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Posts Tagged ‘kidnapping’

RUPTURE by Ragnar Jónasson: Book Review

For a very small country–its population is under 350,000–Iceland appears to have a lot of crime.

Things have been quiet, too quiet, in Siglufjördur.  The small town is under quarantine due to a deadly virus brought by a traveler from Africa.  Sadly, the man died the day after he arrived, and one of the nurses caring for him died shortly after that.  So the shops, schools, museum, and library are all closed, and the streets are deserted.

The unnatural silence leaves police detective Ari Thór with time to follow up on a rather strange request.  A man called Hédinn comes to the police station to explain why he is seeking Ari Thór help.  Hédinn tells Ari Thór that fifty years ago his parents, along with his mother’s sister and her husband, bought land in a remote, uninhabited fjörd miles from anywhere.  Hédinn was born the year after the four moved there, and the five of them left the year after that, so obviously he has no memories of his birthplace.

Now Hédinn tells the detective he wants to get to the bottom of the tragic event that occurred shortly after his birth.  His aunt died, the cause of her death uncertain.  She drank rat poison, there was no way to summon a doctor or ambulance in time, and she died shortly after ingesting it.  At the time the official version was that it was a terrible accident that happened because the poison was kept in a cupboard near the sugar, which it closely resembled, but Hédinn says there were always suspicions that it was either suicide or murder, both equally difficult to prove.

Now Hédinn has received a photo taken by his uncle.  In it are his mother, his father, his aunt, and himself as an infant being held by a young, unknown man.  He wants Ari Thór to find out the identity of the man, what he was doing at their remote home, and, if he is alive, what he knows about what happened to the aunt.

A very different scenario is being played out in Iceland’s capital city.  Róbert and his girlfriend Sunna are living in Reykjavik with her toddler son.  While Sunna and her sister are having lunch, the boy is abducted from his pram outside the restaurant where they are eating.  They can see Kjartan from their table, but in the minute that the women take their eyes off him, the child is taken away.

Kidnapping is almost unheard of in Iceland, and it immediately comes to the attention of the police that an incident in Róbert’s past may be the reason that Kjartan was taken.  Róbert has never divulged his secret to Sunna, its guilt and shame still all too prevalent in his mind several years after the terrible event, but the investigating detective tells him, ”…you had better come clean.  Otherwise I’ll have to tell her, in my own words, just why her son was abducted by a stranger.”

I’ve reviewed three of Ragnar Jónasson’s earlier books on this blog, so it’s obvious that I am very much a fan.  His portrayal of Iceland and its people is masterful and gives the reader an insight into how the climate and culture of the country play an important role in the lives of its people.

You can read more about Ragnar Jónasson 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 WIDOW by Fiona Barton: Book Review

The Taylors’ marriage had warning signs from the beginning.  When seventeen-year-old Jean met the slightly older, more sophisticated Glen Taylor, she was swept away.  Eventually he won over her parents, and two years later Jean and Glen were married.

They were happy, as long as Glen got to make all the decisions.  He called it being protective, choosing the seat for her at a bar, deciding on her meals so she could taste new things, explaining to her that their kitchen wasn’t quite clean enough.  And Jean wanted to please him, to make things good between them, so she agreed with his decisions and their marriage went along smoothly.

Then things start to go wrong.  Glen is let go from his position at the bank.  He tells Jean he was terminated because the management was downsizing and that he is going to start his own business, but Jean finds a letter from the bank with the words “unprofessional behavior,” “inappropriate,” and “termination forthwith.”  It’s the beginning of serious trouble for the couple.

Dawn Elliot is a single mother to two-year-old Bella.  And one afternoon Bella disappears from their front yard.  “But I was just trying to get her tea ready,” Dawn tells Detective Bob Sparkes.  “She was out of sight for only a minute.”  But that’s all it took for the toddler to disappear.

All of England is looking for Bella, with telephone calls and CCTV coverage constantly updating the police.  Then a tip comes in from a delivery van driver who works for the company where Glen Taylor is temporarily employed.  That driver gives the police the name of the driver who was scheduled to work in the area near Bella’s home on the day she went missing; that driver in turn tells them that he didn’t do the last run of the day but passed it along to Glen.

The Widow covers a period of more than three years in three voices:  Jean Taylor, Glen’s wife; Kate Waters, a reporter at the Daily Post; and Detective Bob Sparkes.  The reader will be carried along by the story, understanding the events as they are seen by these three people.  Jean, who is happily married to Glen until the police come to their house and question him about Bella’s disappearance; Kate, sympathizing with Jean while at the same time doing everything in her power to obtain the exclusive story of the Taylors’ marriage for her paper; Bob, whose obsession with Bella’s case nearly undermines his career.

