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THE STORIES YOU TELL by Kristen Lepionka: Book Review

When Roxane Weary’s phone rings at 3 a.m., she has the feeling most of us have–it’s never good news when someone calls in the middle of the night.  And she’s right.

Roxane’s brother Andrew is the caller.  He tells her something weird is going on, then hangs up.  When Roxane gets to his apartment he gives her the rest of the story, brief as it is.  A woman he worked with some years earlier, whom he thinks is called Addison, rang his apartment buzzer about an hour earlier.  She was distraught and said she needed to use his phone, which she did, leaving a whispered message on the voicemail at the other end, and Andrew has no idea whom she called.

When Andrew tries to calm her down she bolts, saying she can’t call the police and he shouldn’t either.  But Andrew has no wish to call the authorities because he’s a low-level marijuana dealer and doesn’t want the cops in his apartment.  That explains his call to his sister, a private investigator, someone who will believe his unlikely story.

Using social media, Roxane manages to find out where Addison lives, but when she arrives at the house the woman’s roommate says that Addison isn’t there but had been earlier in the morning.  She mentions that Addison had been working as a deejay at a nearby nightclub under the name DJ Raddish.

She also tells Roxane that someone had been looking for Addison several days earlier, a policeman in fact.  But when Roxane calls the policeman’s number on the card he left behind, there’s no answer.  She digs more deeply into social media and discovers that the club where Addison works is across the street from Andrew’s apartment.

Roxane’s next step is to check out the nightclub, Nightshade, but when she does she gets an unpleasant surprise.  Bo, the bodyguard of gangster Vincent Pomp, is in front of the building.  Bo tells her that the owner of the club took a loan from Pomp, but now the owner has disappeared, the club is deserted, the door is locked.  Bo doesn’t have any answers to Roxane’s questions, so she decides to go to Pomp in the morning to learn what his interest is in Nightshade and if he knows where to find the missing owner.

The more deeply Roxane looks into the case, the more the characters and their strange stories come into focus.  There are the two sisters, Jordana and Carlie, who don’t seem overly concerned that Addison is missing from the apartment she shares with Carlie.  There is the policeman, Detective Dillman, who doesn’t answer his cell phone.  There is Catherine, with whom Roxane has an off-again, on-again relationship, in part due to the fact that Catherine is still married and living in her husband’s house.

Roxane Weary is a terrific heroine, and The Stories You Tell is a terrific mystery.  She is tough, smart, and yet vulnerable when it comes to her relationships with friends and family.  And those relationships are very, very complicated, as are the stories people tell her and themselves.

You can read more about Kristen Lepionka at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

STRANGERS AT THE GATE by Catriona McPherson: Book Review

Newlyweds Finnie Doyle and Paddy Lamb consider themselves very fortunate.  Paddy has been offered a partnership in a small country law firm, and he was still “under forty” as he excitedly told his wife.  And Finnie, who had been a bit more reluctant to move and begin searching for a job as a member of the Church of Scotland clergy, is pleased to discover that the church in the town next to their new home is looking for a deacon.  It seems a perfect match for both of them.

To add to what seems incredible good luck, Paddy has found someone who wants to sublet their flat for a year at a rate enough to cover the mortgage, and the senior partner in his new firm is allowing them to live in a small cottage on the grounds of his home.  What could be more perfect?

There is a downside, however, at least for Finnie.  She dislikes the gatehouse/cottage at first sight; it’s small, dark, and surrounded by hills and forest, not at all the charming home with latticed windows and crooked chimneys that Paddy has described.  But she’s here and will make the best of it, she tells herself.

A day after their arrival, they’re invited (Paddy’s word) or summoned (Finnie’s) to dinner at the lodge, home of Tuft and Lovatt Dudgeon.  Prepared to dislike both of them, Finnie finds herself admiring Tuft, a woman with a sly sense of humor.  Tuft sits on the fund-raising committee and board of St. Angela’s, the church where Finnie will have her first full-time job as a deacon.  So with that connection and the fact of Lovatt being the senior partner in Paddy’s law firm, it all could be seen as either fortuitous or incestuous, depending on one’s point of view.

However, the dinner goes well and Finnie is more relaxed on the way back to their gatehouse until, halfway there, she realizes that she left her handbag at the Dudeons’.  They have to go back and get it, she tells Paddy, because the key to their house is in it.  When they return to the lodge the front door is open and the lights are on, but no one answers the bell.  Finnie’s handbag is on the stand where she had left it, as they can see from a window, so they enter and call out for their hosts.  There’s no answer, so they venture into the kitchen, still calling for Tuft and Lovatt, and see the couples’ bloody bodies on the kitchen floor.

Finnie’s immediate reaction is to call the police, but Paddy is vehement.  “No police….I can explain everything….But we need to get out of here now.”  And with each explanation/secret, the fissures between them widen.  Their marriage isn’t quite the perfect one the reader had been led to expect from the beginning of the novel.  The story is so skillfully told that you will be drawn in, step by step, until the very end.

