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DIE OF SHAME by Mark Billingham: Book Review

The setting–a weekly therapy group for people recovering, or trying to recover, from addictions.  Readers may immediately think of drugs and alcohol, but two members of the group are also suffering from shopping and gambling problems.  Their group leader, a former addict himself, seems to be handling things well, at least until one of the participants is murdered.

Tony De Silva is the leader.  He’s not a psychologist or psychiatrist, but as a former drug addict he certainly has an understanding of the many issues involved in recovery.  His Monday night group consists, at the beginning of the novel, of two women and two men.  Heather, a woman in her thirties, has a gambling and drug problem; Diana, a middle-aged divorcée, is an out-of-control shopaholic and as well as a former alcoholic; Robin is a sixty-something surgeon who nearly got his medical license revoked for performing surgery while under the influence of narcotics; and Chris is a homeless man in his twenties who continues to support his drug habit by homosexual prostitution.

Into this mix comes Caroline, an obese woman who admits to an eating disorder and to becoming hooked on painkillers.  And the group, which has been functioning more or less peacefully, finds that its dynamics have changed, and not for the better.

The novel is told over a period of time by each member of the group, giving the reader an insight into issues that don’t necessarily get aired in the weekly meetings.  Tony, who is a good facilitator, is a former singer/songwriter whose career never took off, something he is constantly reminded of by his wife’s cutting remarks.  The meetings take place on the lower level of their home, while on the upper level their teenage daughter smokes weed almost constantly, coming downstairs for meals which she leaves virtually untouched.

Robin talks about his childhood in South Africa and his friendship with the son of his parents’ servants, a couple who lost their jobs because of a lie young Robin told.  Diana is still fuming over her husband having left her for a much younger woman and her daughter placing the blame for that on Diana.  Heather is nursing a crush on Tony, planning a birthday party for herself in the hope that he, as well as the other group members, will attend.  Chris spends his welfare money on video games in arcades, using the venues as places to meet young boys who will give him a room for the night and perhaps pay for his sexual services.

Although the murder takes place fairly early in the novel, the reader doesn’t know who the victim is until much later.  What we do know is that someone is in prison for a crime and has a visitor who is trying to find out the motive.  But how many murders are there–one or two?

Nicola Tanner is the detective inspector in charge of the case.  Stymied by everyone’s prior agreement to keep confidential what is said in the therapy sessions, Nicola is finding it hard to discover the murderer and the motive for the crime.  Plus she’s having problems at home with her long-time partner Susan, who has an addiction problem of her own.

Die of Shame will having you turning pages compulsively until the end.  There’s a one-two punch in the last two chapters that had me saying “wow” out loud at the end of each one.  Mark Billingham has written a terrific and touching mystery.

You can read more about Mark Billingham at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.



HOME by Harlan Coben: Book Review

It’s been ten years since six-year-olds Patrick Moore and Rhys Baldwin were abducted from Patrick’s home in suburban New Jersey.  Their parents have never given up hope that the boys will return, but with each passing year it has gotten harder to keep the faith.  Now one of them appears to have been located, but what about the other?

Rhys is the son of Win Lockwood’s cousin Brooke; she is one of the very, very few people about whom he cares.  One other, of course, is Myron Bolitar.  The two men have been friends since they met the first day of their freshman year at Duke, and although they couldn’t be more different on the surface, something has kept them close all these years.  Win, however, disappeared from Myron’s life a year ago without explanation; now a long-distance call from England is the first confirmation that he is alive and well.

Win tells Myron that he believes he has seen Patrick.  He had received a cryptic email that gave a clue as to the boys’ location in a seedy part of London.  When he gets there, he sees a teenager who looks like Patrick might look ten years after his disappearance, but before Win can approach him three thugs head toward the boy.  When Win tells them to leave, they turn on him with knives but, Win being Win, all three are dead before they have a chance to attack him.  Then, when he turns to talk to the boy, the teen is gone.

Win’s phone call is to ask Myron to fly to England to help search for Patrick and Rhys.  What they find is deeper and even more disturbing than the kidnapping itself.

Home is partly narrated in the first person by Win, more formally known as Windsor Horne Lockwood III, and partly in the third person limited point of view of Myron.  Win is a man of incredible wealth and intelligence but also a man almost devoid of empathetic responses.  Even his anger is controlled, always contained.  As he says of himself in the opening chapter, after killing the three men who were threatening the boy Win believes may be Patrick, “I give myself a second, no more, to relish the high.  You would too, if you didn’t pretend otherwise.”  He knows what he is and makes no apologies for it.

In Home, Win’s softer side comes out for the first time.  This is obviously because of his feeling for his cousin Brooke; this familial relationship is the reason Win has disappeared for a year, attempting to find her son.  Now he has come closer than anyone else by finding Patrick, whom he hopes will lead him to Rhys.  But it’s not that easy.

