All posts by Annette

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.

 

Review: When the Past Kills – DI Ridpath #5 (M.J. Lee)

I wasn’t that enamored with the title, even though it does reflect the goings-on in the book. That said, the synopsis was intriguing, and although I’d not read any of the previous DI Ridpath books, I was hopeful that the character and the writing was fairly mature.By that, I don’t mean in age, but in development. There have been some series I’ve read where the author still doesn’t really know what they’re doing with their main character until they’re ten books in, and it makes reading the books a bit of a chore.

Not so with When the Past Kills: DI Ridpath, recently diagnosed as being free of the cancer that forced him to take time off, is working as an investigator in the Coroner’s Office before he can return to the major incident team (MIT). Throughout the book, he’s just a guy – albeit a good investigator – trying to balance his work and personal life. Fortunately, he wasn’t constantly moping or preoccupied with how his work life interferes with his personal life. When I see that in books, I have to roll my eyes, and I want to yell at the character that they chose this career, and if they wanted one where they could spend more time with their family, they could do that. Otherwise, man up and let’s get the story rolling.

Ridpath’s old team is now being led by DCI Paul Turnbull, who is exactly like That Guy all of us know: convinced of his own superiority in every aspect, who is in a rush to close out an investigation or case or issue orders without much contemplation about what resources should be set where, kissing the boss’ ass, and in general, being an all around terrible person. Turnbull is not pleased that Ridpath is on loan to MIT due to a series of events related to an innocent man being sent to prison before the real killer – who Ridpath helped catch – was caught and sentenced.

The book opens with the coroner being sent a video of the previous coroner being hung. We then backtrack to the desecration of a grave – that of an investigator who was lead on the case that jailed the innocent man. Others are picked off (warning – if you can’t abide animals being harmed, do not read this book) one by one as Ridpath and MIT desperately attempt to get one step ahead of the killer, who they are sure is the once-innocent man who is not so innocent any longer.

There are loads of twists and turns, and the only item that really bothered me is something I can’t list here without it being a spoiler. Suffice to say that we directly meet a lot of people along the way in this book except one that matters quite a bit. The very end bothered me just a tad, as I’m not a fan of cliffhangers, but I’m more forgiving of those in an established series.

That said, it was an enjoyable read. A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Canelo and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The Reflecting Pool (Otho Eskin)

I do love a sardonic, grey-moral kind of main character.

Marko Zorn is a Washington, DC detective who dresses well, drives a Jaguar, and basically doesn’t look the part in this noir-ish book. He happens to catch a case of the death of a woman in the Reflecting Pool. He’s also been assigned a new, young partner who is part new guy, part puppy.

When he begins investigating the murder, he’s suddenly being told to stand down by everyone from the FBI to the Secret Service – all telling him to let it go, but as he tells the mysterious Miss Shaw, the woman looked like his dead sister, and he promised to find out who killed her.

In the middle f this, a woman named Sister Grace – a local gangster, and for whom Zorn occasionally does some jobs, which allows him to wear those snazzy clothes and drive that fancy car – has another job for him. This time, though, it’s murder, to take out her second in command (Cloud), who is getting a bit too full of himself. That, however, is a line Zorn has told himself he would not cross. Sister Grace doesn’t care about his ethics, of course, and tells him to figure it out.

The investigation flows along nicely, without things like DNA or toxicology coming back in thirty minutes. There are times when witnesses or interviewees melt a bit too quickly under Zorn, but it’s a good, fun (if murder can be fun) story that is both gritty and strangely polished at the same time, due to Zorn’s personal habits and the interplay of his professional role and coming into contact with Federal offices, and the jobs he does to appease what is basically his gangster boss.

I enjoyed the dialogue. It was neither too stilted nor trying too hard to be edgy. There were some instances where it was rather snappy, and overall, it was what you’d expect if you were shadowing a detective doing their job.

In the end, Zorn does figure out a way to complete the task given to him by Sister Grace, via proxy, by setting up Cloud and Cloud’s right hand against one another. That scenario was more believable than the conclusion of the mystery of the murder.

The reveal of the killer was a bit of a letdown,and I didn’t think it was totally believable. But it was one conclusion that could have been reached by the investigation, and was possible, if not probable, so I didn’t ding it too badly for that.

Overall: a decent read, and a solid four out of five stars. I am hopeful that Zorn becomes a series character.

