Category Archives: Mysteries

Review: Buried Lies – DI Gaby Darin #5 (Jenny O’Brien)

I had read Fallen Angel, number three in this series, last year. This one feels rougher than that one, and not as good a read. But first, a summary:

Hannah Thomas returns from a spa outing with a friend to find her fiance dead and her son missing. DI Gaby Darin and her team are called in to investigate. Could Hannah herself be the killer? Or is something from her past catching up with her?

There are bound to be some spoilery bits here, so consider yourself warned.

In book three, Darin is only an acting DI. Between then and now – in book four, I imagine, which I did not read – Darin has had “acting” dropped, and she’s now the boss for real, as it were, of her group. I find this a bit difficult, as Darin is not exactly the polished of stones: she is impuldive, curt, or even rude. She doesn’t seem to have any people skills or he ability to bridge the space between her crew and her superiors. I’ll give her a break on her relationship with Rusty, the medical examiner, because romantic relationships can be choppy waters, but she’s been mooning over him since book three, and I can’t help but think she would be better at this. Instead, she’s often snippy with him in a way that really puts a damper on things.

When Darin gets to the scene, she notes the dead guy (apparent suicide) says, “OK, missing kid.”, but there is zero urgency conveyed through this beginning, and crucial part of the investigation, either about the dead man or the missing child – a child who has a serious medical issue (type 1 diabetes, for which he wears an insulin pump. No frantic energy about searching nearby, in the event the kid was frightened by either the actions of the dead man, who is also a former cop, or by any other persons who might have been present. She doesn’t stay even a little while CSI starts going through the scene. She doesn’t pick up, it seems, that Hannah is not devastated by these events. All in all: she doesn’t seem to notice the things she should be, or doing/ordering the things that need to be done with quickness.

Since nothing is happening with urgency, it drags the rest of the book with it. There are far too many scenes where people are deciding what to have for dinner, or worrying about a colleague’s wedding. Far too much “X seemed like (something), but that wasn’t the case, here’s why: blah.” I don’t need a writer to tell me these things. I need them to show me these things, so as the characters go about their business, we can understand that Mal, for instance, generally doesn’t look like he’s paying attention, but actually is intensely focused.

Although, to be honest, nobody in this book but the villain seems to be laser focused on anything. I will give the book points for this: the villain doesn’t stand around opining on all the ways they set things up. They just say “it’s because of this thing” and then disappears, something I welcome.

This would keep you occupied on a plane or train or beach, but to me it’s a bi like cotton candy. Sure, you can eat it. But ultimately, it’s unsatisfying, and easily forgotten.

Two and a half stars, rounded down to two. I was disappointed in this, as I had expected things to get better, not worse, from the three stars I gave Fallen Angel.

Thanks to HQ Digital and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: The Missing Piece – Dismas Hardy #19 (John Lescroart)

The Missing Piece is the nineteenth in a series, the lea character of which (as billed/titled, anyway) is Dismas Hardy. This book, however, features more of Abe Glitsky, a PI, and Wes Farrell, a former prosecutor, now defense attorney, who is having a midlife crisis about defending people he believes are guilty. According to some things I read, Lescroart cycles through characters, putting some (like Abe and Wes here) in the forefront, and then in the next book, putting others at the front. No problem with that!

I’ve not read any of the books in this series, and I don’t think it’s necessary to start at one and land here, as it’s fine as a standalone. There are enough details about the relationships between the characters that it easily works as a standalone.

Eleven years ago, Farrell prosecuted Paul Riley for the rape and murder of Dana Rush. The Exoneration Initiative, akin to the Innocence Project, finds new DNA evidence pointing to another man who was already in prison for the same crime. That man confessed to Dana’s murder, and Paul Riley is released. Paul heads home to live with his father. After Paul cleans up and remodels the room above the garage, his father decides Paul should start paying rent, at $2500/month. Thanks, dad. Since Paul doesn’t make much at the restaurant where he works – and certainly not enough to pay dear old dad’s price, he decides to go back to breaking and entering.

