Review: Solstice Shadows – VanOps #2 (Avanti Centrae)

Solstice Shadows is the second book in the VanOps series. As per usual, I have not read the first, but from the description, it apparently could be read as a standalone. I really, really wish the publisher had not implied this, because it is not so. It’s clear that the story of what came before is important, and treating this like a second book where the first needs to be read, instead of a standalone part of the series, does a disservice to the book and thus to the reader.

The issue is that the author does not weave the backstory into this book well. We get internal monologues out the wazoo, and a bunch of “As you know,” with some flat out telling mixed in for good measure. Were the backstory presented as necessary, in short bursts, instead of the author trying to get in a large chunk of it at once, it would have been less annoying.

At its most basic: a star chart that supposedly maps to a source of superconductive material has been stolen from the apartment of Maddy Marshall (if it’s so important, why does she not keep it in a safe?) but the thief did not find the sliver of a blade? material? something. She, her twin brother, and her boyfriend Bear have been recruited to the super super super secret VanOps group – interestingly, even with all the telling going on, I’ve no idea at 35% what the “van” part of that stands for – and Maddy is dithering on accepting because she’s part of a super super super secret and special group of international spies. Or something.

I’m sorry, but the narrative in this is driving me crazy as I read it and it’s going on the DNF list at 35%. I didn’t care about these people, what they’d done, or what they were going to do, and I just don’t think the writing itself is very good. This one was not for me, even though it sounded interesting when I came across it.

Thanks to Thunder Creek and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Crimcon Lake Road – Desert Plains #2 (Victor Methos)

This will be part review and part storycraft (including consistency) and will contain spoilers. It also describes some of the gore in it. The book also deals in child abuse. If you want to read this book, or you’re not a fan of child in danger books, you may want to skip this review. It’s also fairly long.

 

 

 

Good? Good.

Crimson Lake Road is listed as “Desert Plains, #2” on Goodreads. As is the case in many of my reviews, I’m parachuting into a series after the characters have been established. It isn’t really apparent in this book that it’s #2 in a series on the cover (in fact, it doesn’t mention it at all) and past events aren’t really brought up in terms of these characters working together as a group, so it can and does work as a standalone, although reading the first will certainly inform the second.

The book opens with a horrific scene: a woman in a tunic on a kitchen table, her head obscured by bloody gauze. FBI agent Cason Baldwin and Detective Lucas Garrett (and everyone else in the entry team) believe the woman is dead. Until she start flailing around.

We then cut to a bar, where (super smart) Jessica Yardley, currently working for the US Attorney’s office is telling Baldwin she’s leaving the office and moving somewhere that she doesn’t have to see the terrible things she (and he) have seen. She agrees with her boss to work on this particular case and bring New Guy (Kyle? Don’t recall, he’s annoying and a cartoony frat boy know-it-all who has zero character development despite the fact he will be working this case) up to speed and get him going on it. New Guy’s schtick is having a sucker in his mouth all the time – even in court, and having to have the judge to tell him to ditch it. Even a frat boy would know this is not acceptable, come on.

Yardley goes to see the victim, whom they believe is the second victim of a killer using a series of four paintings as inspiration. The first, a woman named Kathy Pharr, did not survive. Yardley befriends woman #2, Angela River (“Call me Angie.”), telling herself there is no reason they can’t be friends. OK, I’ll push my disbelief that a prosecutor – even one leaving – would get emotionally involved with the victim of an open case in this way, even if Yardley seems desperate for friends and finds River a willing ear. The way things work out, however, it does seem that Yardley makes pretty bad choices about the people she wants to be in her life.

Meanwhile, everyone is trying to determine who the killer is, and delving into Pharr’s life to see if there are connections between her and River. There don’t seem to be any, but they keep digging, reinterviewing everyone. There’s an intimation that River’s fiancee, Dr. Michael Zachary could be the killer/attacker, based on a profile developed by the FBI. The BAU, in fact (who develop such profiles) is on the verge of being shut down, which brings some tension into Baldwin’s life, since that’s his department.

We get some references to Yardley’s teenaged daughter Tara, and Yardley tells her new bestie that she was once married to a man who was a serial killer (this is apparently what the first book is about) and had a relationship with another bad guy. Tara is described as some kind of math savant and super smart, and we find out that she has been secretly visiting her (super smart and super manipulative) father on death row, while telling her mother she’s working in the robotics lab at the university.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I love a good, morally grey character. I’ll even root for bad guys if they’re doing good things. But I want consistency. Barring some catastrophic event, for instance, an FBI agent isn’t going to suddenly rob a bank. Yardley is conscientious and wants bad guys found and punished for their wrongdoings.

