Escape from the ER
Review
4 Stars
Among the Shadows - Bruce Robert Coffin

Another mini-review as I attempt to help my kindle lose weight in time for bikini season....

 

Well, well, well....a hidden gem that was lurking in the depths. Being such a fan of police procedurals, I'm embarrassed to admit this is the first time I've read this author. Clearly need to crawl out from under my rock more often because this guy knows how to tell a story.

Set in Portland, Maine, we follow Detective John Byron as & his team as they face their worst nightmare...the murder of a cop. The investigation is soon compounded by further deaths that seem to link to an infamous bank robbery that took place 30 years ago. Oddly, no one involved seems particularly keen to talk. For John, the case becomes personal when he discovers ties to his long deceased father. 

In a nutshell it's a smart, pacy read with well placed twists that will have you questioning what you thought you knew. The cast is colourful & diverse with strong characterizations that ensure you become invested in their fates. 

My only complaint is that I had to have book #2 & picked it up right after I finished *sigh* My kindle may have to settle for wearing a one-piece.

 

                                        

                                     

 

 

Review
3 Stars
Dark Heart: 1 (A Cooper & Quinn Crime Thriller) - Catherine Lee

 

The assault on my overloaded kindle continues. This book has been on there for awhile & its time had come. It's a combination of police procedural & an interesting look at the concept of cellular memory in transplant patients.

 

Sooo...what if your new heart came from a serial killer? A recent murder victim is discovered to be the killer police have been hunting for 10 years. His donated organs will save a young woman's life but have enormous repercussions for her whole family.

 

I really liked the procedural aspect of the story. The 2 MC's (cops) were great characters & the plot suitably twisty. For 80% of the story I was all in. But I'm afraid I felt let down by the last bit for 2 reasons. One was the ethical dilemma faced by police at the end & how it played out. The other was the inclusion of a personal pet peeve.....instalove. You know, the old I've-known-you-for-5-minutes-and-can't-live-without-you scenario. Erk. The sad thing is the accelerated romance was unnecessary & not integral to the story line. Maybe it could have ended with the blissful couple just going on a first date?

 

Anyhoo, the rest of the book was a well written & pacy read. If you're a bigger fan of amour, ignore my rant & give this a go.

 

 

         

 

Review
3.5 Stars
Winterman - Alex Walters

This intriguing mystery offers up a new perspective on the genre for this author. I’m a big fan of his DI Alec McKay books which are contemporary police procedurals. But here, he switches things up & delivers a story reminiscent of classic golden age mysteries.

 

It’s 1947 & all across England, people are struggling to rebuild their lives. The war may be over but things like food, fuel & jobs are still scarce. DI Ivan Winterman was not a soldier. Instead he fought his battles on the home front. One of these left him persona non grata among colleagues in London & as the book opens, he’s been banished to a small police post in rural East Anglia.

 

It’s not exactly a promotion to the big time. As the 2 local cops who have been holding down the fort fill him in, he realizes the most dangerous criminal he’ll run into will probably be a shoplifter. Well…you just know that’s going to change or we wouldn’t have a story.

 

Body #1 is barely recognizable as a little girl. Years of being buried in peat on the fens has preserved the bones but not much else. Same with body #2. Then a local man is murdered in his back yard. And he won’t be the last. So much for a quiet life in the sticks.

 

The first thing you need to know is this is not a flashy thriller. It’s a quiet, atmospheric police procedural that is richly evocative of another time & place. You get drawn into the lives of people who are dealing with the fallout of WWll. Like most insular communities, everyone knows everyone & their business. Or thought they did. As Winterman’s investigation progresses, the area is cut off by snow storms & the resulting isolation lends a claustrophobic feel which is hugely effective. Because of this, the story begins to read like a classic closed room murder mystery.

 

The author does a great job of providing a slow drip of clues. It’s an intricate puzzle & as pieces from the past & present fall into place, a horrible truth emerges. It’s not just a case of finding a killer, it’s about unmasking those who have been hiding in plain sight. Tension rises as the coppers begin to realize what they’re dealing with & the pace picks up considerably as they battle weather conditions to solve the case. It will also prove cathartic for Winterman on a personal level as he begins to let go of the past & see the chance for a brighter future.

 

It’s a smart, historical read that will especially appeal to fans of Agatha Christie or Anthony Horowitz’ “Magpie Murders”.

 

 

         

 

Review
3.5 Stars
The Reckless - David  Putnam

This is the second prequel to the popular Bruno Johnson series that takes us back to his early years. Bruno is an LA County deputy sheriff who works in the violent crimes unit. He likes his boss, his colleagues & their current investigation. So he’s less than thrilled when he shows up to work one day & gets a double whammy. His old partner Ned Kiefer is back & they’re being seconded to the FBI as part of a joint task force tackling a surge in bank robberies. Oh, if only it was that simple.

 

Sure, being sworn in as a US Marshall is a kick. But it’s immediately clear their FBI counterparts view them as subordinates who must be tolerated. It’s a frosty welcome with one exception. Special Agent Chelsea Miller is part of the team and she & Bruno have a bit of history.

