If I'd stopped after three chapters Killing Ruby Rose might have been one of the better guilty pleasure books I'd read in a long time. For those firstIf I'd stopped after three chapters Killing Ruby Rose might have been one of the better guilty pleasure books I'd read in a long time. For those first few chapters Jessie Humphries channels Veronica Mars at its best -- with a smart, drive heroine who isn't intimidated and refuses to back down from a challenge.
In this case, the challenge is solving the murder of her father by investigating five potential subjects, all of whom could have a connection to the case. But it's here that the issues that ultimately dropped this novel down a lot in my estimation began to rear their ugly head.
I'm all about willing suspension of disbelief (my favorite TV show of all time features a character who can change bodies and travels through space and time in a blue box that is bigger on the inside) but sometimes it has to be earned. And it's unfortunately not earned in Killing Ruby Rose. Even though her father was a police officer and her mother is DA, I find it hard to believe that Ruby would be able to have the amount of access to the files she does or that she could cover her tracks on having them as effectively as she does. And while I'm not female and have never worn high heels, a bit of Googling makes it hard to believe that any sane person would chose to do a bit of undercover investigation in the shoes that Ruby describes in the book. (Honestly, I can't see Veronica Mars in high heels like this).
All of those could be niggling things if the characters were consistent. We've got Ruby's mom, the driven DA who had an affair with her father's partner and nemesis. Ruby's mom is all over the map in terms of characterization, morphing from one cliche to the next as the plot or scene requires. That's to say nothing of her best friend and potential love interest who may or may not be connected to the whole conspiracy to set Ruby up as the fall girl when the culprits from her list of five all begin dying (several of them at Ruby's hand, but more on that in a minute).
And then there's Ruby herself, who has the bad habit of naming everything (her car, her shoe closet, her gun) and describes herself as tough as nails. And if it was only Ruby seeing herself this way and contradicting herself, I could go along with that. But just about everyone in the novels sees her as one tough cookie -- except there is no evidence of that. This tough as nails teenager who has a gun permit and carries her (again, named) gun around with her, is quick to make life and death decisions one moment and then be fainting because of a secret message for her hidden in a school art project.
It's enough that I found myself wanting to toss the book aside in frustration until I remembered I was reading it on my Kindle and I didn't want to break it.
The novel pulls out a couple of twists and turns (OK, a lot of them) in an attempt to keep the reader guessing. But instead of keeping this reader guessing, it made my growing frustration with the novel increase.
And it's a shame because, again, those first three chapters had a ton of promise to them. The ending was just interesting enough that I may jump into the sequel and see if things improve. But I may not be in a huge hurry to pick it up. ...more
I love a good short story and Laura Lippman's Five Fires is not only a good short story, it's a great one.
It's summer time in the small town of BellviI love a good short story and Laura Lippman's Five Fires is not only a good short story, it's a great one.
It's summer time in the small town of Bellville and Beth is holding down a job at the local sandwich shop while dreaming of escaping to college and a major in Criminal Justice. But when a series of fires breaks out across town, Beth puts her deductive skills to the test and thinks she's got the tip that will break the case wide open for the police.
As with her other works, Lippman is more than just about the mystery, she's about the impact of the mystery on her characters and the community as a whole. In her typical fashion, there's more going on here than meets the eye and having Beth as a first-person narrator helps set things up for the final few reveals and some well-earned surprises.
Lippman's storytelling is sound. As I generally say with all Lippman works, if you haven't read her yet, you should be. And if you're looking for just a taste to find out what those of us who love her have been raving about, then this short story is a quick way to get hooked.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this story from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review....more
After ten years in prison, former party girl Janie Jenkins has been released from prison on a technicality. But rather than use this opportunity to puAfter ten years in prison, former party girl Janie Jenkins has been released from prison on a technicality. But rather than use this opportunity to put her life back together, Janie has decided it's time to uncover the truth of who really killed her mother (Janie was doing the time for the crime) and the motive for her mother's killing.
Janie hasn't been wasting any of her time in prison -- she's taken advantage of the prison library to study details on the small town her mother escaped as a young girl. Free again, Janie launches a plan to change her identity and head back to the small town -- all while eluding various members of the media who want a photo of the former party girl turned convict and one particular blogger who has an ax to grind with Janie.