That’s why it bothered me that when Tara and a friend are at River’s house, and River leaves, Tara calls Yardley, knowing Yardley wants to snoop around a bit. When Tara asks her “That’s what you wanted, right?”, this should have been a sign to Yardley to rethink herself. Instead, she does go snooping, and in doing so, finds a garage with gauze, etc., that indicate Dr Zachary could be their man, and calls Baldwin to get a judge to sign a warrant to search Rover and Zachary’s outbuildings. Baldwin does write the warrant but does not get a chance to get it under a judge’s pen, so Yardley takes it, thin as it is, and gets it signed. This should have been another sign to Yardley. But it isn’t.

When the warrant is served, River naturally accuses Yardley of getting close to her solely for the purposes of arresting Zachary, and storms off – rightly so, in my opinion. But, River gets over it, and they’re again friends as the book moves suddenly to the viewpoint of a defense attorney, previously not introduced to the reader, by the name of Dylan Aster. If you asked me to point to the character I’d be most interested in reading a book about, it would be Aster.

It seemed to me that Methos was having much more fun writing the parts with Aster – from describing his antics in getting himself held in contempt during a trial in front of a particular judge so that judge would likely have to recuse himself from any case Aster was involved with, to the play he made to have himself be able to be present while the grand jury was seated for Zachary’s indictment. Aster was irrepressible, and those scenes both lightened he mood during the middle of the book, but also helped carry the middle along. Often, the “sagging middle” is quite a problem for writer and reader alike, but Methos has avoided that here for the most part.

Kathy Pharr’s daughter, Harmony, goes missing. Her father Tucker, recently released from prison after being convicted of snatching and murdering a girl about Harmony’s age, has seen nothing, heard nothing, and is generally unhelpful. He also talks like someone from an Appalachian holler. I’m supposing this is because we’re told he has something like a 5th grade education, and is not terribly bright, so of course he’d speak poor English and have a southern accent, living there in Nevada. Baldwin finds the girl’s necklace and her phone, but not the girl herself. Since Zachary was remanded without bail, so could not have taken the girl himself, the group posits that perhaps Zachary and Tucker were working together. An independent crime reporter has been hovering at the edges of the investigation, and Yardley encounters him while she and Baldwin are working a piece of the case, interviewing a drug addict who claims to have seen Harmony. She thinks it’s interesting that he was nearby, but then thinks nothing more of it.

Meanwhile, in a subplot involving Tara, she is doing some work for her imprisoned father, selling his artwork. She changes her appearance and goes to some very sketchy warehouses to meet some equally sketchy bad dudes. This does not strike me as the actions of a supposed very smart person, and although Tara is described as a “savant”, she’s not someone who cannot function in society. She knows it’s dangerous, she knows her father is dangerous, yet she tells her mother nothing of all this (and Yardley doesn’t ask, even though a 17 year old seems to be at a college lab at all hours, every day).

The drug addict is then found hanging by his intestines in a house at Crimson Lake Road. This scene is not described in details, but the original painting that inspired it was. If you’ve seen the movie Hannibal (the film, with Anthony Perkins and Julianne Moore), the scene where Hannibal kills Inspector Pazzi will give you a good idea of it.

The group finally begins to realize that Zachary is not guilty, and looks even more closely at the original incident for which Tucker went to prison, which occurred in another town. Baldwin is close behind her, but Yardley is abducted before he arrives. When she comes to, she realizes she’s in a basement, and Tucker is strapped to a table, naked. The character who snatched her – who we guessed was the crime reporter – leaves the basement for a minute, and Yardley opens the small window to get out, but is unable to do so before their captor returns, and quickly hides in a closet. Their captor goes charging out to chase down Yardley, who manages to get out of the house for real and begins running. The bad guy is almost on her when Baldwin arrives on..I mean in…his Mustang to clip the bad guy and then cuff him.

Yardley’s fine, for the most part, and Tucker has been rescued, but is under arrest, as they’ve discovered Tucker used to live on Crimson Lake Road, and his family had other land there back in the day. While Tucker is lying in a hospital bed, cuffed to the rail, a nurse comes in, supposedly to give him pain meds, but really to inject him with something that will paralyze his muscles but will keep his heart and brain working while she slices and dices him to remove all his organs like the fourth painting.