Harlan Coben is a master storyteller.  In this novel the tragedies of two families are paramount.  Win and Myron are an outstanding team, but even they cannot heal all the heartbreak that the Moores and Baldwins have experienced.

You can read more about Harlan Coben at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at  her web site.


SORROW ROAD by Julia Keller: Book Review

A lot of years have passed since the invasion of Normandy, but apparently not enough.  At least not enough for old sins to be buried so deeply that they’ll never be uncovered.

Bell Elkins, prosecuting attorney in rural Acker’s Gap, West Virginia, is meeting an acquaintance, a Georgetown Law School classmate, for a drink.  Darlene Strayer and Bell weren’t close, but they both grew up in neighboring small towns in West Virginia and have successful careers, and that makes each one sort of an anomaly in that area of the country.  But while Bell left behind a lucrative career in the nation’s capital to return home, Darlene stayed, became a federal prosecutor and is now a successful litigator in a private firm.  So what could be the reason that she asks Bell to meet her at the Tie Yard Tavern, requesting her help?

Darlene tells Bell that her father, Harmon Strayer, died in a nursing home the previous week at the age of ninety.  Darlene had placed him there three years earlier when his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s made it impossible for him to live alone or to move to Washington to live with her.  He had been doing reasonably well until the past few months, but during each successive visit Darlene noticed his agitation growing.

She tells Bell that although she knew there was something wrong at Thornapple Terrace, it was easier to do nothing, to attribute her father’s emotional disturbances as increasingly visible signs of the progression of his dementia.  But now that he’s dead, Darlene feels she should have forced the home to do something, to pay attention to the way her father was behaving.  She thinks that his death, even considering his advanced age and mental condition, wasn’t natural or caused by negligence–she thinks he was murdered.

When Darlene leaves the tavern to drive home to D.C., after getting a reluctant promise from Bell to look into the situation unofficially, a brutal winter storm is in full force.  Just a few hours later, in the middle of the night, a deputy sheriff knocks on Bell’s door.  A trucker has found Darlene’s wrecked Audi and her body on the curve of a road nicknamed Help me Jesus for the many wrecks that have taken place there.

Bell’s name was found on a note in Darlene’s coat pocket, the deputy sheriff said; the car smelled of alcohol and Darlene had vomited before the crash.  That doesn’t make sense, Bell thinks, because during the whole time the two women had been talking in the tavern, Darlene had never taken even one sip from the drink in front of her.

Sorrow Road then flashes back to 1938.  Harmon Strayer, Vic Plumley, and Alvie Sherrill were inseparable, and three years later they went off to war together, taking part in the Normandy invasion.  The friends had never been out of West Virginia before that, and even though each was secretly frightened, together the threesome acquitted themselves well and returned to the admiration of the townspeople of Norbitt, West Virginia.  But something had happened to them during the war that changed them, not in a good way, forever after.  Now the past apparently has caught up with Harmon Strayer.

I am a fervent admirer of Julia Keller’s series.  Her writing is outstanding, her characters shaded and believable, and her plots take the reader along for an exciting ride.  This is the fifth book in the Bell Elkins series; I strongly suggest you read the other four as well.

You can read more about Julia Keller at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.




THE HOMEPLACE by Kevin Wolf: Book Review

Chase Ford was a hero in Brandon, Comanche County, Colorado.  Or rather, he was the hero.  He was the town’s great basketball star who went to Hollywood, married a famous country singer…and then messed up, big time.  Now he’s returned home, but it’s not the same place it was when he left.

On Chase’s first full day back, he meets his former teammate Marty Storm.  Marty’s a deputy sheriff on the county’s force, and while they’re talking on the side of the road a call comes in from another old friend.  It’s Birdie Hawkins, now with the Colorado Department of Wildlife, and she relays a message through the dispatcher that someone has killed four buffalo on a nearby ranch.

That’s bad enough, but when Birdie gets closer to the animals to investigate, she finds the body of Jimmy Riley, star of the town’s basketball team and its brightest prospect since Chase.

The center of life in Brandon is Saylor’s Café, now run by Mercy Saylor.  Like Chase, Mercy had left town years ago determined not to return, but here she is after her messy divorce.

She’d been the most popular girl in high school, the most beautiful, the smartest.  She thought her life would be something special, but today she’s reduced to looking forward to Brandon’s big event, the Pancake Supper, and to continuing to ratchet up the tension between her two former boyfriends, Chase and Sheriff Lincoln Kendall, just as she had done during high school.  It’s not the way she’d envisioned her life turning out.

Now, in addition to the murder of Jimmy Riley, the town is looking for two missing people.  The first is Coach Porter, beloved head of the basketball team and the only man Chase has been in contact with since he left home sixteen years earlier.  The second is Dolly Benavidez, the high school girl who works part time at the café and is Chase’s unacknowledged half-sister.

