Tag Archives: criminal mystery

The Cutting

Author James Hayman has applied the skills he developed during a 20+ year career as an advertising executive to mystery writing.   Madison Avenue’s loss is the mystery-lover’s gain.   Like his main character, Detective Sergeant Michael McCabe, Hayman has transplanted himself to Portland, Maine from New York.   His use of dialog and plot line are reminiscent of the TV drama Criminal Minds.   As is customary on Criminal Minds, the lead investigator reaches out to colleagues for clues in piercing together the profile of the perpetrator.

In this case, McCabe is dealing with an “unsub” (unknown subject) who has surgically removed the heart from a teenage girl.   Added to the grisly crime against the teen is the abduction of Lucinda Cassidy, who just happens to work for an ad agency.   Typical of many popular mysteries, this one has a time factor that is key to a rescue opportunity.   Each chapter featuring McCabe has a subheading with the date and time.   Whenever the story switches to Lucinda, there’s a change in the type font.   We are not advised of the date or time.   This serves to heighten the suspense and draw the reader into the action.

Be ready for clever references to what surely must be Hayman’s favorite classic movies, The Third Man and The Day of the Jackal.   The story is kinky in a normal sort of way.   Hayman has applied his word use skills well, much as former corporate executive Lee Eisenberg did in his first book, Shoptimism:  Why the American Consumer Will Keep on Buying No Matter What.   Of course, that’s where the similarity ends.   The characters at the center of McCabe’s life are:  his artist girlfriend Kyra, his 13-year-old daughter Cassie, his ex-wife Sandy and Maggie Savage who is his cop partner.   These characters and their interactions are compelling enough to merit a sequel.

Highly recommended.   4 stars with just enough plot twists and car chases to move the story along nicely in this very good first novel.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was provided by Dorothy of Pump Up Your Book Promotion. 

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Arc of a Diver

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The Girl Who Stopped Swimming: A Novel by Joshilyn Jackson (Grand Central Publishing, $13.99, 336 pages)

“Her good life was a thing made up…  almost by accident…  If she’d left pieces out, then she’d done it for her family.   She’d only been buttoning shut the ugly parts.   The things she’d buried were better left that way.”

If you like Jennifer Weiner (Best Friends Forever, In Her Shoes) you’re bound to love this popular fiction novel from Joshilyn Jackson (Girls in Alabama; Between, Georgia).   Like Weiner, Jackson has a great, charming, story teller’s voice that you underestimate before realizing how skillfully she moves things along.   In The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, Jackson moves swiftly between comedy and drama, happiness and sorrow, confusion and clarity.   And like Weiner, she populates this novel with great characters of the South – intelligent and naive, wacky and brilliant.

The story’s main character, Laurel Gray Hawthorne, lives in the beautiful and exclusive – and clean and quiet – suburb of Victorianna.   Then one night she wakes up to see her daughter’s best friend Molly, appearing to her as a ghost.   Molly’s dead body is subsequently found in Laurel’s backyard swimming pool.

The local police initially write off the suspicious death as an accident, but Laurel is determined to solve the crime with the aid of her very frank and abrasive sister, Thalia.   It’s not clear whether Laurel is trying to solve the criminal mystery to appease Molly’s ghost, to protect her daughter Shelby, or to resolve matters with the family ghosts she observed as a child.   But once Laurel opens the door on the events of the fateful night, everything in her life comes into play…

Does she really know who she is?   Does her husband love her?   Does she know her own daughter?   The neighbors?   Is her community safe?  

Further details will be left to prospective readers.   This is, without a doubt, a fascinating read.   “Left me breathless…  You must read this book!”   – Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants.   Agreed.   I will now be looking for a copy of Gods in Alabama.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

the girl who“She’d tried to create an airtight home that ghosts could not enter, but they’d come in anyway, through the secret spaces, through the blanks she’d left in all the things she left unsaid…”

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the girl who (sm.)A review of the novel The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson.

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No Expectations

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Reservation Road: A Novel by John Burnham Schwartz (Vintage Contemporaries, $15.00, 304 pages)

“Our love is like our music, it’s here and then it’s gone.”   Jagger/Richards

Reservation Road was the second novel from John Burnham Schwartz, author of The Commoner.   It is a tale of psychological suspense made all the more interesting as it is told through the thoughts of three characters (Ethan, a college professor; Grace, his wife; and Dwight, the man whose actions cause the death of Ethan and Grace’s son).   Ethan is a literature professor at a small college in New England, whose life is on course until…  

Returning late from an outing, the family makes an unscheduled stop at a gas station on Reservation Road.   As Grace and daughter Emma go in to use the rest room at the almost-abandoned gas station, Ethan and son Josh wait near the side of the road.   In a matter of mere seconds, a car driven recklessly by Dwight hits and kills 10-year-old Josh.   Life will never be the same for Ethan and Grace Learner…

Life, in fact, becomes “too much to bear” for the Learners.   Grace becomes paralyzed by her grief and Ethan moves on driven strictly by thoughts of revenge against the hit-and-run driver who killed his son.   Dwight, by contrast, is a man who has already ruined his life, his marriage and his legal career due to his recklessness and violence.   He becomes “like many whose lives are fueled largely by regret.”   He’s a dead man walking who eventually does “not seem to care any longer what happened to him.”

Schwartz does a masterful job of building and maintaining suspense through this novel’s 292 pages even though the denouement is obvious…   When the criminal justice system fails to find the man who so tragically killed Josh, we know deep down – as does Dwight – that Ethan will find him.   And what then?

But this is more than just a crime mystery.   It is a quasi-morality play about how people deal with losses – death and separation – in their lives.   We see how some rebound to live again and others never recover.   What is the line from Neil Young?   “On the day that she left he died but it did not show.”   This is a story about Ethan and Grace, who lose part of their life (their reason to exist) late; and of Ethan, who has lost his strength and his will to survive early on.

At the end of Reservation Road, Ethan finds Dwight and gets to serve as his judge, jury and – perhaps – his executioner.   What happens?   You’ll have to read Schwartz’s Reservation Road to find out.

Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Note:   This book was purchased by the reviewer at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon.

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Coming Up Next…

Reservation Road smallA review of Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz, author of The Commoner.

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