The novel is as real as today’s headlines.  Each of the above characters, along with many others in the book, has his/her own agenda, and finding out the truth about the kidnapping isn’t always uppermost in each person’s mind.

Fiona Barton has written a gripping mystery, filled with insights into the minds of those who buy child pornography and the slippery slope to which it may lead.  You won’t forget The Widow in a hurry.

You can read more about Fiona Barton at this web site.

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


CRADLE TO GRAVE by Eleanor Kuhns: Book Review

The scene is Maine, the time 1797.  Will Rees, the protagonist of Eleanor Kuhns’ debut mystery A Simple Murder, has spent the last few months farming his land in Maine, but his heart isn’t in it.  By occupation and desire he’s a traveling weaver, plying his trade in New England and the adjoining states. 

Then he and his new bride, Lydia, get a letter from an elder of the Shaker society in Zion, where the couple met.  Sister Hannah Moore, better known by her nickname Mouse, has left Zion and now lives at Mount Unity, a small Shaker enclave near Albany, New York.  She has been accused of kidnapping five children from their home and bringing them to the religious group. 

Despite the treacherous wintry road conditions, Will and Lydia feel compelled to rent a carriage and follow the stagecoach route from Maine to Dover, New York, to find out what compelled Mouse to abduct the children.  Arriving at Mount Unity, they first meet with the Shaker Elder who explains the situation.  Mouse, along with another Sister of the Shaker community, had gone, as part of their charitable outreach, to the home of a poor woman with five children. 

On their first visit all appeared under control, although the mother seemed the worse for drink.  However, Mouse was not satisfied about the children’s welfare; when she returned on her own a few days later, she was aghast at the squalor and unhealthy living conditions of the family.  She took the children with her back to the Shakers, and the next day the children’s mother came to the compound with the town’s constable and the children were returned to her.  Mouse is still convinced that the children are in an unhealthy situation and that their mother is unfit to care for them, and she begs Will and Lydia to look into the situation.

Eleanor Kuhns has given readers a fascinating look into life at the end of the eighteenth century in the newly-formed United States.  Towns and cities had what was called Poor Relief, a kind of welfare for indigent residents.  Such relief was limited to people who had been born in that town, or possibly limited even more stringently to people whose parents had been born in the town.  Otherwise, the councils were entitled, and most often did, to force a family to leave their home and seek refuge elsewhere. 

That was a constant threat against Maggie Whitby, the mother whose children Mouse had taken.  But although Maggie had no obvious means of support, she had inherited the ramshackle cabin she lived in and thus was considered a property owner who could not be sent away or, in the words of the times, be “warned away.”

However, before any action against her is taken, Maggie Whitby is found murdered.  Mouse is the main suspect, although there are others with motives at least as strong.  Will is determined to prove Mouse’s innocence, and his investigation leads him into the many secrets that this small town is hiding.

Cradle to Grave is the third in the Will Rees series, the first novel having been the winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s First Crime Novel Award.   This book is equally good, with strong, interesting characters and the author’s knowledge of the early days of American history skillfully woven into the well-developed plot.

You can read my review of A Simple Murder elsewhere on this blog.  You can read more about Eleanor Kuhns at this web site.

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





PHANTOM INSTINCT by Meg Gardiner: Book Review

Bartender Harper Flynn was in the midst of a busy night at Xenon, a very “in” club in Los Angeles.  Suddenly shots are fired, but the hired security is so hemmed in by the crowd that they can’t get to the shooters.  In the melee Harper’s boyfriend Drew Westerman is shot, and despite her efforts to pull him to safety, he dies.

Questioned by the police afterward, Harper maintains she saw three gunmen in hoodies shooting into the crowd, but nearly all the other witnesses say there were only two.  The sole person agreeing with Harper is Aiden Garrison, a sheriff’s deputy who was there with his partner.  But Aiden suffered a traumatic brain injury that night, and he now has Frégoli Syndrome. 

Named after the French quick-change artist Leopoldo Frégoli, sufferers from this disorder believe that the people around them are actually other people in disguise, capable of changing their gender or dress in a moment.  Aiden is on medical leave from the sheriff’s office because, as he says, “I can become convinced that a random person–a neighbor, or somebody crossing the street, is the shooter.” 

He is still convinced that he and Harper are right, that there was a third shooter, but his mind is now too compromised for the authorities to believe his account.  With Harper, then, being the sole credible survivor who insists on a third man, the police have closed the case.

At the one year anniversary of Drew’s death, Harper attends a memorial service for him.  Harper thinks she sees a man, partially hidden in a grove of trees a few hundred yards away,  who reminds her of the hooded figure at the nightclub.  She tries to follow him but is unsuccessful. 