You can read more about Catriona McPherson at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

 

 

 

LETHAL PURSUIT by Will Thomas: Book Review

In the last decade of the 19th century, enquiry agents were relatively unknown.  That was the English name for private detectives, and even today it sounds more genteel than “private eyes.”  But whether they were called enquiry agents or private investigators, their jobs were the same:  finding missing persons, acting as bodyguards, thwarting blackmailers.  But whenever the team of Barker and Llewelyn takes a case, it always becomes more dangerous or more obscure than the usual ones.

The novel opens with a man who believes he has been followed from Germany to London because of the precious package he has been given.  Skillful as he is, ultimately he cannot evade his pursuers, and he is stabbed in the middle of a busy London street mere steps away from his destination.  Moments from death, he enjoys the expressions on his attackers’ faces when they open the suitcase he’s been carrying and discovers that it’s filled, not with the priceless item they thought was inside, but with socks, socks, socks.

A small package is delivered to the office of enquiry agents Cyrus Barker and Thomas Lllewelyn, and when Barker opens it he finds a small key with the letter Q stamped on it.  Although Llewelyn is in the dark as to what it is or what it means, Barker appears to understand; the two of them leave their office, walk a few blocks, and enter a building that also has a Q on it.

They are led to the office of the Prime Minister who reluctantly informs them of the death of an agent in His Majesty’s Foreign Office, a man who had been trusted with something of incredible value.  To mislead the killers and the government that hired them, Cyrus and Thomas are asked to bring a satchel to France that will then be delivered by others to The Vatican. 

When Cyrus professes to be incredulous as to why they were picked for this job when the Prime Minister could have chosen envoys from any branch of the royal government, he is told “you would not be an agency our government would naturally choose….Your methods are considered unorthodox, haphazard, and impulsive.  Most of your cases end in bloodshed.”

Despite this statement, or perhaps because of it, Barker agrees to take the parcel and its unknown contents across the channel.  The two men leave the Prime Minister’s office and bring the parcel directly to Barker’s bank.  But, of course, that is only the beginning of the adventure.

This the eleventh novel in the Barker and Llewelyn series and has moved from the 1880s to the early 1890s.  The characters have moved with the times, Thomas having started out as an apprentice to Barker but is now is his partner.  However, Thomas is still a “junior” partner, as the vastly more experienced Barker continues to make most of the decisions.  But change is definitely in the wind.

And while Cyrus Barker remains a bachelor, the younger Thomas Llewelyn is a newlywed whose wife is a beautiful widow; she has been pushed out of the tight Orthodox Jewish community in Londaon for her marriage to Thomas, a gentile.

You can read more about Will Thomas at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

VANISHING IN THE HAIGHT by Max Tomlinson: Book Review

After spending ten years in prison for killing her husband when she discovered that he was sexually abusing their daughter, Colleen Hayes is trying to put her life back in order.  But she’s not having an easy time of time of it.

She is currently living in an empty office belonging to the H & M Paint company.  It’s located in a derelict warehouse whose owners are giving Colleen a meager salary and a roof, the latter somewhat leaky, over her head in exchange for providing security for the rundown site.  She’s on parole and broke, so when she is approached to find out what happened eleven years earlier to the daughter of wealthy businessman Edward Copeland she takes the job.

Copeland’s daughter Margaret was brutally murdered during the so-called Summer of Love, when approximately 100,000 young people converged on San Francisco in search of drugs, free love, and an alternative lifestyle.  Margaret was one of those teenagers, rebelling against the lives of her parents, but her rebellion led to death.  Her father, who now has only months to live, wants to find out what really happened to her, as he never believed the official conclusion of the city’s police department.

The more Colleen investigates, the more a coverup seems possible, even probable.  Her every request for information is blocked, and her best source, a retired detective, is obviously hesitant to talk to her.  When he finally and reluctantly agrees, after Colleen offers him five hundred dollars for the report he wrote on the case, they plan to meet again later that day so she can get the money and he can give her the report he’s kept at home all these years.  But he’s a no-show, and his wife absolutely refuses to tell Colleen anything she knows.

And then there’s the man with the glasses and the tightly knit hat who is stalking a teenage girl, looking for his opportunity.  He has all his supplies ready–chloroform, handkerchief, plastic dry-cleaning bag.  Who is he?

Colleen’s personal life is messy too.  Because she’s on parole after her years in prison, she needs a permanent, approved address, and the room she’s been using in the deserted warehouse doesn’t meet the criterion.  Her daughter, now a member of a cult, won’t see her, and Colleen is sexually intrigued by the daughter of her client.

Things are getting out of control, but the events in Colleen’s history have taught her to persevere.  So in spite of the roadblocks put in her way by the San Francisco police force, the antagonism of the former detective’s wife, and the difficulty of finding the solution to Edward Copeland’s daughter’s murder before his imminent death, she continues her investigation.