We’ve already guessed that River is involved in these killings. When Yardley goes to River’s house, she sees that River has left in a hurry. Good thing they were BFFs, and River told Yardley where she’d go if she left the area. Yarley calls San Pedro to let them know there’s a fugitive in their area. She goes herself, finds Sue Ellen/Angie, who has Harmony with her. Yardley tells River she’s decided not to leave the US Attorney’s office after all, and that she’s going to move to the crimes against children section. Baldwin, for his part, has also told his boss he wants to move to the crimes against child department, which I suppose means the series will continue with these two working together in books detailing the number of ways people can be horrible to kids. I’m not squeamish, and I know these things happen, but I know I’ll also pick something else to read if it’s a choice between that and something like this, even if the bulk of the horrible acts of violence are left offscreen.

Remember consistencies? It was VERY difficult for me to believe that Yardley would just let River walk away – and take Harmony with her, even though I understood River’s motives. But she does just that, and I had been rooting for her to find her integrity again. Alas, I was disappointed. Hopefully, in the next book, Yardley will reflect on her choice to get too cozy with the victim of a case.

Four stars for a good premise for the murders and not just the investigation, but the way some investigators stop looking at things closely once they think they have the perp – looking at you, New Guy. Two stars for inconsistency and inaction/blind eye in Yardley. We’ll go with the middle and give it three stars out of five. Worth a read if you’re not too squeamish.

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The President’s Dossier (James A. Scott)

I almost added my nonfiction-scams tag to this one in addition to tagging it as a thriller, as the book is clearly based on the Steele Dossier. If you are not from the US, or do not follow US politics, the Steele Dossier (in this book, renamed the Ironside Dossier) reported on Russian involvement during the 2016 elections in the US, favoring the Republican candidate.

In The President’s Dossier, Max Geller, who previously worked for the CIA in its Moscow station, has been fired from the Agency after he offers anything less than praise for recently elected President Ted Walldrum (which anagrams to Mr Lewd Adult, something I found amusing and fitting, given the real life person he’s modeled on), dumped by one girlfriend only to take up with another who works so much they barely see one another, and even with his credentials is unable to find a new job three weeks after his dismissal. He wonders if the Agency is waving people away from him. This “Duh!” moment is one I will have repeatedly for Max throughout the book, even though he is supposedly a superspy.

One day, a man named Bowen appears at the bar where Max spends his afternoons, carrying a briefcase of money. He offers $10 million (USD) to Max to verify the content of (and thereby sources for) the Ironside Dossier, so named because of the British MI6 intelligence officer who put it together. As someone obviously not a fan of Walldrum, Max has no issues signing a contract – with a Panamanian entity Bowen represents, which should have been another flag for Max – and taking the job.

Max also receives a call from Rodney, his old boss at the CIA, who knows Bowen has been to see him (another red flag) and dangles some reward in front of him. He also gives Max some gear, including an identity and a satphone.

I was suspicious, and Max should have been as well. Max makes some calls to have other people get all sorts of arrangements done – travel, gear, surveillance, etc. In fact, he doesn’t seem to do much work himself of any sort that is not either walking into a place under a forged identity, sometime lifting documents or thumb drives from people, sleeping with Jill Rucker, who Bowen assigned to Max as a cutout (i.e., someone between Bowen and whoever he represents and Max), or getting kidnapped and subsequently rescued by other members of his team. There are also operational failures that are unforgivable – Max gets other people killed because he fails to think things through. As just one instance, he doesn’t even seem to consider for a moment that perhaps Ironside is under surveillance by the Russians.

After being kidnapped, rescued, then rescued again in the same chapter, and now being hunted by MI6 in addition to the Russians, Max and crew head to St. Petersburg (Russia), to verify some items in the dossier – specifically, the loans and money laundering, and what I refer to as the “peeing with prostitutes” thing, all of which are in the real Steele Dossier. There is a nice setup with lookalikes that allow Max and Jill to leave the cruise ship they were on and not reboard it, giving them a head start on Russian intelligence.