Thanks to Oceanview Publishing and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Hanging Falls – Timber Creek K-9 #6 (Margaret Mizushima)

Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo find a body in the spill basin of Hanging Falls while hiking with Glenda, who is a Park Ranger. After they manage to fish the man out of the water before he’s washed further away, they find the word “PAY” carved on his torso. An instant mystery! I like it! He’s wearing what look to be homespun clothes, with buttons as closures. I have to admit, I saw this bit and knew instantly there was going to be some kind of quasi-Amish religious group involved.

The rest of the book follows Mattie and Robo, and the rest of the Sheriff’s office, running who this man was, who killed him, and why he was dumped in that location.

During the investigation, Mattie and Robo find a young man camped out on a ridge overlooking the falls. He doesn’t have a ton of money on him, and seems a bit scared when they bring him in to pick his brain about the murder they think he may have seen. He insists he knows nothing, and ultimately is released. He pops up in a scene a little further into the book, and not in a good way – you’ll understand when you get to that part.

A secondary story running under the main story is Mattie finally getting in touch with her long-lost sister and her grandmother. The plan was for Mattie to take some vacation and go to meet her sis and grandmother. Instead, since she’s hung up in this murder, her sister decides to come to her instead, with grandmother in tow.

Meanwhile, my guess about the quasi-Amish religious group is correct, but there’s a dash of polygamous Mormonism tossed in as well. While the people of the Sheriff’s Office are suspicious of the residents of the compound, they have nothing concrete to charge anyone with anything – they can’t prove polygamy in the compound or that the children are in danger, and so forth. The dead man was part of the congregation, but according to the men running the group, he had left, saying he was returning home.

There are a couple of cowboys on the property next to the Amish/Mormon folks, and the two groups have clashed, and the two men had a run-in with the dead man, but insist they did not kill him.

There’s also a third story point running through this – Mattie’s relation with her vet boyfriend, and the vet’s relationship with his daughters. If you’ve not read the previous books in this series, the vet’s daughters provide a way, in the narrative, to know some of the sordid details of Mattie’s past (warning here: this features Mattie, her brother, and her mother being kidnapped by a very, very bad man. Domestic abuse is detailed, and child sexual abuse is intimated, so if these are no-gos for you, you’d better skip this one). This third story point also involved a veterinary drug rep dealing meds to a farrier illegally.

Eventually, through some very good and realistic work, the Sheriff’s Office find the culprits for all the crimes and various arrests are made. Mattie’s family meetup give her some details about her father’s death, and the book ends on an intriguing note about Mattie tracking down her mother.

The book is well-written, and the characters, when they speak, speak like normal people would in whatever the situation is. There are no glaring plot holes, and there’s no driving horses into doing things they would not do in real life (which is something I care about, with horses or other animals). Mattie’s personal life issues are informing her current life, but she’s not a mope about it, or thinking about it 24/7 to allow it to invade her every moment.

Recommended, and I’ll likely head back to the start of the series to read up on what has come before.

A solid four stars out of five. Just one ding because the baddies were fairly easy to guess for me, but it’s still an enjoyable read.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The Good Killer (Harry Dolan)

I liked the idea – a couple, creating new lives under new names to escape a past we don’t immediately know about. The execution of it, though, left me feeling a bit meh.

Sean and Molly are living in Houston under new names, years after ripping off an art dealer in a heist in which Sean’s friend Cole, was killed. The art dealer wants revenge and the stolen materials back, and the dead man’s father (who seems to be some kind of low level gangster) just wants revenge.

One day, when Sean is at a mall – which the author tells us is the largest in Texas, or something or other – when an obsessed man grabs a woman from the store in which she works and starts shooting other shoppers. Sean walks up to him and calmly executes him with one shot each to the chest and head. After helping a couple of the injured people, he leaves. Security footage, though, gets out into the world, and now the people who want their pound of flesh know where he is.

While they make their way to Houston, Sean bugs out, heading to Montana to pick up Molly, who has gone there on a retreat. Along the way, we get some Legend of Billy Jean type narrative, with an auto repair shop owner and a local Sheriff recognizing Sean from the mall video, but not doing anything about him and allowing him to go on his way.

Jimmy,the dead man’s father, and his sidekick make it to Montana before Sean, and try to kidnap Molly in order to force Sean’s hand. But they miss, and Molly hops into Sean’s car, as he has arrived just in the nick of time. Afterward, Jimmy tells his sidekick all about what happened to Cole, so the readers….I mean, so his sidekick will know why he wants to find and kill Sean.

It goes on like this for awhile, but not before we collect a lot of other characters along the way. Events converge on a single location and there is the requisite people dying at the end and another transformation.

