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Book Author: Michael Koryta

AN HONEST MAN by Michael Koryta: Book Review

Salvation Point Island is a misnomer if ever there was.  A small rocky island off the coast of Maine, it once was home to a community of fishermen who made their living off the bountiful waters between Maine and Canada that are now called the Lost Zone.  When the federal government banned lobster fishing in the Zone, the community was devastated and most of its residents left.

Not Israel Pike, though, and not his uncle Sterling Pike.  Israel has just returned to the island after serving 15 years for the murder of his father.  The island is policed by his uncle, the only law enforcement agent on Salvation Point, a man with complete control and a strong antipathy toward Israel.

A few weeks after Israel’s return to his father’s house, he spots a vessel in trouble.  The boat is moving, to Israel’s knowledgeable eye, without anyone at the helm, and Israel rows out to see if he can help.

Boarding the yacht, he comes across an incredibly gruesome scene.  After he finds the first body, he’s certain that no one else on the Mereo is alive and he’s right.  There are six more.

The investigation into the murders is being run jointly by Israel’s uncle Stirling Pike and Jenn Salazar of the Maine State Police.  Although there is nothing connecting Israel to the murder, Stirling is determined to make his nephew’s life as miserable as possible, to the point of inciting several townspeople to brutally assault Israel.

The young Lyman Ranklin is also a victim of aggression, only in his case it’s his alcoholic father who beats him on a regular, almost daily, basis.  The twelve-year-old’s only refuge is a nearby house, nearly a ruin, believed by all to be uninhabited since the death of its owner.  On this day, running from yet another beating, Lyman takes refuge in the house but realizes almost at once that he is not alone.

Even before he sees the woman, Lyman can smell her, a smell of salt water and copper, although almost at once he realizes that the latter smell is from blood.  She is dripping blood from the many cuts on her feet and holding a hatchet, and she’s only five feet in front of him.

A Honest Man thus has two protagonists, each one wounded and vulnerable, each one very much alone in the only home he’s ever known.  The only person on Salvation Point Island who believes in them and shows them kindness is Dar, the owner of the island’s convenience store.  She does her best to help Israel and Lyman, but in her attempt to assist Lyman she unknowingly puts his life in danger.

Michael Koryta is an outstanding crime writer.  His writing is taut and to the point, his characters are credible, and the Maine setting is brought beautifully to life.  And he answers, with complete believability, the question of why people remain on Salvation Point, when poverty and violence surround them.  As one of the characters tells Israel, “I don’t intend to let anyone run me off my own island.”

You can read more about the author 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 OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.




WHEN A STRANGER COMES TO TOWN edited by Michael Koryta: Book Review

I’m not much of a short story person; I much prefer reading novels, especially mystery novels, because I enjoy thinking about characters and plots and settings for a longer time than a short story allows.  That being said, when my local library re-opened in June (hooray!), one of the featured books on the New Arrivals shelf was this collection of stories edited by Michael Koryta, part of the library of the Mystery Writers of America.

There are stories by nineteen authors, and I was familiar with less than half of them.  I found that really interesting, since their brief bios at the end of the book indicate that only three of them write short stories exclusively.  What that means is that I’ll have to up my reading time to be able to focus on writers whose works I haven’t read.

Of course, I was immediately grabbed by the authors I had previously read–Alafair Burke, Michael Connelly, Lisa Unger, Lori Roy, Michael Koryta, and Steve Hamilton.  But I decided to approach When A Stranger Comes to Town the way I would read a novel–start at the beginning of the collection and read to the end.

With only two exceptions, I found the stories in this collection ranging from really good to outstanding.  Three of them caught my eye because of their location–“Perfect Strangers” by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs since it takes place just a few miles from my home in Massachusetts, “Assignment:  Sheepshead Bay” by Paul A. Barra which takes places in my hometown of Brooklyn, and “P.F.A.” by Michael Koryta because it takes places in Maine, where my older son and his family live.  I’d also like to note “A Six-Letter Word for Neighbor” by Lisa Unger; its ending caught me totally by surprise and yet seemed so perfect.

Michael Koryta, the book’s editor, did a masterful job in choosing these stories.  When A Stranger Comes To Town is an absolutely outstanding addition to the Mystery Writers of America’s library.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast 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.

THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD by Michael Koryta: Book Review

It all starts with a simple dare.  Fourteen-year-old Jace Wilson, fearful of heights, is challenged by a fellow student to jump from the Rooftop quarry into the water below, a sixty-five-foot drop.  Not only is there one hundred dollars riding on the challenge, money that Jace couldn’t pay if he lost the bet, but he would be shamed in front of the other students, particularly the girls.  No, he’d rather face death, or so he thinks, than let that happen.

So Jace dives into the water and hits a body, an even worse outcome than the rocks he feared.  Frantic, he looks around for the best way to exit the water and call for help when he hears a car’s motor.  Looking up, he’s relieved to see three men, two in police uniforms; he’s just about to shout out when he notices a third man, in handcuffs and wearing a hood.  Jace manages to slip into a crevice and is thus hidden when he sees the uniformed men push the handcuffed one into the water.

Ethan Serbin is a Montana mountain guide who has worked with the military to train people to survive extreme conditions.  Now he runs a program for troubled teenage boys, taking them on treks in the wilderness to turn them away from a life of crime.   Jamie Bennett, who was one of his students when he was working with the armed forces, drives through a blizzard to reach him and ask for his help in adding Jace to his summer program.  She tells Ethan that she has a witness to a horrendous crime and he needs to be “off the grid” until the trial begins after the summer.  Ethan agrees to add him to the program, not knowing which of the seven boys in this year’s summer program is Jace.

Hannah Faber is beginning work at a fire-tower cabin after a horrendous experience on Shepherd Mountain the previous year.  A member of a Hotshot Crew, a team of professional firefighters who work in the hottest spots of wildfires, Hannah is the survivor of a fire that killed fellow members of her crew as well as the family caught in the blaze.  Now too traumatized to continue as a hotshot, she’s taken a job as a lookout in search of fires.  It’s less stressful, but Hannah has brought her stress with her.

The novel is told in the third person from various points of view–Jace’s, Ethan’s, Hannah’s, and the two men who are looking for Jace in order to make certain that he doesn’t testify against them.  The men, remorseless killers who leave a number of bodies in their wake, are somehow getting closer each day to Jace, despite Jamie’s assurance to Ethan that she is “one hundred percent” certain that the murderers will never be able to locate the teen.

Michael Koryta has written a spellbinding page turner, the kind of book that you should not start before bedtime.  His characters are realistic, his plot will hold your interest to the last page.

You can read more about Michael Koryta at this web site.

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