The tension of the plot and the strong characters make Vanishing in the Haight a perfect thriller.  According to the book’s jacket, this is the first novel in the Colleen Hayes series.  I can’t wait for the next one.

You can read more about Max Tomlinson at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

THE LYING ROOM by Nicci French: Book Review

Yes, Neve Connolly is feeling a little guilty as she rides her bicycle for another midday tryst with her lover, Saul.  After all, she is married and the mother of three, and she knows what she’s doing is wrong.  Still, it is wonderful to feel wanted, admired, desired desperately by someone.

So when the text I can see you arrives, she makes breakfast for her family, gives her husband an excuse he has no reason to doubt, and goes to the small apartment Saul keeps “for business reasons.”  And there, lying on the floor of the living room, is Saul in a pool of blood.

Neve’s first thought, naturally, is to call the police emergency number.  But then she wonders about the repercussions, not only for herself but for her teenage daughter Mabel.  Mabel, about to start university, has not handled the difficult teenage years well, exhibiting depression, drug use, anorexia, and behavioral issues.  She is coming out of all that, Neve thinks, or at least hopes, and she can imagine all too well what her arrest would do to her daughter and the rest of her family.

So Neve decides to obliterate all traces of herself in the flat.  She washes Saul’s  towels and sheets and puts them in the dryer, runs the dishwasher, takes a small sketch she had given him and throws it in the trash bag where she’s put other odds and ends.  Finally she’s finished, takes the bag out with her, and leaves it in front of a restaurant in a pile of identical bags.  And she heads for home.

And then comes the tricky part.  It’s not only that she and Saul were lovers, he was her boss.  So the next day, when she goes to work, she has to pretend that nothing is wrong, that she’s not waiting for someone to come in with the news of his death.  And one more thing–Neve realizes that she had taken off her bangle bracelet when she put on rubber gloves to clean, and it is still on the apartment’s kitchen counter.

Nicci French’s latest mystery is outstanding, as are her novels in the Frieda Klein series.  They, the name Nicci French being a combination of Nicci Gerard and Gerald French, an English wife-and-husband writing team, bring the same heart-pounding writing to this stand-alone as they have done to the Klein books.  Neve is a typical English housewife/mother/working woman, trying to balance the many aspects of her life when she is thrown into the center of a horrific situation.  Some of that situation is of her own making, obviously, but as she is innocent of murdering her lover, she engages the reader’s sympathy and understanding.

In addition to Neve, the authors have created a wonderful supporting (or not-so-supporting) cast of characters–Neve’s husband Fletcher, an unfulfilled artist; Mabel, her emotionally unstable daughter; Berenice, Saul’s widow; her colleagues  and her college friends.  But who could have wanted to kill Saul?  What possible reason could there be?

I was unhappy to see the end of the Klein series, but my hopes of reading more Nicci French books have been revived with this stand-alone.  Nicci French knows what she/they are doing.

You can read more about Nicci French at various sites on the internet.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

LAND OF WOLVES by Craig Johnson: Book Review

Sheriff Walt Longmire is back in Absaroka County, Wyoming, after a trip to Mexico that left him bruised in body and mind.  He is trying to regain his equilibrium so that he can continue to protect the people of his county, but he’s wondering if he’ll ever “pick up the step” he’s lost.

He and his deputy/lover Victoria Moretti have been summoned by the County Brand Inspector and an employee of the National Forest Service to view the carcass of a sheep which appears to have been killed by a wolf.  The issue is that the wolf is in a predator zone, i.e., an agricultural area where the animal is considered a predator or a nuisance and may be shot on sight by anyone.

Walt and Vic find out that the sheep is part of a herd belong to Extepare Abarrane, a landowner of Basque extraction, and that this particular section is under the care of Miguel Hernandez, a Chilean herder.  While Walt is searching for Hernandez, he comes across Keasik Cheecho, a nurse and self-described volunteer for the Wolf Conservancy out of Missoula, Montana.

She’s distraught at the idea that one of the wolves the conservancy is protecting may have killed a sheep and thus be a target itself, and she agrees to take Walt to the camp in which Hernandez lives to learn more.  The hut is empty, so the two of them walk deeper into the surrounding woods.  There Walt sees the bare feet of a man hanging from a tree; it’s Miguel Hernandez.

Large in area but small in population, everything in Absaroka Country is connected sooner or later.  At the same time that Walt and other officials are trying to quell fears that a dangerous wolf, or possibly more than one, is nearby and a threat to people and animals, the sheriff’s office gets a call that the grandson of the Basque landowner Abarrane is missing from his grandparents’ home.

There are custody issues involved, as well as the possibility of domestic abuse, and the sheriff’s investigation isn’t made easier by the fact that Abaranne himself isn’t at home, that his wife has dementia, and Keasik Cheecho keeps popping up where, at least in Walt’s opinion, she isn’t wanted.

