Escape from the ER
3.5 Stars
The Awkward Squad - Sophie Hénaff, Sam Gordon

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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

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


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


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


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


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




4 Stars
The Fourth Monkey - A.J. Barker


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




3.5 Stars
The Only Girl - Andrew Pyper

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




3.5 Stars
Faithless (Oslo Detective Series) - Kjell Ola Dahl, Don Bartlett

Detective Frank Frølich is in a bit of a spot. A few days ago he arrested a woman after finding cocaine in her purse. That night he attended a birthday party for old school chum Karl Anders where he met Karl’s new fiancée, Veronika Undset….yup, the woman he arrested. Well, that was awkward.


Unfortunately, the next time they meet is after her horribly beaten body is pulled from a dumpster. Frank is uneasy about having personal ties to a murder investigation & requests to be left off the case. Even though they hadn’t spoken for years before the party, he knows Karl will be front & centre as a suspect. Besides, he has another case that needs attention. Rosalind M’Taya is a beautiful, young exchange student who came to study in Oslo for the summer & promptly disappeared. When Frank finds all her belongings still in her room, he knows she didn’t leave willingly.


Inspector Gunnarstranda needs all hands on deck & denies Frank’s request. Another body has been found & the victim had ties to Veronika. And so they begin the process of picking apart her life, gathering an odd assortment of suspects as they dig.


This is a fast paced procedural that definitely qualifies as Nordic Noir. As Frank & Gunnarstranda follow separate lines of investigation, they both encounter people who are shifty, scary and/or crazy. Early on there are hints something happened between Frank & Karl when they were teenagers that led to them drifting apart. As the story progresses, Frank has to come to terms with the event & his role in how it all played out.


Along with the cast of suspects, we also meet other members of the police & forensic units. Personal details & glimpses of their private lives help flesh out the characters. But it’s Frank we get to know best as he works the murder case & continues his hunt for Rosalind. He’s a smart cop & complex man who is forced to confront past mistakes & fears. He may not like what he finds & although both cases are solved the results take their toll, personally & professionally.


Many Scandinavian thrillers are very different stylistically from their typical American cousins. There’s no spoon feeding here. Not everything is spelled out & some questions go unanswered. And just as you reach the end….well, turns out the author kept a few zingers in reserve.


It’s my first time reading this author & although I found 5 books listed as part of the Oslo Detectives series, I was unable to determine where this one fit in. As usual, Don Bartlett has done a stellar translation & I look forward to catching up with Frank & Gunnarstranda in the next one.




new shortie from SJ Bolton's "Lacey Flint" series
new shortie from SJ Bolton's "Lacey Flint" series

Let’s be honest here…I would read a book of recipes if it was written by Sharon Bolton. So picking up her latest is a complete no-brainer for me. But there will always be a special place for her stories featuring Lacey Flint.


It’s been a while since the last full length book but periodically a novella appears to help ease the pain of withdrawal. The last one was “Here Be Dragons”,  a tense little story with a final line that drew sighs of relief from fans around the world.


So when I saw this one I went into full on beg/barter/steal mode. At last….Lacey’s wedding. But a niggling wee voice kept reminding me of all the times my delicate little jaw has hit the floor while reading her stuff. Nah…she wouldn’t…would she?


I’m not saying a word about the plot. There are only 3 things you need to know: it’s 45 pages long, it features Lacey & Mark & you must get it. Do whatever it takes, you won’t be disappointed. And best of all, there’s a glimmer of hope at the end that there will be more to follow. Now if you’ll excuse me….I have to get some ice for my jaw.


4 Stars
A Dark So Deadly - Stuart MacBride

Apparently I'm expected to show up at work on a regular basis.....huh. Weird. It's been crazy lately & I'm really behind on reviews. So my weekend project is throwing together some random thoughts for the last 3-4 books I've read, including this one. Try to contain your excitement. 




Ok, here goes....