If you're worried I'm giving away too much of Elizabeth Little's engrossing mystery-thriller Dear Daughter, don't be. All of what I've described above is laid out within the novel's first fifty or so pages (or if you want to be even more nitpicky, on the cover blurb) and most of it's set-up for what's to come as Janie peels back the layers of her past to find out who her mother really was and who might have killed her.
Janie is completely unapologetic for her attitude and world-view, both of which are dour, pessimistic and sarcastic. Janie fills us in on details of her present and past on a need to know basis with hints coming first and then later filling in the necessary details. And while you may think you've guessed the ultimate ending to the novel by the mid-way point (as I did), Little is able to still pack in a few twists and pull the rug out from under you moments in the finale that are earned and appropriately foreshadowed.
It all adds up to one of the more impressive mystery debuts I've had the pleasure to read of late. It also puts Elizabeth Little firmly on my radar as someone to watch for future installments and see where she goes from here.
Given a year membership to a popular singles dating site, New York detective Kat Donovan reluctantly logs-on, hoping to give her love life a jump starGiven a year membership to a popular singles dating site, New York detective Kat Donovan reluctantly logs-on, hoping to give her love life a jump start. What she finds instead is a profile from the man who broke off their engagement eighteen years before and has mysteriously disappeared (she's drunk Googled him a couple of times and comes up short).
Kat reaches out to him, using the lyrics of one of their favorite songs to catch his attention. But when he abruptly shuts down their communication and warns her not to contact him or seek him out again, Kat's suspicions are raised. Could the disappearance of this guy be somehow linked to the death of her father all those years ago and the man who is about to die in prison for confessing to her father's murder (as well as several others)?
And is her former fiancee connected to a string of rich widows who are disappearing under mysterious circumstances?
Harlan Coben weaves these threads together in Missing You, a story this one part mystery and one part suspense-thriller. The novel is bit more engaging than the last Coben I read, but it still feels like it overstays its welcome by about a hundred pages. Once the groundwork is put in place, it feels like the middle third of the novel treads a lot of water with Kat going in circles and following various paths toward the inevitable truth. The final third of the novel works well enough in the popcorn thriller mode of if you don't sit back and think too much, you'll probably enjoy what's happening and the twists and turns of the final pages....more
When it comes to mysteries, I'll admit I'm usually drawn more to those with a harder edge. But the combination of a murder in a book store along withWhen it comes to mysteries, I'll admit I'm usually drawn more to those with a harder edge. But the combination of a murder in a book store along with a mystery solving cat caught my interest with Ali Brandon's Double Booked For Death.
Darla Pettistone inherited her aunt's bookstore in New York City, along with a car, an apartment and a cat named Hamlet. Darla's working to keep the store afloat and a signing by the biggest name in teenage supernatural literature certain can't hurt. But Darla wasn't counting on protesters, long lines of teenage fans in goth outfits and capes and the death of the best-selling author near the premises.
It all seems like an accidental death until Hamlet uncovers a clue that sheds new light on things.
While the death of the best-selling novelist is what drives the plot forward, Double Booked For Death spends equal time on developing the characters and universe of the novel and series. It seems like every person we meet is eccentric in his or her own way -- from the long-time clerk who knows how to position the autographed copies of the new book on E-bay for maximum profit to the woman who owns the shop next door. At times, it feels like the central mystery is taking a backseat to meeting and developing these new characters.
And yet, Brandon is ably to neatly tie up all the mystery's loose ends in the final pages and have it come across as satisfying and earned. As I said before, I'm not generally a fan of cozy mysteries, but this series has intrigued me enough that I'm willing to try a few more entries and see what happens next to Darla and Hamlet.
Last year, J.K. Rowling created a bit of buzz in the publishing world when she published a mystery novel under the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. But onLast year, J.K. Rowling created a bit of buzz in the publishing world when she published a mystery novel under the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. But once the initial buzz was over, fans discovered that Rowling had crafted an enjoyable mystery novel with The Cuckoo's Curse and that she'd already penned and the sequel The Silkworm.
As a fan of the first novel, I was curious to see what Galbraith had in store for us with the second Cormoran Strike novel.
