that’s what she calls herself now. She had a different name as a young teen. That’s when she was abducted & kept in a closet by a man who now sits on death row. Of all the girls he snatched she was the only one rescued & the media attention was endless. In time the damaged girl grew up, changed her name & became a cop in a small town where no one knew her face. But that all changed after her identity was revealed during her last case when she killed a killer. And the media rejoiced.

 

Which led to her current situation…. a forced “time out” from the job & mandatory group therapy. Ellery decides she might have to attend the sessions but that doesn’t mean she has to speak. So she listens. To Wendy, a woman who was raped & is still waiting for justice. And to Myra, an older lady still grieving for the baby son she lost decades ago in a fire. Hmmm…

 

Ellery has always led a solitary life. Her beloved hound Speed Bump & the job were enough. But now her days are empty & with too much time on her hands, she begins to dig into the investigations surrounding Wendy & Myra’s tragic events. All she needs is the help of one person. Enter Reed Markham, the FBI agent who pulled her from the closet all those years ago.

 

Buckle up, peeps. It’s about to get bumpy. I won’t get into the investigative plot lines. Suffice to say Ellery & Reed make a good team as he puts his profiling skills to use & she does the footwork. But this is also the story of their unique relationship. Ellery is a damaged soul, a woman who can’t stand to be touched & keeps her closet doors nailed shut. The only person she tolerates (besides “Bump”) is Reed. He knows her history & what she endured unlike all the others who stare or pry for sensational details. He also provides a levelling influence.

 

As Ellery’s investigations become increasingly dangerous, there were times I wanted to sit her down & ask her just what the hell she was thinking (thankfully, Reed does that for me). She seems to have no sense of self preservation. And then I realized she didn’t care if she died because living with all her fears & personal tics was just so hard. She believes (wishes?) she should have died in that closet & it’s left her with a fatalistic feeling that she’s walking around on borrowed time.

 

By the end, cases are solved & old secrets unearthed. But the final pages put the focus squarely on Reed as he discovers he might have his own closet full of ghosts to deal with. It’s a tense & exciting read that stands well on it’s own but I recommend “The Vanishing Season” to get the full background on these characters.

 

          

 

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