Escape from the ER
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.



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.




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.



4 Stars
The Usual Santas: A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers - Stuart Neville, Mick Herron, Helene Tursten, Peter Lovesey, Cara Black

I love anthologies like this. When your schedule is crazy & you find it difficult to make any progress on a full-meal book, these provide the perfect snack. Here we have 18 stories with an interesting theme. All are set around the Xmas season. But that’s about all they have in common as the authors took the brief & ran with it.


Some are funny, some are gritty. Settings include different centuries & locales such as Seoul, Bangkok, Ireland, America & Cuba. And genres run the gamut from psychological to full on action. There are even a few names you’ll recognize such as Jane Austen & Sherlock Holmes.


Like most collections some are great, most are good & a couple are meh. But what falls into those categories will vary from reader to reader. My favourites were those by Helene Tursten (do NOT mess with a Swedish granny), Teresa Dovalpage (great characters, set in Cuba), Tod Goldberg (poignant tale of a lonely sheriff’s final days on the job) & Martin Limón (American military police in 1970’s Korea). Two of these authors I’d never read before & therein lies the gift. It’s great chance to try out new (to you) authors & editor Peter Lovesey has included each writer’s back list at the end so you can easily select something meatier by whoever catches your fancy.


It’s a great book to take on your daily commute or leave on the bedside table. Just keep it handy for those times when you have a few minutes to escape to another time or country.



5 Stars
Ultimatum - Anders de la Motte

As a new year begins, the Stockholm police force is reeling after a shootout between cops & several rival gangs in Skarpö, a forested area east of the city. It ended with 9 dead including 2 of their own. Among the injured was DI David Sarac, a legend within the Intelligence Unit. In the days that followed, the incident was quickly hushed up & David disappeared.


In a high security hospital far from the city, David’s only goal is accumulating a big enough stash of sleeping pills to put a permanent end to his nightmares. His broken body may be healing but the PTSD has done a number on his head. Then someone slips him a letter. It’s short & to the point: my secret for yours.


David relives Skarpö every night. He feels responsible for what happened but he also knows that one of his colleagues stitched him up. The letter writer claims to know who & will reveal the name if David answers one question. It’s a chance for revenge he can’t pass up & with pills in hand, he escapes from the hospital.


A couple of months later, DI Julia Gabrielsson is attending one of the most gruesome autopsies of her career. The body was dismembered & under water for weeks before being found. Identifying the victim is just one of her problems. The other is babysitting her new partner Omar Amante, a civilian investigator foisted on her by her waste-of-a-uniform boss. He’s a man of few words & no one seems to know how he ended up assigned to the Violent Crimes Unit. Lab tests on the body provide just 1 result but it’s a whopper. DNA matches a sample taken from Skarpö.


That’s it for the story outline, folks. The thought of trying to summarize any more is, quite frankly, exhausting. This is one of the most complex, labyrinthine plots I’ve ever read & I say that with a big smile. It could easily have ended up leaving readers in head-scratching confusion. Instead it’s a clever, multi-layered story that keeps you gripped & guessing right up to the final page.


The roots of the story began in “MemoRandom” which was more of a police procedural. This devotes equal time to Julia’s investigation & political corruption in the Swedish government. There is a large cast of returning characters, many of whom remain unburdened by trivial things like ethics. With few exceptions, these are people who take self-preservation to new heights. Lies, secret agendas, old debts & shifting alliances are gradually revealed as the story lines intersect. Think you’ve got it figured out? Ha! Just wait ’til you turn the next page.


The crew of despicables are offset by several characters you’ll cheer & fear for. Julia is a smart, perceptive woman who slowly realizes she has no idea who to trust. Amante is a man tortured by what he saw on Lampedusa while working for the EU & remains somewhat of an enigma. Atif is a part time gangster with dangerous ties who just wants to save a little girl he loves more than life. And David remains the damaged hero, a man who realized too late the ramifications of his actions. None of them are lily-white & some have done terrible things. But all have a moral line in the sand that is sadly lacking in people they’re forced to deal with.


It’s an intelligent, fast paced read that is hard to put down & you may be surprised by the time you get all the answers. No doubt this can be enjoyed as a stand alone but I highly recommend reading “MemoRandom” first to fully grasp all the intricate connections between the characters. There are a couple in particular I’ve become quite fond of & here’s hoping they pop up again in another book.



Shallow End: A Stonechild and Rouleau Mystery - Brenda Chapman

Jane Thompson used to have it all….beauty, a handsome husband, 2 great kids & a rewarding teaching career. Now she lives alone in a tiny damp flat, sneaking out the back to dodge reporters on her way to work at the Salvation Army.


Her new “career” is courtesy of an early release program. Four years ago, Jane was charged with the sexual assault of one of her students. In short order, she was convicted, imprisoned & divorced. All she lives for now is a chance to see the kids but her ex is not exactly the forgiving type.


