Escape from the ER
Review
4 Stars
She Lies in Wait - Gytha Lodge

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

            

Review
4 Stars
No Mercy - Joanna Schaffhausen

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

          

 

Review
4.5 Stars
Deck the Hounds - David Rosenfelt

Seeing the cover of David Rosenfelt’s Christmas book is my annual warning the big day is within squinting distance (yikes!). Okay, okay…I can hear your howls of “too soon!”. Simmer down, you’ve got lots of time. Unless your last name is Carpenter & you live in Patterson, NJ.

 

Lapsed attorney Andy has wisely given up asking his family why it’s necessary to celebrate from November to February. Besides, they wouldn’t hear him over the continuous loop of Xmas carols. The best he can hope for is to avoid the perilous trimming of the tree while watching a kajillion football games uninterrupted. But this year he will face an even greater threat……he might actually have to go to work.

 

You know what they say about good deeds. It all begins when Andy gives money to a homeless man & his dog. In short order, the man (Don Carrigan) & the dog (Zoey) are living above his garage. Until Don is arrested for the murder of a wealthy businessman 9 months ago.

 

No problem. Andy assures Laurie he’ll get Don the best public defender in the biz & Zoey can shack up at the dog shelter with Willie. But it seems Laurie has taken a shine to Don. In fact, if Andy doesn’t take the case she might be so upset that the ONLY activity in their bedroom for the foreseeable future will be sleeping. Game. Set. Match.

 

Andy signs on. And it turns out Don has led an interesting life. In alternate chapters we’re kept up on seemingly unconnected current events. A former mob enforcer has an unhealthy obsession with Don & for good reason. A popular local attorney is taken out by a sniper & he won’t be the last. And Zoey has some news of her own.

 

Roesenfelt excels at story telling & each of these plot lines keeps you turning the pages to find out how they will inevitably weave together. As Andy reassembles his legal team, we get to spend time with characters fans have grown to love. Some show up with bells on (Sam), some drag their high heels (Edna) and some are unintelligible (Marcus). It’s the smart & humorous interplay between them added to a twisty & complex mystery that sets this series apart. The result is a story that puts your brain through its paces between the laughs. It doesn’t seem possible this is book #18 but as long as Mr. Rosenfelt keeps writing, I’ll keep reading.

 

 

           

 

Review
4 Stars
Dark Sacred Night - Michael Connelly

Most of the books I pick up are fiction. I have one of those jobs that introduces me to life’s less glamorous realities on a daily basis so I read for escape. But as with non-fiction, I learn something from every story. Of all the lessons I will take away from this book, the most important may be this. Feed your cat. Faithfully, continuously & in large quantities. In fact, just cut a hole in the bottom of a 50 kg bag & leave it out on the kitchen floor, ok? You might thank me later.

 

Renée Ballard knows what I’m talking about. So after dealing with a particularly eewww-inducing crime scene one night, she looks forward to some solo down time back at the station. Except she’s not alone. There appears to be a strange man trying to break into the file cabinets.  Ballard, meet Bosch. Harry Bosch.

 

You could say it’s the start of a beautiful friendship but that would gloss over a few bumps in the road. Harry is working on his hobby case. In a previous instalment, he met a woman grieving the death of her teenage daughter. It’s been 9 yr. since Daisy Clayton was violently murdered & Harry has decided it’s gone unsolved long enough.

 

Ballard has her own issues. She used to be part of an elite crime squad. Her fall from grace began after a superior officer got a little handsy & she dared to report him. Of course the department stepped up & dealt with it. Sort of. He kept his job & she found herself back on the street working the late show. Renée now works alone & it’s not bad. Some nights are quiet & she begins to look into Harry’s pet project.

 

Before she knows it, they’ve formed a partnership of sorts. They’re an interesting pair & part of the fun is watching Renée try to rein Harry in as he sidesteps the rules in trademark fashion. It’s a slow, painstaking process, frequently interrupted by the demands of more pressing cases.