After one job, he’s back in his place, when his dad calls up to him. Paul thinks pops sounds a little off, so he shoves the loot under his pillow, opens the door, but it isn’t dad. Paul has an “Oh, shit” moment, but the person at the door shoots Paul in the head before he can do anything.

A couple of detectives show up, and Paul’s father tells them he saw the shooter: Doug Rush, the father of the girl Paul murdered. So, despite everything that screams bullshit about this – including dad’s attempt to say the money Paul has stuffed under his pillow belonging to him, the dad the scumbag – thee two just bop right over to Doug’s place. After asking him a couple of questions about where he’s been, and his refusal to tell them anything, they decide to go ahead and arrest him on the basis of Paul’s dad’s eyewitness. This is the dumbest thing in the book, given how notoriously unreliable eyewitnesses are. In any case, while getting the cuffs on Doug, one of the detectives, who clearly has some issues, beats him. Of course someone captures it on video. Doug makes a call to a detective that worked his daughter’s case,who in turn calls Farrell: Doug wants Farrell as his lawyer.

Farrell agrees to represent Doug, even though he thinks Doug is guilty. He manages to get Doug out on bail, though, then goes back to his life, talking to multiple people about his existential crisis. When Doug doesn’t appear in court when he’s supposed to, Farrell immediately goes to” guilty, he’s a runner.

But Doug turns up dead, and not by suicide. Farrell now feels guilty, talks to Hardy, and in comes Abe, to poke around at what happened, as they feel they owe it to Doug.

From there, we get a real investigation, instead of whatever the hell the detectives who arrested Doug were doing (they were suspended shortly after arresting him). Abe finds Doug did indeed have an alibi for the time Paul was shot, but it wasn’t something Doug wanted to reveal, in order to protect someone. Then yet another body shows up, and Abe dogs the case until he discovers that missing piece.

Although there is some time devoted to Farrell and his issues with working defense instead of offense, those moments don’t drag the book down. Since I’m a weather nerd, I didn’t mind the descriptions of that throughout the book. The main characters are well developed by now, of course, and they all act like real, actual people. The story itself raises questions about how possible criminals are treated, how new testing that wasn’t available years ago shows innocent people have been locked up, and what justice means or should be. The missing piece, to me, had a bit of luck involved, but sometimes, you do get lucky.

Four and a half stars, rounded up to five.

Thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Or Else (Joe Hart)

Novelist Andy Drake returns to his old neighborhood to care for his dad, who is in the beginning stages of dementia. Also living in the neighborhood is his not so secret crush, Rachel, who is now married to an emotionally abusive man and has two kids.

A quick kiss at a cookout at Rachel’s spirals into something more. Until someone leaves a note in Andy’s door, telling him to knock it off, or else. Our first mystery: who left the note? The guy with the tiny dog, who no one seems to know anything about? An older lady, on her own, who likes to sit outside with her binoculars? Rachel’s husband David?

Several weeks later, Rachel’s husband is shot dead, and Rachel and the kids have disappeared. Andy, not currently working on the book that’s due to his editor, instead starts chasing up clues, and nearly gets himself shot in the process after breaking in to Rachel’s house, looking for anything that might indicate what her husband was up to or where she and the kids might be.

From details Andy’s able to glean, it seems David’s business isn’t doing as well as it appears – and David’s partner in the business has committed suicide, it seems.

After finding a business card in the house, he dithers a bit until he calls the number and says what appears to be a code word. After the other side hangs up, Andy thinks he’s on to something: did David owe these people money? Were they capable of killing David? When Andy gets a late night visit from a stranger he deems the Visitor, he knows the answer is yes. But the visitor insists they didn’t do it, and it’s believable, both to Andy and the reader.

Andy continues to go down the rabbit hole, eventually coming out the other side. There’s quite a nice twist at the end that was not telegraphed from chapters away, and it was a nice touch that made sense of things.

My only issue was with the beginning and some of the chapters that were more stream of consciousness than narrative. I get why they’re there, as it was the easiest way to get certain information into the book without having them be full-fledged narrative parts, but I wasn’t a fan.

Other than that, however, I enjoyed it quite a lot, and I believe readers who are used to tight neighborhoods or small towns especially will as well.

A solid four out of five star read.

