Tag Archives: mysteries

Review: The Lightning Rod – Zig and Nola #2 (Brad Meltzer)

Brad Meltzer follows up 2008’s The Escape Artist with another pairing of especially skilled mortician “Zig” Zigarowski and former Army artist Nola Brown – the “lightning rod” of the title – as they investigate the death of career Army officer Archie Mint, after Mint is killed in what is presumed to be a botched home invasion.

Zig is called out to do some reconstructive work on Mint’s face, as that is one of the places he was shot, so there can be an open casket at the funeral, which is being held in a gym. Zig spots Nola, and wonders why she is there, while she spots Zig and wonders the same thing.

While preparing Mint, Zig noticed a few odd things, and this is what propels the mystery/thriller aspect.Zig starts nosing around and it leads him back to Dover Air Force Base, where he previously worked, preparing dead military personnel for their final trip home. He’s also looking for Nola, to determine why she was at Mint’s funeral.

We do get further character development of Nola, learning more about her, even as we’re told she’s been living off the grid for the past two years -after she and Sig investigated the events in The Escape Artist.

Nola’s twin brother, now a police officer, also wants to find Nola. Actually, it seems everyone wants to get their hands on her, for good reasons and quite a number of not so good reasons. Ditto for Zig.

As they work their way into what is going on, the stakes get higher and higher until the revelations of the connections between all of the characters.

While the main body of the book is good, and captivating, if you’re in a mind to ignore a few things and in the mood for a decent thriller. The same could not be said, at least for me, about the ending. I don’t mind when series continue going – I am, as we all know, a huge fan of good series books – but this one just didn’t settle well for me. It does appear there will be a third book at some point, and that book may answer some questions about this book’s ending. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take four years to arrive.

Three and a half stars rounded up to four out of five stars.

Thanks to William Morrow and Custom House, and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: The Lost – Mace Reid K-9 Mystery #3 (Jeffrey Burton)

The Lost is billed as a K-9 mystery, and this appealed to me. I’m a dog lover, and a mystery lover, so what could go wrong?

As it turns out, this particular book is heavier on the mystery than the dogs, which was a bit disappointing. The mystery itself is fine, although it seems unnecessarily complicated.

A billionaire is attacked in his home, and his former supermodel wife and young daughter abducted. Mace Reid is called out with his dogs, and the wife is found dead at the rear of the property. The daughter, however, is not found, and the hunt is on for the daughter.

The plot proceeds from there, with various agencies joining in. For Reid and his cadaver dog Vira, there isn’t much to do, and when he is involved, it feels forced, because he has no reason to be involved. He’s (sort of) in a relationship with Kippy, one of the members of the law enforcement team, so tangentially, we get Reid and Vira in those moments, when Kippy is telling him what’s happening, in order to keep the reader informed. Not my favorite way, and of course we all know “show, don’t tell”.

The narrative switches back and forth between the bad guys and the good guys, so there’s no mystery in the whodunnit other than if law enforcement can catch up to the bad guys and spoil their plans.

It’s not a bad book, but if you’re looking for a focus on dog sand their utilization in bringing the story to a conclusion, you might be, as I was, a bit disappointed.

Three out of five stars.

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

Review: The Complication – Camille Delaney #1 (Amanda duBois)

I wavered between three stars and four on The Complication, ultimately settling on a three for reasons I’ll explain.

Camille Delany, former nurse, current lawyer, has a job with a high-price firm. When her friend Dallas dies after a routine procedure, his widow asks Camille for help. Problem: her firm doesn’t handle medical malpractice. Solution: quit your job, establish your own firm, and take on the case yourself. And that is what Camille does.

She has her PI pal Trish helping, along with a few other side characters. The investigation is where my issues with the story began.

I’ll say this first: I read Coma (Robin Cook) when I was younger. At the time, the mystery at the heart of that book really creeped me out, as it was supposed to do. I think that if I read that now – after years of getting familiar with medical procedures, doctors, nurses, hospitals, operations, and so on (thanks, cancers!) – I would have the same issue with it as I have with this book.

