Category Archives: Mysteries

Review: Silent Ridge – Det. Megan Carpenter #1 (Gregg Olsen)

I’d previously read The Hive by the same author, and picked this up as that was okay. Silent Ridge, alas, is not. This is the third book in a series, and if you have not read the first two, it’s going to be a real problem. At least it was for me.

Police are called to the scene of a gruesome murder. Wait, before we begin that, let me say that this is primarily written in first person, present tense. I really do not like that. I persevered, though, and Detective Carpenter shows up at the scene. We immediately know she has some kind of connection to the victim, because we’re flat out told that she does. Does she tell anyone, so she can be restricted from investigating it due to her emotional compromise. As we all know for maverick cops, they do their own thing and basically flaunt everything there is about proper law enforcement and investigations.

I absolutely do not like this character. She is by turns whiny and angry. She lies to the people around her, and is paranoid even at the best of times. Without even an ounce of investigation being done, she’s decided that the murder has to be something related to her childhood. In fact, there are many, many, many, ad nauseum instances of connecting every single thing to her terrible childhood. This woman should be on desk duty at best, with mandatory psych evals once a quarter at least.

All of that psych stuff, after awhile, starts to feel like filler. There was no tension because we get the murderer’s scenes, too, so the mystery slowly drains out like one of those blow up kiddie pools that springs a small leak. Worst of all, Carpenter seems to wallow in the childhood trauma, and after awhile, I just didn’t care because it was boring. I wanted then to catch the murderer before I gave up on the book (which, to be honest, happened multiple times)

If you’re pressed for something to read, or you’re a fan of the series, you might like this. Sorry, but I did not. It took months for me to finish it, something completely abnormal for me.

Two out of five stars, and a vow not to read anything else in this series.

Thanks to Bookouture and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: A Fire in the Night (Christopher Swann)

Nick Anthony has retreated to his cabin in the middle of nowhere after the death of his wife. Retired now, he whiles away his time at the cabin in peace.

That peace is shattered when a local deputy appears at his door to tell him that his estranged brother and his sister-in-law have been killed in a house fire. He’s shocked, of course, but not as shocked as he is when he finds out he has a niece, Annalise – now on the run and the primary suspect.

Annalise, for her part, is running toward her uncle, as her father told her to, in possession of a flash drive she was told to take. She has no idea what’s on that drive, but bad guy Cole does: he and his mercenary teams are on her trail.

There’s a flashback that doesn’t make a lot of immediate sense, but be patient, the significance of it will be revealed.

Nick, though, is not just a mild-mannered professor. He’s an ex spy, with skills that Cole and his gang of baddies don’t know about. When Annalise arrives, Nick sets about trying to build a relationship with her, and she eventually thaws. To read the drive, they have to go to a public library. Cole sends a crew to snatch them up, because there’s some kind of whizbang thing that alerts when the drive is accessed. Highly improbable, but it’s a staple these days of thrillers than some hacker can break into just about anything, so just roll with it.

There’s a big showdown at the cabin, of course, and the final fight scene is quite enjoyable – that fight alone gets five stars from me.

The ending is what you might think and expect.

A solid four out of five stars, and good for a day (or weekend if you’re not a straight-through reader) of escapism.

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

Review: Count to Three (TR Ragan)

A parent’s worst nightmare: their child is missing from her school, picked up by someone who looks just like them.

That’s how Count to Three begins: Tinsley Callahan is collected from kindergarten by a woman who looks just like Dani Callahan, her mother. Dani is devastated, as one might expect. While her husband insists they give up and move on, Dani refuses. Five years later, the husband is an ex, Dani is a private investigator, and she still keeps the case file on Tinsley open, even while she works on other cases.

She doesn’t do this alone: the original detective on the case is now a friend, and they chat every so often, about Tinsley, or when Dani’s trying to find out something for a client. She also has an assistant named Quinn, who wants to be a PI because he mother vanished some years ago, and she carries that around with her.

In the current timeframe, Ali Cross is kidnapped in broad daylight, dosed with some kind of drug, and tossed into a van. The only witness is 12 year old Ethan, a local “bad kid” who lives with his mom in a rundown trailer. Ethan has an unfortunate habit of lying, getting in trouble, and generally being someone who others ignore.

Ethan hires them to look into Ali’s disappearance, something the local cops have written off as a runaway, since she has run off before (not not really).

Dani and Quinn go to work, finding out everything they can about Ali – social media! – and eventually team up with Ali’s mom to work out strategy, make flyers, and figure out if someone had access to the house (contractors, and so on).

Eventually, they track down Ali’s boyfriend, getting a few minutes to talk to him before something really unfortunate happens.