This latest novel by Craig Johnson is, as is true of the others in the series, a combination of an excellent mystery and a probing look into an almost vanishing slice of American life.  Even Walt, who has withstood his office’s increasingly impatient demands that he enter at least the twentieth century, if not the twenty-first, and get a computer, finds himself weakening.  It is impossible to read one of the Longmire books and not wish to meet the author.

You can read more about Craig Johnson at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

A DANGEROUS MAN by Robert Crais: Book Review

Isabel Roland seems to have a perfectly ordinary life.  She has a new job as a bank teller, although it can’t quite cover the bills for the house she inherited from her recently deceased mother.  The house is, to use a common expression, a “money pit,” but Isabel is happy at her job and is doing her best to keep her home in reasonable repair.

One of her repeat customers at the bank is Joe Pike, a man she’s attracted to; however, the attraction doesn’t seem to be returned.  After Pike completes his transaction in his usual matter-of-fact manner and leaves the bank, Isabel goes on her lunch hour.  As soon as she steps onto the sidewalk, a man stops her to ask for directions and then propels her into a waiting van.  Unfortunately for that man and for the driver inside the van, Joe Pike is parked across the street.

Isabel can’t understand what happened nor what the man who pushed her into the van means when he says, “We know your secret.”  Before he can say much more, the van’s front window explodes and the two men are thrown out.  And Pike appears.

Miles away, the body of a U. S. Marshall is found buried in a shallow grave.  What is the connection between that murder and the attempted abduction?

Early the next morning the police appear at Joe’s door, and he finds out that the two men who attempted to kidnap Isabel had made bail the night before and were found dead shortly afterward.  The police aren’t satisfied with Joe’s alibi, but they reluctantly take their leave after getting the names of neighbors who say they saw him at the time the murders had been committed.  Then, when Joe tries to return the call Isabel made to him the evening before, there’s no answer; when he drives to her address, she’s not there.

Across the street from Isabel’s home, Carly Knox, Isabel’s best friend, calls to him.  Isabel had texted Carly the night before, saying that she was certain the two men who had tried to kidnap her had returned and were outside her house.  She said she was heading to Carly’s house, but she never arrived, and Carly has not heard from her since.

Joe is not getting any satisfaction from his calls to the police involved in the case so he calls Elvis Cole, the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Detective.”  The two men have worked together many times, taking turns asking each other for help, each man having a different skill set.  As Pike explains to Carly, “He’s a detective.  I’m something else.”

As is true in every Robert Crais novel, the writing is taut, the plot moves at a fast pace, and the characters, both major and minor, are outstandingly portrayed.  But it is always Joe and Elvis who are at the center of the story, and their friendship is what makes the novels the terrific reads that they are.

You can read more about Robert Crais at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

 

 

SCRUBLANDS by Chris Hammer: Book Review

When Martin Scarsden enters the small town of Riversend, he is bent, if not broken.  He has been a journalist for his whole working life, reporting from hot spots all over the world.  He’s always been an outsider, a spectator to the death and destruction he’s seen around him, but his last assignment made him a victim rather than an observer.

When Martin was working on the Gaza Strip with a Palestinian driver/interpreter, the latter gets a call that there’s a roadblock ahead.  He and Martin decide it would be safer for Martin to hide in the car’s trunk, and that’s where he is when the car is stopped and the Palestinian is taken away.

Martin remained in the trunk for three days until the driver returned to the car.  He had no food but did have water, but naturally it was a terrifying experience.  His friend and editor at the newspaper, Max Fuller, has given him the Riversend assignment as a way to prove to his colleagues that he belongs back at work.  But the situation he finds himself in and the article he has come to write, a seemingly straightforward one about the effects of murder on a small town, will prove nearly as dangerous and bewildering as any he has covered.

Riversend might almost be called a ghost town, a place suffering from a devastating heat wave and drought, a diminishing population, and the closing of nearly every business in it.  Exactly a year earlier five horrific murders took place in the town, and it is that event that has brought Martin there.  The handsome and much-admired priest of St. James Church, Brian Swift, was greeting parishioners one Sunday morning when he went inside to answer a phone call.  When he came out, he had a rifle in his hands and started shooting.  Seconds later, five victims lay dead.

Martin is hearing these details from the town policeman, Robbie Haus-Jones, who was a close friend of the priest’s.  Robbie was on duty when he heard the first shot, which he took to be a firecracker or a car backfiring, “something like that,” he tells the reporter.  When he got to the church a couple of minutes later, the victims were already dead.  He called out to Brian to put down his rifle; instead the priest fired his gun and Robbie returned fire, fatally wounding Brian.

No one in Riversend has anything bad to say to Martin about the priest.  He was “a good man,” “he cared,” “he knew I was in pain and he helped me.”  How can that be reconciled with a man who shot five people in cold blood?