You think you’re having a bad day? DC Callum McGregor is having a bad life. After being raised in care, he became a cop to help people like himself. But the trajectory of his career took a nose dive after covering for his pregnant girlfriend when she screwed up a crime scene. Now he works in the unit of last resort with a motley crew who have all been “specially selected” for various reasons.


They are the dogsbodies who get all the grunt work….like picking through Oldcastle’s garbage dump after receiving reports of a body. DI “Mother” Malcomson & DS McAdams are hoping for a nice juicy murder case. Instead, they find a mummy.


Callum gets no end of grief from his co-workers who think he purposely contaminated a crime scene on behalf of a local gangster. So when DC Franklin joins the unit, he gets the babysitting job. She’s a gorgeous black woman, 3 things that ensure she’s had to put up with more than your average cop. And she wastes no time putting Callum in his place. Great…one more person to dump on him.


They get called out to an abandoned vehicle only to find the trunk is inhabited. By another mummy. It’s the start of an investigation that leads to more bodies, odd evidence, missing persons & forensic fumbles.


Of course, WE know what’s going on. In alternate chapters we peek over the shoulder of a deranged & twisted killer trying to buy his way into heaven. As the story progresses we get the 411 on what they’re doing & why, everything except their name (I’m just going to take a moment & say “Eeewww”).


And that’s only one thread of the story. There are multiple side plots having to do with domestic abuse, office politics & Callum’s personal life. There’s a large cast who are well developed with distinct personalities. Incredibly, despite the number of characters & story lines, you never feel lost or confused & everything is neatly woven together by the end.


To be honest, it took me a bit to fully sign on with this one. I’m a huge fan of the author & wait (im)patiently for his books. One reason is a gift for black humour that makes me giggle at the most inappropriate times & I missed that here. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of funny bits, particularly some of Callum’s dialogue in the second half as he comes into his own. It’s of the less dark variety but that’s just a personal preference thing & no reflection on the writing. I even got used to McAdams’ tendency to speak in haikus. Then a couple of things happened that changed Callum & his circumstances & from that point I was all in.


The evolution of the “Misfit Mob” feels authentic & is very well done. Initially they interact like bickering school kids, all of them resenting where they’ve ended up. But as the scope of what they’re dealing with becomes clear, they start to work as a unit & learn to tolerate each others’ personal tics. Oh they still squabble but it’s more like siblings instead of sworn enemies.


If you noticed and/or felt intimidated by the page count, you can relax. The story lines get equal time & it all zips along at a pace that keeps you on your toes. The killer is not the only man of mystery & you’ll keep reading into the wee hours just to learn the real identity of several of the characters. And as it heads into the last quarter, don’t be surprised if you find yourself curled up in the fetal position with every light on. It becomes compulsive reading & I’m willing to bet you’ll reach the end in less time than some books that are half the size. It’s a proper big stonking read with great characters & here’s hoping we run into Callum & his crew again.



Free short stories til Mar. 31

For 3 more days, Instafreebie has free short stories by some very well known British authors. Great way to try out a new author.



4.5 Stars
Six Stories - Matt Wesolowski

Scarclaw Fell is a wild area in Northumberland popular with hikers, cavers & climbers. Its beautiful but treacherous terrain is riddled with marshes, old mine tunnels & neolithic grave sites. In 1996, two adults & 5 teens arrived for a few days of R&R during school break. Sadly, one of them went missing & was never found.


In 1997 the land was purchased by Lord Ramsay, much to the dismay of locals & environmentalists. But for his son Harry, it was the perfect place to hang with a couple of friends & plenty of booze. Or it was until they stumbled across the body. Tom Jeffries, the missing teen, is found.


Twenty years on Harry is approached by the enigmatic host of the podcast “Six Stories”. Scott King’s specialty is digging into old cases & retelling the events through multiple POV’s of the people involved. And although the Ramsays have never spoken publicly, Harry decides it’s time.