The homeplace is Chase’s name for his family home, the one he ran away from as soon as he was able.  He couldn’t get it out of his mind, however, even as he couldn’t forget the people in Brandon.  Still wealthy, although his playing days are behind him, he’s the anonymous donor, through the bank, who has been paying taxes and making loans to townspeople who are in dire straits.  He’s never been able to forget Comanche County, although he’s certainly tried.  And then he returns for what he tells himself, and anyone who asks, is his last visit.  But Chase can’t shake himself loose from the crimes that begin the day he comes back.

The Homeplace is the 2015 winner of the Hillerman Prize, named after the late Tony Hillerman and given to a first-time author who writes a mystery set in the southwestern United States.  I went to the Hillerman Prize website to find out what the judges were looking for in awarding the prize.  The guidelines emphasize, among other points, character, setting, and dialogue.  That being said, it’s easy to see why The Homeplace was the winning entry.  Kevin Wolf nailed all three in his novel.

You can read more about Kevin Wolf at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.



DISGRACED by Gwen Florio: Book Review

Vacation?  Who wants a vacation?  That’s the thinking of Lola Wicks, a newspaper reporter in Magpie, Montana.  Due to a budget cutback she’s been forced to take a three-week unpaid furlough, and she reluctantly heads to Yellowstone with her five-year-old daughter Margaret to spend part of that time trying to relax and forget about covering stories.  Then a favor for a friend and a deadly shooting wreck Lola’s plans.

Lola’s colleague at the paper, Jan Carpenter, asks Lola to make a detour and check on her cousin Pal Jones, a soldier recently returned to Thirty, Wyoming, from Afghanistan.  Jan is worried because her cousin has stopped responding to emails and phone calls.  Jan can’t leave Magpie, and she feels that Lola, who had been in Afghanistan several years earlier reporting on the war, will be able to connect with Pal (short for Palomino) and find out what’s going on.  Lola agrees reluctantly, but she’s determined to make her visit as brief as possible.

What Lola finds when she gets to Thirty is a tall, gaunt, almost wordless woman who has no interest in telling Lola anything at all, certainly nothing about her war experiences.  Together, along with Margaret, they go to the Casper airport to welcome another returning vet home.  But as Cody Dillon steps onto the tarmac, he shouts out, “It’s alive,” and fatally shoots himself in front of nearly all the people of the town.

The always-searching reporter, Lola can’t help looking for the reason that the young man killed himself and for the issues that are besetting these veterans.  What she finds are several different stories about what happened to the group, including Pal, the only woman, who enlisted in the Army the day after their high school graduation.  Pal’s closest friend, a Native American named Mike St. Clair, was killed in Afghanistan, two other members of the group nearly stomped a third one to death, and now a fourth has committed suicide.

And yet that doesn’t explain Pal’s withdrawal from the world, not to mention the ever-increasing number of cuts on her left arm.  Why is she self-harming?  And did Lola actually see a smile on Pal’s face when Cody shot himself, or did she simply imagine it?

Gwen Florio’s novel looks deeply into small-town secrets, barely-concealed racism, and the disparate stories surrounding Mike St. Clair’s death.  In the midst of all this is Lola’s reluctance to accept the marriage proposal of Charlie, Margaret’s father and Lola’s partner of six years.  Why can’t things stay just as they are, she wonders.  But Charlie wants the permanence of marriage, and he’s getting tired of waiting for her answer.

Disgraced is a powerful novel, with headlines that are totally relevant today.  You may think that Lola’s desire to get a story borders on obsession, but she’s convinced that only the truth will free Pal from her demons and explain the deaths that followed the Thirty veterans on their tour of duty and beyond.

You can read more about Gwen Florio at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.



BEHIND CLOSED DOORS by B. A. Paris: Book Review

It’s a cliché to say that no one knows what goes on in a marriage except the people inside it.  But clichés get to be clichés because there’s validity to them.  Some marriages look wonderful from the outside, with the couple always holding hands and never quarreling.  Other couples seems always to be on edge, never agreeing on anything.  That’s what we see on the outside.  What happens when the couple is alone?

Behind Closed Doors is narrated by Grace Angel.  Grace tells the story of her marriage to Jack with a series of flashbacks that lead up to the present.  In today’s parlance, they “met cute.”  Grace is in a park with her younger sister Millie, and Millie is dancing to the park’s band but without a partner.  Grace is aware that Millie is attracting the attention of people sitting on nearby benches or on the grass; Millie has Down Syndrome and can do things that make others uncomfortable.  So Grace is thrilled when an extremely handsome man walks over to her sister and begins to dance with her.

That is the beginning of Grace and Jack’s courtship, one that ends a few months later with their marriage.  Grace has promised her parents that she will take care of her sister, and her sister and their parents are counting on that.  It’s been the parents’ wish to retire to New Zealand without bringing their younger daughter with them, and it’s been understood for years that when Millie finishes her stay at school she will move in with Grace.  Now Grace is beyond thrilled that Jack insists that that is exactly what he wants too, that having Millie with them will make their lives perfect.

