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Posts Tagged ‘missing child’

THE DARKEST SECRET by Alex Marwood: Book Review

It’s 2004, and three-year-old Coco Jackson is missing.  Her family, including her identical twin sister Ruby, their parents Claire and Sean, two older half-sisters, three other couples, and several children are spending the weekend at the Jackson holiday home in Bournemouth, England, to celebrate Sean’s fiftieth birthday.

Before the weekend is over, Coco’s older step-siblings leave the party and return to their mother’s home; Claire drives back to London after discovering her husband in flagrante delicto with another woman; alcohol and drugs are used and abused in abundance; Coco is gone; and the lives of everyone present are changed irreparably.

The people at this party are wealthy, educated, and not very nice.  Sean Jackson is a handsome, successful, and charismatic businessman who is extremely self-involved and uncaring in his dealings with family and friends.  Claire, who was his mistress before she became his second wife, has come to realize that the charm with which he overwhelmed her before they were married is simply a cover for his narcissistic personality and his persistent womanizing; perhaps as a form of revenge, she shows no interest in maintaining any sort of positive relationship with her step-daughters.

The three other couples attending Sean’s fiftieth are similarly unpleasant.  Linda is the woman with whom Sean is having an affair, and her partner James is a Dr. Feelgood with a supply of prescription and non-prescription drugs for every occasion.  Charles is a rising Tory politician on the far right of his party; his wife Imogen has no other interest in life but furthering his career.  Maria and her husband Robert are a very successful couple, she the head of a public relations firm, he a lawyer, who seem on the surface to be the most likeable people in the group, but appearances can be deceiving.  And Robert’s fifteen-year-old daughter Simone, the child of his first marriage, is desperately trying to attract the wandering eye of the event’s host.

The Darkest Secret tells the story that starts at the beginning of this infamous weekend and continues to the present.  We first learn of Coco’s disappearance from witness statements at the beginning of the novel, and then we learn, bringing the story up to the present, that Sean has died.  Even though Milly, his younger daughter from his first marriage, hasn’t seen her father in years, her mother asks her to identify the body; she doesn’t feel able to and Sean’s third wife can’t because she’s home with their young daughter.

Alex Marwood’s novel will keep you in suspense throughout.  The tight group of adults has a lot of secrets to keep.  They’ve been successful at it for fifteen years, but now those secrets are in danger of being revealed.  And the people involved can’t let that happen.

You can read more about Alex Marwood at this web site.

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


THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS by Julia Spencer-Fleming: Book Review

A honeymoon spent in a one room log cabin, on a frozen lake, locked in by the perfect storm.  That’s where Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne find themselves in this eighth novel in Julia Spencer-Fleming’s clerical/police series.

Clare Fergusson is the minister at St. Albans Episcopal Church and is newly married to Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne.   Actually, she’s a little too newly married for some of the parishioners and the church board, being five months pregnant after only three months of marriage.  There are those who think this is a blot on the church and its ministers, and Clare has been offered the option of resigning from St. Albans rather than facing a disciplinary panel.  If she resigns she would be free to lead another church in the diocese; if she’s fired, she won’t be allowed to do so.  She is given a week to make her decision.

At the same time, Russ is informed that the Millers Kill police force may be disbanded in an effort to save the town money and its duties taken over by the New York State Police.

Each keeping her/his secret from the other, Clare and Russ are determined to have their honeymoon as planned.  But three factors complicate this, and the three combine to make the plot of Through the Evil Days.

First is the disappearance of young Mikayla Johnson.  The foster home she was living in was set on fire, killing the girl’s foster parents, but Mikayla’s body wasn’t found.  Her situation is desperate because she is on life-saving drugs following a liver transplant, and how would the person who abducted her know that or be able to obtain the medication Mikayla needs?

The second strand involves the Young Mothers Program run by St. Albans.  Amber, one of the young women in the group, asks Clare for a ride up to the lake cabin near where Clare and Russ will be honeymooning and where Amber and her baby are supposed to meet her boyfriend.  Clare and Russ duly deposit the mother and child there, but when they return to check on her, she and her child are no longer at the cabin.

The third part of the plot is the romantic involvement between Kevin Flynn and Hadley Knox, two members of the Millers Kill police force.  Their relationship has been a difficult one, and just when it appears to be going well, Hadley’s former husband comes to town with a devastating ultimatum that could wreck not only her plans with Kevin but her job as well.

