Category Archives: Mystery

Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash

Sheriff Les from a rural Appalachian community has just a few weeks left before he takes an early retirement, more than ready to spend his time communing with the beauty of the mountains attempting to capture their loveliness with his paint brush.

Yet, a lot happens before the big day. Who knew that life in a small town was so full of adversity. From poaching, trespassing, theft, the cooking of meth, child endangerment, and bribery to an environmental disaster, all occurring over a one week period. The reader is exposed to this whirlwind of activity as Les attempts to tie up all the loose ends without hurting the townsfolk he feels compelled to protect.

At first I found Above the Waterfall confusing before I figured out the narrative was a back and forth between the Sheriff and Becky Shytle, the Park Ranger. Each of the characters has some baggage which make them somewhat damaged. Unfortunately none of them are especially endearing which makes it difficult to be more than superficially concerned about the traumas they face. Becky is the most appealing of the bunch with her love of nature and poetic skill. Despite her childhood exposure to violence and unrealistic feelings of guilt, she is the one who trusts her instincts even when the evidence points to a forgone conclusion.

The ending (or lack of a conclusion) leaves an opportunity for further discourse in other novels as Ron Rash often has recurring characters intermingled throughout his novels about small town life in the Appalachia Mountains.

Three stars.


The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

What would you do if you were visiting the neighbors next door while your 6 month old daughter slept in her crib and returned home to find her gone? Kidnapped! That horrible scenario is the premise of the novel, The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena.The police are called but their investigation yields very little and not even the couples plea for help through the press or the offer of a lucrative reward (provided by some wealthy grandparents) turns up enough insight to provide a substantial lead in the case. As Detective Rasbach conducts multiple interviews with the parents, Anne and Marco Contis, he starts to believe it’s an inside job involving either one or both of them despite their united front and obvious frantic distress. He even suspects the child, Cora, is dead.

Despite the lack of pertinent information, things begin to happen, secrets are revealed, marriages become stressful, and friendships are torn apart. Anne can’t help but despise her once close friend, Cynthia Stillwell, who didn’t want little Cora mucking up her dinner party, forcing them to leave their child home alone when the babysitter canceled at the last minute. On top of that, she’s angry about the drunken hanky lanky on the porch, probably at the very moment her child was being kidnapped. How could her husband respond to their neighbor’s flirtation? With everything going wrong, she suspects the worst.

It’s up to Detective Rasbach to unravel the case, discover the real criminal(s), and hopefully recover a living babe and not a corpse. Numerous twists and turns keep the reader guessing until the final few chapters.

While this book had potential and did deliver on the suspense, there were a few flaws which took away from my enjoyment. Number one was the simplistic narrative and the use of present tense which at times made for awkward reading. Then there was the repetition, a constant “let me gather up the facts” – listing them over and over as if the readers are idiots who can’t keep a thought in their head. However it is a quick read and there are enough clues that the climax is more of an “Oh yes, I see” and not a “Huh?” plus the ultimate conclusion has a sense of poetic justice. Still, the writing itself held the book back and there were a couple of loose ends which didn’t make sense.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. I also received a “hard” copy from Goodreads.

The Blood Red Indian Summer by David Handler

David Handler has written a series of mysteries featuring the investigative duo Berger and Mitry. The Blood Red Indian Summer is Book #8.

Des Mitry has a lot on her plate. She’s worried about her dad who is residing with her while he recovers from open heart surgery. The recuperation was successful, but her tough as nails father, assistant detective of the local police department, has lost his mojo.

Now she has to deal with a football legend who has moved into the New England village of Dorset along with the newscasters and paparazzi waiting for the NFL Champion Linebacker to mess up. As a Connecticut State Trooper, it’s her job to keep the peace and placate the neighbor who doesn’t like the noise and confusion of the new family next door, especially since they’re black.

Checking up on the complaints, Des is welcomed into Tyrone “Da Beast” Grantham’s home and introduced to the extended family who lives there – including his brother, cousin, mother, pregnant wife, sister in law, and father in law. All Tyrone wants is some peace and quiet while he waits out his one year NFL suspension resulting from the negative publicity following a questionable altercation with a charlatan hoping for a nice settlement.

Grantham is very gracious, but watch out if he loses his temper and changes into a beast with the temperament of the Incredible Hulk.

Complicating matters in Des’ life is the arrival of her boyfriend’s parents. She expects a problem since she isn’t white or Jewish like her significant other. Yet she and Mitch Berger get along so well together, in spite of his obsession with movie trivia. Plus Mitch helps her figure out the truth behind the various crimes she investigates. A series of incidents point to Da Beast as the guilty party, and even his own family thinks him capable of murder, but Des needs proof before she can make an arrest.