What follows are conversations between Scott & 6 of the people who were there in 1996. And just like any story, there are definitely 6 different versions. Some of their memories are shared but each has something unique to add that puts their own slant on what happened to Tom. As the conversations progress, ugly truths begin to emerge. All the participants are 20 years older now & able to look back on some of their youthful acts with clarity & regret.


As the series continues, it becomes extremely popular & reignites media attention. Everyone is on edge waiting for the final instalment & Harry begins to wonder if he made a terrible mistake. In alternate chapters, we walk with him as he visits the fell for the first time in years & reexamines everything that happened the night they found Tom’s body.


I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot as there are so many different twists & elements to the story. It’s much more fun to just “listen” to the podcasts as they unfold & see if you can guess the ending. The novel’s format is so clever & reels you in from the start. It’s a modern day version of a time when people sat around the radio listening to their favourite serials. The lack of visual distraction created an an intimacy between the faceless voices & listeners as they (and us) hang on every word.


There’s a tense, almost claustrophobic feel to the podcast chapters & it’s really tempting to race to the finish. Don’t. The devil is in the details & each of the people interviewed has a secret they’ve been keeping. Our walks with Harry are richly atmospheric & the fell itself becomes an ominous character that’s been looming over their lives for 20 years.


It’s a creepy & compelling story that also makes you think about larger issues. Some of the passages will give you goose bumps, some will have you checking the locks. There are no bells & whistles here, just great story telling that allows your imagination to run wild. What else do you need?




3.5 Stars
Magpie Murders: A Novel - Anthony Horowitz

This is a very cleverly constructed story that uses a book-within-a-book format to pay homage to old style murder mysteries. In a brief prologue, we meet editor Susan Ryeland as she prepares to spend her weekend reading the latest manuscript from Alan Conway.


He’s not her favourite person but she’s a huge fan of his best sellers featuring MC Atticus Pünd. And in her hot little hands is “Magpie Murders”, the final book in the series.


From this point, we’re transported back to 1955 & spend the first half of the book immersed in Pünd’s world. He’s a private investigator of German extraction who assists police with their trickier cases. As Conway’s story begins, Atticus & his assistant James Fraser leave London to investigate disturbing events in the village of Saxby-on-Avon.


I don’t want to give away the plot but if you’re a fan of Agatha Christie, you’re in for a treat. It’s clearly an homage to the golden age of Manor house murder mysteries & the author has ticked all the boxes. You have suspicious deaths, eccentric characters with hidden pasts, old grudges & secrets & one very nosy neighbour who seems to know them all. Oh….and that missing bottle of poison. Saxby-on-Avon is the perfect setting, a quaint english village that seems right out of an episode of Miss Marple. Completing the picture is Pünd. He’s a soft spoken, courtly man with more than his fair share of “little grey cells” & is an outsider like Christie’s other famous sleuth.


I got so wrapped up in Pünd’s investigation that I forgot about the prologue. Suddenly we’re back in the real world with Susan & she’s just as shocked as we are by the last page of Conway’s manuscript. Again, no spoilers, but events in the present soon find her morphing into a modern day Miss Marple & there are clever parallels to the time we spent in Saxby-on-Avon.


Are you confused yet? Don’t worry, the story itself flows smoothly & the many layers make for an enjoyable read. The only quibble I have is the amount of time it takes Susan to solve her own mystery. It bogged down a bit around the 3/4 mark before picking up again for an eventful finish. But it’s entirely in keeping with the style & in a nice twist, mirrors Pünd’s method of investigation.


It’s a book about books for those who love them & there are many literary references as well as tidbits about the world of publishing. It’s a smart read that’s meant to be savoured & will test your own powers of deduction. Just don’t be surprised if Pünd kicks your butt.




3.5 Stars
Shadow Man - Alan Drew

When I read the publicity blurb for this book, it immediately ticked all the boxes for me. Thriller? Excellent. Set in the 1980’s? Cool. Compared to Dennis Lehane? Hand it over.