So Grace and Jack marry, and after their honeymoon they go to the house that Jack has built as a surprise for Grace.  It’s magnificent, she thinks, although a bit far from town and hidden behind iron gates.  But Jack explains that because of the sensitive nature of his work, his need for security is high.

That, however, is not the real reason for their solitude.  It gradually becomes clear that Jack is a control freak, or even more than that.  Grace is his prisoner.  He no longer permits her to work, she is not allowed to have lunch with anyone except him, and she is not permitted to answer the phone.  Swift punishment ensues for any deviation from his orders, and the punishments get more and more unpleasant.  And then Grace is told the true reason that Jack wants her for his wife.

Behind Closed Doors is an absolutely chilling mystery.  Beneath the surface of the perfect façade of their lives, perfect being Jack’s operative word, lie torment and fear.  You follow Grace’s descent from a confident, professional woman into a fearful, almost enslaved, one; every chapter makes you wonder how this can possibly end for her.  Trust me, this is not a mystery to read just before you go to bed.

You can read more about B. A. Paris at various sites on the web.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

BADLANDS by C. J. Box: Book Review

Nothing could be more ordinary than a twelve-year-old boy delivering newspapers so early in the morning that it’s still dark.  And nothing could be more ordinary than a speeding car going off a curving road in that same darkness.  But there’s nothing ordinary in the sequence of events that follow, bringing terror and death to the small town of Grimstad, Wyoming.

Kyle Westergaard has recently acquired a paper route, and he rides his route every morning, his bike heavy with the Tribune.  On this particular morning he sees the car crash that will change his life.

Two town police cars arrive almost immediately at the scene, but separately.  The officers look in the car and realize that nothing can be done for the man inside it, who is definitely dead.  When the two deputies turn and see Kyle, the older one wants to question him but then, looking at him more closely, says to his fellow deputy, “Look, see his face?  He won’t be any help.”  It’s clear from his features that Kyle suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  The short nose, upward slanted eyes, flattened cheekbones, and small head all indicate that Kyle is a boy with major developmental and intellectual disabilities, one who can’t be expected to help the police at all.

What the police don’t know is that a small bundle is thrown from the speeding car as it crashes and that Kyle picks it up and brings it home.  Home is a run-down cottage that houses Kyle, his mother, and his mother’s latest partner, T-Lock.  When Kyle gets home after his paper route is finished he puts the bundle under the garage workbench, but as luck would have it T-Lock finds it and is waiting for the boy when he returns home after school.  T-Lock is all worked up because the package contains both drugs and money, lots of each.  He extracts a promise from Kyle to tell no one, including his mother, by promising that all the money will be spent for Kyle’s mother’s benefit.  Given the difficulty Kyle has talking so that people can understand him, that’s not a difficult promise for him to keep.

The Grimstad police department has a new investigator, Cassie Dewell.  She recently quit her job in Helena, Montana to take this position, a job with a significant increase in pay and a seemingly much smarter and nicer chief of police than she had worked for previously.  But she’s surprised that Jon Kirkbride already has a specific investigation for her to pursue; he’s afraid that one of his officers is crooked and wants Cassie to help find the truth.

C. J. Box, author of the Joe Pickett mysteries, introduced Cassie in The Highway, the first novel in this new series.  She’s smart, tough, and anxious to make a new start for herself and her young son in Grimstad.  But there’s a lot on her plate, including her ambivalence about spying on her fellow officers.

Badlands is a totally engrossing thriller, with a captivating heroine, a great setting, and a realistic plot.  Another plus is the honesty and compassion that comes through when Box is writing about Kyle, his significant difficulties, and the perceptions that people have about him that are often wrong.  Cassie is the heroine of this book, Kyle its hero.

You can read more about C. J. Box at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.


DAMAGED by Lisa Scottoline: Book Review

It’s two weeks before Mary DiNunzio’s wedding, and she hardly has time to breathe.  She needs to approve the wedding menu, go for a fitting on her gown, and meet her mother-in-law for an appointment at the latter’s spa where the stylists want to do major renovations to/for Mary and her mother.  She’s getting truly frantic, and then along comes a case like no other she’s ever had.

Edward O’Brien is her new client, a widower in his seventies who is the guardian of his ten-year-old grandson Patrick.  Edward tells Mary that his grandson has dyslexia, has been bullied in school for years, and that there has been no remedial program for him in his school despite the federal law that mandates an appropriate education for every special needs student.  It also appears that despite the legal requirement that Patrick be tested every three years to chart his reading progress, no evaluation has ever been done after the first one five years earlier.