Martin is determined to uncover the truth, to get beyond the platitudes that the townspeople are giving him.  But the more he learns and writes about Riversend, the more he puts his own emotional recovery in danger.

Chris Hammer, himself a journalist for more than thirty years in Australia, has written a mystery that will keep you enthralled until the last page.  His characterizations of Martin and the various townspeople whose lives Brian touched are beautifully drawn, and the secrets they hide, from themselves and from others, make them believable as real figures.

You can read more about Chris Hammer at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

THE COLD WAY HOME by Julia Keller: Book Review

Julia Keller is absolutely one of my favorite authors.  The Cold Way Home is the eighth book in the Bell Elkins series and, like the others, it doesn’t disappoint.

There is a lot of backstory in each of the Elkins’ books, but Ms. Keller does an excellent job of bringing the new reader up-to-date without boring those who have read previous novels.  The most important thing to learn is that Bell was formerly the district attorney in the small rural town of Acker’s Gap, West Virginia; a felony she committed as a child and was unaware of has recently come to light and caused her disbarrment, the loss of her position, and a prison term.

Trying to put all that behind her but still use her legal and detecting skills, she has opened INVESTIGATIONS, a three-person firm that includes Nick Fogelman, the former sheriff, Jake Oakes, the former deputy sheriff, and herself.  The skill level of each one is high but so are the burdens each carries.  For Bell, it’s knowing that her older sister had protected her from the knowledge of Bell’s crime at a great cost to herself.  For Nick, it’s the end of his forty-year marriage.  For Jake, it’s the reality that he will be paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life due to a shooting in the line of duty.

In this book, the third in the series dealing with legal and illegal drugs in West Virginia, the opening scene is a particularly harrowing one.  The sheriff’s department and the EMTs are called to the Burger Boss where a young couple is in the throes of drug addiction.  The young man is passed out, his head on the booth’s table, but the young woman has barricaded herself in the bathroom.

When Deputy Sheriff Steve Brinksneader pushes into the bathroom, one of the emergency technicians has already administered Narcan to counteract the effects of the heroin the woman had taken.  As Steve pulls the woman off the toilet, he glances inside it and sees the tiny body of a baby.

At the same time, Bell and her partners in INVESTIGATIONS have been hired to find Dixie Sue Folson, a teenager missing from home for three days; Maggie Folson thinks her daughter may have been abducted by her lowlife boyfriend.  Bell’s hunt for the girl leads her to the long-deserted grounds of Wellwood, a psychiatric hospital that burned to the ground decades earlier.  And there she finds a body, but it’s not that of Dixie Sue.

Julia Keller’s last three mysteries have focused on the opioid crisis that is rampant in West Virginia, her home state.  In 2017, West Virginia had the highest percentage of deaths due to drugs in the United States; the state held that title in 2016 as well.  So when Bell tells district attorney Rhonda Lovejoy, “Fate doesn’t need to be tempted….Expect the worst and you’re never disappointed,” it’s all too true.

Starting from the beginning of this series would be ideal, but starting is the operative word.  Each book is well worth reading, and together they form a picture, although a sad one, of the hardscrabble life all too prevalent in rural America today.

You can read more about Julia Keller at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

IF SHE WAKES by Michael Koryta: Book Review

It’s hard to imagine anything more terrifying than waking up and finding oneself unable to move or speak.  That is what happens to Tara Berkley, a college student who is asked to drive a distinguished scientist, Dr. Amandi Oltamu, to a venue where he will deliver a keynote speech.

Dr. Oltamu seems strangely reluctant for Tara to bring him to the school auditorium, and he insists on stopping along the way and taking photos with his phone.  After snapping several shots, he gives her the phone and asks her to lock it safely in her car.  Then he further puzzles her by saying that she should drive on alone, and he will walk the rest of the way by himself and meet her at the college.

Admitting to herself that she is unnerved by the man’s odd behavior, Tara is about to step into her car when she hears the sound of a van’s engine behind her.  The van’s  headlights are off, and it is heading directly toward her and Dr. Oltamu.  Tara throws herself away from her car and toward the river, but as she does she can see that the doctor is pinned against her car.  That’s all she knows before she hits her head on a stone pillar and is catapulted into the water.

Although the police believe that what happened to Dr. Oltamu and Tara was a tragic accident, with the van’s driver admitting that he was at fault, there is no one to point out the discrepancies in his story.  Dr. Oltamu is dead from the impact of the collision, and Tara is in the hospital in a deep coma that will eventually be diagnosed as locked-in syndrome, leaving her unable to communicate.

If She Wakes is told in multiple voices.  The reader is privy to Tara’s thoughts, which are jumbled and confused at first but gradually become clearer as she begins to remember what happened at “the accident” scene.

A second voice belongs to Dax, a teenage psychopath who hired the man who killed Dr. Oltamu.