Basking in his new-found fame and finally getting back on his financial feet, Strike has more work than he can handle. But that doesn't stop him from taking a case that may not necessarily mean a huge financial windfall for him (in fact, the client may not be able to pay at all) but has instead piqued his detective's curiosity. Novelist Owen Quine has gone missing and his wife asks Strike to help track him down. Quine has just written what he believes is his masterpiece, a thinly veiled portrait of various people he knows within the publishing industry. This means there is no shortage of subjects who would love to see the novel never see the light of day and to finally silence Quine's poison-pen.
Many might say that Rowling is biting the hand that feeds her with a mystery set within the literary community. But that would sell short the intriguing mystery and, once again, the compelling character of Cormoran Strike.
There's an interesting sub-plot of Strike's assistant, Robin, wanting to be more to the growing detective agency than just an assistant and the impact that is having on her impending nuptials. The story unfolds during the winter and there are times when the weather seems to become a major character in and of itself.
Rowling in the guise of Galbraith has done it again -- created one of the more compelling, page-turning mysteries I've read this year. And while the end of this novel could be the end for Strike and his adventures, I'm hopeful that it isn't. ...more
Alafair Burke's latest novel All Day and a Night takes us back to the world of Ellie Hatcher.
Hatcher is assigned the task of re-opening the file conviAlafair Burke's latest novel All Day and a Night takes us back to the world of Ellie Hatcher.
Hatcher is assigned the task of re-opening the file convicted serial killer, Anthony Amoro when a new killing using what appears to be Amoro's method is committed. Did the justice system send the wrong man to prison for life (and give the novel it's title -- a life sentence is referred to as "all day and a night.)?
Hatcher isn't the only one looking into the new case and the old evidence. A crusading law firm has taken on a new lawyer to appeal Amoro's case in the light of this new evidence. And if the killer is still out there and operating again, both sides face a ticking clock until he or she strikes again.
Burke's novels always start out with an intriguing hook and have some compelling characters, but often are weighted under by predictable plot twists and resolutions. That is, unfortunately, the case with her latest entry in the Ellie Hatcher series. As the story continued to unfold, I found myself reading less due to interest in the central mystery and more due to my interest in her characters. I suppose that's damning with faint praise.
And yet I keep coming back to Burke time and again. I keep hoping that she'll find that right middle ground with great characters and a central mystery doesn't feel overly familiar. I'm not ready to give up on her just yet, but my patience is starting to wear a bit thin. ...more
Now that I've been out of school for more years than I care to count, I'm always intrigued to see what my local school system has put in the recommendNow that I've been out of school for more years than I care to count, I'm always intrigued to see what my local school system has put in the recommended summer reading list. Seeing that a couple of Agatha Christie novels have made their way into the ranks of recommended literature felt like as good an excuse as any to revisit what many consider to be the "queen of mysteries."
Which leads me to And Then There Were None, one of the iconic locked-room murder mysteries ever published. And while there may be some dated technological elements to the novel, the central mystery itself still holds up.
I'd read the novel before but had honestly forgotten who-done-it. And so it was that I listened to the novel while working out, finding myself completely captured by the characters and situation, wondering who would meet their fate next and all the while curious as to who was behind it. I've read that Christie said this was one of the most difficult mysteries she penned. I'm glad she was able to make it through and create one of the most compelling and famous mystery novels ever published.
If you want to see the roots of the mystery genre and understand why Christie is still read and highly regarded today, this one is well worth your time. Or if you're like me and haven't read it in a few years, pick it up and enjoy it all over again.
At multiple points in the first half of Chevy Stevens' That Night, I found myself wishing the story would get to the night in question already and mayAt multiple points in the first half of Chevy Stevens' That Night, I found myself wishing the story would get to the night in question already and maybe get this novel moving forward.
Instead, the story of the falsely accused and convicted Toni Murphy and her boyfriend kept churning on and on, giving the reader details that didn't matter much in the question of who killed her sister and why or much in the way of character development for Toni. Early on, I got that Toni was a rebel, misunderstood by her parents and the system. I got that Toni faced bullies all her life and I suppose much of the character arc that Stevens is trying to lay out for Toni and the reader is her slowly realizing that she's going to have to stand up for herself or else be downtrodden her entire life. Of course, it takes being falsely accused and convicted of her sister's murder and going to prison for Toni to become self-reliant and a "bad ass."
