I have a lengthy review on the crime page of my reading journal, so if you want the longie, click here. Otherwise, read on.
As Sorrow Bound opens, DS Aector McAvoy in Hull, East Yorkshire, is called to a horrific murder scene which might be gang related - McAvoy's boss tells him that the murdered woman had recently spoken out publicly against street dealers wrecking the neighborhood. When another woman is murdered, the police make a discovery that throws the gang-related theory right out the window. However, while Aector is busy with the police-mandated shrink, moving his family into a new home and trying to function in this investigation with very little sleep, a drug runner makes a serious error that will bring a cocky, self-styled "prince of the city" drug dealer with a lot of serious, well-placed protection behind him crashing into the life of one of McAvoy's colleagues and into the lives of McAvoy's family.
David Mark's third entry in this series featuring DS Aector McAvoy is the best he's written and also the darkest of all three books. For some people the dark tone of the novel may be a drawback, but for me, it's a definite plus. He ratchets up both the tension and the darkness, and there's nothing at all formulaic to complain about in this series of police procedurals. Once I picked it up, I didn't want to stop reading it.
So here's the big niggle (which is really hard to scoot around since I don't really want to give anything away): one of the main recurring characters does something that is so totally out of character and so completely unexpected that it absolutely threw me into "WTF?" mode. Then not long afterward, the same person, who you'd think would be so frightened as to listen to advice at this point, does something so foolishly stupid as to be just plain dumb, also very much out of character. I suspect that the repercussions that may follow for the last scene in this novel will lead to a major game changer for what's next in the series, and to an even bigger angst-fest than I've seen in any of the McAvoy novels so far. And since I'm a big fan of both McAvoy and of David Mark, I will be waiting right here to see it all unfold.
While you most certainly can read this book as a standalone, I'm a true series purist so my advice is to start with The Dark Winter and continue with Original Skin before reading Sorrow Bound. I found that by now I have a better feel for the very angst-laden DS McAvoy and what drives him. Just a heads up: this is no cutesy little cozy.
My thanks again to Blue Rider Press for the lovely copy they sent me to read. (less)
I've read a lot of books by Mary Roberts Rinehart, and sadly, The After House just isn't all that good. A word of warning at the outset: this book was...moreI've read a lot of books by Mary Roberts Rinehart, and sadly, The After House just isn't all that good. A word of warning at the outset: this book was published in 1914 and there are a few racial/religious epithets in the story that most people wouldn't use today, so please keep in mind that their usage reflects their common acceptance of the time.
Ralph Leslie has simultaneously just finished medical school and developed a case of typhoid that lands him in the hospital. He's broke and a friend of his feels sorry for him, wangling him a space aboard the Ella, a luxury yacht that is about to set sail on a cruise. Still weak from his illness, he comes on as an "extra man," working with the crew, and in case the butler becomes ill (since he's a 'poor sailor,') Ralph is told that he should be ready to take his place. On sailing day, nineteen people leave port. By the time they return, four of the nineteen are dead at the hands of a murderer with a penchant for axe wielding, a suspect is being held on board, and everyone is frightened out of their wits. Ralph decides to do a little sleuthing when he's not helping to sail the ship back to port, but more than a few people are hiding things that make his job a little difficult. His biggest job, however, is trying to prevent anyone else from being killed.
Once you get past the initial (and somewhat tedious) introduction of the players on the Ella, as well as the ongoing romance element (ick), there's a decent mystery here, although personally when I got to the solution, I had to cry foul. Although the author peppered her book with lots of little details and clues for the reader to sock away until guessing time comes, she didn't give the right clues to allow for any armchair detective to even come close to her solution. Unfair!
However, this book has an interesting history behind it. It was Mary Roberts Rinehart's own take on a similar, true murder case where a man had been found guilty and had been protesting his innocence for seventeen years; The After House was her version of the case where she offered a plausible, alternative suspect in an effort to get the case reopened.
I won't be adding The After House to my list of favorites written by Rinehart, but two of her novels, The Album and The Man in Lower Ten, are very much worth trying out if you're a vintage crime reader. (less)
This one's a 4.5, and I do have to say that while I was reading it, nature provided the perfect backdrop -- hard rain, thunder, and lightning so brigh...moreThis one's a 4.5, and I do have to say that while I was reading it, nature provided the perfect backdrop -- hard rain, thunder, and lightning so bright it flashed through the closed blinds. I would also like to say that Valancourt Books has done readers a huge favor with this reissued classic -- they have made it widely available at a very good price -- have you seen the cost of a used crappy mass market paperback of this book?
absolutely no spoilers ahead:
The Elementals focuses on two Alabama families, the Savages and the McCrays. They're linked together through marriage and the fact that both families have for years spent their summers at Beldame, "a long spit of land, no more than fifty yards wide," where there are three tall gray Victorian homes, "large, eccentric old houses such as appeared in coffee table books on outré American architecture." Back now at Beldame after the strange funeral of Marian Savage is her son Dauphin, who is married to Leigh McCray and has inherited the family fortune; Leigh's brother Luker and his too-wise-for-her-years thirteen-year-old daughter India McCray from New York City; Big Barbara McCray, Leigh and Luker's mother, married to Lawton McCray, a candidate for US congressional representative, and the faithful Odessa, who's worked with the Savages for as long as anyone can remember.
One one side of this narrow piece of land is St. Elmo's Lagoon; on the other is the Gulf of Mexico. At high tide, Beldame is cut off, becoming a virtual island when the Gulf flows into the lagoon. The McCrays have a house on the gulf side; just opposite their house on the lagoon side is the house belonging to the Savages. The third house nobody lives in. No one can: the sand dune at the end of the spit has been encroaching on that house so much so that, as India notices on first seeing it, it "did not merely encroach upon the house, it had actually begin to swallow it." The third house holds its secrets, as do the McCrays and the Savages regarding their own childhood experiences with the third house. All anyone will tell India is that she should stay away from it, but India has a mind of her own, and off she goes exploring. And then ..., well, to say more would be to wreck the experience for someone else.
There are so many excellent things about The Elementals -- the characters, the slowly-paced beginning moving slowly toward an ever-growing anticipation of dread and then headlong into the horrors -- but one of the best features of this novel is the author's ability to capture and evoke the sense of place in his writing. There are various schools of thought either yea or nay on place as a character in a novel, but here that's just how it is. The isolation of Beldame, the third house with the sand covering it both inside and out, the beautiful waters of the Gulf, St. Elmo's Lagoon, the channel, the sand, and above all, the paralyzing heat and humidity of a southern summer that sucks the energy right out of a person -- the way he brings all of this place to life allows it to act not only on the characters directly, but also on the reader. He's captured the Southern summer heat with its god-awful humidity so perfectly that I could totally feel it while reading about it. Even better, by the last sections of the book, McDowell has perfectly combined those rising temperatures with the increasingly-growing horror, producing a kind of claustrophobic atmosphere that remains with the reader nearly up until the last moment of the story.
I loved this novel. If you're considering reading it, do not look at any reviews where they give away the whole shebang -- if I had known what was going to happen I wouldn't have enjoyed this book nearly as much. And speaking of that, read this book very carefully if you are at all interested in trying to figure out the main mystery surrounding Beldame and the third house -- it's never overtly stated (which I thought was a good thing), but I think you'll find that there are answers there to dig out. The one thing I didn't like about this book was that the pacing seemed kind of off at the very end -- much more rushed than I think it should have been given the tone of the rest of the novel. But what the heck. It's one of the best supernatural horror stories I've read in a very long time. Maybe modern readers of hack/slash gorefests will find it somewhat tame, but I certainly didn't. (less)