In the Blood: A Novel by Lisa Unger (Touchstone, $25.99, 352 pages)
A “normal” or “sane” childhood won’t be found in this, the latest thriller from Lisa Unger. The setting is The Hollows, a small rural town outside New York City. Lana Granger, a trust fund baby, is the central character. Lana attends Sacred Heart, a small local college, and is a fourth year psychology student. She follows the advice of her trust fund manager to begin earning money. With the help of her faculty advisor, Dr. Langdon Hewes, she finds a part time job caring for Luke Kahn, a deeply disturbed boy.
The intersection of Lana’s scarred past and Luke’s twisted mind form the center of the plot that includes the disappearance of Lana’s college roommate. Former cop Jones Cooper and his wife, Maggie, who is Lana’s psychologist, provide stability and logic for the reader amid some bizarre happenings. The two narrators, Lana and an unknown person, are clearly troubled souls in search of relief from their tormented childhoods.
Ms. Unger writes in crisp, restrained dialogue that taunts the reader. She employs a switch in type font technique to heighten the tension and strengthen the undercurrent that runs through this, her eighth thriller.
Highly recommended, but not for the faint of heart.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on January 7, 2014.
“An absolute corker of a thriller.” Dennis Lehane
The Audible Audio Edition is read by Gretchen Mol and Candace Thaxon.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow, $25.99, 181 pages)
At first glance, the lovely cream colored deckle edge pages and the crisply printed type face are a stark contrast to the cover artwork of this rather slim novel. The story that unfolds is a bit arresting, setting up a moody dark and deep tale. As a first-time reader of Neil Gaiman (Gaiman’s horror/fantasy book Coraline was made into a stop-motion film) this reviewer was a bit hesitant to begin what appeared to be a memoir by the narrator, a man who has gone back to his hometown for a funeral.
Gaiman plays on the magic thinking that some kids explore, or rather allow to bubble to the surface in idle moments or during spells of anger at being denied their desires. The narrator, clearly an introvert, lays out his painful childhood for the reader. A murdered man found in his father’s stolen car is traumatic for him. He visits a house at the end of the road where his childhood home used to be. The occupants are women, well, just one woman whose age and identity are a bit confusing. Is she the mother of his playmate, Lettie Hempstock, or her grandmother? What happened to Lettie?
As did other reviewers, I read the book in one sitting. Once a reader suspends his or her hold on adult reality and dives back into the spacey and somewhat murky thoughts of childhood, it’s easy to fall under Gaiman’s spell. He convincingly captures the ethereal and floating insights that we know as children and then lose to the world as we become grown-ups.
Well recommended for readers who enjoy being on edge.
A Burial at Sea: A Mystery (Charles Lenox Series) by Charles Finch (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 336 pages)
British mysteries are often set in post-Word War I London or quaint villages (think Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series). Here’s a nice change of time and place to the open seas in 1873 aboard Her Majesty’s Ship the Lucy. Former detective and current junior Member of Parliament Charles Lenox has accepted an assignment to travel to Egypt in the hope of uncovering a traitor in the British Intelligence community. Relations between England and France are strained and war seems inevitable. During Lenox’s weeks-long voyage a murder takes place and he is the default person to identify the killer.
Just near the gun room was a small closet with a caged metal door and a large, impressive lock. It held the ship’s spirits, wine and brandy for the captain and the officers, rum for the men’s grog, as well as a bottle or two of harder alcoholic drinks. When ships were foundering or there was a mutiny afoot, sailors were occasionally known to break into it, an offense punishable by hanging.
While the story line is important, the portrait painted in words is the star of the book. Charles Finch has done a masterful job of bringing the reader into an era of strict class distinctions. The accuracy of the language of the late 19th Century Victorian Era adds to the immersion of the reader. Nautical expressions and sailing references firmly establish the scenes on the Lucy.
This experience is so far removed from the present day navy that it seems somewhat cozy. Finch’s narrator has a distinct masculine tone; however, there is ample kindness and appreciation expressed throughout the book which makes it appealing for all readers.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Agatha Christie meets Patrick O’Brien… the best in the series to date.” Publishers Weekly (starred review) on A Burial at Sea.