But….despite an eek-inducing prologue, what we have here is a book that is being marketed to appeal to thriller fans which IMHO does a disservice to the author. This is a beautifully written story about a broken man trying to come to terms with his past. He just happens to be a cop involved in the search for a serial killer.


Ben Wade is a former LAPD detective who moved back to his hometown of Rancho Santa Elena in an attempt to save his failing marriage. It didn’t work. He & Rachel divorced but maintain an amicable relationship for the sake of daughter Emma.


Santa Elena is a carefully planned bedroom community designed for those seeking to escape the crime & bustle of Los Angeles. It’s a safe place to raise your family & Ben’s biggest challenges are handling drunks & shop lifters. That’s about to change.


There’s been a series of murders in Orange County with a specific MO & when a woman is found dead in her home in Mission Viejo, it appears the killer has moved into the area. Body #2 confirms their fears & for the first time, Santa Elena’s shocked residents begin to seriously consider locking their doors. Ben & his colleagues are stumped. Their workload gets heavier when the body of a teenager is found in a strawberry field. Despite being an illegal immigrant, the boy was a star swimmer on the local high school team & destined for an athletic scholarship to college.


A handful of short chapters interspersed throughout the book put us inside the mind of the killer. It’s a scary place to be & as he describes scenes from his childhood, we begin to understand how he became a twisted man.


But the vast majority of the book belongs to Ben. Initially, he comes across as a sympathetic character who spends a lot of time thinking about past mistakes & mourning what he’s lost. Instead of making things better, moving back to Santa Elena seems to have had the opposite effect. The added job stress is a catalyst for his increasingly erratic behaviour but it’s not until late in the book that we realize what was always simmering below the surface. As Ben reminisces, we learn of his childhood & how the early death of his father was a turning point. These passages are poignant & atmospheric & you feel for the little boy who remains even as Ben grow into a rebellious teenager who goes on to become a cop. As the story progresses, there are definite parallels between him & the killer. Both are held hostage by their pasts & it makes you ponder how they ended up on opposite sides.


This is not a thriller & that’s no bad thing. It’s a slow burn type of book with a strong sense of time & place, written in fluid & descriptive prose. Maybe the publishers found it difficult to assign a label. For me, it’s more a character driven police procedural. Yes, there are mysteries & it does contain a killer but everything revolves around & serves to develop the MC. So if you’re looking for an edge-of-you-seat kind of read, you may be disappointed. But if you’re in the mood for rich, literary drama you’ll find much to enjoy here.

4.5 Stars
The Marsh King's Daughter - Karen Dionne

4.5 stars


At first glance, Helena Pelletier seems like an average young woman juggling a busy life. Married to Stephen, mother of Iris & Mari & purveyor of homemade jellies & jams. But one look at the book blurb tells you she’s anything but.


Her mother was 13 years old when she was abducted by Jacob Holbrook & taken to a remote cabin in Michigan’s upper peninsula. At 16, she gave girth to Helena. Twelve years later, mother & daughter escaped & their story became an international sensation. In the years since, Helena worked hard to hide her identity & live a “normal” life. Well, it was nice while it lasted.


After 13 years in prison, Jacob escapes & disappears into the thick forests of a nearby national wildlife refuge. Helena’s carefully crafted world implodes & she realizes the only person capable of tracking him down is her. After all, she is the Marsh King’s daughter.


The book opens in the present as Helena prepares to hunt down her father. During her search, we get detailed flashbacks that give us the full story of life with Jacob from her first memories til the day she & her mother were found. In alternate passages throughout the book is a retelling of the classic fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that gives the book its title & serves as an allegory of Helena’s journey.


This is a book that reels you in from page 1. Tense, layered, affecting, disturbing, honest, poignant…these are just some of the descriptors bouncing around in my head jostling for position & they all apply. It succeeds on many levels but if I had to pick one thing that ensured I kept turning the pages, it would be the main character. Unlike many books currently on the market, the author chose to go with one narrator. It’s a risky move. Her first person narrative is the lone voice in your head & if the reader doesn’t connect with or like her, it’s game over. Not only did I like her, she’s one of my favourite characters so far this year.