To keep the place afloat, Dani is also working a case for a woman who insists that someone is coming into her house and rearranging her furniture. This is the comedy relief in what is a very dark book. If you have issues reading about molestation, child sexual abuse, or physical torture, you might want to skip this one.

As Dani and Quinn get closer to finding the perp, the perp is busy throwing obstacles in their way, and threatening Ali’s family if she doesn’t behave herself in her captivity.

Dani’s ex shows up, telling her again to move on, and she tells him off in a way that really gave me a smile. That smile got bigger when she just kicked him out.

The end rushes at us, as it often does in thrillers, and everything’s tied up with a bow on top.

My only real issue with this book is this: Dani and Quinn are running around, poking into this, and they KNOW that the perp is both out in the wild and dangerous, given that he’s killing more people. But they take NO precautions with 12 year old Ethan, even to the point of Quinn leaving him alone on a corner after they’ve been hanging flyers. There’s no sense in this except to make it another plot point, which it does. It just made me angry.

Other than that, it’s a good read. I’d have given it five stars except for the Ethan thing. Four stars instead.

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

Review: Dead Point – Maggie Blackthorne #1 (LaVonne Griffin-Valade)

Finally, I read the first in a new series instead of bouncing in at some point into it!

This is the first Maggie Blackthorne novel, and a terrific story it is. Sgt. Maggie Blackthorne finds a pair of ne’er do well brothers poaching a deer. She’s unable to bring them in, and intends to turn it over to the Fish & Game officer who shares the Sheriff’s Office space in the sparsely populated and large county that is their jurisdiction. Before she can do that, however, she receives a panicked call from one of the brothers that ends abruptly with a gunshot.

Blackthorne finally finds the location from which the brothers have called only o find both them and their dog murdered. Thus begins a rather engaging mystery, with a female main character who doesn’t feel the need to pretend to be younger than she is, or waste time looking in a mirror every chapter and fretting she looks any differently than she does. It’s rather refreshing, really.

She does have an abusive ass of an ex-husband who is also now her boss. He turns up a couple of times, but he works in another city and fortunately, we don’t have to see much of him. In the course of her investigation, it turns out a new man – someone she’s known for practically forever – has some romantic interest in her, and refreshingly, it isn’t a jump into bed on the first date sort of thing. Instalove just isn’t for me except in certain genres where it’s expected.

The investigation itself winds on, putting Blackthorne and her squad into contact with quite a number of possibly suspects, including some oddball man and his sons (and a couple of tough guys), who want to raise cattle naturally, an incapacitated patriarch, as well as a couple more dead bodies.

Blackthorne is dogged and intelligent, and the book finishes up well enough for me to look for the sequel.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Severn River Publishing and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Dark Roads (Chevy Stevens)

Hailey McBride is sent to live with her aunt and her aunt’s husband Vaughn – a cop nicknamed Ice Man, who has a few (a lot) of dubious practices – after her father dies after going off he side of a mountain. She’s terribly unhappy about her father, about Vaughn, an obvious narcissist and controller of everything that goes on in the house. Hailey, for her part, wants nothing to do with Vaughn, but has to put up with his creepy uncle bit until she makes her escape with the help of Johnny, her friend and confidante, and fellow dirt biker.

All of this is set against the background of a very real, very current, and very disturbing backdrop: the disappearance of hundreds of missing Indigenous girls and women in Canada over a span of decades. Read up on the Highway of Tears for more information.

Prior to Hailey’s escape, she had befriended Amber, a waitress at the local diner. When Vaughn sees all the pictures of the two of them together, he predictably goes ape and forbids Hailey from going to the camp site at the lake, where most of the local kids hang out.

During Hailey’s escape, she sneaks over to look at a litter of puppies a farmer’s dog has had, wishing once more she could have had one at the house (Vaughn said no, of course). One of the puppies trails after her and will not leave, no matter how much she tries. So Hailey and Wolf wind up off the grid in an old and forgotten cabin. Johnny had stocked it in advance, and she and Wolf live off this, and what she can gather from the secluded area surrounding them.

She occasionally comes off the mountain, and horrifyingly discovers Amber, dead for a couple of days, at the lake. She calls it in anonymously, then waits, only to find Vaughn driving in and walking directly to where the body lies. She flees back into wild, and her section of the book ends when she and Wolf have to fend off a cougar, and Wolf is seriously injured.

The next part picks up with Beth, Amber’s sister. There’s a bit about their parents, who are decidedly religiously odd almost to the point of caricature, but soon we’re following Beth to Cold Creek, to see what she can find out about Amber’s death. The diner is down a waitress now, and she takes the offer of a job to work there. She runs into Vaughn fairly quickly, and gets the creep vibe from him, just as everyone else does.