The investigation itself is fine. It proceeds, as these things do, with medical staff leery of and sometimes hostile to legal staffs, hospital personnel turning their backs while leaving records out, etc.. It gets bogged down from time to time, trying to convey information to the reader about procedures and processes that may be unfamiliar to them, and sometimes introducing characters that don’t really mean anything in the story. Every time someone entered an already-crowded stage, my brain said, “Too many notes.” If you’ve seen Amadeus, you will understand. If not, well, you should watch it. The solving of the mystery relied a bit too much on coincidence for my tastes.

Finally, my biggest issue with the story: I just didn’t believe the crime. I’ll rephrase. I believe that A crime like the one in the book could occur. What I don’t believe is that the crime could be committed on the scale it is in the book, nor as publicly as it is. There are far too many people involved in operations that the manner of the crime would be exposed long before it is in the book.

That said, if you are able to suspend your disbelief, it’s a perfectly fine beach or place book, a couple of hours of time in an almost-real world.

Three stars out of five.

Thanks to Girl Friday Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Hideout – Alice Vega #3 (Louisa Luna)

Alice Vega is part Lisbeth Salander, part Jack Reacher in this, the third in the series that bears her name.

Thirty years ago, Zeb Williams is a football player, and during the infamous Cal-Stanford game, takes the balls, runs off the field, and vanishes. Over the years, his disappearance has become the stuff of legends, replete with Bigfoot-like sightings. in the present day, Alice is asked to find him. For what purpose, she does not know. After initially declining, she eventually agrees to take it on, and starts out to determine where he is and what happened to him.

I’m a fan of cold cases, and I appreciated the way Alice started very methodically working through and puzzling out the details – and occasional red herrings – of Zeb’s disappearance. She lands in the tiny southern Oregon town of Ilona, a place that has seemingly become awash in traitorous white supremacists called the Liberty Boys (a not terribly subtle reference to the Proud Boys, a very real group).

As she digs, the stakes grow ever higher, and her partner Max Caplan is not and cannot be a greater presence in the case, dealing as he is with his own issues. This doesn’t deter Alice, and even after getting beaten up and told to leave town, she doggedly continues her quest to find the missing Zeb.

This is the first book in the series that I’ve read, and I didn’t feel I was missing anything crucial by not having read the first two. There’s obviously some kind of (broken) relationship between Alice and Max, and I suppose if I had read those earlier books, or if Max was involved more in this story, I would have more than a vague idea about that; however, the lack off true backstory on that didn’t bother me in the least.

The story is told with a good balance of physicality and cerebral pursuits in tracking down the missing man. Alice is also not a character who gets beaten up and then is ready to go fight more after just shaking it off. There’s a reality of her being a mere mortal that I appreciate,

Four and a half stars, rounded to five. Recommended.

Thanks to NetGalley and Doubleday for the reading copy.

Review: Unbreakable (Cari Hunter)

If you’re going to start a book, you could do worse than to make it the kidnapping of a doctor at gunpoint in a garage by a woman with multiple injuries, including a gunshot wound.

That’s how Dr. Grace Kendal meets Elin Breckinridge at the opening of the book. As they make their way out of the garage and hit the road, Grace learns at least a little about Elin, and realizes she needs some immediate medical care. She urges Elin to go to the hospital, but that option is right out.

How did we get here? Elin runs a security-related company with a friend from the Army. In flashbacks, er learn that one evening, two men burst into her home, beating her up, and taking her young daughter Amelia, nicknamed Mouse. After Elin wakes up from her beating, she finds the kidnappers want a million pounds, and they want it quickly. She starts transferring money around, which catches the attention of her friend. After finding out what’s happening, he rushes over, but she insists she has to go alone. She’s given instructions on where to go, ending up on the heath, where one of the men is waiting. Unfortunately for him, he gets his head blown off by a third party, and Elin gets shot trying to get away. She manages to elude those chasing her, and then goes on, trying to figure out how to get medical care – she very nearly goes into the ER but then spots Grace, and we wind up at the beginning.