The Repeat Year is a debut novel by Andrea Lochen about a young woman who has had a terrifically horrible 2011. On New Year’s Day 2012, she wakes up to find that it’s 2011 all over again — at least it is for her. She’ll have to relive the dreadful year, with the full knowledge of what happened during her first time around, in hopes that she can correct her personal and professional mistakes. Yes, the storyline sounds like a cross between Groundhog Day and The Time Traveler’s Wife.
The Repeat Year will be released by Berkley Books on May 7, 2013, but you can read the first chapter now:
We’ll post a review of this novel in the near future, presuming that we don’t travel backwards in time.
The Perfect Ghost: A Novel by Linda Barnes (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 310 pages)
I know it’s not art… but it’s writing. It’s work, a bold answer to the inevitable question What do you do? It’s a way to support myself beyond mere and meager subsistence. It’s a life. It’s my life.
This is a story that devolves before the reader’s eyes. The Perfect Ghost begins as a novel filled with beautiful language that brings to mind Maggie Pouncey’s novel, Perfect Reader. Ghost is about a ghost-writer, Em Moore, who works with a partner — the public face of the team — to write a highly successful non-fiction book about Hollywood celebs. When the partner suddenly dies, Em must fight tooth and nail to convince the publishing company to let her finish a follow-up book about a famous film director for which she and her deceased partner had a contract.
Unfortunately, author Barnes — who in the past wrote numerous mysteries — is not content to stick with this intriguing story line. Instead, the book veers off the main road (that of a novel) and turns into a diversionary journey (a mystery) about multiple crimes. As in most mysteries, all is resolved in the final pages. But by then the thrill is gone.
At just 300 pages this story is almost a novella, which means that not too many hours of reading will have been wasted. That’s small comfort, very small. You know an author is in trouble when she begins larding the story with lines from Shakespeare’s plays.
“All’s well that ends well.” Such is not the case here.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on April 9, 2013.
Misery Bay: An Alex McNight Novel by Steve Hamilton (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 320 pages).
“Now I wish I could give Brother Bill his great thrill/ I would set him in chains at the top of the hill/ Then send out for some pillars and Cecil B. DeMille/ He could die happily ever after.” Bob Dylan, “Tombstone Blues,” Highway 61 Revisited
Steve Hamilton’s Misery Bay is in some ways a typical crime novel. In many ways, however, it is far from typical or cliche. The characters have some moxie and they intrigue the reader and the plot, which is the key to stories of this genre, is far from being formulaic. Hamilton is adept at providing subtle twists and turns just at the point when the reader thinks they finally are on track to reach a satisfying conclusion to the story.
In this novel, a continuation of the Alex McNight mysteries, the former cop and current private investigator, ever the hero, crosses many lines in pursuit of a serial killer. In the process he teams up with police chief Roy Mavens, an unlikely pairing, to jointly face treacherous circumstances at virtually every turn.
The novel takes place primarily in the solitary terrain of the Upper Peninsula, Michigan, creating a perfect backdrop to the tenor of the tale and the characters who inhabit it. And, for the true cop-lovers among us, there are cops everywhere: old ones, current ones, dead ones — they’re everywhere!
About a third of the way through, each chapter is introduced with director comments on film scenes. At first, one can see that they generally relate to the story, but they don’t truly make sense until much further into the story. This tactic is a bit annoying initially, but it does spark the reader’s curiousity, and in the end, it clearly works as the story reaches its intriguing climax and ultimate resolution.
If one suspends disbelief just a bit (hey, this is a novel after all), and tolerates a few minor leaps of faith, there is little to quibble with. Mystery Bay satisfies.
Purists might argue with minor specific aspects of the dialogue, details of the police interactions, or the reality of the film scenes or script references, but none of that gets in the way of the reader’s overall enjoyment of the story.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. “A wonderful book. A wonderful series.” Harlan Coben, author of Six Years.
Dave Moyer is an education administrator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.