To go further would be to spoil some excellent moments from the end of the book. I’ve also left out quite a bit from the beginning for the same reason. Vaughn is in fact quite creepy, and he has zero redeeming qualities about him, which makes him a bit of a one note villain. There are plenty of villains to choose from, though, and a number of heroes emerge as well.

A solid four out of five stars.

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

Review: The Bucket List РJohn Adderley #1 (Peter Mohlin and Peter Nystr̦m)

John Adderley, FBI agent and all around suave dude, helps take down a major Nigerian drug trafficking group, and then heads into witness protection after being shot. His mother, who lives in Sweden, sends him a packet containing information related to the arrest of his brother, also in Sweden, for the murder of a young girl. It’s a cold case, now, and his mother insists that his brother is innocent. Instead of sitting around, waiting for the case against the Nigerians to wind its way through the legal system – and petty much blackmailing his boss – Adderley heads to Sweden to look into the case of Emile, the subject of the cold case.

Generally speaking, I really do enjoy Nordic noir. This was….ok. The idea of it was good: guy born in Sweden is taken by his father to the US, joins the FBI, goes undercover to bust up a drug ring, then goes to Sweden, undercover again under another name, to help with a cold case. It’s rather unusual, but I can go with it.

The book switches between 2009 and 2019, telling the backstory of Emile’s murder, and Adderley’s progression from undercover FBI agent to undercover cold case investigator in Sweden. The first half is chocked with quite a lot of first date information: who Adderley is, who the people around him are, and the situations both in the US and Sweden. I expect this from the first book in a new series, so I won’t ding it for that.

I will, however, ding it for taking up the entire first half of the book. We don’t need to know every single little detail – the descriptions of everything take forever to get through, and the book doesn’t really pick up the pace until about the 60% mark (on a Fire tablet).

In addition, Adderley is supposedly scare of a Nigerian hi team coming after him and the other FBI agent who was embedded in the same cell. But he dresses in (impeccable) suits and drives an American muscle car all over the place while at the same time ensuring that people remember him due to the way he acts an how perilously close he comes to revealing that he has been in contact with his family,which is a no-no, per his new Swedish handlers.

More bodies pile up, and I will give give credit to the authors for having a number of suspects, all with motives that could cast suspicion on them to be the culprit. The real culprit, though, is eventually caught, and Adderley and his Swedish handler do an absurdly ridiculous thing with him and the dead girl’s father.

Overall, it’s a good enough read that I’ll put it down with three stars.

Thanks to Abrams and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Hell’s Half Acre, Coffin Cove #2 (Jackie Elliott)

Hell’s Half Acre is the second book in a series that takes place in the cheerily named Coffin Cove, I have not read the first book, but this gives enough background that it is unnecessary.

Coffin Cove is a tiny town in Canada, rife with the sort of issues that tiny towns have, and where almost everyone knows your business. The number of characters is large, but they are not all dumped on the reader at once.

Coffin Cove has elected a new mayor and ousted the guy who was mayor for what seems like forever – and like Kwame Alexander, seemed to think that in his position he could grift off almost any deal to enlarge his real estate empire.

Meanwhile, the new mayor has plans: revitalize the town to bring in more business and more tourists. Then the former mayor’s son goes missing, and Andi Silvers, disgraced big newspaper reporter turned small newspaper reporter in Coffin Cove is assigned to cover the investigation.

There are a number of twists and turns, and quite a deep dive into the town’s past – including why there is an area of land within the town called Hell’s Half Acre.

The RMCP is called in to assist, and it seems as if the lead investigator has a bit of history with Andi in the last book. Some of that background is provided to ensure the reader has a good picture of their relationship.

When a body turns up in the area of Hell’s Half Acre, it’s clear that the body belongs to the former mayor.

Meanwhile, a stranger appears in town, presumably a developer looking for projects within Coffin Cove. And, the body count starts rising.

Andi continues to investigate the disappearance just as the police do, and that investigation reveals some very nasty things about the small town – as anyone can tell you, sometimes the most sordid tales come from small towns.

The book reaches a crescendo as the good guys close in on the bad guys.

It’s a solid book, with a nice characterization of Andi and her reinvention as a small town reporter. Some of the other characters don’t get much more than broad strokes, to let us know of they’re nice or not, and (seemingly, to me) how sad or not we should be at their deaths. I also had issues with some of the writing. I think it could have been tightened up just a tad, and there were some redundant or “telling us again, in case we missed it”, identifying Summer as the mother of Jade, the new mayor in one chapter, and then in the very next, telling us again “Summer was Jade’s mother.” Yes, we know,because we’re already been told.

The culprit is pretty easy to see, and if the reader pegs the bad guy early, the rest of the book is still good, to watch the net close in.

I’m giving it four out of five stars.