 

To be honest, it took me a bit to get into the story. But I found Renée much more fleshed out here than she was in the previous book. As she & Harry settled into their relationship, I found it easy to sit back & enjoy the ride. I really enjoyed the story lines that emerged from current investigations. It maintained the pace & provided plenty of tension that balanced out the slower grind of the cold case, making its progress more realistic.

 

By the end, it’s clear Harry’s days as a reserve officer with the San Fernando P.D. may be numbered. But it might be the start of a new chapter for the old cop which is great news for Bosch fans. So if he & Renée find another cold case to tackle, I’m in. As long as he doesn’t get a cat.

 

 

                

 

Review
3.5 Stars
Perfect Silence - Helen Sarah Fields

Well, that didn’t take long. You only have to read a few pages of book #4 to get a pretty good idea of what you’re in for. And it’s kinda scary.

 

When DCI Ava Turner & DI Luc Callanach respond to a call, they aren’t prepared for what they find. But how could they be? A young woman’s body is found on a road but there’s nothing accidental about how she died. And she won’t be the last.

 

Meanwhile, someone is attacking drug addicts on Edinburgh’s streets. Lost in their own worlds, most are unable to provide the cops with any helpful info but a single clue points Ava’s team in one particular direction & man, does that open a can of worms.

 

Speaking of the team, the gang’s all back.  DCI Av Turner, DS Lively, DC Salter, DC Max Tripp & of course, DI Luc Callanach. Ladies & gents, I give you your MIT. There’s a lot going on here. A twisted killer (and their eerie calling card), obnoxious rich kids, office politics & the MC’s personal lives (or lack thereof).

 

Ava has been boss for a while now & grown into the role so she & Luc are in a better place. Budgets, a demanding boss & office politics continue to drive her daft but she may be surprised to find out who has her back. Investigations aside, I really enjoyed the secondary characters in this one. DS Lively is at his cheekiest, we get more acquainted with (boss from Hell) Det. Superintendent Overbeck & newcomer DS Pax Graham is introduced. Now there’s a man who knows how to make an entrance.

 

Both cases have several twists & lead the team to some dark places. Most of the book has an even pace as we follow the investigations until ramping up for the big finale. My only quibble was Ava’s tendency to speechify. The plight of the homeless &/or drug addicted is centre stage & Ava frequently laments their treatment by society in general. She’s always worn her heart on her sleeve but comes across as a bit naive sometimes given her position & length of time on the job. On the other hand, when that passion is directed at her boss, it makes for an entertaining read.

 

It’s a solid instalment in this popular series & a couple of dangling threads at the end ensure fans will be waiting for #5.

Review
3.5 Stars
The Guilty Dead - P.J. Tracy

Book #9 in this series opens with a deadly prologue you just know is going to come back to haunt you. Fast forward 1 year & a wealthy local philanthropist dies in questionable circumstances. When Minneapolis cops Leo Magozzi & Gino Rolseth get involved, the past returns as they proceed to dig into the life of Gregory Norwood, his family & close friends.

 

Over at Monkeewrench HQ Harley is contacted by Dahl, a frustrated FBI agent. He’s heard mutterings of a possible terrorist attack & wants the crew to use their considerable tech skills to help narrow the search.

 

Their are several threads running in tandem, not the least of which is the impending birth of Leo & Grace’s baby. We spend a lot of time with them as they prepare….Grace calm, Leo on pins & needles.

 

The investigative side of the story is intricate & full of interesting characters. The villain is no surprise but the “why” will keep you guessing as the pace picks up for an action packed conclusion.

 

I’ve read all the books in this series & this is a solid entry. Leo & Gino’s case takes up the bulk of the story while the Monkeewrench crew take a back seat. I missed their presence here & the suspense that inevitably develops from their high tech antics. It’s a much more character driven book with less intrigue than previous outings. It’s purely a matter of taste & fans of the Leo/Grace story line will find much to enjoy here.