There’s a lot going on with numerous plots and subplots thrown into the mix making it difficult to keep the various characters straight. The murder happens late in the book, almost as an after thought, and the resolution is abrupt and disturbing. However, Des and Mitch are interesting characters who capture our interest and their eccentric parents add a nice touch despite the tendency for the author to stereotype his characters.

Ultimately, an excess of miscellanea along with a flawed plot distracts the reader and keeps this book from becoming a top notch mystery. Three stars is generous.

Crossfire by Dick Francis and Felix Francis

Where’s a man to go after having his leg blown off while serving his Queen and Country in Afghanistan? Once released from the hospital with a perfectly usable prosthesis (which clicks when he walks) Captain Tom Forsyth proceeds to the one place which he has avoided most of his adult life – his childhood home. It’s not that he doesn’t find comfort in the physical surroundings, it’s just that he and his mother always seem to get into a major altercation, nitpicking each other over minutia. It doesn’t help that he blames his mother for her failed marriage to his absentee father and her remarriage to his stepdad.

Yet Tom needs some sort of roof over his head, so home he goes – to the house and stables belonging to the renowned trainer of supreme racehorses – his mom, Josephine Kauri, also known as the First Lady of British Racing. Once you hear the word “racing”, the reader knows they are in “Francis Land”. Crossfire (loosely referring to the movement of a horse who counter canters during a race as well as to the outcome of being caught between the action of two firearms ) is the last novel written by Dick Francis with his son Felix.

It doesn’t take long for Tom to realize that something is wrong in his childhood domicile. With a lot of prying and a bit of curious snooping, he discovers his mom is behind in her taxes, has lost a shitload of money in a shady investment, and is being blackmailed to the tune of 2000 pounds a week, as well as being forced to lose certain races.

Through a series of fortuitous events as well as some clever surveillance, Tom is able to discover the source(s) of his mother’s possible downfall including the potential loss of her reputation (more important to her than money) as well as resolve a childhood crush, and find a focus for his uncertain future.

Well written with lots of action and intrigue as well as some LOL humor, this is a definite book to add to your must read list.

While I read Crossfire when it first came out, this time I listened to the CD and Martin Jarvis does a superb job of bringing the story to life. While some might contend that this title doesn’t meet the standards set by Francis’ previous books, I would like to argue that Crossfire has all the components of a great read – compelling characters, an exciting plot, an unforeseen resolution, all told with a light humorous touch. Add in the horses and it just doesn’t get any better.

Five stars!

This review also appears on Goodreads.

The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel

I just finished reading the Danish version of Law and Order: SVU.

This is obviously a novel which is a part of a series, but only three out of the eight books featuring Louise Rick have been translated into English. Despite the alluded to back story, you don’t need to know all the past details to enjoy The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel. Louise has just switched jobs from the Homicide Department to the newly started Special Search Agency. Her first case involves the accidental death of an unidentified woman with a distinguishing scar who was walking through the woods after dark and stepped into a ravine. The investigation leads into familiar territory, Hvalso – Louise’s hometown from “days back when” – a place that she has purposely avoided. Besides her frustration in the search to unearth the secrets surrounding this mysterious woman, Louise also has to deal with a past which continues to haunt her, cringing whenever she meets people from her younger days, (just in case they mention the trauma she refuses to address). Her partner, Eik, has demons of his own which cause him to smoke and drink to excess.

As an aside, I had quite a few private laughs while I read this book. The names struck me as amusing, such as the men in Louise’s life – Mik and Eik (in my mind they rhyme). Then there is the scene where Louise introduces herself to a woman who answers, “Bitter”. I thought Bitter was an expression similar to “hello”, but, in fact, it was a first name. After I got over the unfamiliar words, the small town of Hvalso seemed typical of close-knit communities, with just a few quirks to remind us that the setting is Denmark and not the United States.

Back to the plot – the investigation broadens as several cases seem to indicate one common perpetrator. Louise and Eik, with help from Mik, set out to discover what is really happening up in the secluded woods and why women are disappearing or showing up viciously raped and/or murdered. As in any good mystery, there are numerous misdirections, so just as we think we know who is guilty, we get a clue which indicates another suspect. Drama ensues.

Central to the theme is a mental institution which had some shady practices prior to its closing. Much of this information is based on true events although this particular center was fictional. However, the setting was based on locales familiar to the author.

As the book wraps up, an unexpected incident occurs with references to disturbing events from Louise’s past which make her rethink everything she formerly believed to be true. The reader doesn’t get any answers to her questioning thoughts, just an urge to pick up the next book in the series.