DS Safia Faris and her partner Suds catch the case of the dead guy on the Heath. They quickly realize the scene seems wrong. Eventually, they make their way to where Elin had parked, and through CCTV from one of the homes, realize she’s been injured. The race is on for them to determine who she is. As they work the case, they get the call about Grace not appearing for her next shift, and through cameras again, find the mystery woman has taken her.

Meanwhile, Grace has removed the bullet from Elin, but Elin is still in very poor shape. As Grace is doing something in the lobby, one of the concierge people tell her an older man was in, looking for Elin, but he didn’t give the guy any info. Elin tells Grace they must leave immediately,and they do. Elin, still holding the million pounds, gets a call on the burner phone she was given, giving them the next location to be. Safia and Suds are not far behind on things.

There is no sudden instalove between Grace and Elin, and I was thankful for that, even in a “fall in love with the caregiver” trope. There is a touching love between Safia and her wife Kami (also great sounding food, courtesy of Kami’s grandmother).

It becomes fairly clear who is behind the whole thing if one pays close attention. The action keeps the book moving along, and you may find, as I did, that you read the book in a single sitting. The police procedural portion is excellent, even with a point I’d say could have been picked up earlier, and the fugitive from justice (sort of) part is likewise very good. Characters don’t suddenly start saying or acting in ways inconsistent from how they were introduced, and all the adults are adults.

I’m going five stars on this one.

Thanks to Bold Strokes Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: The Appeal (Janice Hallett)

A very real warning up front: if you do not care for epistolary novels (stories told primarily in the form of letters, emails, and other documents), you will absolutely not like this book.

On the other hand, if you’re a fan of, or at least welcome to, the epistolary novel, as I am, and have the patience to keep track of all the characters and the details of the story itself, you will be well rewarded by an outstanding debut novel that is almost perfect and told entirely in documents alone.

The setting is a small town in England, and the story begins with a legal team introducing documents, so we know we are are actually closer to the end of the story than the beginning. We then dive into the tale from the beginning (documents-wise), where a small theater troupe is about to cast and present a play. One of the members, however, has gone MIA, and several people are emailing wondering what’s happening.

The truth is sad: his granddaughter has been diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of cancer. There is a very new and experimental treatment the family wants to try, but it’s very expensive. There is some fundraising, but also people skeptical of this treatment. Eventually, someone winds up dead, and that’s when the book ramps up.

I won’t go further into details about the plot from there, as it’s much too easy to get into spoilers. I will name the one quibble I have with the book: someone presenting documents of a case is expected to weed out the things that are not particularly relevant to the incident under investigation, and there are a few too many of those still left in that don’t add anything to the story.

Beyond that, it’s a twisting, surprising case, and well worth a read.

A solid four out of five stars.

Expected publication date: January 25, 2022

Thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Fresh Grave in Grand Canyon (Lee Patton)

Very nearly DNF this. SPOILERS

My initial reaction: this book made me a little angry. Category-wise, it was billed as a mystery. The summary makes it seem a mystery. Do not be fooled. It is not. Well, most of it is not. And the people…

Ray O’Brien volunteers to go on a rafting research trip with his pal Jenny Bridger, who is leading a science-gathering, after she winds up a man (person) down. It’s a trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. His role? Not much: just help out. His stepfather was some kind of psycho, so of course his academic life is consumed by studying the neuro effects of that. He meets Duke first, who is skinny dipping in the same water hole he just got out of. Of course there’s an instant attraction. Two tropes: violent, abusive past, and instalust if not instalove.

The larger group: Jenny, the team leader, who of course is apprehensive about her first team lead job, feeling guilty about missing her daughter Amelia’s graduation, because the trip has to start the same day. Trope: working mother has to choose between job and family. Other trope: she’s divorced.

Carol Carne, longtime activist volunteer and pediatric nurse, and her husband Jack, fat, rude insurance salesman, and of no value to the trip, really. Trope: alcoholic, bigoted, horndog husband ogling a teenaged girl; saint of a wife who abides him.

Duke, Park Ranger, who served in the military as a peacekeeper in the Balkans and lost his left arm there. Trope: Tough guy with a sensitive heart of gold. And also PTSD.