Review
4 Stars
Pulse - Michael T. Harvey

This is one of those books that must give publishers the vapours. Police procedural? Sci-fi? Mystery? Grit-lit? Well….yes, it is. All of the above. So instead of trying to label it, I’ll do my best to describe this heartfelt & thought provoking read.

 

The first book I read by this author was the fabulous “Brighton”, a book that remains on my Top 10 of the last few years. This one is very different but similar in all the ways that matter. It’s essentially the story of 2 pairs of brothers. One is related by blood while the other pair are bound by shared history.

 

Daniel & Harry Fitzsimmons have been looking after each other since their mother died 8 years ago (Dad took a hike much earlier).  They couldn’t be more different. Golden boy Harry is a football star at Harvard. He’s a straight arrow who’s determined to use his situation to provide a better life for both of them. Daniel is an insular 16 year old who will never be one of the cool kids. Instead, he hangs with fellow geeks Ben & Grace. Daniel knows he’s different. Sometimes he sees things when he touches other people, when he “entangles” his mind with theirs. It can be their darkest secret or an event that hasn’t happened yet. Either way, he always feels a pulse & knows a tiny piece of himself has been changed.

 

Daniel ends up renting a room from the mysterious Simon, a self professed ex-professor of quantum physics. He’s an odd duck who believes human beings transfer information across time through pulses of light & touch. And he seems to know waaaay too much about Daniel. Things are ticking along until 1 fateful night when Daniel gets a premonition & ends up stumbling across Harry’s body in one of Boston’s seedier back alleys.

 

Tommy Dillon & Barkley Jones are “blue” brothers, detectives & partners with the Boston PD. Barkley is a black man who’s all too aware of the racial tension simmering in Boston. It’s 1976 & only 3 years since schools became integrated. Bark is the voice of reason in the partnership, trying to keep a loose rein on the volatile Tommy. So it’s more than a little disconcerting when a woman touches him on the street one day & he feels an odd pulse. And the vision he has…well, that’s just plain weird.

 

They catch the call for a recent homicide & it’s the stuff of nightmares. They have a dead, white Harvard football star & a black suspect. Why was Harry Fitzsimmons in such a dangerous neighbourhood? And how did his kid brother end up at the scene? As the investigation progresses they unearth some disturbing facts about the Fitzsimmons’ past while the media has a field day with the racial implications. And Barkley will have to decide just how far he’s willing to go to protect Tommy from his personal demons.

 

This is a brain bender of a book. The supernatural elements & tidbits on quantum mechanics mean you have to keep an open mind & I’m not going to smugly pretend I understood all of it. But it raised fascinating questions & possibilities. If that’s not your thing, no worries. As with Brighton, Harvey gives us characters that will break your heart while stealing it. Daniel & Barkley in particular will put you through the wringer as they struggle to make the best choices. The setting is another character. From the rarified air of Harvard to the edgy neighbourhoods of Southie, Boston is portrayed in all it’s gritty, divided glory.

 

By the end, no one walks away unscathed & not all will survive. Daniel’s questions (and ours) are answered as the past & true identities are revealed. You’re left with a glimmer of hope that even great tragedy might eventually give way to something better. So if you’re looking for a well written & different slant on police procedurals, this should fit nicely. Besides, it’ll give you a chance to brush off all that quantum physics you’ve been dying to use. Just maybe don’t touch anyone while you’re reading

Review
4 Stars
Impressive debut
The Ruin - Dervla McTiernan

Another gem off the TBR pile. This author's debut is a compelling, character driven story that kind of sneaks up on you. If you're a fan of car chases & shootouts, look elsewhere. It's a slow burner with an edge that subtly builds tension as you become fully invested in the characters & their outcomes.

Multiple story lines keep things moving but most of the action is reserved for an explosive finish. Comparisons to Tana French are justified & I'll definitely be picking up her next book.

