Tag Archives: thriller

Cold As Ice

stone cold heartStone Cold Heart: A Novel by Caz Frear (Harper, $26.99, 328 pages)

Detective Constable Cat Kinsella stars in this, the second British police procedural mystery from author Caz Frear.  For many readers it’s the second novel that’s the true test of a writer’s skill.  Rest assured readers of this genre – fans of writers such as Peter Robinson, Jane Casey, and Peter James – I could go on.  Ms. Frear has another success in Stone Cold Heart.  After reading this novel, I’m looking forward to reading the first in the series, Sweet Little Lies.

Predictably, the opening page features a stream of consciousness statement from an unknown person.  The requisite references to killing and death are assurances that this read will not be tame or boring.  DC Kinsella begins her narrative in August 2017 with a rather ordinary trip to a coffee shop.  Well, the coffee is not ordinary nor is the barista.

Fast forward to November of the same year, a Tuesday to be specific.  We’re introduced to Luigi Parnell, Kinsella’s partner, as well as their boss, Detective Inspector Kate Steele.  Murder Investigation Team 4, as they are called, is considering a scene with a 22-year-old murder victim, Naomi Lockhart.  Kinsella’s remembrance of past visits to this neighborhood is a head’s up to the reader that there will be a blend of her past and the present.  She encounters many triggers to her memory during the tale.

Author Frear provides the usual banter among the members of the MIT4.  Moreover, throughout the book she takes time to thoughtfully describe the various aspects of each scene and the thoughts and actions of her characters.  Perhaps it is the cinematic feel of her writing that sets these characters and their profession apart from an ordinary British police mystery.  In fact, the DC Kinsella novels are now being made into a television series.

The underlying issues that move the story forward are trust and truth.  As one would expect, the tale is advanced as MIT4 searches for the answer to the age old question, who done it?

stone cold heart two

The book is highly recommended for mystery/thriller readers and especially those who are dedicated readers of British police procedurals featuring a female detective as the main character.

Ruta Arellano

Stone Cold Heart was published on July 2, 2019.  A review copy was received from the publisher.

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The Hardest Part

“You take it on faith, you take it from the heart/ The waiting is the hardest part.”  Tom Petty

C.L. Taylor’s The Missing is an intriguing mixed bag.

The Missing: A Novel by C.L. Taylor (William Morrow Paperbacks, $15.99, 496 pages)

missing taylor

Claire, the mother of a missing child, Billy, suffers through the mental anguish of trying to determine if he is actually still alive when she loses hope in the authorities.  This has a tragic impact on all of her relationships, including her mother, best friend, her other son, Jake, his live-in girlfriend Kira, and husband Mark.

All of the tricks of enticing the reader in, choppy scenes that attempt to accentuate the characters’ minds and the turmoil of the story itself, work – sometimes.  And then they become tiresome and tiring.  Just when the reader begins to become attached to the story and plot – interested in trying to figure out what is actually going on, things get to be too much.

In all novels one must suspend reality and in the suspense/intrigue genre, this is even more paramount.  In The Missing I found myself rooting for Taylor to pull it off.  (There’s a story to be told here that should be worth the time and energy.)  There are personal stories and interrelationships that come close to making this a special novel.  But it does not quite get there.

At over 450 pages, the telling is too long.  The story drags on and this diminishes the impact of the conclusion when the truth is revealed to the intrepid reader.

There is some very good writing in The Missing and there are sections where one’s interest is definitely heightened.  At times the story moves along nicely and pulls the reader in.  But it’s not consistent enough to be viewed as a top notch suspense novel.  Let’s hope that Morrow assigns a diligent editor to work with Taylor on her next release.

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Despite these reservations, there will be readers who will enjoy the book.

Recommended, for a less demanding audience.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is a professional educator and sometime drummer.  He is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel about baseball, love and Bob Dylan.