Frustrated, Harper tracks Aiden down and tells him what she saw at the memorial.  Aiden says that he too has seen the mysterious figure since the shooting, several times in fact, but with his current medical condition no one believes him.  But when Aiden tells Harper that he glimpsed a tattoo with the letters ERO on the shooter’s spine as he raised his arm to shoot that night, she reveals her history to him. 

There was one letter you didn’t see, Harper says.  The letter Z; the word is ZERO.  It’s the nickname of  Eddie Azerov, the person who had forced her, as a teenager in a dysfunctional family, into a life of crime.  And so Harper and Aiden, the only two people who believe in the third man, begin a hesitant collaboration to find him.

Phantom Instinct is a roller coaster ride.  The plot beautifully explores the dilemma of two people who know what they saw but are unable to convince anyone else and are forced to work together to find Zero with no official assistance.  In doing so, Harper is led straight back into her troubled past, and Aiden must confront his fear of another Frégoli episode that would endanger them both.

Meg Gardiner has written a mystery with intriguing characters and a totally suspenseful plot.  Harper and Aiden are flawed, but they are determined to bring Zero and his cohorts to justice.  But each step they take brings them deeper into danger.

You can read more about Meg Gardiner, recipient of the Edgar for China Lake, at this web site.

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






BURIED SECRETS by Joseph Finder: Book Review

Nick Heller calls himself a “private spy.” It’s not exactly a private investigator; it seems he’s more concerned with finding out secrets about the rich and powerful.  And he does a good job.

In Buried Secrets, Nick  is approached by an old friend, Marshall Marcus, to rescue Marshall’s  teenage daughter Alexa from kidnappers. Nick will do almost anything for Marshall, who gave Nick’s mother a job after her husband ran away to avoid being jailed for financial crimes, but he realizes soon enough that Marshall is holding something, or several somethings, back.  However, Nick believes that Marshall truly wants his daughter rescued, even as Nick believes that Marshall’s cold-as-ice wife couldn’t care less about the safety of her stepdaughter.

In addition to Alexa’s abduction, Marshall is facing another problem. His firm lost billion of dollars in investments through the embezzlement of a former employee. Reluctant to admit his firm’s bankruptcy, he had borrowed additional billions from drug dealers and armament dealers in a vain attempt to recoup the funds, and now he’s in a deeper hole than before.  So if it’s money the kidnappers want, his daughter Alexa is really in a tight spot.

This is the second time that Alexa has been abducted, although in the first instance she was simply picked up from a shopping mall, driven around Boston for several hours, and then released.  There was no ransom demand then, and no explanation for the kidnapping ever surfaced.

The more deeply Nick delves into the case, the more secrets he uncovers. Why, in the first place, does Alexa’s best friend Taylor lie about what happened on the night the two of them went out to a Boston nightclub and Alexa disappeared?  Why is FBI agent Gordon Snyder doing everything in his power to keep Nick off the case?  Why does the story of how Marshall met his wife change with every telling?

Nick’s only friend at the Boston office of the FBI is his former lover, Diana Madigan. She’s willing to use the information Nick shared with her to help him, but she is not involved in the search for Alexa.  However, Diana does tell Nick that the reason Gordon Snyder is so wary of Nick’s interest in the case is that the FBI is doing a major investigation into Marshall Marcus’s firm and financial crimes.  And Gordon is afraid that looking for Alexa will compromise that investigation.

As Nick continues his investigation, it gets more and more dangerous.  His loft is broken into, he’s tasered, and still his client won’t give him all the information he needs.  What is Marshall continuing to hold back, and why?

Buried Secrets is the second in the Nick Heller series. The characters are really well-written, portrayed with their human faults and foibles, and Nick is a fascinating protagonist.  Joseph Finder has a very impressive resume that includes a master’s degree from Harvard’s Russian Research Center, and his knowledge of behind-the-scenes international deals seems very accurate.  This is definitely a series that I hope will continue.

You can read more about him at his web site.

INNOCENT MONSTER by Reed Farrel Coleman: Book Review

I read this book last night in one sitting–I couldn’t put it down!

Innocent Monster is the sixth Moe Prager mystery.  As Lee Child says on the back cover, “The biggest mysteries in our genre are why Reed Coleman isn’t already huge, and why Moe Prager isn’t already an icon.” I couldn’t agree with Child more.

I had read two previous books in this series when I picked this one up at my local library.  Frankly, I didn’t realize it was the sixth book or that I had only read two others; when I got home and realized this, I decided to read it anyway.

Prager’s back story is sufficiently explained so that it’s not necessary to start from the beginning of the series to find out the story of his life.  Prager’s life has not been an easy one, and as this book opens he’s still recovering from the murder of his first wife, the divorce from his second, and the estrangement from his only child, Sarah, who blames him for her mother’s murder.