Annette & Tess, two female students,also volunteers. Trope: Sexy Tess draw’s Jack’s eye.

There are a few bigoted RVers next to the crew as they get feed and do final prep for rafting. Of course they are crude, and Jack joins in with them. One of them calls Tess a n******, and Duke a “crip”, furter suggests there are quotas being met. Trope: the bigotry of the world one might think to escape on a rafting trip, but alas, rude,crude, bigoted Jack is along for the ride.

Glen, the river guide, who is given over to pontificating about how people are destroying the planet. Carol does this as well, but it seems Glen is the one carrying the trope of ecoterrorist onto the river.

Tycho, an oarsman, brought by Glen. Trope: the cute boy the girls moon over. Also given to ecorants, because he lives with Glen.

Hannah Pinch, camp cook and Jenny’s soon-to-be ex-mother in law, with whom she has a better relationship than she does with Faith’s son. Trope: yeah, that.

Faith Brittle, director of a Montana college’s Women’s Studies Program, oarswoman and guide. Trope: Militant feminism and demonization of men.

Take all the tropes, put them on boats, and send them down a river. Have Trope Bigoted Jerk get tossed out of his raft on the first rapids sequence. When they stop for the night, get a little lecture about Trope Men are B-A-D, have some discussion about bullying, how people are ruining the planet, and discuss Duke’s enlistment in the Army and deployment. Oh, throw a little science in there now and again, since that’s supposed to be why they’re there.

Wash, lather, repeat.

Finally, at the 70% mark, get around to the murder that’s featured so prominently in the blurb. Jack’s either had his head hit, or he’s hit his head while falling/stumbling or something. Tess is on the beach, and for some reason her bikini top is loosened or off. Duke is first to the scene, and he reties Tess’ top, then for some odd reason, drags Jack’s body about ten feet or so. And this is the part where I got mad, after sitting through all these social things the author clearly wanted to say. o they need to be said? Yes. Are they important things? Absolutely. Did they need to be said like this, instead of in, say, a nonfiction book, instead of with a half-hearted murder thrown in? Nope.

In a world obsessed with images and videos, and the one time you would absolutely want to take either pictures and/or videos, and preferably both – like when there’s been a murder (maybe) or a death by misadventure (maybe) – no one in your entire party thinks to do so? Or at least, with all the science nerds in the group who are used to drawing mud layouts or strata, at least make some sketches of the scene, not a single brainiac thinks to do so? Come on. Nothing at all is done to preserve the scene. But you know what does happen?

Everyone with the ability and in the right place to do so wants to take the credit/blame for the murder of a terrible man. Carol, his wife, she wants the blame. Then Glen, then Duke. There’s even a brief discussion of Tess having done it, without remembering. Jenny decides she and Ray will talk to everyone, but by this time, they’ve all been talking amongst themselves, and both of them act like they’re never spoken to another human being in this instance.

In the end, they dig a shallow grave – the “Fresh Grave” of the title – put Jack in it, and move on, intending to get to a particular spot in the river, which is the next it of civilization (sort of, it’s the next station on the river). There is a Canadian group about a day behind them. Do they wait and say anything to the Canadians, or ask them if they can use their satphone to call ahead (Jenny’s crew lost theirs into the water when shooting some rapids; Duke finds it, but it’s a goner)? Nope. They let the Canadians go ahead an then they mount up and head downriver.

Keep in mind, this is all at the 70% mark when Jack is killed. That leaves next to no time, book-wise, to get to the bottom of it, and the only bottom of it we have is a bunch of conflicting confessions. in the end, no one is blamed, they report Jack’s death as misadventure, and that’s it.

I wanted to like it. Small group, killer among us, rafting in sometimes dangerous conditions, with a hundred things that could go wrong, and basically cut off from civilization? That should be a great story. Unfortunately, we got a lot of social justice and environmental stuff, and the afterthought of a murder. None of the characters really moves past the trope tied around their necks except, ironically, Jack, who winds up killed because he’s the epitome of a bunch of things wrong with the world today.