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

Review: Lonely Hearts – Jessica Shaw #4 (Lisa Gray)

Some time ago, I tried to read Thin Air, by this same author. I gave up on it because it had one of my most hated things – a road atlas-worthy description of someone driving, for no good reason (i.e., it added nothing to the story) – and because there were a multitude of UK Englishisms that threw one out of the story (hand brake, “that lot”, etc.).

I am very happy I took another chance on Lisa Gray, because Lonely Hearts has none of that: it’s a taut, well-told story about a serial killer, a missing woman, a dead wife, and relatives rightly pissed off at several books that seem to only be written to line the pockets of the author at their expense.

We start off in 1989, with underaged Devin Palmer waiting for her sister Erika. The plan: to have a couple of drinks, and then for Devin to stay the night at Erika’s. Alas, Erika ghosts her sister and spends the night with her boyfriend. Also, alas, Devin – a slightly built redhead with fair skin – is offered a ride home with Travis Dean Ford, AKA the Valley Strangler, so named because he strangles slight, redheaded women who have fair skin with their own pantyhose.

We then go to Christine and Veronica, looking at a pamphlet for the Lonely Hearts Club, a way for people outside to write to people locked up in prison. Veronica writes to Travis Dean Ford, and eventually winds up in a “relationship”, or as much as one can have with someone on death row.

Flash forward, and we’re with Jessica, trawling through trash bags, hoping to find evidence of a man’s infidelity. While she’s doing this, Christen Ryan walks up to her, asking her to find an old friend, Veronica Lowe, and her daughter Mia – Travis Dean Ford’s daughter, that he had with Veronica somehow.

Jessica takes the case, working it alone without much contact with Connor. It seems somewhere between book one, which I did not finish, and the end of book three, they apparently hooked up. But he’s now seeing an exotic dancer, and Jessica is avoiding him.

It isn’t easy to track down someone who willfully vanishes. But Christine gives Jessica quite a lot of information, including a couple of photos. Christine says it’s very important to track Veronica down, because Ford’s wife has been murdered in her own home. Struck on the head, then strangled with pantyhose. Interestingly, Detectives Pryce and Medina find they are not Jordana’s: they were brought to the scene by the killer, deliberately. Copycat?

As we go along, bouncing between timelines and POVs, the mystery becomes ever deeper. Jessica continues to track Veronica, talks to the owner of TLHC business, her husband (who tells Jessica to stop looking for Veronica), several witnesses, trawls through newspaper archives and signs up for TLHC so she can get into the forum and research there, as well.

By now it’s fairly clear that Veronica doesn’t want to be found. We then get several chapters from Jordana interspersed, plugging her book at a bookstore, and feeling as if someone has been following her.

Meanwhile, Jessica helps out Pryce by providing what she’s found, and she’s now on the scent, which leads to another location entirely. It’s just before the end that we get Jordana’s last POV chapter, and then the end is rushing at us.

Although I figured out the killer fairly early, it was still a very good read, capturing not just the characters of Jessica and the people immediately around her, but also the families who suffered at the hand of Travis Dean Ford. One character – the father of one of the victims – complains bitterly to Pryce and Medina that they don’t know the names of the 15 girls and women Ford killed. They only know Ford’s name. I thought that an astute observation.

There are no laggy parts, and there isn’t anything that rips the reader out of the world Gray has built. The plot is sensible, and no one does anything that is out of character. I’m glad I took the chance on the series again.

A five star read.

Thanks to Amazon UK and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: It Dies With You (Scott Blackburn)

Hudson Miller, part-time bouncer and currently suspended boxer (for hitting an opponent’s corner man after a bout, causing the man to fall through the ropes and onto the apron around the ring), fails to answer not one, but two calls from his estranged father one night. The next morning, he receives a call he does answer: from a detective, telling Hudson that his father has been murdered – one shot to the back of his head.

Miller returns to his small town, determines what the cops know (nothing), visits his stepmother (useless), calls his mother (sad), then goes back to the big city. Things change, though, when his father’s will is read: he left Hudson three rental properties and his salvage yard operation, none of which are anything Hudson knows anything about. He also inherits his father’s helper at the yard, Charlie, an old Vietnam vet, and the proverbial junkyard dog, Buster.