What brought Edward to Mary’s office is that he has just been served with a lawsuit, claiming that Patrick attacked his teacher with a scissors.  The truth is, Edward tells Mary, that it’s the teacher who slapped Patrick and humiliated him in front of the entire class.  The school’s lawyer is none other than Nick Machiavelli, someone Mary knows from her old neighborhood.  Nick claims that he is descended from Niccolo Machiavelli, the historian and politician known for his cunning and unscrupulous behavior, and Mary is pretty sure she believes him.  It would certainly explain a lot.  She has always wanted to face “The Dark Prince of South Philly,” as Nick is known, and this is her chance.

And there’s Anthony, Mary’s fiancé.  A college adjunct professor, he’s been in California since Mary accepted the O’Brien case, and he and Mary barely have had time to talk in his absence.  Upon his return, there’s another problem to be added to the mix that surrounds Mary.

Mary is now a partner in Rosato and DiNunzio, Philadelphia attorneys.  Readers of this series have followed Mary from her early days as a shy, diffident lawyer to the confident woman she is in Damaged.  Although she’s moved from the South Philadelphia home where she grew up, her heart is still there with her parents and the three Tonys who make up her extended family–Pigeon Tony, Tony-From-Down-The-Block, and Tony Feet.  She knows where she came from and who supported her in every way, and despite an unexpected opportunity that seems perfect on the surface, she’s not about to desert them now.

Lisa Scottline’s most recent mysteries have dealt with some very difficult contemporary subjects.  In Most Wanted it is sperm donation, in Corrupted it is the Pennsylvania juvenile prison system, and in Damaged it is the issue of children with special needs and how the public school system is failing them.  Over and above the excellent plots and characterizations in these mysteries, Ms. Scottoline’s books look deeply and compassionately into our society and its values.

You can read more about Lisa Scottline at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

NO NEWS IS BAD NEWS by Maureen Milliken: Book Review

Newspaper reporter/editor Bernadette “Bernie” O’Dea’s life has been chaotic since her move to Redimere, Maine.  In Cold Hard News, which takes place several months before this book begins, Bernie and the town’s new chief of police, Pete Novotny, were involved in a murder investigation and a struggle for their lives; it looks as if history is repeating itself.

No News is Bad News, the second book in this series, opens in 2009, but it has its true beginning several years earlier in Philadelphia.  At that time Pete was a detective searching for a missing teen, JP Donovan, the youngest child in a very dysfunctional family.  The police had had no luck in tracing JP over a two-year period, despite an almost obsessive investigation on Pete’s part.

Then, four years after JP’s disappearance, a boy is found in Redimere’s woods by a local police officer.  After he’s brought to the police station, the youth initially refuses to talk to anyone.  Finally he walks over to a wall covered with flyers of missing children, points to a photo of JP, and says, “That’s me.”

After Pete picks the teenager up in Redimere and drives him back to Philadelphia, the Donovans, mother and sister, welcome the boy with open arms and even have a huge party to celebrate his return.  So why does Pete feel as if the whole event is staged?  Would any mother say a boy was her son when he wasn’t?  Pete doesn’t understand it.  Even though Pete has left Philadelphia and moved to Redimere to head its police department, he hasn’t forgotten about the Donovan case.

At the same time, Bernie is struggling with a variety of issues.  She’s determined to keep the town’s weekly newspaper afloat, but at times it seems like an uphill battle.  She also wants to make sense of the unexpected appearance at her home of her youngest brother, Sal.  He tells her he’s been fired from his teaching job for plagiarism, something Bernie can hardly believe.  He’s invited himself to stay with Bernie until he figures out how to tell their extremely accomplished parents and siblings about his being fired and until he decides what he wants to do with the rest of his life.  Bernie is (mostly) happy to have his company, but she’s not certain Sal has told her the whole story.

And to add to the above mix, Bernie isn’t sure about her feelings for Pete.  He’s told her he loves her, but her response has been only silence.  She likes him, certainly, but is she ready for love?

Maureen Milliken has written a terrific mystery.  The fast-paced plot is totally believable, as are the characters, and the small-town setting works to help the reader understand life in a northern Maine town where everyone knows everyone else.  Bernie O’Dea is a heroine to watch.

You can read more about Maureen Milliken at this web site.

You can read the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.


ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN by Wendy Walker: Book Review

If you could take a drug that would make you forget a traumatic incident in your life, would you take it? 

Jenny Kramer is a typical teenager, the only daughter in an upper-middle-class family in Connecticut.  Her story begins with a much-anticipated invitation to a party, a party that goes horribly wrong.

Jenny is just beginning to see herself as a desirable girl after years of being the “tomboy” in her group of friends.  She is always a friend but never a girlfriend until the afternoon at school when Doug Hastings asks her to meet him at the party as his date.  When she arrives he is with another girl; mortified and not a little drunk on the vodka shots she downs to cover her embarrassment, she walks into the woods surrounding the house.

There her attacker assaults and rapes her, abandoning her brutalized body and disappearing.  Finally, her cries attract the attention of some other teens who had wandered into the woods from the house party; then it was an emergency call to the police and to her parents.