It's a shame really because the hook of this novel and the first few chapters are interesting enough. Early on, Toni is an intriguing narrator for the events unfolding (chapters alternate between the events leading up to Toni's conviction and events is sent to prison). But my patience for her quickly began to wear thin by the time we get to her third or fourth conflict with her parents who "just don't understand her" and how she can't wait to get out from under their roof so she can move in her boyfriend.
Along the way, she alienates her family, including her younger sister who is harboring some secrets as well. These secrets prove instrumental in solving the case once and for all and really determining what happened that night her sister was killed. The sister in question wanted to tag along with Toni and her boyfriend on a date up to the lake. Toni reluctantly agrees, but once there Toni and her boyfriend go off to smoke weed and make out under the stars, leaving the sister alone. When they come back a few hours later, the sister is dead and the prime suspects are Toni and the boyfriend.
And yet for all the hope I had that getting to the night in question would finally kick-start this novel, I found myself getting increasingly frustrated with the story and Stevens' storytelling decisions. While I can see that the high school group of mean girls would be able to pull of bullying Toni and her sister in school, the steps they take to ensure Toni and her boyfriend are sent up the river become increasingly over the top and absurd. It's hard to believe that everyone buys them -- though to be honest it's not like Toni has worked hard to earn anyone's faith at this point.
Just when I was at my breaking point with this one, I realized that I was two-thirds of the way through so I might as well stick around and see how it all comes out. And I did and, while I won't give it away here, I can say that the solution isn't necessarily worth the 300 or so pages I spent with this book. A mystery can have a slow burn, building up the characters and background until the deciding action is given to us on the printed page (it may not help this book that I went from reading it to the latest novel by Elizabeth George. George, quite frankly, runs rings around Stevens in terms of character, atmosphere, world building and a compelling mystery. But again, that could be because I've had a dozen or more books to get to know everyone in George's universe and find it easier to maintain my relationship with them if they act like the north end of a south bound horse).
It's too bad That Night failed to live up the promise of its first few pages and its premise. This one had a chance to be something interesting but instead turned out to be one of the more frustrating books I've read in quite some time.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review. ...more
With those words, fourteen year-old Marley sets off every parents' worst nightmare -- your child running away from home, vanish"Don't try to find me."
With those words, fourteen year-old Marley sets off every parents' worst nightmare -- your child running away from home, vanishing without a trace. The only clues are how thoroughly Marley went to cover her tracks, including erasing her tablet and clearing out messages from her e-mail in-box, cell phone and her social media accounts.
Marley's parents, Rachel and Paul throw themselves into trying to figure out why their daughter would board a Greyhound bus and attempt to vanish. Paul throws himself into the crisis, embracing the role of the father trying to hold his family together while Rachel realizes that the intense scrutiny may bring up some secrets she doesn't necessarily want shared with her husband, much less the rest of the world.
And while these secrets are devastating to Rachel, Paul and Marley, author Holly Brown wisely keeps the secrets fairly restrained and doesn't indulge the temptation to make them overly melodramatic or predictable. The reader is clued in early that things aren't necessarily what they seem and that both narrators (Rachel and Marley take turns narrating chapters) aren't necessarily reliable or telling us the whole story. The back and forth of the chapters as each secret and the consequences of certain decisions are played out for each of the characters helps keep the story moving forward and keeps raising questions that are (thankfully) all answered by time we get to the final pages of the novel.
It's interesting to see that the marketing blurbs compare this book to Gone Girl and Reconstructing Amelia. While I understand the temptation to hype every book coming on the market told from the point of view from two (or more) unreliable narrators, I think that marketing Don't Try to Find Me along those lines is a disservice to this book. The book is more along the lines of Reconstructing Amelia with much of the mystery and suspense coming from how little the parents in question know about their teenage children. Luckily Don't Try to Find Me can have a happier ending since Marley has only vanished and is trying to disappear from the grid and start a new life, but the questions of just how well you can and should know your children and what you can and should know about their friends (both in real life and on-line) will linger with you long after the final page is turned.