Frustrated with police, and lacking a steady job, Hudson decides to move back to the town, living in the empty rental and figuring out how to run the yard, and starts digging around in the mystery surrounding his father’s death. The police do come up with something, though: guns. Stored in a vault under a fake floor, it appears Hudson’s father was involved in gunrunning. Hudson, for his part, thinks it possible his father would be involved in that, because his father wasn’t exactly a pillar of good deeds.

One night, Buster starts barking and digging at something under one of the cars. Charlie and Hudson manage to drag him away, move the junked car, and discover another car: buried. When they unearth the crushed car, there’ a dead body in the trunk. While Hudson thinks his old man could have been involved in guns, he doesn’t think his father was a murderer.

With the yard shut down while the police do their thing, Hudson returns to the city to do a few shifts at the bar. One evening, he gets a call to turn on the TV. The news has broken not just about the body in the car, but the young man’s name. The story goes on to mention the salvage yard. Hudson, now tremendously mad, goes to the police station and asks the detective what is going on?

The detective points out the mother and sister of the young man, Mo Reyes, are right there in the front of the office. Hudson calms himself and leaves, but not before Reyes’ sister Lucy puts a dent in the hood of his Jeep.

Lucy shows up at the yard, and instantly becomes the leader of the very small group: following her lead, both men assist in gathering information about what happened to Reyes, which in turn would help them with Hudson’s father’s murder.

15-year old Lucy has a couple of instances of not quite believable behavior: she takes an Uber to confront a man who was arrested smuggling guns, only to be bailed out by Hudson and Charlie, for one.

At the end, though, they’ve followed the trails, collected the clues, and formed a scenario of how these events transpired, and who the killer must be.

It’s a good read, without any real slow pieces, and the only infodump is from someone they’ve confronted about Reyes’ death – no ding for that. Beyond Lucy being a tad too impetuous, the characters are excellently drawn.

Four and a half out of five stars, rounded up to five.

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

Review: Push Back (James Marx)

When I was younger and reading everything I could get my hands on, one summer I ran across the Mack Bolan Executioner series. Never read them in order, and never again after that summer,but boy, those were fun books.

Push Back reminds me of those books,but in a good way. It’s more cerebral than “guy goes out to inflict maximum damage on thugs who wronged his family” but at its heart, it is exactly that.

The book opens with a bang – literally. Dean Riley, former Ranger, ex-cop, is on his knees in his own home when someone uses his gun to murder two cops. He may not be as young as he used to be, but Riley manages to get the upper hand on the murderer and make his escape.

We then go back in time just a wee bit, with Riley’s nephew asking to meet him at a park. They’ll hang out, fish, have a couple of beers, talk. But when Riley arrives, his nephew’s car is there, but he is not – snatched by parties unknown, and Riley decides he’ll get his nephew back no matter what it takes.

What it takes is a ton of driving around, beating up three punks who want to rob him, taking peoples’ cars, sneaking back into his own house – a murder scene – to get a few things, and trying not only to outwit a large crew of corrupt cops, but to figure out what is going on with those corrupt cops.

He figures out part of it right away: they need a fall guy for the disappearance of the nephew, who is being held for a very specific purpose. How to unravel that plays out as Riley makes his way through various bent cops, beating up the people who need it (but not outright killing people unless it’s in defense), and slowly pulling out the thread to get the entire story.

There are a few UK Englishisms in the book, but they’re barely noticeable thanks to the fast pacing of the story.

One of the good things is that he is not some superhero cop who takes a bunch of beatings and bullets but shows no sign of it at all: he does get shot, he gets into fights, and by the end is about as worn down as someone can be without being dead. I suppose that’s a minor spoiler, but come on: there was no doubt Mack Bolan or James Bond would live to fight another day, and there’s no doubt here. There are just degrees of injuries to get past before the next fight. By the ending of this one, there seems to be a sequel planned, and I’ll be happy to read that whenever it arrives.

Four and a half stars rounded up to five because Dean Riley seems like a righteous dude and isn’t portrayed as Superman.