 

 

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Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright

daylight marriage amazon

The Daylight Marriage: A Novel by Heidi Pitlor (Algonquin Paperbacks, $15.95, 254 pages)

“You could have done better but I don’t mind/You just kinda wasted my precious time/Don’t think twice, it’s alright.” Bob Dylan

I’ve noted in the past that the hardest type of book to review is one that’s not an “A” or “F’; it’s a “C.” Cs, of course, represent average work. This one’s about a C-.

The Daylight Marriage has a plot that’s oddly reminiscent of Gone Girl. The attractive wife of a nice guy leaves the house and never returns. Yes, she “disappears without a trace.”

In this novella – it only runs for 245 pages; the reader figures out the ending within the first few dozen pages and yet it’s advertised as being something of a thriller. The blurb from Stephen King states, “I turned the pages with increasing dread.” Maybe King was given a different galley; stranger things have happened.

Or maybe King was referring to the simple dread that accompanies predictability. (If you read Gone Girl, or saw the movie, you know that nice husbands don’t kill their wives. Pitlor claims to have been influenced in her writing by the headline story of Laci Peterson, so there may be exceptions to this rule.)

Oh, the back of the book is loaded with positive blurbs form the likes of King, Tom Perrotta, Geraldine Brooks, Entertainment Weekly (the gospel of entertainment), and the Los Angeles Review of Books. And yet, for once, I think the readers who order from Amazon have gotten it right. On Amazon, this book has a 3 out of 5 stars rating.

There’s more. Perhaps because of the disappointment that accompanies this read, Amazon is offering this $15.95 list price book for an astonishing 79% off of its list price, or $3.39. That probably tells you all you need to know.

daylight marriage

You might pick this one up if you are willing to gamble with $3.39 of your hard-earned savings. If not, it’s best to pass it up.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Secret

Anna Blanc

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc: A Mystery by Jennifer Kincheloe (Seventh Street Books, $15.95, 367 pages)

Sweat beaded on Wolf’s brow as he led Anna among the desks to meet the man in charge. His lips stretched in a tense smile, his skin a little paler than before he had hired Anna. “Captain Wells, may I present Mrs. Anna Holmes, our lovely new assistant matron. She types, speaks Spanish, but most importantly, she’s nervy. I say that’s a vital quality for a matron who will be venturing into unsavory territory.”

Fans of the history of southern California will find this remarkably charming mystery an accurate period piece. The opening chapters of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc offer a well-described glimpse into the life of Miss Blanc. Anna is the only daughter of Christopher Blanc, a wealthy banker and business leader in Los Angeles. Mr. Blanc treats Anna as though she were an asset/possession. Who she marries means more to him than does her happiness.

The time is 1907 and the locales for the tale include Riverside and both the wealthy and shabby areas of Los Angeles. The action begins when Anna has eloped from her father’s Bunker Hill mansion with Louis Taylor. They hop onto a train bound for the historic Mission Inn located in downtown Riverside where they plan to marry in the chapel. Due to the strictness of her Catholic upbringing, Anna has never actually touched a man without wearing gloves. The exception is her father. As she and Louis sit in a third class rail car rolling toward their destination, the action speeds up and one thing leads to another.

Jennifer Kincheloe

Author Jennifer Kincheloe infuses Anna with equal measures of spunk and cleverness. Our heroine longs to be a lady detective just like the ones she reads about in the contraband books she hides by using the covers of books that meet her father’s approval. Fate throws Anna into a controversial encounter with the Los Angeles Police Department. This encounter leads to the opportunity she has been dreaming about. Trickery and abundant guts are all Anna needs to launch her career!

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The novel is way too well written to give away any more than the barest of plot details. It’s rare that a thrilling mystery is also a laugh out loud read.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

“Fast, funny, and fabulous. You’re going to love this book!” Lori Rader-Day, author of Pretty Little Things. “A madcap frolic through turn-of-the-century Los Angeles, Jennifer Kincheloe’s debut mystery is an addictive read.” James W. Ziskin, author of Stone Cold Dead.

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Who Let the Dogs Out

Three Guys to Take Along on Vacation

Who let

Who Let the Dog Out?: An Andy Carpenter Mystery by David Rosenfelt (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 336 pages)

And they’re off… Andy, Laurie, Rick and the two dogs are back with a strange dilemma at the Tara Foundation Shelter. Cheyenne, a lost dog, took up residence at Andy’s shelter only to be spirited away by a professional burglar.