Charlotte and Tom Kramer appear from the outside to be a perfect couple, but their marriage has many cracks.  There’s Charlotte’s social climbing, Tom’s endless hours at work, and, most important, Charlotte’s affair.  Now the two different points of view they have about Jenny’s rape will cause additional fractures.

The doctors explain that there is a new drug that can repress one’s memory of a particular event.  Tom doesn’t want to have Jenny take this drug; he feels it would be healthier for her to face the rape and possibly to remember something that would help the police catch her assailant.  Charlotte can’t imagine why he feels that way; she wants Jenny to be able to live as if the rape never happened.  Two opposite viewpoints, and Charlotte’s prevails.  But as the book’s title tells us, the mind is a strange thing and forgetting isn’t that easy.

Jenny’s story could have been taken from nearly any American newspaper today.  Her reactions, those of her parents, and the reaction of the novel’s narrator point out how many threads there are to her story.  Regarding the experimental drug, there really isn’t any best way to decide whether or not to use it, and it certainly isn’t possible to look at it without bringing emotions into it.  No one can bring a clean slate into the decision process.  What her parents decide reflects their own lives, past and present.  But must Jenny live with their choice?

Reese Witherspoon has bought the rights to All Is Not Forgotten and is developing the film for Warner Brothers.  Wendy Walker’s novel is a wonderful candidate for a movie.  Its characters are realistic, the story is fast-paced, and the ending is perfect.

You can read more about Wendy Walker at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.


THE BRANSON BEAUTY by Claire Booth: Book Review

The Branson Beauty is an old showboat cruising the lake in Branson, Missouri, a city famous for its country music and family entertainment.  The showboat is a big attraction in the city, or it was until it ran aground with a full complement of staff and passengers aboard.

Strange, thinks Sheriff Hank Worth, since the weather was clear and the boat has been on the lake for some thirty years without an accident.  It’s stranger still when Hank goes aboard to interview the captain, Albert Eberhardt, and finds him in the wheelhouse in what appears to be a kind of fugue state.

At first it looks as if all of the passengers have been led ashore safely, but Hank goes through the boat with first mate Tony Sampson doing one final check.  All is fine until they arrive at the captain’s dining room, which had been rented out for a private luncheon party.  There on the plush blue carpet lies the body of a young woman.

The corpse is that of Mandy Bryson.  She was a popular teenager in town, now a first-year student at the University of Oklahoma.  No one seems to know why she was back in Branson instead of on the University’s Norman campus.  Her parents didn’t know she was in town, nor did her boyfriend, Ryan Nelson.  He was on the ship with another girl, attending his grandmother’s birthday luncheon in that private dining room, and he tells Hank that he was unaware that Mandy was on board.  But is that true?

Hank Worth is new to his job, having been appointed sheriff when the former one resigned to become a state senator.  He’s not totally aware of all the ins-and-outs of the city’s politics, but he does know that Henry Gallagher, owner of the showboat and of much else in Branson, is an important man who doesn’t like to be crossed.  Despite Hank’s clear orders that Gallagher not talk to the captain, who is now in the hospital under police guard, that’s where Hank finds Gallagher when he himself goes to try to interview the captain.   And Gallagher is not at all apologetic about ignoring Hank’s orders.

Hank Worth is a great addition to the list of sheriffs in mysteries.  Although the position of sheriff is an elected one in the city, because of his predecessor’s departure for a higher office Hank has been appointed to fill the position until the next election.  He’s made friends in the short time he’s been in Branson, but there are some people who were happier when the former sheriff was in charge, including Gerald Tucker, one of the undersheriffs in the department who feels he should have been named sheriff; city counselor Edrick Fizzel, a man who lives to see his name in the newspaper; and, of course, Henry Gallagher, the wealthiest man in the city, one who’s not used to taking direction from anyone.

Claire Booth has made an impressive debut with The Branson Beauty.  The setting is terrific, and Hank Worth is a protagonist to watch.

You can read more about Claire Booth at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

JADE DRAGON MOUNTAIN by Elsa Hart: Book Review

A mystery set in 18th-century Tibet and China.  What could be better?

Li Du is a brilliant man, a former librarian in China’s Forbidden City.  However, because Li Du was accused of being a friend to traitors of the emperor, he was exiled from the city and has spent the last five years traveling through the country.  He’s just arrived in the remote city of Dayan, close to the dangerous Tibetan border, anxious to continue his travels unimpeded.  First, however, he must get permission from the magistrate of the prefecture to proceed.

Magistrate Tulishen, granted honorary Manchu status by the emperor in recognition of his service to the empire, is ready to give Li Du the necessary papers.  But then things go awry due to a murder, missing valuables, and the imminent visit of the emperor, known as The Kangxi.

