Escape from the ER
4 Stars
Nothing Stays Buried - P.J. Tracy

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




3.5 Stars
Final Girls - Riley Sager

3.5 stars


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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






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

4 Stars
The Right Side: A Novel - Spencer Quinn

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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





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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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.




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