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Posts Tagged ‘revenge’

LITTLE BLACK LIES by Sharon Bolton: Book Review

You know that feeling when you begin reading a mystery and know from page one that it’s going to be a winner?  That’s the experience I had after reading the first paragraph of Little Black Lies, and the rest of the novel didn’t let me down.

Little Black Lies takes place in the Falkland Islands, an archipelago off the eastern coast of South America.  Catrin Quinn is a life-long resident of the islands, and she is at her emotional breaking point.  Three years earlier her two children were in the car of her best friend, Rachel Grimwood, and were left alone for just a minute when the car slid down a cliff.  Both boys were killed instantly.  Naturally, Catrin’s life fell apart–she and her husband Ben divorced shortly afterwards, and she hasn’t spoken to Rachel since the accident.

Now, only two days before the third anniversary of her sons’ death, Catrin has made a decision.  “I believe just about anyone can kill in the right circumstances, given enough motivation,” she says to herself.  “The question is, am I there yet?”

Stanley, the island’s capital, is a small place, and it’s very difficult for Catrin to avoid both her ex-husband and her ex-best friend, but she tries.  She cannot stop herself, however, from frequently driving past Rachel’s house late at night, imaging Rachel inside with her three children, doing the mothering things that Catrin can no longer do.  With each drive-by she gets closer to her ultimate desire, punishing Rachel as she herself has been punished.

Events in Stanley are spiraling out of control.  As the novel opens, there is a hunt on for a young boy, the third boy to go missing in three years.  Little Archie West is out picnicking with his family when they lose sight of him for a few minutes; then he is gone.  An all-island search is being conducted, with no one wanting to give voice to the fear that, like the other two boys, Archie will never be found.

At the same time the search for the youngster is going on, there’s another disaster in the making on the small island of Speedwell.  There is a mass beaching of pilot whales, hundreds of them, leaving the water and going aground on the sand.  Of course, once they’re on the sand, they’re unable to breathe and will die unless they can be forced/guided back to the ocean.  Scientists have various theories about what causes these beachings–one of the whales can have a virus, be hit by a ship, have its navigational system go wrong–but the results are fatal for them.  If one whale swims into shallow water and can’t get back into deeper water, the whole pod will follow.

Sharon Bolton has written a terrific thriller that will hold you enthralled until the last page.  And even then, I promise you will be totally unprepared for the book’s ending.

You can read more about Sharon Bolton at this web site.

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



FATAL HARBOR by Brendan DuBois: Book Review

It’s been three years in real time since the publication of Resurrection Day, but only a week has passed in fictional time for Lewis Cole.  In that novel, a protest against the nuclear plant in Lewis’ adopted home town of Tyler, New Hampshire turned violent, leaving his best friend and town police officer Diane Woods in a coma.  Lewis saw the brutal attack and is determined to bring the killer to justice, or at least his idea of justice, in Fatal Harbor.

The only survivor of a project gone tragically wrong when he worked for the Department of Defense, Lewis has no faith that the any government agency wants to find the killer.  Every step he takes convinces him that he is endangering his own life and the life of his friend, Felix Tinios, by pursuing the man who nearly killed Diane and that the government is not on his side.  But Lewis won’t stop his investigation and pursuit.  He knows who the killer is, he just has to find him.

Lewis and Felix follow the trail to Boston University where faculty member Heywood Knowlton is known to be sympathetic to the Nuclear Freedom Front, the group behind the protest.  Posing as a free-lance journalist writing a story about the plant and the violent demonstration that took place there, Lewis talks to the professor but Heywood tells him in no uncertain terms that he won’t cooperate.  To Heywood, the man Lewis is looking for is a “true believer, a fighter for the people….”  And if a police officer was injured or killed, that’s the “price of progress.”

As Lewis exits the university building, he sees Felix talking to two men.  As Felix walks away from the men, they begin shouting at him, and he sees one of them reach under his coat for a weapon.  Felix fires first, the men fall, and he drives away. 

Picking up Lewis later in the day, Felix explains that the two men had said they were FBI agents.  Felix knows, from past experience, that they were merely impersonating federal agents and that the whole scene was a setup to get him into their SUV.   The next day the Boston Globe carries a very short paragraph reporting the incident.  The authorities call it a false alarm, a film shoot gone wrong.  When Lewis reads this, he is more convinced than ever that the only justice Diane will ever receive has to come from him.

And when Lewis is near the end of his journey and is talking again to the university professor, Heywood Knowlton, Heywood is stunned.  “A friend?  You’re doing this for a friend…Not even a family member…a friend….”  But to Lewis, a friend is the most important thing there is.

Brendan DuBois has written another page-turning novel.  Lewis Cole comes across as a real person, dealing with a difficult past and a traumatic present.  Regardless of the dangers, he continues his search for the killer.  Lewis’ friendships are vital to him, and a promise is sacred.

To completely appreciate this excellent book, I strongly suggest reading Resurrection Day first; it will make Fatal Harbor more understandable and even more enjoyable.

