Category Archives: mystery

False Hearts, by Laura Lam

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Tila and Taema are born with one heart–conjoined twins living in a cult which bans technology after 1969. Tila, the bold one. Taema, the meek one. Both are very, very clever. When the twins discover the medical miracles of the outside world, they plot their escape. Once free, they are separated, able to live apart due to their new, mechanical hearts. Ten uneventful years pass as they enjoy life in a peaceful, technically advanced society. Then, Tila arrives at Taema’s apartment covered in blood. Accused of murder, Tila is arrested, and it is up to Taema to clear her name. Pulled into the investigation by the police, Taema poses as her sister to uncover the secrets of the city’s underground. And the secrets she finds lead back to her past, and to the cult she came from. Set in a futuristic city, this is a story of love, obsession, drugs, greed, and murder. Taema must find her courage so she can clear her sister’s name. Past and future converge as the clues Taema discovers lead her closer to the truth.

This is unusual book. Park sci-fi, part mystery, the author weaves a complex tale. Not only do you get to know Tila and Taema well, but you also see both of their worlds: the world of the cult from their past, and the modern world in their present. Laura Lam’s novel is gripping and fresh. I look forward to seeing what she writes next.

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IQ, by Joe Ide

iq

Isaiah Quintabe and older brother Marcus are African-American youths living in a rough neighborhood in LA. Marcus is the bread winner for the family, and things are going well for the brothers when Marcus is killed in a tragic hit-and-run. The accident happens in front of Isaiah, but in spite of his presence as a witness, he doesn’t see anything of value that helps police track down his brother’s killer. Now, without his brother’s income, Isaiah is desperate for a roommate to help pay his rent. Enter Dodson–an idea man who likes to spend money. Dodson is helpful with paying the bills, at first, and then cash becomes harder to find. While Isaiah and Dodson struggle with their cash flow problem, Isaiah struggles with his inability to find his brother’s killer. He devotes himself to learning to make meaningful observations with the thought that somehow, he still might find out who killed his brother. Isaiah’s observations help solve some of their financial woes, and new type of Sherlock Holmes is born.

When an attempt is made on the life of a big name rapper, Dodson has the right connection to put Isaiah on the case. If Isaiah can figure out who is behind the murder attempt, both Dodson and Isaiah stand to score some big bucks. The case is an odd one, though, and might be difficult to solve. Who attempts to murder someone by using an attack dog as a weapon?

IQ tells two stories at the same time as it alternates between events in Isaiah’s past and events in present day. Isaiah is a fresh, engaging character. He’s smart, and yet makes some interesting life choices due to his circumstances. I also liked Dodson, who always has thoughts on his next big cash score. The way the story unfolds, and way each character has his or her own quirks and character really reminded me of an Elmore Leonard. The dialogue in the book is superb, again reminding me of Mr. Leonard’s work. Joe Ide is of Japanese-American descent, and grew up in LA himself. His novel reflects his knowledge of the area, and adds some wonderful depth to the work.

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The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware

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Lo Blacklock is looking forward to her next writing assignment as a travel journalist: She is to be a guest aboard the Aurora, a luxury ship with only room for a few select passengers. But before she can leave on her trip, her life is threatened by a home invasion and she has a huge fight with her boyfriend. By the time she boards the ship, she’s off-kilter and trying to make the best of the situation. The guests all seem to have secret agendas or secrets of their own. Lo tries to get serious about her assignment, but one evening, she hears a splash and sees someone or something fall into the ocean from the cabin next door. Yet, no one seems to know anything about a woman in that cabin when Lo raises the alarm. Lo’s tension turns to fear as she tries to investigate the event on her own.

I enjoyed Ruth Ware’s previous title, “In a Dark, Dark Woods.” This book has a similar feel to it, trapping the reader in a closed door, character driven mystery. Fans of Agatha Christie will particularly enjoy this book as while the mystery is twisty, it is not graphic nor gory. The setting–the cruise ship–was fresh and fun, though I do admit I liked the creepy forest setting from the first book just a wee bit better.

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Orphan X, by Gregg Hurwitz

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Urban legends exist about a man, a Nowhere Man, who will help those who have no other help. He doesn’t ask for money, rather, he provides his help with only one condition: that you pass along his phone number to one other person in need. Except this Nowhere Man is no urban legend. Taken off the streets as a child, Evan Smoak has been trained in a government black ops program given the code name Orphan. Evan is Orphan X. He has mad skills, and uses them for good by killing bad people. But when he helps a young woman named Katrin, somehow he himself ends up in the cross-hairs. The attention means that his secure, hidden life as an unknown agent is threatened. His heart, also secure and hidden, is threatened by his neighbor Mia and her adorable son Peter. Can Evan save Katrin, save Mia and Peter, and save himself? Plot twists and turns keep the pages turning. The body count mounts and the action is fast and furious as Evan battles to outwit his clever adversaries. This is a book that might keep you up all night; you have been warned!