At the time Jade Dragon Mountain takes place, the emperor has many titles and is revered as a divine being, believed to have been chosen by the gods to rule the world.  It is thought by his subjects that nothing the Son of the True Dragon does could be unjust or incorrect, and there lies the reason that Tulishen needs Li Du to stay in Dayan through the royal visit.  The emperor, as his predecessors had done, has invited Jesuit priests from Europe to enter his kingdom, the only foreigners allowed to live in China.  It is not because he is interested in Christianity but because they bring scientific knowledge with them, knowledge that The Kangxi can use to impress the people of the country.

The Jesuits have predicted an eclipse of the sun on the day after the emperor is due to arrive.  The court has passed this forecast on to the citizens of the city as being the emperor’s own, so it must take place at the exact moment The Kangxi has said it would.  But murder and theft have thrown Magistrate Tulishen’s plans for an extravagant eclipse ceremony into chaos, so reluctantly acknowledging Li Du’s formidable intelligence and superior knowledge of the Jesuits, their scientific knowledge, and their religion, the magistrate compels him to stay and make certain that all goes smoothly.  Then Father Pieter is found dead.  The magistrate quickly declares it is a natural death owing to the priest’s advanced age, but Li Du is not so certain.

Jade Dragon Mountain has a wonderful cast of characters, each with his or her own agenda and secrets.  In addition to Li Du and Tulishen, there is the beautiful Lady Chen, the magistrate’s courtesan who wields a great deal of power in the palace; the elderly priest Pieter, whose knowledge of astronomy had made him eager to see the eclipse; Hamza, a traveling storyteller with an endless supply of tales; Brother Martin, another priest who has an impressive knowledge of botany but a surprising dearth of information about the funeral rites of his church; Nicolas Gray, an Englishman who has arrived in Dayan with a valuable, if secret, cargo; and Jia Huan, the secretary of the prefecture.

There is a wonderful sense of history and place in Jade Dragon Mountain, an amazing amount of knowledge beautifully expressed.  At the end of the novel is a question and answer section in which the author explains her interest in this area of China and how she came to write the book.  Her explanation is as fascinating as the novel itself.

You can read more about Elsa Hart at this web site.

You can check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

ICARUS by Deon Meyer: Book Review

Until reading Icarus, my main exposure to the South African mystery genre was through the wonderful novels of James McClure that featured the interracial police duo of Tromp Kramer and Mickey Zondi.  I took it as a personal loss when the series, which was not long enough in my opinion, ended more than twenty years ago.  But now I have a new South African author to follow.

Deon Meyer is very well-known in his home country but was unknown to me until I picked up his latest mystery.  If all his books are as brilliant as this one, I’ve really been missing out.

South Africa has obviously changed a great deal since the official end of apartheid in 1994.  Now the Cape Town police department is totally integrated, with men and women who are white, black, and coloured, the latter meaning people of mixed-race ancestry.   In Icarus, the two main characters are Captain Benny Griessel, who is white, and Vaughn Cupido, who is coloured; the two make the most professional team in the South African Priority Crimes Investigation unit.  There is a problem, however, that hangs over them.  Benny Griessel is a recovering alcoholic and on the verge of relapse after more than two years of sobriety.

The reason for his return to drinking is explained at the beginning of the novel.  His close friend and former colleague, Vollie Fish, has just murdered his wife and two daughters and then turned his gun on himself.  Benny understands only too well the reason for the murders and suicide, a reason that he’s afraid one day might cause him to do something similar.  That is what made Benny, nicknamed Benna, turn into the Fireman’s Arms and order, in quick succession, six double whiskies.  He drinks to kill the fear that never leaves him.

The body of social media magnate Ernst Richter has been found, more than a month after his disappearance.  Ernst was the founder and director of, an internet company that arranges alibis for people involved in extra-marital or illicit affairs.  The company can create forged airline tickets, receipts for rooms at conferences the clients were supposed to have attended, restaurant checks for alleged business dinners–you get the idea.’s slogan is All pleasure.  No stress.  Not too subtle, but it attracted thousands of people eager to find a way to have their cake and eat it too.

Interspersed with the chapters following Benna and the department’s search for Ernst’s killer, there are chapters detailing the conversations of advocate Susan Peires and her latest client, François du Toit.  François is the fourth generation in his family to control a vineyard, the Klein Zegen Estate in Stellenbosch, in a town in the Western Cape Province of the country.  Although the lawyer is eager to get the details of why François wants to hire her, he tells her he must start at the beginning so that she’ll understand everything that led up to where he is today.  And that means a family saga of four generations of the du Toits.

Deon Meyer shifts his focus between Benna, the search for Ernst’s murderer, and the history of the wine farm.  They all connect in the end, but it’s the deft unraveling of the threads that connect them that makes Icarus such a great read.  When I got to the last pages I was figuratively holding my breath, waiting to see how it would all be resolved.

You can read more about Deon Meyer at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

BAD COUNTRY by C.B. McKenzie: Book Review

Talk about your hard-boiled mysteries.  Bad Country is one of the hardest-boiled ones I’ve read in a long time.