David Rosenfelt is back to his funny and wise cracking self as he spins the tale of a murder and a missing pooch. This, the 13th Andy Carpenter mystery, is every bit as fresh and engaging as the ones that preceded it. Rosenfelt makes his characters vulnerable in a writing style that is easy to enjoy.

This is a book that’s an excellent read over a lazy weekend or during a week away on vacation.

Well recommended.

World gone by

World Gone: A Novel by Dennis Lehane (William Morrow, $27.99, 320 pages)

Indeed, the world of his third book in a trilogy by Dennis Lehane has gone by. The time is World War II and the settings include Cuba and Tampa, Florida. The fact that a war is raging affects both the good and evil people who move through this tale. The notion that war takes the best men for duty thus leaving the less competent behind at home is applicable to gangs of criminals. This is an aspect of war that has never occurred to this reviewer before.

The location during Lehane’s chosen time frame is not one this reader considered particularly compelling or relevant for today. Perhaps with U.S.-Cuban relations resuming the connection between the main character, Joe Coughlin, and Cuba has some merit. Coughlin has business challenges not unlike his counterparts in the legitimate business world.

Dennis Lehane is a very well known author (12 books, four of which have been made into movies). He seasons this tale, World Gone By, with abundant background and biographical information about his characters – thieves, murderers, and extortionists. The pace is slow and a bit plodding. As the plot develops, the reader becomes aware of the human foibles and quirks of these “bad guys.” They should be despicable but Lehane sympathetically portrays the people behind their life situations.

Recommended for Lehane fans.

dead simple

Dead Simple: The First Thriller in the Acclaimed Roy Grace Series by Peter James (Minotaur Books, $9.99, 457 pages)

Claustrophobia warning! Author Peter James casts his story lines one by one to set up a race against the suffocation death of Mike Harrison, a bridegroom and prankster, who is being dealt some serious playback by his buddies just days prior to his wedding.

Crisp dialogue with the right balance of details and description keep the action going. A third person narrator leads the reader through the crash of the bachelor party van and the deadly aftermath. Readers will settle in with Detective Superintendent Roy Grace while he addresses the disappearance of Mike Harrison.

Dead Simple is the first in a nine volume series by James featuring Roy Grace. Clearly, this thriller has piqued this reviewer’s interest. Here’s hoping the rest of the series matches up with this splendid beginning.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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Two Of A Kind

Two British Authors With Different Approaches to Crime

The Stone Wife (nook book)

The Stone Wife: A Chief Superintendent Peter Diamond Investigation by Peter Lovesey (Soho Press, $26.95, 368 pages)

Witty British mystery stories can be addicting. The reader knows that a satisfying one is like an escape from the mundane, an opportunity to spend time with detectives who are able to cut through the confusion and trick the villains into revealing their responsibility for evil deeds. Peter Lovesey has added a 14th Peter Diamond tale to his long list of publishing credits. The Stone Wife is most certainly a member of this charming and addictive genre. The opening pages are reminiscent of the Lovejoy television series wherein the main character is an antiques dealer who susses out the real from the fake, often at auctions.

The Stone Wife begins at an auction where masked gunmen interrupt contentious bidding for a slab of carved stone. The current high bidder boldly intervenes as the masked men are poised to whisk away the stone slab. Alas, the bidder’s actions result in a nasty abdominal wound that is quickly followed by his demise. Of course, the local police are summoned and Peter Diamond, head of the Bath Criminal Investigation Division (CID), and his team begin their search for the masked men.

Lovesey fills the story with easy dialogue and a good balance of description and action. The reader is provided background regarding Chaucer’s life and writings. This information ties to the carving on the stone slab, which becomes a nagging reminder of the unsolved case in Inspector Diamond’s office. The CID team members, including Ingeborg Smith and Paul Gilbert, put themselves in harms’ way to assist in untangling a rather convoluted interplay among some really nasty criminals.