Over at the Kingston Police Department, the detectives are getting restless. Local criminals seem to have taken the summer off & things at the station are slow. Then the call comes in. The body of a teenage boy was found by the lake. Jacques Rouleau assigns the case to detectives Kala Stonechild & Paul Gunderson and they quickly determine 2 things. It’s definitely a homicide & the victim is Devon Eton, Jane’s former student & accuser.


I’ll leave it there for the investigation aspect of the story. There are plenty of twists (and a few bombshells) ahead & the less you know going in, the more you’ll enjoy each WTH moment. Suffice to say I was in danger of needing a neck brace after my double take in the final chapter.


What has always distinguished this series for me is the equal time devoted to the development of interesting & original characters. Kala is First Nations & it’s been a rocky road to where she is now. Due to her childhood she is a quiet, self contained woman who prefers the company of her dog Taiku to most people. A few years ago she met Jacques Rouleau (book #1) & he’s been her boss ever since.


Jacques is a kind, patient man moving toward the end of his career. Usually he keeps a sharp eye on his detectives but in this outing, his personal life has him distracted. On top of that, he has to figure out what to do about one of his detectives who is a slime ball (Woodhouse, you are so lucky you’re fictional or we’d be having words) while placating a superior who’s never met a camera he didn’t like.


Paul Gunderson is a big brawny cop with more than a professional interest in Kala. There’s just one eensy little problem….his estranged-wife-from-hell Fiona who also happens to be the coroner. And as much as I sympathize with him for the hoops she’s put him through, there are times I’d like to cuff some sense into him. He’s a man in desperate need of a V-8 moment.


The case is a gripping one with Jane as the obvious suspect. And it’s not helped by the cops having to deal with a bunch of teenagers who lie like they breathe. The author does a good job of examining the ripple effects when someone is convicted of such a hot button crime. In some ways the perpetrator gets to escape the fallout when they’re put away. But their family remains on the outside where they’re subjected to the whispers & sideway glances of friends & neighbours. Purely by association, they too serve a sentence & theirs may be life. 


It’s a twisty & thought provoking read that could stand alone but I really recommend starting with “Cold Mourning”. There’s a huge back story behind the characters, particularly between Kala & Jacques & each book is all the richer as the relationships develop.  Can’t wait for book #5.





Tomorrow is #Hideabookday, joint effort between Goodreads & the Book Fairies to drop free books on an unsuspecting public. Got my stash ready to go......

The book shelves of your dreams...

Take a look at these....and drool.




5 Stars
Angels in the Moonlight - Caimh McDonnell

If you’ve read “The Man with One of Those Faces” or “The Day that Never Comes”, no doubt you remember Dublin Detective Bunny McGarry. His wayward glare & ever present hurling stick make him hard to forget. And at some point you probably wondered if he’d always been crazy. In this prequel to the Dublin trilogy, we get to find out.


The story begins with a hilarious routine between Bunny & his partner Tim “Gringo” Spain as they try to talk a jumper off a ledge. They are truly chalk & cheese. Bunny is younger version of himself, blunt & permanently disheveled. Gringo is a handsome guy with nary a hair out of place. But maybe it’s their differences that make them such a good team.


Along with the usual headaches, Dublin police are dealing with a spate of robberies involving a well organized gang & armored trucks. So Detectives Harry Delaney & Bob Mulholland are assigned to follow the latest shipment. Sadly their partnership is hardly a bromance & before the day is over, it will be tested further when they meet up with a grenade.


The powers that be have had it & DI Fintan O’Rourke puts together a task force to deal with the gang once & for all. Because everyone knows who’s behind the robberies…..Tommy Carter & his crew. Tommy runs Clanavale Estate, an area of Dublin even the cops avoid. He’s young, smart & knows how to cover his tracks. Bunny has history with Tommy so he’s not surprised when he & Gringo are invited to join the team.


There is a large cast from all walks that provide colour & sub plots to the main story line. Two deserve special mention. Simone is a mysterious bartender who catches Bunny’s eye & through her we see another side of the blustery cop. Then there’s Sister Bernadette....half nun/half ninja & my new role model. ‘Nuff said.


Like the other books, it’s a cracking good police procedural with plenty of humour & red herrings to tempt you down the wrong path. But this has a little something extra that gives it a darker edge. There’s an added depth to the story & characterization that shows the author’s growth as a writer. You get a sense that he’s really hit his stride & as much as I enjoyed the previous books, I think it’s his best so far. I’ve grown quite attached to this band of loons & will be waiting on the next one.


For the uninitiated, the combination of wit & grit is reminiscent of Stuart MacBride & Jay Stringer, to name a couple.



4 Stars
The Ghosts of Galway - Ken Bruen

After the last book in this series, readers were left wondering if ex-Gardaí Jack Taylor had finally met his match. Jack’s always been his own worst enemy & it looked like years of hard living had finally caught up with him. But very little in Jack’s life ever turns out as planned which is good news for us. He’s back, with dog Storm supervising his recovery.