Thanks to Burning Chair LTD and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Darkness Falls – Kate Marshall #3 ( Robert Bryndza)

Kate Marshall is back. Myra, her AA sponsor, has died and left Kate her business, with the caveat that Kate start her own PI business. And she does.

Business, however, is slow, and Kate and Tristan need a break. They get one when Bev, the mother of journalist now missing a dozen years, asks them to look into her daughter’s case. It’s long gone cold, but Kate and Tristan will take it – it’s better than no work, after all. Bev’s current partner has somehow laid hands on the boxes (and boxes) of case files kept by the police, and Kate and Tristan start going through it, following the same leads, looking in the same spots. They come up empty, even though the journalist was thought to be working on a story involving a local politician.

Until Kate notices two names written on a notebook. Two men, young and healthy, gone missing without a trace. Just like the journalist, but prior to her own disappearance. Could they be related?

With a new wind in their sails, the duo start the tedious task of determining who these men were, tracing their contacts, and figuring out why they would disappear. The chasing of the clues, the interviews, the scenery: no sagging middle in this book.

Eventually, Kate puts the pieces together. The only gripe I had here is that unlike the last book in the series, I didn’t think there were enough clues – or, rather, enough details in some respects – to allow the reader to determine (or guess) the villain in this one.

Still, it’s an enjoyable read, about people who are grounded in who they are and have a doggedness worthy of admiration.

Four out of five stars.

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

Review: Dark Horse – Orphan X #7 (Gregg Hurwitz)

The seventh book in the Orphan X series opens in south Texas, at a party for Anjelina Urrea, daughter of “unconventional businessman” Aragon Urrea – in actuality, as much of a cartel as any other south of the border. When he steps away from the party to deal with a young man who has forced himself on a woman, armed, masked gunmen invade the party and take Anjelina away. Indications are that she’s been taken by the Leones – one of the worst of the worst of the Mexican cartels, led by a bonafide psychopath. The opening is quite long- enough for us to know that Urrea is a bad man who also provides good things: the town is healthy, protected, people are taken care of, and he has a bit of a philosophical bent, not unlike Evan.

Evan Smoak, AKA Ophan X AKA The Nowhere Man is rebuilding his penthouse condo after it was destroyed in the previous book. Although I think most of the Orphan X books can be read as standalones, I’d advise reading at least the one before this for context, since the book opens in what could only be termed (for Evan Smoak) complete disarray.

Smoak hires temporary day laborers to help out in the evenings with the more unusual pieces of his rebuild. One evening, one of the (presumably) Mexican laborers asks if he is a bad man, or if he can help a bad man. Evan gives the man the usual number and tells him to pass it on.

And pass it on he does – to Urrea. When Urrea calls, Evan answers, as he always does. He has something telling him to say no on this one, but ultimately, he agrees to help, and the story takes off. Joey and Dog arrive to take over coordination of the legit rebuild of the condo, and also to provide IT services to Evan (Vera III in place!) as he heads to Texas and ultimately across the border to deal with the Leones.

This is by far the most gruesome of the Orphan X books. If you’re really squeamish, you might want to skim over those parts. There’s one really bad one involving a floor buffer – you should definitely skip that one.

One of the more interesting things about Dark Horse are the lengthy talks between Evan and Urrea about the nature of good and bad, and what bad men do for good reasons or for the greater good. They do slow down the action a little, but that turns out to be necessary, as do the moments when Joey and Mia come into the story. If those breaks weren’t there, it would be nonstop infiltration, fighting, killing, and bombs. There is nothing wrong with this, but we could read Mack Bolan or The Punisher for that.

As we rush headlong to the end, sometimes things are not quite what they seem.

While I didn’t like this one as much as the last one, I did enjoy it quite a lot: it’s true to what we know of Evan Smoak and continues his evolution from a disposable killer into a real human being.

Five out of five stars.

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

Review: Constance – Constance #1 (Matthew FitzSimmons)

Constance (Con) D’Arcy is one of two people in her family who have escaped a dismal existence in Texas. The other is her aunt Abigail Stickling, a brilliant scientist who founded PalinGenesis in order to clone humans.