From the name Montana Estates, one might think it was a community of elegant houses, perhaps McMansions, on a scenic site in a gated community of Tucson.  Well, one would be quite wrong.  In reality, this section of the city is called El Hoyo, or The Hole.  It’s actually on the outskirts of Tucson, so far out that no one wants to acknowledge it.  It’s an almost-empty trailer park, with dirt roads, a never-completed nine-hole golf course, and piles of cinder blocks at the entrance.  Oh yes, also at the entrance is a corpse lying in a pool of blood.

Rodeo Grace Garnet is the only tenant of Montana Estates, unless you count his elderly dog.  A former rodeo champion, Rodeo (his given name) ekes out a living as a private detective.  But he has no idea about the spurt of murders that is going on in and around Los Jarros County.  There have been three in the last week, including the one by his front door, definitely too high a body count for such a sparsely populated area.

Rodeo’s friend Luis Azul Encarnacion, owner of the Twin Arrows Trading Post that Rodeo frequents, has a job for the private eye.  A cowboy has found the body of a teenage boy near a riverbed.  No one knows if the boy, Samuel Rocha, fell off the nearby bridge or was shot off, and the boy’s grandmother wants Rodeo to investigate.  Interestingly, though, Mrs. Rocha doesn’t appear very upset about her grandson’s death, so Rodeo is not quite sure why he’s being hired.  However, he desperately needs a job, so he accepts his new client and begins his investigation.

The cast of characters in Bad Country reads like a list of people you’d rather not know.  There’s Romeo’s former girlfriend Sirena Rae, a stripper with some severe mental health issues; her father, “Apache” Ray Molina, an ageing sheriff with too many dead bodies in his county; Ted Anderton, a member of the Arizona Department of Public Safety Highway Patrol, who can’t seem to forget or forgive that Romeo beat an escaped criminal to death several years ago; and Ronald Rocha, a psychopathic gunslinger determined to avenge the death of his cousin Samuel.

Definitely not for fans of cozy mysteries, Bad Country portrays a poor, rough part of Arizona, far from the natural beauty of the Grand Canyon or the elegant golf resorts of Scottsdale that the tourists see.  Life in Los Jarros county is, for most of its inhabitants, a struggle against poverty, drugs, and crime.  And Rodeo Garnet is in the midst of it all.

C. B. McKenzie has written a noir novel in gritty, street-wise prose.  No wonder Bad Country won the Tony Hillerman Prize for best first novel set in the southwest.  It’s an honor that is well-deserved.

You can read more about C. B. McKenzie at this web site.!mckenzie/c6yx.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.


WALLEYE JUNCTION by Karin Salvalaggio: Book Review

Macy Greeley, a detective with the State Police in Montana, is nearing a house in Walleye Junction where the police believe a hostage is being held.  The hostage is Philip Long, a controversial radio personality in the area,  and Macy is slowing down her car and getting ready to search the building when Long staggers into the road.  Macy can’t stop quickly enough, however, and Long is thrown into her windshield and then flung on the ground.  Her car nearly careens into a ditch and she’s pinned upside down by the seat belt, unable to get loose, with her cell phone out of reach and her gun thrown out of the SUV.

Frantically trying to free herself, she hears a motor behind her and watches helplessly as a motorcycle plows into Long.  Macy watches in horror as a figure dismounts from the cycle, picks up her gun, and fires directly at Long.  As the shooter gets back on his machine and pulls away, Macy’s car spills over the ditch and she hits the water.  Somehow she’s able to pull herself out and limp toward the road, where a rescue vehicle picks her up, shaking, bruised, but thankfully alive.

Several days later she’s called to the scene of what at first appears to be the fatal drug overdoses of a local couple.  Walleye Junction police identify them as Carla and Lloyd Spencer, long-time drug addicts, although Carla had been in rehab recently.  The fingerprints on the van parked near the bodies match those in the house where Long had been kept, so it appears that there is a quick resolution to the abduction.  Then Macy notices gravel from the parking area on Lloyd’s cowboy boots, and she voices her opinion that Lloyd was dragged from the vehicle onto the field and that Carla was carried.  So it becomes apparent that a third person was involved in their deaths and probably in Long’s kidnapping as well.

Emma Long, Philip’s daughter, has returned for the funeral, twelve years after she left home.  She’d been in touch with her father during this time and had seen him several times, but the breach between Emma and her mother has only grown wider.  It’s been six years since they’ve seen each other, and it doesn’t look as if Emma’s homecoming is going to resolve any of the issues that drove them apart.  And now Emma also has to face her former boyfriend and the cruel taunting from her peers that drove her away in the first place.  It’s almost too much for her to handle.

Karin Salvalaggio has written a novel that will keep you guessing until the last chapter.  There are many undercurrents in the small town of Walleye Junction, conflicts that have gone on for years with no resolution.  But the murder of Philip Long and the deaths of the Spencers are bringing them to the surface.

You can read more about Karin Salvalaggio at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.