Review
4.5 Stars
The Craftsman - Sharon Bolton

4.5 stars

 

When I’m asked to recommend great crime/mystery books, this author is always on the list. If she wrote a book on installing linoleum, I’d read it.  In this outing she branches off in a new direction, adding magic & supernatural elements to the usual mix of crime, mystery & memorable characters.

 

Florence Lovelady is an Assistant Commisssioner at the Met. Thirty years ago she began as a lowly WPC in Sabden, a northern town in the shadow of Pendle Hill. And it was an infamous murder case there that made her career. Now she’s back. The killer she helped put away in 1969 has finally died in prison & Florence wants to see him go in the ground. Bit ironic as that’s what he did to his victims. The difference is they were alive when he buried them.

 

As Florence attends the funeral in present day, we get a bare bones history of just what took place all those years ago. We learn she actually boarded with the killer & his family & she can’t resist returning to the now derelict house one more time before she leaves for good. Unfortunately, what she finds there will cause her to question everything she thought she knew & this time it’s her son who will pay.

 

Not going to blab about the plot too much. As with all Ms. Bolton’s books, it’s best to go in blind for maximum effect. She’s the queen of jaw-droppers & you’ll enjoy it more if you discover things with Florence as she revisits a traumatic past.

 

The book started a bit slow for me but after the prologue, it shifts to 1969 & we get the full story of Florence’s time in Sabden. From there on it’s a compulsive read as we gradually shift back to events in the present. So many elements contribute to the story. We get a taste of what it was like to be a female cop at that time. The isolation, ridicule & sexism Florence faced on a daily basis will spike your blood pressure. There’s a line in there that goes something like “this is how men act when facing something they fear”. In this case, it’s a smart, resourceful woman who might be a better cop & refuses to just shut up & make tea.

 

The setting & its history provide the creepy atmosphere that helps propel the story. Witchcraft, brutal murders & a town full of clannish, suspicious people…I couldn’t help but think this place would fit snugly into something written by Stephen King. It’s obvious not all is as it seems in Sabden. There are hints of things commonly known but never spoken of & deeply guarded secrets. The effect is a constant, low level feeling of menace that keeps you slightly off balance & a tad nervy about turning the next page.

 

Then there are the characters. My favourites included Dwane (not your average sexton) & Avril & Daphne, 2 witches with attitude who I enjoyed much like the nuns in “Dead Woman Walking”. But the star of the show is Florence. What a pleasure to read a female MC who is strong, intelligent & quick on her feet. No histrionics & not given to the dumb decisions that usually have me rolling my eyes in frustration.

 

It’s so much more than just a whodunit. Personal asides & sub plots flesh out the story & bring the characters to life. From her letter to readers at the beginning, it’s clear this is a book the author has wanted to write for a long time & I hope she’s pleased with the end result. If her goal was to keep me up waaaay too late so I could race through the final pages, mission accomplished. Bring on book #2.

 

 

              

 

Review
4 Stars
“If this isn’t hell, the devil is surely taking notes."
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle - Stuart  Turton


Couldn’t have said it better myself. If, after reading the first few chapters, you find yourself feeling a bit discombobulated don’t worry. You’re in good company. Even the MC doesn’t know what the hell is going on.

 

Imagine you’re playing a real life game of Clue. You wake up one day as Col. Mustard & find yourself sequestered in a decaying old manor full of strangers. All you’ve been told is tonight someone will murder Miss Scarlet & your job is to identify the killer. Oh, and you have 24 hours. Because if you fail, tomorrow the whole day will play out again in exactly the same sequence. Except this time you’ll be Prof. Plum. Fail again & you’ll relive the same day as Mr. Green.