With the success of Gone Girl, it seems like a lot of "he said, she said" suspense thrillers are jumping on the bandwagon, hoping to be the next big sWith the success of Gone Girl, it seems like a lot of "he said, she said" suspense thrillers are jumping on the bandwagon, hoping to be the next big seller. A recent book review column in Entertainment Weekly offered up a couple of novels that are attempting to follow in Gillian Flynn's footsteps with novels featuring unreliable narrators and potential twists and turns as the story unfolds.
Intrigued by the list, I picked up a few of the novels and came away with some interesting thoughts on each one. Of the five novels reviewed, I was only able to get my hands on three of them easily via the library and the good folks at the Amazon Vine program. And while each of these novels contains a cover blurb comparing it to Gone Girl, I think that it's unfair to all three of these books and to Flynn's novel to compare them all. These books can and should rise and fall on their own merits -- and one of them doesn't even follow the same story telling structure of alternating first-person points of view that Gone Girl does.
First up was A.S.A. Harrison's The Silent Wife. With a cover blurb from Elizabeth George (one of my favorite authors) I was probably a bit biased toward the book even before I turned the first page or read the first chapter. The good news is the novel lives up to the praise given to it by George (and a host of other literary thriller writers who also tout its virtues on the back cover). And yet, this novel isn't necessarily what I'd consider a standard mystery. It's more a psychological examination of the relationship of Jodi and Todd.
Jodi and Todd's once perfect relationship is crumbling around them. Todd is having an affair with one of his closest friend's daughters and Jodi is entirely aware of it. The novel alternates point of view between the two and allows us to glimpse inside their relationship. While the two have been together for close to twenty years, Jodi long ago decided she need to marry Todd to legitimize the relationship, if you will. This leaves her in awkward position when Todd reveals he's having the affair and leaving her for the new, younger model who is expecting his child. Under the eyes of the law, Todd will not have to give Jodi any kind of financial support when their relationship dissolves.
Pressured by his soon-to-be-bride and his lawyer, Todd begins to place pressure on Jodi to move out of their apartment and to get back on her own two feet. A trained psychologist, Jodi has a limited practice, but not one robust enough to support herself.
A compelling character study of multiple flawed people and several relationships gone horribly wrong, The Silent Wife is a sneaky, compelling and absorbing story. Harrison creates sympathy, empathy, disdain and disbelief in each of the characters and while there's a bit of a twist at the end, it feels completely earned and not so huge that it overwhelms or overshadows everything that's come before.
That's not necessarily the case with Karen Perry's The Innocent Sleep. Opening up in Tangiers, we meet Harry, Robin and their three-year-old son, Dillon. While preparing an anniversary dinner for Robin, Harry realizes that he's left the gift for his wife at a friend's house. He slips out, leaving their son sleeping because he'll only be gone for a few moments.
Things turn tragic with an earthquake rattles the city and Dillon is killed. The couple move home to Dublin and a few years later, Harry is convinced he's seen his son alive and well at a local parade. Harry becomes obsessed with finding his son and slowly begins to alienate Robin. The two are on a bit of shaky ground anyway with Harry having an affair and his resenting Robin for giving up her dream of being an artist and taking another job.
Interestingly, both parties are hiding things from each other in the novel. The point of view alternates between the two and while the novel attempts to sow the seeds as to why Harry believes he saw his son at the parade, I'm afraid the twist (once revealed) undermines a lot of what comes before in the novel's first three-quarters. The ending makes sense, but it's not necessarily quite as satisfying as I'd hoped it would be or as it could have been. I won't say more about it than that so I don't ruin the enjoyment for those of you haven't read it yet and want to do so. But I will say that this one should be approached with moderated expectations.
Finally, there's the novel Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty. The novel sets up that the first-person narrator is guilty of the crime from the opening pages and then slowly begins to fill in the details and justifications for the crime over the course of the novel. For the most part, it works well -- and that all lies in the fact that narrator, Yvonne Carmichael, is interesting and complicated enough to keep me turning the pages. I'm not a huge fan of the story that tells us the shocking ending and then goes back to fill in the details so we understand why something is happening. But I will give this one credit that it does a solid job and uses this technique well enough to hold the interest.