Through the Evil Days is wonderful, as is every other book in this series.  Clare and Russ are strong, believable, and anxious to have a happy marriage, but life keeps throwing them curveballs.  And the relationship between Kevin and Hadley, in love but facing hurdles neither one knows how to handle, asks the question:  is love enough?

You can read more about Julia Spencer-Fleming at this web site.

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






BURIED ON AVENUE B by Peter De Jonge: Book Review


“Fabulous” was the word I said out loud when I closed Buried on Avenue B, and I truly meant it.  This is one outstanding mystery.

Paulette Williams comes to Manhattan South to report a possible murder that may have taken place seventeen years ago.  Darlene O’Hara is a detective in Manhattan South, or Manhattan Soft as it’s called because of its low murder rate.  Paulette is a home health aide, and she tells Darlene that her patient, Gus Henderson, confessed to killing a man and burying him in a garden plot on Avenue B.  Gus is elderly and has dementia, Paulette warns, and has since retracted his confession, but she feel strongly enough about it to come to the police.  She also knows, she says, the exact location of the body because Gus had pointed it out.

While visiting Gus and getting the same denial about the murder that his aide had gotten, Darlene is shown his box of keepsakes.  In it is a photo of a willow tree in the garden.  So after getting permission to take the photo with her, Darlene gets approval from her supervisor to assembles a team and start digging to uncover what is buried.  “You’ve got six hours,” he warns her, and that would seem to be enough to uncover the body of the large black man that Gus previously had admitted to stabbing to death.  But what is revealed by the city’s forensic anthropologist is very different–the remains of a white child, a young John Doe.

Darlene’s search to find the identity of the boy takes her from her Manhattan home to Sarasota, Florida and then part-way up the eastern seaboard in the company of Connie Warwrinka, a detective on the Sarasota force.  What brings them together is the fact that the NYPD got a ballistics match on the bullet that killed the still-unknown and unclaimed body in Manhattan.  That bullet matched one in Sarasota that had been used to kill an eighty-seven-year-old widower there.  There doesn’t seem to be any logical connection, but stranger things have happened.

There’s a lot going on in Buried on Avenue B and a large cast of characters, but the storyline is clear and the characters are wonderfully drawn.  Darlene, who became an unmarried mother at fifteen, now has a son who has just dropped out of college to lead a rock band.  She had named him Alex Rose, and perhaps that’s what caused the change in his career path.  At the garden, Darlene meets Christina Malmstromer, who tends her small plot of tomatoes, basil, and eggplant, and her father, Lars, who secretly makes miniature furniture in the hope that someday Christina will give him a grandchild.

Investigating the murder of Ben Levin in Florida, Darlene meets his childhood friend Sol Klinger and Ben’s downstairs neighbor, ninety-year-old Sharon Di Nunzio, who had a romantic/sexual relationship with the deceased.  And that list of characters doesn’t even touch some of the most interesting ones in Manhattan.  It’s an amazing group of people, all of whom come across as real people, not simply figures put on the pages of a book.

Buried on Avenue B is a terrific mystery, one that has an ending that took me totally by surprise.  It’s a winner in every sense.

You can read more about Peter De Jonge at this web site.

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

LOVE YOU MORE by Lisa Gardner: Book Review

Tessa Leoni is a woman who appears to have a good life. She has a fulfilling job as a Massachusetts state trooper, a husband, and a six-year-old daughter.  But her life wasn’t always so smooth, her past and present are colliding, and the results aren’t pretty.

Love You More has two voices.  This is the first book I’m reviewing having listened to it on cd rather than having read it.  The first voice is that of Tessa, the state trooper, and it is a soft, delicate voice.  The second is that of D. D. Warren, a detective in the Boston police department.  Her voice is louder, tougher.  It’s interesting that not until I had a copy of the book in my hands and read the jacket did I realize that the detective is D. D. Warren rather than the Dee Dee I had thought she was.  Psychologically that seems to make a difference, at least to me.

The book opens with a prologue told in Tessa’s voice.  She’s being asked to choose between her daughter and her husband–whom does she love more?

D. D. Warren enters the picture when she gets a call from her friend and former lover Bobby Dodge, also a state trooper like Tessa.  There’s been an incident–a man dead on a kitchen floor in Boston, a missing child, and both belong to trooper Tessa Leoni.