 

Now take this scenario & transfer it to Blackheath, home of the Hardcastles who’ve invited a throng of bickering, scheming guests for a special occasion. The plot & structure of the story is too complex to be reduced to a few sentences here. In this mash-up of Agatha Christie & Groundhog Day, the story centres around daughter Evelyn. And yes, she does die…a lot.

 

Our narrator & MC is Aiden Bishop although it takes a while before he (and we) know his true identity. There is a deliberate lack of the kind of information that gives a story context such as date & location that leaves you feeling uneasy & slightly uncomfortable. This bonds the reader with Aiden as we both struggle to make sense of his predicament. But eventually the reality of his situation is revealed & it’s a doozy. HIs first task each day is to figure out who he is & then continue his investigation. Luckily, he retains his memories as he jumps from one character to the next. This enables him to slowly put together the pieces as he sees the same events through different eyes. But it’s complicated by a wealth of suspects. With few exceptions, these are despicable people who have cornered the market on lying, cheating, stealing & blackmail. They don’t even seem to like each other & it’s not ’til the end that we understand why they ended up here.

 

This is not a lazy beach read. It’s a book that requires patience & attention to detail if you want to nail the killer. Hang in there, the payoff comes at the end when all is revealed & the true scope of the story takes shape.

 

It’s a clever, ambitious mind bender of a story that will test your memory skills. Hats off to the author, I truly don’t know how he managed to keep it all straight & avoid errors in continuity (I can’t help but picture him writing this in a room wallpapered with spreadsheets connected by strings). Ingenious, tense, mystical & haunting…this is a book you’ll think about long after you’ve finished.

 

 

           

Review
4 Stars
The Marylebone Drop - Mick Herron

This is a short story from the author of the fabulous “Slow Horses” series. It’s in a similar vein but a little darker in tone & the only character from that series who features here is Diana Taverner, MI5’s own “Iron Lady”.

 

Instead we get reacquainted with John Bachelor, an old spook mentioned in a previous story by Herron. John’s in the process of being not so much nudged as pushed out to pasture. After years with British Intelligence, he has little to show except a part time job babysitting some third string spies left over from the good old (and “cold”) days.

 

John is preoccupied with finding somewhere to sleep tonight when he’s contacted by Solomon Dortmund, one of his ancient charges. Sol may be long retired but he knows a drop when he sees one & once he describes the people involved he’s got John’s attention. The woman sounds a little too like Hannah Weiss. She’s a German asset John turned into a double agent. Just what he needs….his one shining success turning into a train wreck.

 

And they’re off. As John quietly investigates Sol’s story he’s pulled back into the world of lies, favours & double crosses. It’s spy vs. spy as John’s actions set in motion a chain of events that have ramifications for all involved. But he still has a few tricks up his sleeve & you’ll be cheering for him to pull it off under the nose of Lady Di. A few nice twists will keep you guessing as you’re trying to figure out who’s on the same side.

 

Herron is one of my favourite authors & I expect his stuff to be smart & intricately plotted. It’s amazing how much he weaves together in such a small space (the last 30% is actually a preview for “London Rules”). It’s always a loooong wait between books so it was a pleasure to have a little snack to help tide me over between meals.

 

In other news, it's been a crap week so here's a pic of my new nephew "Timbit" chugging down a bottle (my brother is caring for an orphaned racoon). Apparently he goes into a coma right after. Might have a drinking problem....(Timbit, not my brother)

 

   

Review
5 Stars
In the Galway Silence - Ken Bruen

After finishing “The Emerald Lie”, I wasn’t sure if Jack Taylor would be with us much longer. Yet here he is…bleary eyed & bushy tailed. But there’s something odd about him. It’s like he’s…*gasp*…happy. He’s cut down on drink & cigs, quit the PI biz & has a new woman in his life. Initially the only fly in the ointment is her pompous 9 year old son.

 

But who are we kidding? This is Ken Bruen & he seems to revel in putting Jack through the ringer. In the prologue, we watch as teenage twin brothers meet a horrible end. Their wealthy father approaches Jack with a job. Find the killer.