First book of what looks to be a promising series, “Orphan X” will appeal to those who like Jason Bourne, James Bond, and Jason Statham movies. Already this book looks to be heading to the big screen. An excellent read.

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Stillwater, by Melissa Lenhardt

Stillwater

Stillwater, by Melissa Lenhardt

Jack McBride, formerly an FBI agent, has taken the Chief of Police job in Stillwater, Texas. He arrives in town with his teenaged son, Ethan, buys the house of a local woman named Ellie Martin, and wonders about how his predecessor, Buck Pollard, left office in such a hurried fashion. Buck Pollard, he is told, ran a tight ship and crime was at an all time low in town while he was on the job. Jack is left little time to wonder about this curious matter, as his first day on the job he is called to investigate the violent death of a local couple. What looks to be a murder-suicide soon becomes a straight up murder, and Jack has few clues to follow to find the killer. Buck Pollard’s presence becomes a factor in the investigation, as Buck seems to have the continued loyalty of Jack’s officers. The plot thickens as Buck’s machinations start to affect Ethan at school. Jack begins to wonder if he made the right decision in coming to Stillwater after all.

This is an excellent mystery, full of small town gossip and small town situations. The crimes are serious ones, and it is clear that Jack will handle them as the professional he is, in spite of how things were handed by Buck Pollard before him. I loved the people living in the town of Stillwater, I loved the fact that Jack McBride’s family plays a role in the story, and I loved Ellie Martin, a love interest for Jack. This is not a romance book, and not a cozy mystery involving knitting, recipes, or tea drinking sleuths. This is a well-crafted mystery, full of vibrant characters, interesting storylines, and subtle subplots that will certainly play a part of future Jack McBride mysteries.

“Stillwater” is the first book in the Jack McBride series. Book 2, “The Fisher King,” comes out in November of 2016.

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The Searcher, by Simon Toyne

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The Searcher, by Simon Toyne

A plane crashes near the town of Redemption, in the Arizona desert, and out of the smoke walks a bare-footed albino without any memory of who he is. The only clue to his identity is a label in the back of his jacket giving the name of Solomon Creed. His only possession is a memoir of Redemption’s town founder, Jack Cassidy. Uninjured from the crash, Solomon is filled with a sense of urgency to save James Coronado; a man he finds out is already dead. Undeterred, Solomon turns his attention to Coronado’s widow Holly, whose home has been burglarized. The plane crash, it seems, has started a whirlwind of events that come together to form a firestorm, one that soon centers on Solomon and Holly. The past and present tie together as Solomon comes to understand how Jack Cassidy’s life from the past ties in with James Coronado’s in the present. The tensions mount as Solomon faces a final battle for Holly’s life, and for the life of the town.

“The Searcher” is the first book of a new series, and Solomon Creed is a fascinating character. He is an unknown, but clearly he has abilities beyond those of mortal men. He is smart, and filled with almost endless knowledge. He has heightened senses, and seems to know how future events may play out. The story is a straight-up mystery/thriller, but hint of the supernatural adds a nice bit of spice. Very enjoyable, and I will definitely read the second book in this series.

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The Nature of the Beast, by Louise Penny

The Nature of the Beast, by Louise Penny

The Nature of the Beast, by Louise Penny

I discovered Louise Penny about five years ago, and she has quickly become one of my favorite mystery authors. “The Nature of the Beast” is Ms. Penny’s eleventh title in her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, and this is the best book yet. In “The Nature of the Beast,” we find Armand Gamache living in the tiny town of Three Pines. He has retired from the his position as Chief Inspector of the Sûreté de Québec, but soon, he finds himself using his old detective skills. A young boy named Laurent has been found dead. An accident, the police say, but Armand is not so sure. Soon, his suspicions lead to a bigger, more ominous investigation as a terrible monster is found in the woods near the town. Ruth Zardo, the resident poet, seems to know more about this darkness that haunts the town than anyone else, yet she does not give Armand more than odd quotes and strange hints. Soon, another murder occurs, and it is clear that Armand and the rest of the Sûreté de Québec have their work cut out for them to find the killer.