A third voice is Abby Kaplan’s, a rookie insurance investigator and former race car driver.  She was hired to look into the crash and make certain that the college has no liability in the case.  Even though the driver has admitted negligence, Abby’s boss wants all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed, so she goes to the river bank to reconstruct the scene, her history as a driver making her the perfect investigator.

Her take-away is that it was no accident, that the crash was deliberate.  But then why would the driver take the blame?  It’s not until the next day that his body is found in what appears to be a suicide; although the college and Abby’s boss are satisfied that that proves he was at fault, Abby knows there must be more to the story and continues to try to find out the truth.

If She Wakes is a nail-biting thriller.  There are more deaths, and the people who seem trustworthy are not.  The tension continues to the last page, and the familiar advice don’t start this before you go to bed has never been more valid.

You can read more about Michael Koryta at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

THE BITTERROOTS by C. J. Box: Book Review

The Bitterroots are a mountain range situated in western Montana and the panhandle of Idaho, part of the Rocky Mountain chain.  In spite of its harsh-sounding name, it’s filled with natural beauty, featuring outstanding hunting, fishing, boating, and other outdoor activities.  But in C. J. Box’s latest novel, its beauty hides pockets of corruption, greed, and self-enclosed communities with secrets they want to remain hidden.

Cassie Dewell, once a deputy sheriff, is now the founder of Dewell Investigations, LLC.  As the novel opens she receives a phone call from Rachel Mitchell, a partner in a Missoula law firm, and a woman whom Cassie owes a favor.  Rachel wants her to investigate everything about the arrest of Blake Kleinsasser, who has been accused of raping his niece Franny; Cassie’s initial response is “No way.”

The Kleinsasser family is the dictionary definition of dysfunctional.  Blake, the eldest son of Horst and Margaret, is the only one who left the family ranch; in Kleinsasser terms, that’s treason and “the ultimate act of disloyalty.”  Blake has had a successful career in New York City; after a long absence he returns home with the intention of helping his siblings sell the ranch, which he tells them is in their best financial interest.  But his sister and two brothers don’t believe he came for unselfish reasons and say don’t want to sell the ranch at all.

Blake explains to Cassie and Rachel that many of his clan’s problems stem from the Kleinsasser Family Trust, a document drawn up by Blake’s grandfather.  According to that document, everything must be left to the oldest son in each generation, which is Blake in this case.  It is up to that son whether to keep the entire bequest or to share it with other family members.  The only way that heir would not receive the entire bequest, which currently consists of the ranch, is to denounce the family name or by committing “moral turpitude.”

Blake admits to having been drinking heavily for several days before the alleged rape took place.  He remembers picking up his niece from church that evening after she phoned him to do so, but he claims a total blackout about the rest of that night until the deputies came to arrest him the next morning.

The physical evidence against him appears overwhelming–his semen on Fanny’s underwear, his car’s tire tracks at the remote cabin where she told the deputies the attack took place, a whiskey glass at the cabin covered with Blake’s fingerprints–and then there’s Fanny’s testimony of what happened.  But Cassie does owe Rachel a favor, a big favor from a previous case, so despite her near certainty about the client’s guilt she agrees to investigate.

Luchsa County, home to the Kleinsassers, seems to be totally in their grasp.  It soon becomes apparent that the police and the courts are beholden to the family, thwarting Cassie’s efforts to discover the truth of what happened between Blake and his niece.  But she perseveres, and little by little a story different from the original one gets uncovered.

C. J. Box is the author of more than twenty novels, including the best-selling Joe Pickett series.  His mysteries have won the Edgar, Anthony, and Barry awards, among other prizes. 

You can read more about C. J. Box at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

CITY OF WINDOWS by Robert Pobi: Book Review

Although I know nothing more about Robert Pobi than what I read in the brief, somewhat off-the-wall bio on his web page, I am pretty sure we have at least one thing in common:  neither one of us owns a microwave.  I say this because since this same bio states that Mr. Pobi does not do Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat, nor does he own a cellphone, the lack of a microwave seems a pretty safe bet.

Another thing we have in common is our love of mystery novels.  He writes them and I read them, and I hope he enjoyed writing City of Windows as much as I enjoyed reading it.

The book’s protagonist, Dr. Lucas Page, has a unique background.  He is a university professor, astrophysicist, textbook author, former FBI agent, television and radio commentator, NASA consultant–did I leave anything out?  And he also is a man with only one eye, one arm, and one leg.

Severely injured in the line of duty several years earlier, Lucas now leads a more prosaic life.  That he does so is a combination of factors, including the seemingly obvious limitations due to his injuries and a promise he made to his wife not to get involved in any FBI investigations, even as a consultant.

But when Special Agent Brett Kehoe comes to his door with the news that Lucas’ former partner and an innocent bystander were shot and killed not far from Lucas’ home in Manhattan, Lucas feels he has no choice but to use his unique skills to find the killer.