After some time and activities in St Petersburg, the action moves to Moscow, where they contact a group known as Omega, who are working toward a future where Putin is removed from office and the oligarchs prosecuted for looting the country. In one of those more fantastical scenes, Max and Rucker impersonate FSB officers, enter a bank where one of the Omegas works, and retrieve thumb drives from a worker there. But Max, having not entirely thought it out, is seen by a security guard. That leads to a shootout and various deaths, and they’re now on the run again, chased by Zaluda on behalf of the Russian intelligence service.

One thing that had me scratching my head was just how easily Max and Rucker managed to move from country to country. At no point were they ever questioned about their identities, held up at Customs, or anything else. They either simply traveled as themselves, without facial altering, under forged identities, or impersonated (in one rather unbelievable instance) a man and woman who looked very much like them, who just happened to be part of a flight crew of a Russian plane leaving for Paris.

Every now and again, Max asks himself some questions: about the timing of his firing, and why, about his current girlfriend, about Bowen/Panama, about his old boss offering him the same job, and so on. Never does he actually delve into any of it, even though this entire job could at any point result in his death or the deaths of members of his team. He is suspicious of Bowen, and (finally) of Rucker, sending her to Mexico City, away from the rest of the team.

Panama was next on the list, where they verified, somewhat loosely, the loan/money laundering items by breaking in to the 13th floor of “Walldrum Tower Panama” and seeing that the floor was incomplete and showed no signs of any work in progress – even though the entire floor of condos had been purchased by Russians. Max is, once again, caught while snooping around and is rescued by another member of the team. It’s in this portion of the book that the manner in which money is laundered via loans and real estate investing/purchases is explained fairly well by one of the characters to Max, in layman’s terms – so, also, to the reader, since Max should presumably know at least the basics. There’s a showdown between Max and Rucker, from whom he forces the truth, after she shows up very angrily in Panama City.

The whole gang then moves back to the US, their job complete: mirroring real life once more, they’ve verified the Ironside Dossier. Bowen says Max has not completed it, because the sources are not named. Max refuses to name them, pointing out that Bowen only contracted him to verify the details. It occurred very late to Max that maybe, just maybe, Bowen was working for the Russians, trying to get Max to name names attached to the items in the dossier, which would have resulted in a (longer) hitlist for the Russians.

There’s more shooting, a showdown with Rodney, and then, of course, the nonsensical bureaucratic issues that plagued the real Steele Dossier. I won’t give away the actual ending, to avoid spoilers, but it sets things up nicely for Max and his crew if they should go on other adventures that are very noisy and leave a trail of bodies everywhere.

The writing is fine, and the book speeds right along between different milieus – in fact, there’s very little downtime that we actually see, versus hear about. There’s also an annoying motif where this sort of thing happens:

Character: (says something in code)
Spyspeak: (explains what Character just said)
Character: (says something in code)
Spyspeak: (explains what Character just said)

We get it, spies speak in code, but it would have flowed better had Max just explained it once he got off the phone with whoever it was.

The beginning and end of this shadow reality: there is a dossier, it was adjudged to be predominantly true, and the conclusion was reached that the Russians did interfere with the 2016 US presidential election. The middle part is one account of how the investigation of its content could have gone, and despite the items that bugged me about Max and how some of the story was conveyed, I’d say it isn’t a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

3.5 out of five stars, rounded down to three for the issues mentioned.

Thanks to Oceanview Publishing and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The March Fallen – Gereon Rath #5 (Volker Kutscher)

In my usual theme, I’ll say this is the fifth book of the Gereon Rath series, but he first I’ve read (and i have not watched Babylon Berlin, which is based on one or two of the previous books in this series). I’m happy I began with this one. Allow me to explain.

I’m a student of history, and especially WWII, with a side dip into the sociological studies of how good people do and say nothing in the face of great evils. In The March Fallen, it is 1933 Berlin, and the Nazis are consolidating their power. When a homeless WWI veteran is murdered at a train station, Rath is tasked with finding his killer – a job no one else wants to do.

The book starts out slowly, but is worth getting through, as Kutscher draws the atmosphere of an ill wind blowing into Germany while Rath puts his head down ad goes to work. Change is all around him, and despite his somewhat tepid suggestion to Charly, his fiancee, that good people will not go along with the Nazi plans, it’s clear that eventually, he will have to face the reality that his job is not just to find murderers, but to toe the Nazi line, and watch what he says and does, lest he make the wrong person angry and wind up in the hands of the SA.