I loved this book, and very much enjoyed visiting with the residents of Three Pines. Louise Penny writes novels unlike any other mystery series available today. Not only do you have a true-hearted, intelligent detective, but you have a marvelous cast of characters. Penny mixes her mystery with culture, art, music, and deep thoughts. Excellent, and not to be missed. “The Nature of the Beast” is a good starting point for this series.

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In a Dark, Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware

In a Dark, Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware

In a Dark, Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware

Nora is a reclusive writer, and she likes it that way. Unexpectedly, she receives an invitation to attend the “hen,” or bachelorette party, for Clare, a friend she hasn’t seen in ten years. The invitation is puzzling and curiosity getting the better of her, Nora accepts. Soon, she finds herself in a glass house in the woods, cut off from civilization, with a small group of Clare’s supposedly closest friends. As they start the partying in earnest, Nora tries to figure out her purpose with the group. When they use the Ouija board for their evening party game, things start to slip into weirdness. Murder is the Ouija word of the day, a threat backed up by mysterious footprints in the freshly fallen snow. Is this a party game gone wrong, or is the group truly in danger?

This debut novel’s storyline reminds me of one of those scary movies that kids like to watch at sleepovers. Hints are dropped here and there about friends with hidden grudges and people with mysterious pasts. Shadows lurk in the corners, and monsters hide in the closets. While that may make this story seem trite, it is not. You immediately connect with Nora, and alternating chapters tell details during and after the story’s main event, keep the pacing strong and the tension high. A fast read, with the creepy atmosphere of the glass house in the woods providing an eerie setting. Without any graphic or explicit details, this psychological thriller is a fun read.

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Pretty Girls, by Karin Slaughter

Pretty Girls, by Karin Slaughter

Pretty Girls, by Karin Slaughter

More than twenty years ago, beautiful nineteen year-old Julia Scott disappears into the night, never to be seen again. With no clues and no body, the mystery of what happened to her haunts her family still. Her two remaining sisters, Clare and Lydia, are estranged; Clare is married and rich, and Lydia is poor with a teenage daughter. When Clare’s husband, Paul, is murdered in a robbery, it is as if she has stepped into an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” The authorities and their questions are more than creepy, and with a sense of foreboding, Clare starts to look harder at the details of her husband’s life. What she finds begins to terrify her, and without knowing who to turn to, she turns to her sister, Lydia, for help. The two of them must put aside their differences in order to figure out why Clare is becoming the target for some truly frightening attention.

The last Karin Slaughter book I read was the brilliant “Cop Town,” which is a character driven police procedural set in the 1970s. I loved the fast pacing of that particular book. “Pretty Girls” has an entirely different pace and structure. “Pretty Girls” gives you the point of view of the family surrounding Julia Scott as they ponder the mystery of her disappearance, and then, you see the rest of the story unfold through the eyes of Clare and Lydia as they work together to figure out the strangeness of Paul’s life. The tension ratchets up a little more with each chapter, and soon, you literally can’t stop turning pages.

For me, I still prefer a book like “Cop Town,” for its fast moving story. “Pretty Girls” started a little slow for me, but it will likely appeal to fans of “Gone Girl” and “Girl on the Train.” I enjoyed the dynamics between the two sisters; Ms. Slaughter always writes the most compelling female characters.

Review copy received through Edelweiss. This title is released on 9/25/2015.

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Awakening, by S. J. Bolton

Awakening, S.J. Bolton

Awakening, S.J. Bolton

Clara Benning, a veternarian who specializes in wildlife rescues in a small villiage in England, is reclusive by nature. Supremely self-concious of her appearance due to scarring left after a childhood accident, Clara avoids human contact whenever possible. Yet, when a neighbor is killed by a bite from a poisonous snake, Clara turns out to be the only local expert authorities can turn to for help. Soon, snakes are turning up all over the village, and three more people are found dead. When one of the snakes turns out to be a taipan, a snake that is not found naturally in England, it becomes obvious that the deaths are not accidental, but murder. Clara is pulled deeper into the investigation, aided by a soft-spoken neighbor and a eccentric reptile expert. The investigation prompts them to delve into tragic fire of a village church that happened decades ago, uncovering secrets that clearly someone wants to keep safely hidden.

This standalone title from Sharon Bolton is decidedly creepy with wonderful Gothic overtones. Clara Benning is a compelling character, a strong woman in spite of her disfigurement. As I read, I kept thinking this would turn into something familiar and trite, as if a Gothic tale set in the American South had been overlaid on a British mystery. To my great pleasure, this never happened, and I enjoyed the thrills and chills all the way to the end of the book. Very enjoyable, and I will likely read more of Sharon Bolton’s work.

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