When the police and troopers arrive at Tessa’s house, the body of her husband, Brian, is on the floor, dead with three shots to his torso. Sophie, Tessa’s daughter, is nowhere to be found.  Tessa’s face is a mass of bruises–shattered cheekbone, black eye, bloody lip.  D. D. and Bobby have a lot of questions, most of which Tessa isn’t answering.  If, as Tessa claims, she had just returned from her overnight shift and come home to find her daughter missing, why hadn’t she used the taser on her state-issued gunbelt to protect herself instead of shooting her husband?  And, if  she’s so concerned about her missing daughter, why did she call her union representative and the union’s lawyer before calling the police?

The past plays a vital role in Love You More. Tessa is very much alone.  She had a brother who died as an infant, and that event destroyed her family.  Her mother went into a deep depression, her father became an alcoholic, and Tessa was left to fend for herself.  Her only friend, Juliana, became her lifeline.  But even that friendship died, and the reason for it is a vital part of the novel.

Tessa is arrested for the murder of her husband.  But meanwhile the search for Sophie Leoni continues, with no leads.  Why is Tessa so reluctant to help the police in their search for her daughter?  Why is she so secretive about her background?  Why does she appear to have no family or friend to turn to in this crisis?

This is the first book I’ve read/listened to by Lisa Gardner, although she has written more than a dozen, including several previous ones in the D. D. Warren series.  Although, as always, I wish I had started the series from the beginning, there is enough background information to get a good sense of D. D. and her outlook on life.

I don’t know if I can properly call a book on cd a “page turner,” but I definitely was reluctant to get out of my car at the end of each trip; the novel is a spellbinder.

As I write this review I’m listening to another book about Detective Warren, this one set before Love You More, so I’ve obviously found another series to enjoy.

You can read more about Lisa Gardner at her web site.

THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis: Book Review

A woman is struggling with the heavy suitcase she’s just removed from a storage locker.  She manages to get it to her car, but before putting it in the trunk she decides to open it.  “In the suitcase was a boy:  naked, fair-haired, rather thin, about three years old….Not until she saw his lips part slightly did she realize he was alive.”

This first-time collaboration by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis is a terrific read. Taking place both in Denmark and Lithuania, it tells the story from various points of view.  There are several main characters, but so skillfully is the story told that there’s no confusion about who is who or whose voice the reader is listening to.

After the one-page prologue, the first voice is that of Jan, obviously a successful businessman in Copenhagen who is doing something that he must keep secret from his wife. Whatever it is involves something either illegal or immoral, but something is driving Jan to do it “whatever the price.”

The second voice is that of a man named Jucas.  He’s an unknown quantity, driving in the Lithuanian countryside with his lover and dreaming of their future together. But there’s “just one little thing to be done first.”

We then hear from Sigita in Taurage, Lithuania. She’s at a playground with her young son when a woman comes to the playground’s gate to offer young Mikas a piece of chocolate.  Upset by this intrusion, Sigita chases her away and continues playing with her son and drinking coffee from her thermos.  And then everything goes black.

The fourth main character is Nina, a nurse at a Red Cross immigrant center in Copenhagen, who receives a call from a friend. Nina is caring and compassionate, perhaps overly so.  Although she and her friend Karin have not been close in recent years, when Karin asks to meet her as soon as possible, Nina agrees.  Karin needs a favor, a suitcase to be picked up.  When Nina demurs, Karin retorts, “You’re always so keen on saving people, aren’t you?…Well, here’s your chance.”

The plot weaves back and forth between these four characters, plus several others, and between the two countries.  On the periphery is a bewildered husband whose wife is gone without explanation, foreign teenage prostitutes in Denmark, a frightened child, a reluctant policeman.

The central mystery, of course, is why this child has been kidnapped. We learn that he is the son of a single mother who was drugged and attacked so that he could be taken.  But there are no ransom notes, no demands of any kind.  And if there were, Sigita has no money to pay.  So why would her child have been abducted?

I often don’t enjoy stories told in very short chapters by a variety of people.  That style of writing makes me think that the author didn’t know how to segue from one scene or one character to the other.  But that’s not how I felt reading The Boy in the Suitcase. Lene Kaaberbol is the author of numerous fantasy books, and Agnete Friis is a journalist and author of children’s books.  Together they are a marvelous pair.  The first page of this novel grabbed me, and that feeling continued through to the very end.

Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friss don’t have a web page together, but you can read very brief biographies of them at various web pages.