There are so many ways she could have been portrayed. The story revolves around difficult subject matter & could easily have descended into a version full of sensational, lurid detail with an emotional wreck as the MC. Thankfully, Ms. Dionne chose another route.


As Helena began to tell her story, I was immediately struck by her pragmatic, no-nonsense style of speech. There’s not a drop of drama queen in her veins & ironically, it’s this lack of histrionics that makes her delivery all the more believable & chilling. As she describes events from her childhood, you’re reminded that every kid thinks their life is normal because it’s all they know. By the time Helena learns the truth about her family, she’s had 12 formative years of guidance & attention from a man she idolizes. So it’s no wonder she still struggles with conflicting emotions as she tries to reconcile her 2 fathers. One taught her how to hunt & survive in the wilderness she loves. The other is a murdering rapist.


So by now you’re probably wondering why I left off half a star after babbling away about why this is such a great read. If I had to explain it to the author, it could be boiled down to this: it’s not you, it’s me. Right after Helena made the decision to search for Jacob, I settled in with a white knuckled grip on my kindle & waited for the chase to unfold. It’s during this section of the book that we get the history of her childhood in passages that are richly atmospheric & detailed. These have a slower pace that gives you a chance to get to know the characters & fully grasp the significance of events from those years. My problem is I’m an impatient reader & desperately wanted to know how the game of cat & mouse would play out in the present. So it’s purely a reflection of personal preference & many will find themselves caught up in the developing father/daughter relationship.


The style of prose makes for effortless reading & I bet you’ll find yourself chanting “just one more page” into the wee hours. In case some prospective readers are wondering, there are scenes of violence but no graphic sexual content.


Go on then, toss this on the TBR pile. The author is a gifted story teller & if this book doesn’t make you feel a dozen different emotions, you should immediately be checked for a heartbeat.








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4 Stars
Dead Woman Walking - Sharon Bolton

Jessica Lane has always depended on her big sister Bella. A childhood riddled with tragedy made them even closer until they went their separate ways. Jess was sent to live with an aunt & uncle & Bella became a nun.


Now Bella is turning 40 & Jess has the perfect gift….a view of the world beyond the abbey’s walls from a hot air balloon. What could go wrong? Oh man, where to begin….


If you’re a fan of the author, you know she is famous for sneaky knock-out punches you never saw coming. Half the fun is trying to figure it out before she drops you to your knees so I don’t want to give too much away. Suffice to say while Jess, Bella & 11 others are soaring over the Northumberland countryside, they see a nasty crime in progress. Jess is shocked to realize the man looks familiar. And he’s staring right at her. The last thing he needs are witnesses & by the time the dust settles, the balloon has crashed killing everyone on board. But as he picks through the bodies he only counts 12. Wait…where’s the young woman he locked eyes with?


Well, turns out the lone survivor is up a tree. When she comes to, all she knows for sure is she has to run. It’s the beginning of a deadly game of cat & mouse along the Scottish border that grows increasingly complicated once the police are involved.


The overall plot is extremely complex & there are many side stories that flesh out a large cast of characters. Two time lines run simultaneously. In alternate chapters we go back & follow Jess & Bella as they grow up. We know something terrible happened when they were young & pivotal moments are gradually revealed & woven into present day events.


Yeesh…could I be any more vague? It’s one of those books where the less you know going in, the better & I’m getting dangerously close to spoiler territory.


The story moves along at a good pace thanks to short punchy chapters told from multiple POV’s. But to be honest, I had trouble connecting with the MC’s for the first half. It’s obvious that a lot of information is being withheld & only slowly doled out as the book progresses. Because of that, I had a hard time understanding some of the characters’ actions & motivations & it prevented me from being completely invested. At about 45% a couple of big pieces fell into place, the lights went on & from that point I was all in. All of a sudden I understood some of our heroine’s dodgy decisions & it became a true page turner.