The murdered man is identified by the author of a memoir, who identifies the dead man as being his orderly – and a witness to their (Jewish) Captain’s shooting of two children and another German soldier over a disagreement about gold their unit had found in a French villa as they retreated, destroying everything in their wake.

Meanwhile, another storyline focuses on a young girl – the daughter of a injured veteran who drifted into hopelessness and drugs, disillusioned with the country he once served – who set fire to the boardinghouse where they lived, killing her father and others, in her quest to escape the abuse she suffered at the hands of other men there. She’s judged unfit to stand trial and sent to a sanitarium, where she once again is abused by a man (a one legged man, keep this in mind as you read). Her escape is very clever, but everyone is trying to find her, so she relies on her wits to survive the streets. This seems to have nothing to do with the main plot of the book. Over time, as Rath’s investigation digs more deeply, that will change.

Charly gets her own subplot, as she is sent back to the department where the female detectives investigate graffitti and the like – neither this nor the changes in her country are things that she is happy with. She, at least, recognizes what’s happening, but trying to get through to Rath results in them quarreling about it. She decides to unofficially help in the investigation.

There’s a case of misidentification, missteps by Rath that lead to at least one death, the smuggling out – in plain view- a prisoner of the SA, the ebb and flow of personnel as rising stars in the Nazi party consolidate the power they have around themselves, constant surprises to Rath of people he thought he knew wholeheartedly joining the Nazis, and a satisfying resolution that both catches the killer and clears the name of the maligned Jewish Captain, in a nice dovetail of all the storylines.

It’s worth the read.

Five out of five stars.

Thanks to Sandstone Press and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Every Waking Hour – Ellery Hathaway #4 (Joanna Schaffhausen)

Every Waking Hour is the fourth book in the Ellery Hathaway series. While it is possible to get through it as a standalone, I’d recommend reading the previous books – something I have not done – because of the sheer trauma of the lead character, who was abducted by a serial killer and survived until she was rescued by Reed Markham, an FBI agent. Hathaway is now a detective with the Boston PD, and winds up being the lead on the disappearance of Chloe Lockhart, who vanishes at a fair at which the pair happens to be at with Markham’s young daughter.

I don’t mind characters who have some Bad Thing in their past that winds up shaping them. It’s a bit harder to imagine them in various stressful professions (like a detective) when they clearly exhibit PTSD symptoms as much as Hathaway does. While it strikes me that she’s obviously very strong to have survived a hellish near death experience, it would give me pause to set her out on the street where the very possibility of the same thing happening to someone else – like the missing Chloe – could potentially derail their ability to perform her duties. I’m also not a fan of Markham and Hathaway’s relationship, but I understand why it’s there for fictional purposes.

That aside: it’s a good story, with many excellent suspects, following clues that often lead nowhere (as is often, unfortunately, the case), some nice red herrings thrown in, and while not an entirely unexpected ending (if you remove all the potentials when you read it, you’ll understand), a satisfying one. There’s also a fascinating subplot involving another Lockhart child, along with a bit of discussion about protecting kids versus basically jailing them.

Overall, I’d recommend it unless children in danger is not your bag. A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Minotaur/St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Bone Canyon – Eve Ronin #2 (Lee Goldberg)

Yet another series I come to without having read anything previous. This is actually useful, because it allows me to evaluate a book almost as a standalone and see how the author weaves in some of the backstory so we get to know what has come before and who the main character (and some of the secondary characters as well).

Rookie detective Eve Ronin has been called out to a scene where human remains have been found due to a wildfire that exposed them. Her partner, Duncan, is on the edge of retiring, which worries her, as she’s not certain that she can do the job. This is a recurring theme, and gets old a bit quickly.

How did she get the job? Based on the pieces of the backstory, she was essentially shoved into the position, leapfrogging other officers attached to the Sheriff’s Department, breeding resentment among some of the other LASD members.To add to the pile of simmering resentment – and since it’s Hollywood, after all – people are approaching Ronin about a film version of the escapades that happened in the previous book. As we go through the story, Ronin is also rehabbing her wrist with a physical therapist due to an injury sustained in the previous book.

The remains belong to a young woman who simply vanished some years ago. When another set of remains is found, and a jogger goes missing on the hills, Ronin and Duncan have their work cut out for them. While both skeletons have been determined to be female, there is seemingly nothing to tie the two female victims together. The detectives slog through the work of following the trail to determine what happened to these women and who needs to be brought to justice.