 

Jack has just about recovered from a recent brush with mortality & isn’t eager to descend back into the world of thugs & violence where his investigations inevitably lead. Still, it seems pretty straight forward. Oh Jack…that should have been your first clue. Turns out the twins were spoiled, psychopathic gits & the only real surprise is no one killed them sooner. Then he runs up against the man responsible & life as he knows it is over. A master manipulator, the killer proceeds to dismantle Jack’s new life from the inside. What else can he do but welcome back his dark side?

 

This is a quick read full of twists, violence & a kind of psychological warfare that leaves Jack reeling. He’s used to dealing with “disagreements” the Irish way. You either ignore it or get right up in its face. This time someone is getting to him by infiltrating the lives of those he loves. Jack’s not used to feeling helpless & has no choice but to return to his former life.

 

I suspect there’s not a lot of ambivalence when it comes to whether or not you’re a fan. You either like his stuff or you don’t. I love it. No one writes like Bruen. Bleak, gritty & darkly funny…all written with the soul of a poet who composes each book as a love letter to Galway. We see everything through Jack’s eyes & become well acquainted with the ghosts that haunt him still. The narrative is lean & light on dialogue. Instead, we listen in on Jack’s thoughts as he ponders everything from how to kill a guy to the simple pleasure of a perfectly poured pint. Galway’s streets come alive through the characters he meets & his wry observations. Liberally sprinkled around the prose are quotes & comments from politicians, authors & musicians that pertain to the central theme of silence. He’s also a prolific reader & I always enjoy his terse book reviews.

 

I’ve got a big soft spot for Jack & this is one of my favourites in the series. If you haven’t read Bruen before, I’d recommend starting at the beginning (‘The Guards”). That way, if you fall under his spell you’ve got a whack of books to look forward to.

 

 

          

 

Review
4 Stars
Leave No Trace - Mindy Mejia

 After reading “Everything You Want Me to Be” last year, I knew this was an author I would follow. In this outing she gives us a very different book but with equally compelling characters.

 

The blurb gives a great snapshot of the story so I won’t get into the plot too much. The MC’s are 2 damaged people who have more in common than you initially think. Maya Stark is a speech therapist at Congdon Psychiatric Facility. Her youth, innovative style & maroon hair set her apart. She lives with her dad Brian who really wishes she worked somewhere else. Especially after her…em…spot of trouble a few years back.

 

Lucas Blackthorne is Congdon’s infamous new resident. After vanishing with his father 10 years ago, his sudden reappearance has caused quite a stir. The media & groupies are camped out at the gates waiting to hear his story but Lucas isn’t talking. Then he meets Maya. And one struggling outsider recognizes another.

 

Don’t go into this expecting a thrill-a-minute ride. There are moments of action but that’s not what this is about. Like the previous book, it’s about the characters & the effect of the ripples they cause as they pass through each other’s lives. On one hand, it’s a compelling mystery as we slowly learn the MC’s histories. On the other, it touches on deeper themes such as family, loss, memories & the grey area around right vs. wrong.

 

Strong secondary characters flesh out the story as we follow Maya & Lucas on their deeply personal search to understand the past. The last quarter has some reveals that may make you rethink what you thought you knew. And while a couple of them may stretch disbelief a teensy bit, it’s all part of the journey in this strong, well written tale.

 

             

 

Review
3.5 Stars
Pieces of Her - Karin Slaughter

When we first meet Laura Oliver & her daughter Andrea, they seem to have a close, dependent relationship. But make no mistake. These are 2 very different women. Laura is an elegant, self assured speech therapist in a small community outside Savannah. Andy is mousy & introverted, working night shift as a police dispatcher. She comes across as paralyzed, incapable of making any decision that would help her climb out of her rut & get a life.