Of the three, I was most compelled by The Silent Wife and would wholeheartedly recommend it. The other two are good and I would recommend them with a few reservations to temper your expectations.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of The Innocent Sleep from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review. The other two novels were checked out of my local library. ...more
If the world were going to end in six months, how would you react?
Would you start crossing items off your bucket list? Or would you try and connect wiIf the world were going to end in six months, how would you react?
Would you start crossing items off your bucket list? Or would you try and connect with a higher power? Or would you continue on in your chosen career, finally able to move up because a lot of other people had taken the first two options?
Detective Hank Palace is taking that third option, finally getting ahead in his police career because everyone else above him took another path. He's a detective by default and while he's good at his job, there's not really a lot of pressure to solve many cases. For many, being caught and locked up for a crime is a death sentence since, again, the world is going to end in six months when the Earth collides with a giant asteroid.
The sense of impending doom has also led a lot of people to take an early exit on this life. When Hank is called in on an apparent suicide, he begins to suspect the set-up may look too much like a suicide and may actually be a cover-up for murder.
Ben H. Winter's The Last Policeman is a fascinating combination of a gritty, noir mystery and an end-of-the-world sci-fi thriller. Winter drops us into the world of Hank Palace and allows us to live in it along with him -- seeing a variety of responses to the end of the world coming and there being little, if anything, that can be done to stop it. (There's no Bruce Willis here to jump on a shuttle and take out the asteroid before it collides).
It's the world-building that sets the first two-thirds of this novel apart from other noir mystery novels. But it's the last third that offers up clues as to something more going on and also that drag down the novel a bit. The central mystery works well enough and is nicely resolved, but there's something in the novel's final third that seems a bit off from what we've read until then. And while I understand that we can't exactly root for a last-second miracle and that the world-view of this novel is a bleak one, I still felt something was missing from the last third of the novel that kept a good book from being a great one.
Interestingly, my local community has chosen this novel as it's "community read" for 2014. Certainly some of the ideas and questions raised by the novel -- just how would you deal with the end of the world coming? -- are intriguing ones. One idea that Winters puts forward is how everyday things would shut down or quickly become a luxury or a memory. For example, McDonald's are shut down but there are local squatters who take over the local franchise and keep things going even if you're not technically eating the famous fries and a Big Mac. There's also the question of quantities of certain items slowly beginning to dwindle down as the supply chain is interrupted or else suspended entirely.
All of these are interesting issues and ideas. And yet it never feels like Winters is bringing the central mystery to a halt to have Palace spend a paragraph or two thinking back to the good ol' days.
And while I wasn't a huge fan of how it ended, I was still intrigued enough by Palace and his world to want to pick up the next installment in this proposed trilogy and see what happens next. ...more
In an early chapter of David Gordon's Mystery Girl, our first person narrator (and all-around film buff) Sam Kornburg makes reference to Alfred HitchcIn an early chapter of David Gordon's Mystery Girl, our first person narrator (and all-around film buff) Sam Kornburg makes reference to Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.
If you're familiar with the film, this reference gives away a lot of what's to come in the later sections of the novel. It unfortunately takes what could have been a great mystery and turns into it just an interesting one -- and one that isn't nearly as clever as it thinks it is.
Kornblum is a struggling novelist, perpetually working on a book that eve he acknowledges no one will want to read. When his wife requests a separation, Sam attempts to get his life back in order to win points in their counselling sessions and hopefully win her back. Responding to an advertisement, Sam becomes an assistant to a private detective. His first case is following a woman and keeping tabs on her for his boss.
Sam's not exactly a professional at the job and he finds himself become more and more fascinated by the woman he's following. This leads to a far more complex mystery.
As I said earlier, if you've seen Vertigo, it's not difficult to figure out where some of the treads of this story are leading. And while I was initially drawn in by the uber-intellectual that Sam wants to be, I rapidly found his first person narration to be a distraction to the story rather than adding to it.
All of this added up to a rather disappointing mystery and novel. I realize that Gordon isn't trying to "transcend" the genre of the mystery novel (Sam makes several references to reading pulp mysteries that don't that) but I kept hoping that the novel would be something more. It's got some good pieces, but it never adds up to being more than the sum of its parts.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this novel from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review....more