Thanks to Joffe Books and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The Bonds of Blood, DI Dani Stephens #4 (Rob Sinclair)

The Bonds of Blood is book four in the DI Dani Stephens series. As is fairly usual for me, I have not read the first three; however, I had no issue piecing together what came before, and the book works fine as a standalone.

We open with a rather gruesome murder – the blood and gore is kept to a minimum, but we get the idea without it. A man and woman, killed in their bed in the dead of night.

DI Stephens is working another case when this one comes up: a man who beat another man to death after the second man ran over and killed the first man’s son while they were out biking. This issue – determining what level of intent was involved on the part of both men runs through the book as a subplot.

Stephens is then called out to the scene of the murder that opens the book. It’s a bit close to home for her, as she and her fiancee suffered a similar attack, but lived.. Still, she tackles the case with her team, and discovers that the murdered couple owned a development business, buying properties and creating new housing. As Stephens and her team delve more deeply into the business, they find that the company is burning through money. During the investigation, they also find a will, notarized and signed by a lawyer, and another will, unsigned and undated. The difference between them revolves around how much a portion of the business each of their four children receive.

Their kids are really somewhat of a mess. The daughter is married and they run a competing company in real estate development. One son is of course the one who is rather flighty and undependable. One son has a gambling problem, and owes a lot of money to an illegal gambling front that extended him credit. The last son works in the company business with the father, and is displeased with the way the company is being run and the money it’s losing on each project. All are good candidates for motive, and Stephens and her team sort through the entanglements of the family to get to the truth.

The book moves back and forth in time, and is told both from the viewpoint of Stephens and from the viewpoint of the father, Terry, as he goes through trying to keep his business afloat. This back and forth does not make the book hard to follow, but it does give the reader some vital information that will allow them to crack the case if they are observant.

I’ll give this a solid four out of five.

Thanks to Canelo and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: When in Doubt (V. K. Powell)

Jeri Wylder has a problem: she’s told she shot an unarmed man during a raid on a drug house, but can’t remember any of it. She’s riding a desk and headed for therapy while the investigation of those circumstances continues.

Simone Sullivan also has a problem, as it happens. As the part owner of a building a developer wants to buy in order to knock it down and replace it with a new development. She also happens to be a therapist.

The two meet when Wylder shows up to a report of an arsonist at Simone’s building – against policy, and against her desk-riding current assignment. Since this is at least partially a romance, it includes the tried and true instalove between them.

Strictly speaking, I am not against this – it’s a trope for a reason, and it saves time. But in this case, I just did not get it, and through the book continued to not get it.

Jeri, on the outs with her girlfriend (and in an “open relationship” she claims), drinks too much and clearly suffers from PTSD. She treats people terribly. I really didn’t like her as a character, although I understand PTSD can significantly change how people behave – to the point of Jeri almost crossing a line when Simone was telling her no, something that I don’t think I would have excused. Simone, as a character, was fine except for what I thought was terrible judgment getting involved with Jeri. Simone’s “friends”, however, are nasty pieces of work.

The mystery part of the book was fine. The search and unmasking of the villain was expected, and it was rather straightforward.

There’s nothing explicit in this novel, which was fine, too – sometimes the characters are in bed having graphic sex so often you’d think they wouldn’t have time for anything else. It’s more mystery than romance, and the romance itself is carried out the way most are.

I’m giving this a four out of five stars for the mystery. The romance gets a two, because I didn’t like it. At all. I’ll split the difference and put it at three of five stars.

Thanks to Bold Stroke Books and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Bad Day in Minsk, Mathematical Mystery #4 (Jonathan Pinnock)

Tom Winscombe is having a very bad series of days, although the title refers only to one. Perhaps it refers only to the first day,when a planned heist go terribly wrong.

This is book four in the Mathematical Mystery series, and although I have not read the first three books, it can work as a standalone on some rather shaky legs. I’d highly recommend reading the books in order, if only to become acquainted with Winscombe’s team and the relationships between them. While there are shot talks given that reference the first three, I believe reading those would have lent far more depth to the characters I was meeting for the first time.

That said, this book is of the madcap, how can things possibly get worse genre. Winscombe seems to be a bad luck magnet,first kidnapped in the above referenced heist, then sent into Belarus,then kidnapped by Belarus mafia types, and then standing on the top floor of a building that’s on fire,with a firefight of the gun variety going on below as well.

It was quite funny in places, and not as serious as I think it should have been in others, but that’s simply my preference in books in the mystery/thriller genre, and I can’t ding it for that reason, as the writing tells me this is just the nature of this particular beast, and the story knows what it’s doing.

Beyond saying that the first three books would be of immense help to read before this, I’m still giving it three out of five stars.

Thanks to Duckworth Books/Farrago Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.