There is a lot of discussion both here and later about the treatment of clones and ethics. Should clones be treated the same as their originals? Do they have the same rights? Should they have access to the entire life of their original? There are, of course, the usual people who want to hunt down and kill clones, presumably before any signal makes it back to PalinGenesis to pull out another and stuff that person’s memory in place.

Abigail commits suicide by flinging herself off the building. As she suffered from a genetic health issue that prevented the cloning process from working, we’re told she has no clone on standby.

For Con’s part, she wound up in a band, led by her boyfriend. One night, tired from the rigors of the touring road, Con’s boyfriend crashes their van. Two of the five members die, her boyfriend is left in a permanent vegetative state, Con suffers a knee injury, and the last member (also a woman) survives without major injury.

Con’s aunt has built PalinGenesis into a cloning shop, catering to the uber wealthy – who can afford to have their minds downloaded every 30-ish days at the company’s HQ and have a clone soaking in case of sudden death – and also to Con, beneficiary of her aunt’s offer of a clone for each family member. Con is the only one who accepted, and goes to PalinGenesis dutifully about every month to download her head.

Something goes terribly wrong, however, and Con wakes up 18 months later, an entire year and a half missing. What this means first, of course, is that her original has died. And her original died without doing regular downloads. We know Con is a clone as she has no indicators of a lived life: no tattoos, no scarring on her knee.

We also know that Dr Brooke Fenton is breaking a ton of protocols to wake up Con and get her out of the building. But she does, and send Con out into the NYC night with just the clothes on her back an the things she came into the facility with. This is where the book veers heavily into mystery territory.

Con starts investigating her own death and discovers some interesting things along the way, including paid bad actors and an amazing admission from the leader of the protest group, a billionaire whose kids want to declare him dead (since he died and was cloned) so they can inherit, a fiance who is heartbroken, an old friend with a new life, differing stories as to Abigail’s genius or sociopathy, and she comes face to face with a certain someone not once, but twice, and with another person who has risen from the ranks of the dead.

The ending felt a bit rushed, and we had a villain explaining things, but it’s an enjoyable read. If you like purity in your genre, this ain’t it. But if you’re okay with your science fiction and your mystery mixing things up, this might be right up your alley/space lane.

Four out of five stars.

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

Review: The Silent Witness – Amanda Steele #3 (Carolyn Arnold)

The third in the Amanda Steele series opens with a bang, so to speak. In the wee hours of the morning, Angela Parker nudges her husband Brett and tells him there’s someone in the house. While he investigates, she gets their very young daughter Zoe, then hides in the closet. She hears Brett being shot, and then with dread, waits her turn as the intruder discovers her.

Steele is called to the scene, and she and her team (plus everyone else who shows up at a murder) move around the interior of the house, looking for anything to give a clue as to who these people are, what they did for a living, and if they recently mad someone incredibly mad. They quickly realize that Zoe is not there – not in the closet, not behind mom in the closet – and think perhaps the intruders have taken her. The child is about the same age as Steele’s daughter was when she died, and eventually Steele finds the girl in a wicker basket at the foot of the bed.

Zoe, for her part, traumatized by what she’s seen and heard, does not speak – thus, the silent witness. Much of the first third of the book revolves around Steele gaining Zoe’s trust and getting her to talk and Steele’s own, constant, inner thinking about how she misses her daughter and doesn’t want to get close to Zoe. Despite this, she does wind up taking Zoe in, since the girl is likely in danger.

The team pulls the strings of the investigation, eventually pulling in a connection to another case involving a sitting rep in the city, a hotel seemingly in the middle of nowhere, another unsolved murder, and corruption under their noses.

The pacing is fairly taut, and the writing is fine – no major bumps except the drumbeat of Steele insisting to herself that the kid will be put into the system, that she can’t handle it, and so on. That did get a little old by about the 60% mark, but it eases up toward the end.

The end…I’m not a big fan of bad guy infodumps at the end. But we get one, and not a bad shootout to go with it, which kind of made up for that.

Solid three out of five stars.

Thanks to Bookouture and Netgalley for the reading copy.