At the very end there is a twist that seems a little too neat but it’s a minor quibble after a couple of classic Bolton bombshells that will have your jaw heading south. The characters are very diverse & I particularly enjoyed Sister Belinda, an elderly nun who has watched waaay too much CSI.


The end is satisfying & evokes a range of emotions as the characters (and readers) finally get their answers. It may not be my favourite book by Ms. Bolton but she sets the bar so high, I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a smart, intricate thriller that will mess with your head.




4.5 Stars
The Roanoke Girls: A Novel - Amy Engel

If I’d written a review immediately after finishing this book, it would have been very different. This is a story that puts you through an emotional wringer, making you feel everything from revulsion to hope. So I took a few days to let it all percolate & see what remained.


The story follows 2 threads with chapters that alternate between then & now. They unfold simultaneously & the past has increasing significance as the book progresses. The MC is Lane Roanoke & we first meet her as a 15 year old living in New York with her mother Camilla. They have a cold, distant relationship & Lane knows nothing about her mother’s past or family.


After Camilla kills herself, Lane winds up living in rural Kansas with Yates & Lillian Roanoke, her maternal grandparents. She also meets Allegra. She’s the same age as Lane & has lived on the farm since her mother abandoned her as a baby. For the first time Lane is part of a family & although Allegra is thrilled to have a partner in crime, not everyone is happy she’s come home. It’s the beginning of a long hot summer that will change Lane’s life. Allegra is a mercurial girl who gradually fills Lane in on the history & fate of all the Roanoke girls that came before. They’ve had their share of tragedy which Allegra sums up by saying “Roanoke girls don’t last long around here. In the end we either run or die”.


In the present, Lane is 25 & living a quiet life in LA. We know she fled Kansas at the end of that summer but we don’t know why. Any sense of peace she’s found is shattered when Yates calls to tell her Allegra has disappeared. Lane still feels guilty about the way she left & agrees to come back to help in the search.


Interspersed throughout the book are single chapters narrated by each of the Roanoke women from the preceding 2 generations. The author provides a family tree to help trace their lineage & as they tell their chilling stories, it becomes clear that Allegra was right.


What follows is an unsettling story that encompasses secrets, betrayals, abuse, coming of age & death. There’s a definite gothic undertone to the narrative that is enhanced by an atmospheric setting. Long hot summer days on a bucolic family farm topped off by small town Saturday nights…..sounds idyllic, right?


As usual it comes down to personal preference & like most books, it won’t be for everyone. Some readers have found the story line too disturbing & the MC unlikeable. The best I can offer is If you’re easily offended or prefer fairy tales, walk away. And I found Lane’s character more complex than that but then my pet peeves include distressed damsels in need of a spine donor so I doubt I could have finished it if she’d been a one dimensional doormat.


In fact, she’s one of the reasons I stayed glued to the pages. She’s 15 when we first meet but seems older as she describes her life in a voice that is flat & unaffected. Life with her distant mother has left her with few expectations. It’s only after she moves in with her grandparents that we catch a glimpse of all the insecurities that plague your typical teen. Her relationship with Allegra forces her to deal with emotions she’s never acknowledged & reveals her inner mean girl. But even at her bitchiest (and trust me, she gifted), you recognize her words & behaviour for what they are….a suit of armour protecting a fragile girl with no clue how to give or receive love.


There’s a bittersweet irony that Lane only really gets to know & understand her mother in the present, long after Camilla’s death. She’s old enough now to accept her own mistakes & realizes that escaping her childhood has been difficult partly because she was raised by a parent who never escaped theirs.


So yes, it’s an unsettling & disturbing read. But the fact it invokes such a range of emotions is a testament to this author’s ability to get under your skin. And as a reward for surviving the journey, there’s a tiny ray of light near the end. Don’t get too excited, it’s not like it suddenly veers down a path lined with puppies singing show tunes. There’s just the very real possibility that some of these characters may have finally earned a second shot at something better. I wish them all the best.




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