You can read more about Brendan DuBois at this web site.

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





COLD CRUEL WINTER by Chris Nickson: Book Review

1732 was a terrible winter in Leeds, England. Ice and snow covered the streets, and people died every day due to the extreme weather, lack of food, and lack of heat.  It was indeed cold and cruel, especially for the poor.

In Chris Nickson’s second novel in the Richard Nottingham series, the constable is grieving for his beloved older daughter who died of a fever a few weeks before the book opens.  And now the constable must face more deaths, these not due to weather or illness but murder.

Leeds in the 1700s is a city made wealthy by the wool trade, and the mayor and the Corporation that run the city want its citizens, or at least its wealthy and worthy ones, to feel safe and protected.  But when John Sedgwick, the constable’s deputy, finds a corpse in the road, the period of relative tranquility is over.  Upon closer examination, the body of successful wool merchant Sam Graves has not only been stabbed but skinned, his back unprotected by its natural covering.

Shortly afterwards, constable Nottingham receives a package.  In it is a book entitled Journal of a Wronged Man in Four Volumes, and as Nottingham reads it he comes to realize that its binding is the skin of the murdered man. The journal’s author tells of being badly treated years ago by Graves, who was his employer; he was transported to the West Indies for seven years for the crime of stealing from Graves, his attempt at revenge for what he viewed as low wages for a man of his skills.  Since this volume states that it is the first of four, it is up to Nottingham to figure out who the other three potential victims are and to protect them.

In addition to the desperate hunt for Sam Graves’ killer, Nottingham has another murder on his hands.  This is the murder of Issac the Jew, the only one of his religion in the city.  Nottingham quickly learns that two brothers are the guilty ones, but their father is a powerful man in the city’s Corporation who has managed to get many previous charges against his sons dismissed.

The characters in Cold Cruel Winter are strongly drawn. The constable and his deputy, the teenage boy who works for them, the two arrogant Henderson brothers, the city’s pimp whose offered help makes Nottingham nervous, all these come across to the reader as real people.  And reading the twisted words in the journal gives one an insight into what has warped its author into the killer that he is.

The city of Leeds, too, comes alive in Cold Cruel Winter.  One is taken back to a time when, for the poor, illumination meant a single candle, heat was perhaps some coal dust, and clothing was little more than rags.  It was a cruel time indeed.

The Library Journal chose this novel as one of 2011’s best. It’s easy to see why.

You can read more about Chris Nickson at his web site.


My definition of a Golden Oldie is a mystery I’ve read at least two or three times and can’t wait to read again. By that standard The League of Frightened Men is 21 karats.

Rex Stout, one of the absolute masters of the Golden Age of mysteries, wrote more than fifty mysteries featuring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. For the uninitiated, Wolfe was the quintessential eccentric detective–middle-aged, hugely overweight, handshake-avoiding, woman-distrusting, and agoraphobic.  Goodwin is his assistant–probably two decades younger, good-looking, a great dancer, and the “legs,” if not the “eyes,” of Wolfe.

The story opens with Wolfe telling Goodwin that while the latter was away on a job, a man named Andrew Hibbard had come to the office to ask Wolfe to protect him from assassination. However, Hibbard refused to give Wolfe the name of the man he was afraid of and insisted that he didn’t want the man arrested or punished, simply stopped.

Hibbard’s story is that there were a group of friends at Harvard more than twenty-five years before who inadvertently injured this man when he also was a student there.  As a result this man had had several operations and now, years later, still walked with a pronounced limp. The group had done whatever they could to help this man, financially and emotionally, for years, but the accident still burdened many of them.  Only recently had this man found his talent, and he was now a successful novelist and playwright.  However, in their guilty state, the men years ago had decided to call themselves The League of Atonement, a name which still stuck.

Recently, while at the Harvard graduation of the son of one of the League members, a group of these men and the injured man had been walking together along ocean cliffs late at night.  The next morning, one of the men was found at the bottom of the cliff.  And two days after that, the remaining members had received a poem which they all agreed came from the crippled man, which said he had killed the League member and was going to kill all the others.

Then, several months later, another member of the group died.  The police declared it suicide, but a follow-up poem allegedly by the injured man and saying that there would be more deaths had prompted Hibbard to come to Wolfe for protection.

Wolfe explained that he could not agree to be a bodyguard but would agree to remove the threat, but Hibbard vetoed this.  The meeting ended.  Then, when Goodwin returns to the office several days after Hibbard and Wolfe’s meeting, he casually mentions an article in the newspaper about a man who had written a book the district attorney wanted declared obscene.  This pricks Wolfe’s memory, and he sends Goodwin out to buy a copy of the book.  After he’s read it, he realizes that the injured man Hibbard was talking about is the book’s author, Paul Chapin.