 

It’s Andy’s 31st birthday & they are celebrating in a diner when a traumatic event changes everything. I won’t go into details but suffice to say Andy see a side of her mother she never knew existed. So does the rest of the world as cell phone video of the incident quickly goes viral. In short order, Andy finds herself on the run, armed only with a list of cryptic instructions given to her by Laura.

 

In alternate chapters set in 1986, we meet a woman named Laura who lost everything that ever mattered to her. She knows who is responsible & travels to Oslo to make him pay in spectacular fashion. She does a bang-up job. Among the victims is a wealthy American businessman & over the course of chapters set in this time period, we spend time with his uber-dysfunctional family as they come to grips with the fallout.

 

In the present Andy is on a dangerous road trip that will lead to jaw dropping discoveries about her own identity as well as her mother’s past. It’s only as we gradually understand the historical story line that it’s implications in the present begin to sink in. And the hits keep coming right up to the final page.

 

This is very different from previous books I’ve read by this author. What hasn’t changed is her ability to deliver an intricate plot, stunning twists & events that push you to the edge of your comfort zone. But for me it was very much a book of 2 parts & to be honest, I found the first half a tough slog. After the initial excitement dies down, the reader spends a lot of time alone with Andy & I found her a tiresome travelling companion.

 

Her chapters consist of very little dialogue as she interacts with few people. Instead we ride shotgun & listen to her every thought  as she flees. She covers the same ground over & over again in an endless loop of despair. I had to keep reminding myself she was 31 as her behaviour & emotional maturity was more in keeping with those of a teenager. And at the risk of sounding like a heartless bitch, I just couldn't take the endless sobbing. I get that she went through a traumatic experience but I didn't need approx. 100 pages describing how she cried to get the drift. 

 

The chapters detailing events from 1986 are much more intriguing. We know it has to somehow link with Laura Oliver’s past & part of the challenge is trying to figure out her real identity. In these passages, we begin to see the similarities between Andy & her mother’s younger self. As the book hit the second half, tension ramps up in both time lines & the past crashes into the present. And at the risk of entering *spoiler* territory, I’m happy to report both women eventually grew a spine. The second half saved the book for me as the scope of the plot became apparent & more, interesting characters took up the story.

 

Just a heads up: there are scenes that will make some readers uncomfortable. Emotional & physical abuse are central to the story line & while you may not like some of the characters, it’s clear they are products of their experiences.

 

So how to rate this. I settled on 3.5 stars (3 for the first half, 4 for the second). While this may not be my favourite book by Ms. Slaughter, she sets the bar pretty high & I’ll definitely read whatever twisted tale she comes up with next.

 

 

          Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

 

Review
4.5 Stars
Bleeding Darkness - Brenda Chapman

Whoo-hoo…book #5 has cemented this series as one of my faves. There’s always a well plotted police investigation to puzzle out while you catch up with the MC’s personal lives & that combination continues here.

 

The book synopsis sums up the investigative angle. One cold case, one fresh body. Both are connected to one of the most dysfunctional families you’ll come across. It’s clear early on that the recently deceased patriarch kept a big secret from the rest of them & as they gather at his bedside, all the old jealousies (and claws) come out.

 

We spend most of our time with Lauren, who grew up with her father’s love & her mother’s disdain. She just wants the funeral to be over so she can get the hell out of Dodge & back to her life in Toronto. Dealing with Mother is bad enough but the recent murder is bringing up memories of another death years ago that haunts her to this day. She’s under pressure from the family to tow the party line but when she meets cop Kala Stonechild, she’s tempted to tell her story.

 

When Kala & Paul Gunderdund are called to the crime scene, a snow covered body leads them directly to the McKenna’s, a family with another murder in their past. While colleague Woodhouse is assigned the new case, Kala begins to dig into the death of Lauren’s childhood friend.