An easy read which has a quick pace and some unexpected twists. The ancillary characters add a little substance to the story and are obviously a part of prior plotlines. Any strangeness is due to the locale (Europeans just give off a different vibe than Americans), but the translation is credible. I can see why Sara Blaedel is popular in Denmark, although this is not the next “Great Danish Novel”. Three and a half stars.

A thank you to Netgalley and Grand Central Publishing for this free ARC, with the expectation that I will write an honest review.

The Magician’s Daughter by Judith Janeway

I liked the magic.

Valentine has studied to become a magician to emulate her unidentified father. The problem is that Valentine Hill doesn’t have a social security number, a date of birth, or a location of where she was born. Her only ID is a series of library cards from the different cities where she’s resided over the years. Her occupations have been limited to under the table pursuits, including her current job as an assistant street magician in Vegas, where she gets a clue that her missing mother is in California. Valentine hasn’t seen Elizabeth in nine years. The only reason to hunt her abusive, con artist mom down now is so that Valentine can finally get a clue to her heritage. The scars on Valentine’s arms reminds her of a brutal childhood where she was forced to participate in scamming men for their money. As a backlash to these traumatic experiences, Valentine vows to always tell the truth. Yet the people who surround Valentine have not made any such promises, so it’s no surprise that partner Jeff steals her secret stash of funds to get to San Francisco to join a band. And so the adventure begins.

The plot in The Magacian’s Daughter by Judith Janeway is fast paced and confusing as every character’s intention is suspect. The truth is as allusive as a magic trick. Just as the reader thinks they have a handle on what is happening, there is a twist. Sometimes the misdirection is interesting and at other times it’s annoying, plus the character development has been sacrificed to the plotline. Ironically, Valentine has sworn off violence, yet there is some malicious mischief as well as several gruesome murders surrounding her adventures. The surprise ending nicely tied up numerous loose ends.

If you are looking for a light weight, fun adventure – hocus pocus – here is your next read.

My one regret is that there wasn’t a little more slight of hand. Then this book would have been truly magical.

The first in a series featuring our heroine Valentine Hill, with future opportunities to flesh out some of the supporting characters.

Three stars.

I wish to thank Netgalley and Poison Pen Press for this ARC download in exchange for an honest review.

Monday’s Lie by Jamie Mason

Imagine your mother was a covert CIA operative. Imagine that she has raised you to notice the world around, with points for remembering license plate numbers or the items in a random person’s shopping cart – a running competition between you and your brother. Imagine an “Uncle” Paul, an annoying constant in your life who is a partner of sorts to your mom, running the operation and wooing you as a potential recruit. Then imagine one rainy night when your mother sends you out to complete some nonsensical tasks while she “takes care” of a situation, then leaves you for what you’ll forever refer to as “The Long Trip”. Finally, remember her last moments as she bestows upon you all her love as well as the ability to conquer life’s challenges and find happiness. Welcome to Monday’s Lie by Jamie Mason.

Mason gives you a glimpse into the life of Dee Aldritch, nicknamed Plucky. She and her brother, Simon, aka Sixes, remain close, always ready to meet at the local bar to talk when the secret password “Once Upon A Time” is exchanged. Despite her unusual upbringing (or perhaps because of it) Dee yearns for a normal life, free from intrigue. She thinks she’s found it with Patrick, a fellow college student who she kmarries immediately upon graduation. They seem to have the perfect relationship, yet some nagging doubts prompt Dee to maintain a hidden stash of birth control pills. After as many years as her mama, Annette Vess, had fingers (a few were missing) everything starts to unravel. It starts with the blue sedan, a rifled through purse, and personal items which have obviously (at least to someone versed in observation) been handled. Then she recognizes someone from her mother’s past. Why is she being stalked? To top things off, her husband is acting strangely, constantly picking a fight in private, but acting the affectionate mate in public. Does any of it have to do with the recent half a million dollar inheritance? Or does hubby simply want a change of scenery with either the corner barista or the lap dancer at the local strip club?

Either, or, it’s Monday and Dee realizes her marriage is over. By Friday, she finds herself driving towards her destiny, without a plan except the knowledge that there are answers to be found.

A fun book, full of intrigue with unique, compelling characters. Jamie has a breezy style which flows smoothly, with some clever wordage and interesting events. However, over half the book is spent setting up the premise, a back and forth between the present and the past, so that the more dramatic conclusion is crammed into a few quick chapters. In this case, it is forgivable since the background info is compelling, but the culmination of the plot is problematic with too many loose ends left for the reader to ponder. I personally felt some confusion on a couple of points, but perhaps the author is planning a sequel. Four stars.

A thank you to Netgalley and Gallery Books for providing me a download of this ARC in exchange for an honest review.