Warning: rape and suicide are both in this investigation. While the former is not depicted directly, but only as a recounting of events in the past, the latter is described as it happens, narrative-wise. There is also a blame the victim mentality going on for the rape.

Eventually – and some readers will figure this out before the reveal, as I did – the bad guy will be found and arrested for their misdeeds.

The story flows nicely, and except for a couple of draggy moments that clear up quickly, and the suspension of disbelief a reader will need to believe someone would be promote to homicide investigation in the way Ronin seemingly was, it’s well rounded and is a quick read.

Four out of five stars.

Review: Black River – Jess Bridges Mystery #1 (Joss Stirling)

Jess Bridges, out with her reading group on the banks of the river Thames, decides to go skinny dipping after a bit too much to drink. Her clothes are taken by a dog, and her friend goes running after it, leaving Jess shivering in the bushes. She spies a boat, and thinking it may have a tarp or something else she can cover herself with, slips into the water and pulls it toward her. She doesn’t find a tarp – she finds a dead man.

Thus begins Black River, which is listed as “Jess Bridges Mystery, #1”. That would be remarkable for me, as I usually find myself landing in the midst of an ongoing series. However, it seems as if Jess has found a dead body previously – both she and DI Leo George mention “the West case”, as if it’s something the reader might know about. And the reader might know about it if there were a book about it prior to this one.

Jess is discovered on the bank by Jago Jackson, who had been jogging on the path. He happens to be the author of a book Jess’ book club was reading, on wild swimming – that is, going to swim in places people usually don’t go, or a hidden swimming hole, and things of hat nature. Of course he wants to ask her out, and does. DI George shows up, and begins his investigation, questioning Jess. Of course he wants to ask her out, but does not, as that would be unseemly.

The investigation itself is well written when it’s DI George on the trail, moving from dot to dot to trace who the dead man is and what he would be doing there. Then, another two bodies are found, this time in a place Jackson has mentioned in his book, and where he had taken Jess to go swimming. Is someone targeting Jackson? Jess? The culprit does seem to be picking places Jackson has written around, so DI George calls in Michael Harrison to consult. He, of course, was involved with Jess years ago, and of course Harrison and Jackson have some animosity toward one another, it’s said, but it doesn’t appear all that much except for when Michael is handling the narrative.

We also get DI George taking his turn at the narrative reins (as does Jackson), but it’s clear Jess is the primary character. I found I would rather have stayed with DI George throughout.

There is a subplot involving Jess and her breakup with her boyfriend, and her taking a case for her side job of finding missing persons. The missing person is not actually missing – she’s just gone to her father’s, and the father is threatening the mother about claims the girl has made. The girl, to me, seems to be a sociopath in the making. Jess’ job is to find out what’s true and what is not about the situation.

The main and the subplot dovetail in the end, as various adults, except Michael, fanning out to search for both the girl and her young brother. The culprit is revealed during the course of the search and captured, and the subplot’s resolution explained to us all.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad read. It isn’t a five star read, though, and I have a hard time with female protagonists who attract virtually every man they come across, including some gay dudes. The opening coincidence between Jess and Jackson is something I know is required for the plot, and I’m feeling generous today, so I’ll give it a pass. The theory of the murders is at least possible, although the first murder is never really fully explained in terms of what connection it has to Jackson’s book on wild swimming.

I’ll give it four out of five stars.

Thanks to One More Chapter/HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Out of Her Mind – Sawyer Brooks #2 (T. R. Ragan)

This is the second book to feature Sawyer Brooks, following Don’t Make a Sound, which I have not read. While I found this did not completely torpedo my ability to follow this second book without having read the first, I think it would have been quite helpful to have read that first book, especially to understand Sawyer’s personal issues and the Black Wig ladies. It was a bit confusing to suddenly jump into the head of one of the latter group.

Here, we have Sawyer looking into the disappearance of a young girl after her music lesson at the home of her piano teacher. While the authorities are treating it as a generic disappearance, Sawyer digs around and finds connections to other disappearances. When the bones of a small child are unearthed, the stake get even higher, and it’s then a race against time for Sawyer to find the missing girl, with the help of her editor and sister.

I filed this under thriller instead of mystery, because there is no mystery here: we know who took the girl, because the perpetrator gets their own turn in the spotlight, with several chapters from their viewpoint. The only mystery involved here is whether Sawyer and crew will find the girl before she, too, winds up in a shallow grave.