 

The timing’s not great. Kala is taking care of her best friend’s teenage daughter & gets word the girl’s estranged father is looking for her after his release from prison. He’s a real piece of work & the last thing they need as Kala helps Dawn settle into her life. She also has a budding friendship with colleague Bennett…much to Gundersund’s dismay. But he’s hardly in a position to step in. He’s still married to Fiona, the she-devil from hell * (* all crabby comments property of reviewer).

 

Meanwhile, boss Jacques Rouleau has been forced to take on a more managerial role. The endless cycle of meetings & office politics is driving him crazy & Woodhouse continues to be a thorn in his side. The only bright light is a possible romance with reporter Marci Stokes. Could she be the one? (NOOO! For Pete’s sake, look right in front of you, Jacques!)

 

What a great read. Getting to know the McKenna’s is like spending time in a pit of vipers. Lauren is the exception. She’s a sympathetic young woman just beginning to find her spine and might just be ready to give up a few bad habits. But hey….who hasn’t slurped down a few cocktails after too much “family time”? Her need to finally break free of the past leads to a tentative relationship with Kala through which we slowly learn what happened all those years ago. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the final reveals. I had an inkling about one of the who-dunnits but the other left me gaping.

 

Several story lines are ongoing through the books & they continued to evolve in this one. I like these characters & I’ll be waiting on book #6 to see where the author steers them next.

 

         

Review
5 Stars
Creep: A B.C. Blues Crime Novel - Kate Greenaway

This book picks up where Undertow left off & there have been a few changes for our 2 MC’s due to the fallout from their last case. Cal Dion is back in uniform, pounding the beat with a shiny new partner who might be a good cop if he ever stopped talking. But oddly enough, Cal is almost content with his lot.

 

When we first met him (Cold Girl), Cal was returning to work after suffering a head injury in a car crash that killed his best friend. Cognitive blips & difficulty reading/writing were his constant companions. And while he became adept at hiding his limitations from coworkers, Cal was only too aware he was no longer a hotshot detective. Frustration & depression ensued & in book #2 we watched as he went off the rails & risked everything. Now he’s in a better place. Cal’s accepted his faulty wiring & is lucky to still have a job.

 

Dave Leith was Cal’s partner in homicide. He’s still working elite crimes & trying to get used to big city life. Now their paths cross again as a series of bizarre crimes begin to pop up around the North Vancouver detachment. First a body is found on a derelict property & it’s been there a while. Then a hiker dies mysteriously on a densely forested trail & walkers are spooked on wooded paths. Excluding nosy neighbours, tips are hard to come by. Well…unless you count reports of a wolf-like creature spotted around the cycling trails. Wait…was that a howl?

 

In alternate chapters we meet Stefano Boone, a young guy who works at a diner. He lives in his parents’ basement, has no friends & he’s…em…kind of going through something. Best to leave that alone until you meet him yourself.

 

There are other characters that flesh out the story lines & several will trigger your spidey senses. As the investigations progress, Cal also has his suspicions. Thing is, it’s hard to know if he’s on the right path. Is the person of interest really a little hinky or has Cal’s memory just sprung another leak?

 

This is book #3 in the series & it’s my favourite (so far…). It’s not just the multi-story lines, great twists & characters I’ve come to know. It’s also the writing. I can’t help but feel the author has really hit her stride. The flow & pacing make for an effortless read with little nuggets of info dropped in all the right places that make it hard to put down. The prose is self assured & economical with enough description to create an atmosphere that is dark, foreboding & tense.

 

The pace picks up near the end as the puzzle pieces begin to click together. It’s like a fog lifts to reveal startling truths. There are some satisfying conclusions (for 1 character in particular…what a git!)  but not everything is neatly folded up & put away. An event from Cal’s past has lingered in the background like a spectre since the first book & it’s starting to take shape. If details surrounding the crash that re-wired his brain come out….well, Cal’s going to have a very bad day. Or decade. That alone guarantees I’ll be in line for book #4.

 

Recommend reading in order due to ongoing story lines that reference the characters’ personal histories & evolving relationship.

 

          

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