Infidelity and envy are motivating factors for the crime. The twisting and turning of the plot can be a bit off-putting. By comparison, Skeleton Hill, an earlier book in the series, is more like a well-crafted game of Clue.

Recommended.

Under a Silent Moon: A Novel by Elizabeth Haynes (Harper, $25.99, 359 pages)

Under a Silent Moon

Every little thing felt like flirting where Hamilton was concerned. Did he do it to everyone, or just to Lou? And how did you stamp your authority on the working relationship when there was this sort of history between you? Two months ago she had been a DI, and his ranking equal… Her swift rise to DCI was all due to her grim determination to get her head down and concentrate on work rather than let herself be distracted by men, or one man in particular – Andy Hamilton.

A deliberate timeline, memos from the detective chief superintendent, illustrations of reports throughout and elaborate charts at the back pages of Under a Silent Moon set this police procedural apart from others of its genre. Author Elizabeth Haynes prefaces the book with an explanation of her use of IBM computer software to simulate an actual murder investigation. She assures the reader that the characters are pure fiction.

The suspicious death of a very pretty young woman kicks off this tale. Detective Chief Inspector Louisa (Lou) Smith catches the case, her first major crime as a senior investigating officer. Smith is anxious to get it right, not mess up on the case. She needs to assert her leadership role with the members of her team, including Andy Hamilton, who is both brash and intimidating. By contrast, Smith favors a calm and warm approach to policing. Her style may not suit the promotion she has recently won.

The scene of the crime is the upscale neighborhood of Briarstone. The victim, Polly Leuchars, is not just beautiful; she is also known for her promiscuity with both men and women. Her brutal murder touches many residents, both current and past, of the country town. A second murder adds to the urgency and pressures that DCI Smith feels from the upper echelons of the police department.

Haynes provides a large cast of characters, many of whom seem to be deliberately confusing. These characters include Taryn and Flora, their fathers and several police officers – both male and female. Thankfully, there’s a roster at the front of the book to assist the reader when the names become overwhelming. Timing plays an important role in the solution of both of the crimes.

under-silent-moon

Despite the in-your-face presentation, readers of thrillers will most likely enjoy the specificity and details that make this more than just another procedural. Clearly, this is not your tame Miss Marple-style of British mystery. Under a Silent Moon is promoted as the first in a new series from Haynes. It will be interesting to see whether she is able to maintain the tight format and specificity of this compellingly tense novel.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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I Shall Be Released

I’m beginning to hear voices and there’s no one around…/ Reality has always had too many heads. Bob Dylan, “Cold Irons Bound.”

Forgetting Place

The Forgetting Place: A Novel by John Burley (William Morrow, $14.99, 344 pages)

Wow.

John Burley’s second novel, The Forgetting Place, is a worthy successor to Absence of Mercy. At first it did not appear as if that would be the case, as the story seemed to meander for a while. But, Burley’s managed to do it again.

Dr. Lise Shields arrives at Menaker, a correctional psychiatric facility in Maryland and becomes embroiled in a massive “cover up” – or does she? That is the question readers are left with when they finish the book. Who exactly are the victims in this story?

The plot is well conceived, but pulling this story off was no easy task. Fortunately, Burley did pull it off. So much so that one cannot be sure with any absolute certainty what did or did not happen. This brilliantly parallels the confusion evident in the minds of the mentally ill that Dr. Shields is or is not treating.

One of the main male characters has a lover, who is a suspected terrorist; the latter winds up being murdered. That’s about all one can say for certain. To go into much greater detail would create too many spoilers for prospective readers of this work.

This is a fine novel, Mr. Burley! If you can keep this going, you’ll wind up with a cult following and perhaps much more.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on February 10, 2015.

“The Forgetting Place is a deep dive into the darkest recesses of the human psyche. Surprises wait at every turn.” Lisa Unger

“Layered and evocative – an intelligent, powerful read.” Sophie Littlefield

“Will send chills down your spine. A taut psychological thriller.” Alice LaPlante, author of A Circle of Wives.

Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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