When the narrative suddenly broke into the viewpoint of one of the Black Wigs women, it was a little jarring and a tad confusing. Again, this may be due to me not having read the first book. We also get several scenes of what those women are doing to men who have harmed them. It wasn’t until the third time that I realized one of the women was Sawyer’s other sister (not the one helping her find the missing girl).

The story was enjoyable enough – there isn’t anything hidden from the reader, so what Sawyer knows, we know, and that’s a plus for me, as I don’t like withheld evidence that prevents readers from connecting the dots to find the ad guy (or in this case, potentially find the missing girl).

I gave this 3.5 stars out of five, and rounded it up to 4, as there were no glaring plot holes. Although there were some scenes that didn’t quite ring true, those involved the Black Wig crew and not the main character.

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Missing Persons – Buddy Steel #1 (Michael Brandman)

Buddy Steel, who has relocated from LA to the small town of Freedom to take over the Sheriff reins from his father – who has been recently diagnosed with ALS -finds himself investigating the apparent disappearance of the wife of a well known and well liked local preacher of a megachurch.

This is listed as “Buddy Steel #1”, and is the first in a series for Brandman, who some people may know picked up Robert Parker’s Jesse Stone novels after Parker died, and who has also written some of the Jesse Stone movies.

Unfortunately, Buddy Steel reminds me a ton of Jesse Stone (for those who have not read those books, Stone relocates from LA to the small town of Paradise, although on the other side of the coast, has loads of sarcastic dialogue, doesn’t like wearing his uniform, beds the local ladies, etc.). Steel is sardonic, doesn’t like wearing his uniform, doesn’t waste time falling into bed with a woman with whom he comes into contact due to an investigation, and so on.

In Steel’s case, the woman part of that equation is the sister of the preacher – and Brandman has tried a bit too hard to make the woman quirky (she has a quirky blog, wears quirky clothes, etc.). He wears civilian clothes and often does not identify himself as he wanders in and out of areas like the living quarters of the family at their megachurch location. The dialogue is also trying to hard to make Buddy seem sarcastic and/or humorous, and it sometimes misses the mark.

The story is fairly straightforward, although in some cases stretches the limits of suspension of disbelief. The housekeeper for the Long family reports Catharine Long as missing, and further says Preacher Long is acting oddly about it. She’s in fear for her life, because of course the Longs run everything in town, so she reports it to Steel, then vanishes, never to be heard from again.

Steel doesn’t care where he has to go or who he might offend, and starts poking around. Various people declare that Catherine is fine, the Long family attorneys threaten to sue, there’s a subplot involving another Long brother of being in cahoots with a local gang, as well as a Ponzi scheme, and the entire thing reads like an episode of American Greed, as if various elements were pulled out, tossed together, and this is what the end result is.

It’s a very fast read, but reads more like something written for TV than something written for a novel. In some places, descriptions are scarce. In others, it’s hard to track who is saying what in the dialogue – even though I am a firm believer in using as few dialogue tags as possible, I think there needs to be *something* in place every so often so the reader doesn’t have to backtrack to match up dialogue. This is made particularly difficult when it’s anyone but Steel and the quirky sister talking (although I counted one 19-exchange instance between the two of them that had no attribution beyond Steel beginning the exchange) as everyone in the department seems to have the same sardonic tone and is trying to be funny. This sort of thing is fine for TV, since there will be bother visual cues and the actors’ voices won’t be the same, but can make for some difficult novel reading.

The book (originally released in 2017) sets itself up well for further books in the series, as evidenced by the three books that followed this one. In a rare twist for me and ARCs, this is the first book I’ve read in a series new to me, versus the nth. I’m not quite sure if I’ll read the books that follow (although who am I kidding, I have some weird compulsion to read all the books in a series).

Overall, a fast read with a decent enough mystery at its heart.

Three stars out of five.

Thanks to Poisoned Penn Press an NetGalley for the review copy.

RIP, Notorious RBG

Ruth Bader Ginsburg died today at the age of 87 due to complications from cancer.  First of all, fuck cancer – nobody deserves it, no matter who they are. Second….no, I’m not going to say that part out loud, since people get stupid and offended too easily these days.

The rest – my words are failing me, for once. I have crossed some Rubicon where everything I try to write seems simplistic and unworthy of a breath of life.

Rest in peace, Ruth.

 

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