Wolfe gets in touch with the remaining members of the League of Atonement and promises to remove the Chapin threat for a huge fee, payable only if he succeeds.  The majority of the men agree, although some are still hounded by their guilt and fearful of wronging Chapin again.  And then Chapin himself enters Wolfe’s office.  Talking to Wolfe, “he got into (his voice) a concentrated scorn that would have withered the love of God.”

Stout’s book is a masterful psychological study.  To those who know and love Wolfe and Goodwin, this book is absolutely one of the best in the series.  If you’ve never read Rex Stout, this novel is the perfect one with which to start.

You can read more about Rex Stout at

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE by Agatha Christie: Book Review

Not to keep you in suspense, I’m writing my first post in this section about what I consider the most golden of all Golden Oldies–And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.

I have read this mystery at least five times over the years, each time with the thought that this time I’d see the red herrings and clues that I hadn’t noticed the previous times I had read the book.  After all, I knew after the first reading what had happened and why.

But that didn’t happen.  With each reading I was more impressed by the author’s ability to completely mystify me, to lead me down paths that definitely led me away from the murderer, all the while being convinced that I knew exactly what she was doing. In my mind there’s no one like Dame Agatha  (she was named a Commander of the British Empire in 1956).

For those not familiar with the novel’s plot, ten people, a very disparate group, are invited to a deserted island off the coat of Devon. There seems to be nothing in common among them–there’s a judge, a rich young racing car enthusiast, a married couple who are the servants on the island, a retired military man, a governess, a former policeman, an elderly woman, a mercenary, and a physician.

Each had received a somewhat cryptic invitation from someone who professed to be an acquaintance, inviting them to spend a few days on the island.  But when the group was assembled, it turned out that no one knew exactly who had invited them, and there was no host or hostess there.

All was set for their arrival however, and they anticipated that the next day would bring the owner of the island to the house.  But after dinner, the manservant played a recording that accused each of the guests of being a murderer. They all vehemently denied the accusations with various excuses or reasons for the deaths that were described, and all claimed they were innocent.

The young race car enthusiast admitted that he had run down and killed two pedestrians some time ago, but he said that certainly wasn’t murder, just an accident that was “beastly bad luck.”  He picked up his drink at the bar, swallowed it in a gulp, convulsed, and died in front of the group.

And then the other guests started dying, one by one. At first there was denial, the guests saying that the deaths were natural–suffocation, a weak heart.  But soon there was the realization that someone had decided that these people literally had gotten away with murder and needed to be punished.

And Then There Were None is a masterpiece. Perhaps it’s dated, as a Sherlock Holmes story may be dated, but that doesn’t take away one bit from its perfection.  If you haven’t read it, put it on your reading list.  If you have, you know why it’s heading the G. O. list.

PERSUADER by Lee Child: Book Review

“Cops put things right.   They look after people.”

That’s the quote three pages from the end of Persuader by Lee Child.  It was Jack Reacher’s answer to a question posed to him ten years ago, when he was still an Army MP.  The question was asked by a young sergeant just posted to his staff.  Ten years later, that’s still his answer when he’s asked that question, although the sergeant was killed the day after she asked it.

Persuader is the twelfth novel in the Reacher series, and like all the others it’s masterful.   Reacher had gotten to the rank of major before he was rifed (let go, downsized, or, as the Brits say, made redundant).  The army was getting smaller and he had risen as far as he was going to, so he left.  Now he criss-crosses the country with, if I remember correctly, his wallet, passport, and toothbrush, nothing more.  And he finds trouble wherever he goes.

The novel has one of the greatest opening chapters I’ve ever read, with first and last sentences that make sure you won’t put the book down.  First–“The cop climbed out of the car exactly four minutes before he got shot.”  Last–“The message said, I’m in.”  Between those two sentences is a set-up in which Reacher and DEA agents foil the staged kidnapping attempt of a college student.  During the attempt Reacher “shoots and kills” a campus cop so that he can “rescue” the young man and thus get into his father’s house.  The father is a suspected drug dealer who is believed to have abducted a federal agent.  But getting in turns out to be the easy part.

The book goes back and forth between this present-day situation and one a decade earlier when Reacher unwittingly sent his sergeant to her death.  At that time Reacher thought he had killed the man responsible for the sergeant’s death, but now he sees the man on a Boston street.  A phone call that Reacher makes gives him information that connects him to the killer who appears to be connected to the college student’s father.  If all this sounds unbelievably entangled, Child makes you believe it.  In my opinion he writes the most realistic dialogue in any of today’s crime novels.

Child’s books are not for the squeamish.  There’s always a lot of blood and killing.  But somehow the violence never seems gratuitous.  There are bad guys out there, and when Reacher confronts them it’s them or him. And we’re always rooting for him.

As I was writing this review, I went to Child’s web site to check on something.  I clicked on to his Appearances page and found to my delight that he will be autographing 61 Hours, his latest novel, at Borders Books in South Portland, Maine, on the same day I’ll be there visiting family.  Guess where I’ll be on June 4th?

You can find out more about Lee Child at his web site