The book’s title comes from a statement that Kehoe makes to another agent as they try to locate the spot from which the shot was fired.  The agents are looking at over 1,600 yards of rooftop and nearly 3,000 windows in the immediate area of the murders and can’t work out where the shooter had stood.  That’s when Kehoe goes to Lucas.

Before the attack that nearly claimed his life, Page had the amazing ability to translate blocks and buildings into numerical components and units of measure.  Now, standing in a blizzard on 42nd Street and Park Avenue, he wonders if he still has that skill, but he doesn’t wonder for long.  Within minutes, mental algorithms start putting things together for him, and he turns to an agent standing near him.  “…tell Kehoe I know where the shot came from….The roof of number 3 Park Avenue.”

Not surprisingly, Page is not universally popular with agents in the Bureau.  Agent Grover Graves, in particular, uses every opportunity to downplay Lucas’ ability and his refusal to accept the official FBI profile of the killer.  The agency received a report from French authorities that the man they want is a wealthy young Frenchman who has been radicalized, and even though Kehoe doesn’t agree with that, he has been ordered by FBI higher-ups, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security to find Philippe Froissant.

So Kehoe turns to Lucas to support his view.  But it takes three more deaths for the powers-that-be to agree with this.  And in the meantime Lucas is drawn ever deeper into his old role, bringing danger not only to himself but to his family.

Robert Pobi has written a hold-your-breath thriller, one you won’t put down until you’ve turned the last page.  You can read more about him at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

DEATH IN THE COVENANT by D. A. Bartley: Book Review

The history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a long one, but it is a complicated one.  Many of their beliefs follow mainstream Christian beliefs–purity before marriage, strong families and communities–but many do not.

Foremost among the differences are the two that are central to Death in the Covenant:  first, a belief in a pre-existence in Heaven before birth and second, a policy long renounced by the church but still practiced secretly by a very few, plural marriages.

Abbie Taylor is a descendant of several Mormon men high in the church’s hierarchy, but following the deaths of her husband and mother she lost her faith.  She has, however, returned to her Utah home and is a member of the Pleasant View police department, hoping to regain the sense of community she once experiencd there.

Death in the Covenant opens with a fatal car crash that claims the life of Heber Bentsen, first counselor to the prophet of the church.  A witness tells Abbie he saw another car forcing Bentsen off the road and down the cliff, but he didn’t see the license plate or get a close look at that driver.

There are a number of things that seem “off” to Abbie.  The department’s chief of police is very anxious that the fatal crash be an accident and is quick to disregard the statement of the eyewitness.  The 911 call that came into the police station was from a burner phone, and the male caller hung up before giving his name.  Eliza Bentsen tells Abbie that she’d been trying to call her husband several times during the evening, but there’s no record of her calls on Heber Bentsen’s phone.

When Abbie goes to see her father, perhaps Bentsen’s closest friend, he has already heard the news from the widow.  He tells her that he and Bentsen had a rather disturbing meeting a week earlier.

Some time ago the counselor had asked Professor Taylor to keep a list of unmarried female graduate students in the department of religious studies who dropped out before receiving their degrees.  It had become obvious that there were a higher number of these women that the Bentsen had expected, and his comment to Taylor the previous week, “I can’t believe he already started,” made no sense to the professor at the time or to him or Abbie now.

When the medical examiner determines that the counselor was murdered by a blow to his head, finding the man who called in the crash becomes even more important.  In her investigation, Abbie goes through old family files kept hidden in her attic and discovers a copy of The New and Everlasting Covenant, the church’s document from the 1840s sanctioning the practice of multiple marriages.

Although polygamy was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 1879, a few polygamous communities are still to be found in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and Abbie thinks that it’s possible that one of these communities holds the key to Bentsen’s homicide.

I find mysteries about religious communities fascinating, and Death in the Covenant is no exception.  Ms. Bartley’s style propels the reader along; her characters, both good and bad, are realistic, and the plot kept me engaged until the very end.  This novel is the second in the Abish “Abbie” Taylor series, and I hope the next one will not be long in arriving.

You can read more about Ms. Bartley at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lippman: Book Review

Lady in the Lake is an absolutely wonderful book.  For me, its timing could not be more serendipitous–one of the mysteries I’m teaching this fall at BOLLI (Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) is the first novel in Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series, Baltimore Blues, and Lady in the Lake may be read as a prequel to the earlier novel as well as a stand-alone.

The book’s protagonist is Maddie Schwartz, a thirty-something upper-middle-class Jewish housewife in Baltimore; the time is 1966.  Married to a successful attorney, mother of a teenage son, she seems to have everything needed to enjoy her life.  But, as the Bob Dylan song so aptly put it two years before the books opens, the times they are a -changin’.

Maddie is experiencing a sense of unfullfilment, a sense that she should be doing more with her life than being the pretty wife and good mother she has been for nearly twenty years.  She leaves her husband and their son, who decides to stay with his father, and takes a tiny apartment in a not-so-savory part of the city.  And then she has to decide what she wants to do, or is able to do, with the rest of her life.  Her mantra is, She had to matter, she wanted to matter.