In the wake of his reprieve, Jack decides to take a stab at “normal” & gets a job as a security guard. But it’s not long before he’s approached by a man offering a whack of cash for a simple job. He’s looking for “The Red Book”, a controversial 9th century text that blasts “The Book of Kells”. Until recently it was hidden at the Vatican. Then a young priest snatched it & ran & rumour has it he’s holed up in Galway. Jack has zero interest in dealing with any clergy but could really use a good payday. Unfortunately, it doesn’t  go as planned…again.


Then things get weird(er). Someone is leaving animal carcasses in Eyre Square along with cryptic messages. But this is Galway. If you’re aiming for public shock and/or outrage, you’ll have to get in line behind politicians & those responsible for the water tax.


Jack’s life is further complicated by the return of Emerald, the young woman who first got his attention in “Green Hell”. Em’s always been unstable to say the least. But her tenuous grip on sanity has finally snapped & all her personalities are coming out to play. And some of them seem remarkably well informed about the book Jack is looking for.


As usual, the story is a combination of Jack’s activities & his thoughts on everything from the state of Irish politics to seeing Trump hug Sarah Palin on TV (“to see them embrace in Iowa was to see ignorance & prejudice entwined”.) Social commentary is delivered with his trademark black humour & profanity. But his recent brush with mortality has revealed a more reflective side & we catch glimpses of a lonely man taking a hard look at his life. Quotes from individuals & literature are randomly inserted throughout the book, adding to the author’s stream of consciousness style of prose.


The first half almost lulls you as several plot lines unfold & more characters take the field. Maybe that’s why a sudden act of violence at that point comes as such a shock. The story takes a much darker & deadly serious turn. You realize there’s a showdown coming & some of these characters will not survive. It’s a tough read at times but thinking back over the last couple of books, it feels inevitable & I should have seen it coming.


This is a book for true fans of the series & not one I would recommend as a starting point for a couple of reasons. First, Bruen has a distinctive style of prose that becomes looser & less linear as the series progresses. Second, there is a tremendous amount of back story that informs each book & makes for a richer reading experience if read in order.


The ending is poignant yet oddly cathartic & once again I’m wondering where Jack will turn up next. Just as an aside, two thumbs up to those responsible for the striking cover art.




3.5 Stars
The Half-Drowned King: A Novel - Linnea Hartsuyker

When I read the description for this book my first thought was “Gimme!”, for a couple of reasons. I’ve done a lot of family genealogical research & was intrigued to find that some of my dodgy ancestors began life in Norway before taking a wrong turn & landing on the shores of Scotland in the 15th century. Men…just will not ask for directions. But suddenly I understood why I’ve always wanted a helmet with horns. It’s genetic.


The other thing that caught my eye were comparisons made to “Game of Thrones”, “Vikings” & “Outlander”, 3 epic tales that sweep you off your feet & drop you firmly in the muck & mayhem of the past. More on this later.


In this first of a trilogy, we’re introduced to Ragnvald Eysteinsson & his sister Svanhild. The story begins with Ragnvald aboard a ship that is returning home from a raid. Instead of a warm welcome, someone tries to kill him on orders from his stepfather Olaf. Ragnvald stands to inherit a sizeable inheritance from his deceased father but Olaf has other plans. It’s a pivotal moment that sets in motion everything that follows as Ragnvald seeks to regain his birthright & give Svanhild a better life.


The story is based on sagas of King Harald that were written in the 13th century & it’s obvious the author has done extensive research. Settings are atmospheric & rich in cultural detail. You gain a great sense of how these people lived & what they believed. This is the book’s strong point & what I enjoyed most. Unfortunately, the main characters fared less well. There is something missing that I have trouble putting my finger on…depth or passion…that prevents them from becoming fully fleshed out. My other issue was with pacing. You’d expect a bit of a roller coaster, ranging from the mundane of everyday life to epic battles but oddly enough there’s not much difference between how these are portrayed. Maybe that’s the point. Whether you’re having dinner or engaged in swordplay, it’s all in a day’s work if you’re a viking.


Hence the problem with comparing it to the 3 series above. Because of the bold & colourful characters in those stories, you become deeply invested in their fates & feel a range of emotion that places you firmly in the grip of the narrative. Here, due to the author’s impressive knowledge of period detail, the setting often outshines the characters. I was also hoping for the inclusion of more Norse mythology as it was a significant influence on their belief system but that’s a minor personal quibble.


As always, it comes down to what you look for in a story & there are plenty of readers (and fans of the series mentioned above) who have given this high marks. So if you’re in the mood for some old fashioned smiting, give it a go. The good news is there are 2 more in the works. Oh, and the helmets? Turns out there’s next to no evidence any self respecting viking would’ve been caught dead in one. Great….anyone want to buy a set of horns? Best offer.






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.




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.




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.




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 can I resist? Up on Netgalley if it strikes your fancy.

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