The narrative was not particularly compelling and was also supremely annoying. First, it seems everyone and their brother got some narrative time, sometimes in the middle of someone else’s narrative (something that was done for no good reason I could see; the second character’s piece could just as easily been said after the one it broke into). Second, the writing style was full of short, declarative sentences. Lots of them. In both dialogue and narrative. Sentence fragments, too. Many of them. Third, we got a lot of step by steps of what the characters were doing. Like this:

“His hiking boots are in the trunk. He puts them on and locks the car. He sets out for one of the hiking trails, but after only a few paces he turns back.

There’s a Glock nine millimeter in the glove compartment with a shoulder rig to hold it. He sits in the passenger seat and straps it on. He reaches into the backseat for his gray windbreaker. He puts it on to cover the gun.”

This sort of thing is all over the place.

Finally, it’s in present tense, of which I’m not really a fan.

It’s serviceable, and a fast enough read. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it, either.

Three stars out of five.

Thanks to Grove Atlantic/Mysterious Press and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Time to Hunt – Pierce Hunt #3 (Simon Gervais)

Time to Hunt is the third book in a series, and I have not read the first two. While there may be information about Pierce Hunt in the first two, I’m afraid I’ll never know.

This book opens with what is to me a laughable action: an operative in Turkey, awakening suddenly in a bed, “diving” for a pistol that is under the other pillow on the bed. A team of black-clothed commandos bursts in and takes him away. He’s tortured a few chapters later and at the end of that, it seems he is dying/has died.

Meanwhile, a CIA officer named Triggs is with her son, tracking down Pierce Hunt in the Bahamas. She was told not to go to Turkey to hunt down Jorge Ramirez (who apparently is someone they’ve been hunting in the first two books), so in the spirit of renegade officers everywhere, she sends someone else.thus, the dude bed diving. Her son Max is her second in command, and they talk about sending the badass Hunt to Turkey with another operative to get the bed diving guy back.

Their vehicles are attacked, and Max sends his mother down the hill behind them after she’s been shot. As she makes a break for it, their vehicle is hit with an RPG and explodes, and her son with it, apparently.

I’ll stop there for spoiler reasons, in the event you want to read this.

This is one of those very rare instances that a book is a DNF for me. At 15% (according to the progress meter on my Fire), we find out who the bad guy is. At 18%, he has a very lengthy internal monologue, letting us know all about his motivation and his plans.

How can you write a thriller when one of the pieces that should be thrilling but that is not present here is the hunt for the bad guy, sniffing them out, flushing them from cover out into the open so the denouement is satisfying? I know the ultimate bad guy is Ramirez, but short of capturing/killing him, someone else has to take his place in each book, and if I’m told who it is and why he’s doing things, it really blunts the part of my mind that cares about what happens, since it’s likely that person will be caught/killed.

Sadly, I cannot recommend this. As always, your mileage may vary.

Two stars out of five.

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

Review: Home Fires Burn – DS Catherine Bishop #4 (Lisa Hartley)

DS Catherine Bishop is returning to work after a (presumably) harrowing and traumatic incident in a previous book. This is book four in the series, but it stands well on its own as a standalone if you’re coming in somewhere in the middle (or current end) of the series, as I have.

Bishop has returned, and is immediately thrown back into the field. There’s an arsonist roaming around, randomly setting things on fire, and Bishop is sent out with another detective to stake out a business.

In the midst of their arson problem, the police are presented with another issue: two people, a man and a woman, killed in their flat. Murder-suicide? Possibly, since the couple argued often, according to the nosy neighbors, but the clues don’t point to that, as the woman has been shot and the man has died of brute force trauma to the head.

We have the usual tropes that show up: the previously mentioned nosy neighbors, the pissed off family members of the dead woman who wanted to get her away from this abusive partner of hers, interveiwees possibly hiding something, and so on. However, they are not intrusive, and are more along the lines of what readers expect in the genre.

Adding to the problems DS Bishop and her colleagues is yet another arson, this time with someone crisped by the fire – but with a twist I won’t mention.

There’s a secondary story about Bishop and her relationship with Isla, a woman on a specialized department who may or may not be heading to London to go with her superior officer in a promotion of sorts. There are times when the remarks by some of her colleagues are annoying, but overall, the feelings Bishop has about a new and long distance relationship come through as authentic.

There are twists and turns galore, tons of suspects and people to question, and perps that can be guessed, but there’s a situation with the secondary perp at the end that is a hold your breath and then breathe a sigh of relief that’s well done.

Overall, I can rate this book in this way: after I finished it, I went and bought the first three in the series, so I can catch up. I don’t do this often, as first novels introducing characters have to carry a lot of baggage to get the series underway.

A solid four stars out of five.

Thanks to Canelo and NetGalley for the review copy.