The novel is told in many voices, all brilliantly presented.  The main one is Maddie’s, and we learn her many secrets during the course of the book.  The second most frequent voice is that of Cleo Sherwood, a young “Negro” woman whose body is found in a city fountain.  She hadn’t been seen for weeks by her parents or at the bar/restaurant where she worked, but no one reported her missing until nearly two months had elapsed.  As Cleo asks herself, “…are you really missing if nobody misses you?”

But before Cleo’s body is found there is another missing person, an eleven-year-old white girl named Tessie Fine.  A search is started for her, and Maddie and a friend almost literally trip over her corpse.  This starts a new train of thought for her and sends her on the road to the Star’s newsroom.

Thus she begins her career as a reporter, although Maddie being Maddie, in her later life she erases the Star from her C.V. and lists her journalism beginnings at the more prestigious Beacon.  She was always a bit cavalier with the facts.

There are many, many personalities in Lady in the Lake, some of whom play an important role in the story, some who come into it for a brief mention in a chapter or two.  Regardless of the length of her/his appearance, every character’s voice is distinct and true.  In addition, the city itself is a major character in the book, with its neighborhoods explained, its streets explored, its synagogues and churches delineated.

Not surprisingly, Laura Lippman began her own career as a reporter in Baltimore for The Sun, working at the newspaper for twenty years.  She was still working there when she began writing the Tess Monaghan novels.  Over the years her novels have received Edgar, Anthony, Agatha, Shamus, Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe, and Barry awards.

You can read more about Laura Lippman at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

AFTER SHE’S GONE by Camilla Grebe: Book Review

Just over two years ago I blogged about a Swedish mystery, The Ice Beneath Her, by Camilla Grebe.  It was a novel so well-written, so extraordinary in its plot, that I included it as one of the books in my Fall 2018 BOLLI course, WHODUNIT?:  MURDER IN SCANDINAVIA.  I also chose it as one of my favorite mysteries of 2017.

After She’s Gone is the follow-up to that novel.  This time the locale is the small and not-very-exciting town of Ormberg, Sweden.  It’s 2009, and three teenagers, two boys and a girl, head for the town’s forest to do some underage drinking.  Malin needs to relieve herself, so she cautiously goes a bit deeper into the woods; she’s a bit uneasy because of its reputation as the place where the Ghost Child lives.

Squatting down, she touches what at first feels like some type of bowl, surrounded by moss.  But a closer touch reveals that the bowl is actually a skull and the moss is human hair.

Jumping ahead to the present day, we meet Jake.  He’s a lonely teenager, mourning the death of his mother, and tormented by what he calls The Secret:  he likes to dress in women’s clothing.  On this particular night, after his sister and father have gone out, he goes to his late mother’s closet and puts on one of her evening dresses and a pair of her high heels and goes for a walk where no one will sees him, in that same forest.

It’s dark and a cold rain is falling when Jake hears a noise and then sees a woman crawling on the forest floor.  She’s covered with scratches, her hair is dripping wet, and she’s barefoot.  “Help me,” she says, and despite his misgivings Jake approaches her.  “Who are you?” he asks, and she says, “Hanne.”

Just then he hears a car on the road outside the woods, and very slowly the woman makes her way toward it.  In his fear of being discovered, Jake hides in the trees while Hanne makes her way to the car and after a brief conversation with the driver gets in.  But she has left something behind, something that Jake picks up.  It’s a small brown leather notebook.

The following day we meet Malin again, now a police officer in Stockholm who has been sent to Ormberg, her home town, to join the police team interviewing Hanne.  This is not just another middle-aged woman who lost her way in the forest; she is, in fact, a legend:  Hanne Lagerlind-Schön, Sweden’s foremost criminal profiler.  She is apparently suffering from dementia and can’t tell the investigators why she was in the forest or how she got there.  And where is Peter Lindgren, her partner both personally and professionally, who never leaves her side?

After She’s Gone is a fascinating glimpse into life in a town that, much like Hanne, has lost its way.  Its major industries, the ironworks and the sawmill, have closed, its young people are moving away, and the town’s long-time residents are having difficulty dealing with the newly-arrived immigrants from Arab countries.  As Malin thinks, “They get plenty of help.  Help that the people of Ormberg never received…there was no help for us when we needed it…Why can’t they go to some other place?”  But she doesn’t say that aloud.

Camilla Grebe has written several novels with her sister; After She’s Gone is her second solo mystery.  You don’t have to read The Ice Beneath Her to enjoy this novel, but I highly recommend that you double your pleasure and read both of them.  They are outstanding.

You can read more about Camilla Grebe at this website. https://www.bookbrowse.com/biographies/index.cfm/author_number/3194/camilla-grebe.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.