 

Bruno & Ned dig in & have some early success. But when they’re handed one particular case, they discover the task force’s true agenda. One of the gangs responsible for the robberies is made up of disadvantaged teens. There is little chance this will end well, making it a political hot potato the FBI would prefer to avoid. And for Bruno it will be a case that tests him personally & professionally.

 

What follows is an action packed wild ride with plenty of twists. The multiple story lines are populated by a colourful mix of cops, gang bangers, drug addicts & honest people just trying to survive in some of LA’s poorer neighbourhoods.

 

At the centre of it all is Bruno, a hard working cop who wants to make a difference. His world revolves around the little house he shares with 2 year old daughter Olivia & his father. He’s a decent guy whose good nature can sometimes be a liability. Bruno is besieged by people who want him to return a favour, keep a secret, save a friend, do a job, protect a loved one…..seriously, the guy needs to learn how to say no.

 

However, the result is a book that has to cover a lot of territory in 320 pages. There are so many story lines running concurrently, easily enough for 2 books. If a couple were dropped, perhaps those remaining (& the characters involved) could have been more developed as the author certainly has his work cut out to tie them all up by the end.

 

One thing is for sure…..there is zero chance of getting bored as the hits just keep on coming. And mixed in with the action are some great twists, lovely little shockers that will make you look at some of the cast with fresh eyes. Although this is book #6 the author provides plenty of back story so if you’re looking for a fast paced adrenaline rush don’t hesitate to jump in here.

 

 

     

 

The Labyrinth of the Spirits - Carlos Ruiz Zafón

     Hallelujah, February is almost gone.

 

                                         

 

Not only has it been a stupidly cold month where I live but I had to complete a series of recertification exams for work. I spent the entire month reading nothing but excessively boring textbooks while gazing longingly at my TBR pile. 

 

So to celebrate I picked up this 800+ page stonker, the final instalment in one of my all time favourite series. Ah, Fermín....I've missed you.

 

  

 

 

Review
4.5 Stars
Rubicon - Ian Patrick

Even before I finished, I knew I’d be recommending this book to all my lovely crime reading peeps. So to help you derive maximum enjoyment & avoid possible jail time (see #1) I’ve put together a list of items you may want to gather before cracking the cover. You’re welcome.

 

1. Go away I’m reading” sign: The book opens with a prologue that you may end up reading twice. It’s clear someone is going to die. The narrator even tells you so as they calmly identify their prey & the reason behind his impending demise. By the time you finish this part, there’s no way you’ll be putting it down. If someone were to interrupt you at this point, it’s only fair they be pre-warned you may become violent. Hence the sign.

 

2. a thinking cap: We go back in time before events in the prologue & meet DS Sam Batford. He has a military background that serves him well as an undercover agent with one of those murky agencies you hear rumours about. Now he’s been seconded to the National Crime Agency in a joint effort to bring down crime boss Vincent Guardino.

 

The NCA is led by DCI Klara Winter, an ambitious & by-the-book cop who’s not happy about being saddled with Sam. As far as she’s concerned he’s a cowboy with little regard for the rules. Or the fact she’s in charge. We get to know her mostly through daily log entries, transcribed in a blunt sardonic voice I really enjoyed.

 

I couldn’t reduce the plot of this book if I tried. Strap on that thinking cap & pay attention. What follows is a pacy, complex story with interesting characters. Hidden agendas, secrets & shifting alliances…at times even Sam isn’t sure who to trust. As things spiral out of control he begins to ponder his role. It’s not lost on the reader that at least he knows where he stands with the bad guys. As for the good guys….well, that’s a little more complicated.

 

3. neck brace: This will protect you through myriad plot twists, double crosses & jaw dropping reveals. I love reading a book that keeps me on shaky ground & this provides that feeling in spades. I genuinely had no idea how this would play out, only that not everyone was going to make it to the afterparty. 

 

4. seatbelt: Please remain seated with it fastened for the duration. After the initial set-up there’s a rising tension that becomes palpable as you reach for the finish. Clever twists & thrills are all well & good but for a reader to really feel the story they must become invested in the characters. Sam & Klara are both compelling. They want the same result (sort of) but have different ideas on how to get there. As the book progresses we get to know them better & understand how they’ve been shaped by their individual pasts.

 

This is a smart, fast paced crime thriller that will keep you on your toes. Cozy fans, beware. This is gritty noir with everything that entails. Can’t wait to read book #2.

 

 

         

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

         

Review
4 Stars
Back Door to Hell - Paul Gadsby

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

          

Review
4 Stars
Dead Is Better - Jo Perry

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

         

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

          

 

Review
4.5 Stars
Dracul - Clive Barker, Dacre Stoker

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

                

Review
4.5 Stars
Black Moss - David Nolan

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Review
4 Stars
Summoned To Thirteenth Grave - Darynda Jones

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


                                                Trust me. You can dance.

 

                                                                         — Vodka

 

 

 

Ciao, Charley. Thanks for the laughs.

 

 

         

Review
4 Stars
The Silent Patient - Alex Michaelides

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

           

Review
3 Stars
The Witch Elm - Tana French

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

    

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

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

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

 

                  

 

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