Their formerly close relationship has deteriorated into quick once-weekly phone calls, something which hurts Praeger greatly but which he is powerless to change as he too thinks himself guilty in his wife’s death.  But as this novel opens Sarah calls him with a request to meet.  When they do, she explains that the eleven-year-old daughter of her childhood friend has been abducted, and in the three weeks since that kidnapping the police have been unable to find the girl.

Prager, a former New York City policeman and later a private detective, objects strongly to taking this case, saying that he’s no longer working as a P.I. and that if the police haven’t found the girl, he won’t have any better luck. But, his daughter persists, you’ve always been lucky, at least in your work, and he has to agree.  She makes him understand that the resumption of their relationship depends on his looking for young Sashi Bluntstone.  The case is complicated by the fact that Sashi isn’t just any eleven year old but a nationally famous art prodigy whose abstract paintings have sold for amounts in the tens of thousands since she was four years old.  Her parents are distraught over her abduction, but are they telling the police and Prager everything?

And for a young girl, Sashi has a lot of enemies.  Art critics deride her paintings, semi-famous painters use the Internet to post hateful, obscene scribes about her, and museum directors voice their opinions that Sashi, in fact, is not the artist at all.

There is a lot of thinking and philosophy going on in Prager’s mind. His life has been so traumatic, so filled with betrayals by those he trusted and loved, that he has little confidence in himself and doesn’t think himself worth much.  This reader, at least, formed a very different opinion of him, but it’s easy to see why a man who has gone through as much as he has isn’t looking at the glass as half full any longer.

Reed Farrel Coleman has created a mensch in this middle-aged Jewish man from New York, even if the mensch himself isn’t sure about that.

You can read more about Reed Farrel Coleman at his web site.

I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE by Laura Lippman: Book Review

Not a traditional mystery, not exactly a thriller, I’d Know You Anywhere is a fascinating psychological study of the aftermath of a crime.  Laura Lippman, master storyteller in both the Tess Monaghan series and stand-alone novels, examines life “before and after” the kidnapping of a fifteen-year-old girl more than twenty years before the novel opens.

Elizabeth Benedict is walking along a country road when she comes across Walter Bowman, just a few years older than herself.  Within a couple of minutes he manages to drag her into his truck and drive off with her.  Elizabeth will turn out to be the only girl who survives Walter’s abductions.

All Walter wants is a girlfriend. He’s good-looking, muscular, has green eyes, but yet he can’t seem to attract any girl at all.  But he keeps trying.  He picks up girls on lonely roads, has a few minutes of conversation with them, realizes they’re not interested and are afraid of him, sexually assaults them, and kills them.  It’s not really his fault, he assures himself; if only one had agreed to be his girlfriend, his search would be over and he wouldn’t be forced to keep looking for others.

The novel opens as Eliza (the name she took after her abduction) and family return from several years in London–her husband, Peter; their teenage daughter; and their younger son.  It’s a typical American family living in the suburban Washington area, made even more typical by their visit to a local pound to get a dog.  But only Peter knows Eliza’s history.

Shortly after Eliza’s return to the States, she receives a letter that Walter has written. It’s been forwarded to her by a friend of his, Barbara LaFortuny, who is a vehement opponent of the death penalty.  Walter has been on Virginia’s death row for twenty-two years, a record in that twice he made it as far as the death house, only to receive last-minute reprieves.  Now with Barbara’s aid he reconnects with Eliza, first by writing to her and then by getting her to agree to be on his phone call list.  Walter has a powerful motive–as his only surviving victim, her help will be invaluable in commuting his death sentence once again.  He’s due to be electrocuted the following month, and this time it looks as if the sentence will be carried out–unless he can persuade Eliza to do his bidding.

The novel switches voices many times. First it’s the grown woman Eliza, then the twenty-something Walter, then the teenage Elizabeth, then Barbara, then the inmate Walter.  Adult Eliza would like to put this all behind her, as she has been successful in doing up to this point; teenage Walter wants some girl, blond, slim, and beautiful, to be his girlfriend; teenage Elizabeth wants to placate Walter in order to stay alive; Barbara wants to force Eliza to help commute Walter’s death sentence to life imprisonment; inmate Walter wants to live.

As always, Laura Lippman has written an outstanding novel. Has Eliza’s attempt to keep her past private colored her entire adult life?   Should she agree to be in contact with her kidnapper?  Has Walter ever understood the damage he did to her, as well as to the girls he killed?  Has Barbara’s own experience in being the victim of a crime given her insight into the justice system or simply moved her rigidity from her private life into a more public forum?  The novel asks these questions but leaves it up to the reader to answer them.  Or not.

You can read more about Laura Lippman at her web site.