As a sidenote: the Ray/Duke romance is not, really. They share one kiss, and usually snuggle up in their sleeping bags when stopping for the nights, but every other chance to be alone is interrupted. There’s a slight hint of things going somewhere at the end, but Ray lives elsewhere, so who knows. This is an undeveloped subplot.

It seems the author couldn’t make up their mind as to what they really wanted to write. If it was about all the social stuff, I’d give it maybe 3.5 stars. As a mystery, I’m giving it two stars out of five. Sorry.

Thanks to Bold Strokes Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Last Redemption – Rick Cahill #8 (Matt Coyle)

Rick Cahill is back, and the poor guy can’t catch a break.

At least here – at least at the beginning -he’s safely ensconced behind a desk, running employment checks for companies and pulling in a regular income from it. He’s also been diagnosed with CTE (chronic, traumatic encephalopathy, AKA head trauma from football) and is experiencing brain fog and missing time, something he has not told wife Leah, who is carrying their first child. He still feels the itch of being in the field, though, running down a case.

So when Moira, his best friend, wants Rick to tail her son to make sure he isn’t violating a restraining order, he doesn’t think twice. Moira is his friend, after all, and tailing someone without interacting with them seems safe enough.

It never is, though.

Rick trails the son and finds out he’s visiting an apartment not just in the same complex in which his girlfriend lives, but directly across from it. What is going on here? When Rick goes to speak to the girlfriend, he finds her dead – murdered in her apartment. When the son’s boss also ends up dead, Rick has to decide whether to tell law enforcement that he tailed the young man to his place of employment during the time stated as the time of death. Moira’s son? Vanished. And the primary suspect in both murders.

The case takes a giant leap here into the investigation, and it is wild, involving a consulting company that has top programmers in its stable, a secret project, competing firms, corporate espionage, and a new technology for screening DNA in search of various conditions so the problematic genes can be “switched off”. That reminded me of <a href=”https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2502504501″ target=”blank”>this book</a> about Theranos and their “one drop” wonder machine that never worked.

The stakes get higher, and more dangerous, especially for Rick and his unpredictable time losses. Moira finds out by accident that he’s been seeing a neurologist, and insists he tell Leah, or she will. He promises to do so, then promptly breaks that promise when Leah goes out of town for a big design job. He offers excuses to Moira, but knows he must do it, because Moira is a woman of her word.

The last 150 pages are so are terrific: action packed, danger, loose threads pulled together, and an entirely satisfying ending.

Five out of five stars.

Thanks to Oceanview Publishing and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Nowhere to Hide – Faith McClellan #4 (LynDee Walker)

When your Gran’s dearest friend asks you to investigate something, you don’t ask any questions except where and who.

The who, in this case, is Samson the pig, raised by teenager Kelsey from a runt destined to be culled, a la Charlotte’s Web. Samson, as it turns out, is a YouTube star, and Kelsey’s videos keep the entire family afloat. A note here: Samson the Pig is said to have 40 million subscribers. That would make it a larger channel that The DoDo – one of the largest channels devoted to animal videos – which has somewhere around 16 million the last time I checked. So that part rang a bit false, but pulling down 200K a month did not, based on the (imaginary) size of the channel, and assuming a gigantic number of views per video.

Texas Ranger Faith McClellan, in her fourth appearance, dutifully goes to talk to the family. Mom and the son, Kyle, are not home -she’s told they’ve gone off to a hunting cabin. The housekeeper, with an accent that comes and goes, Kelsey, and her (a tad strange) father are able to answer some questions, but many remain – who would do this, and what possible motive could there be? Kelsey, of course, is brokenhearted.

McClellan walks around the house and the scene of the crime, finding a rather large secret of the son’s rather quickly. She learns that the killing was particularly vicious, with blood everywhere and the killer also decapitated the head (now missing). The carcass she loads up in her truck and takes to the morgue for the coroner to look at. She discovers another hog was also killed, although his head was not taken and the family broke down the body and cooked some of it, the rest going into the freezer.

Meanwhile, McClellen also has to do a bunch of wedding0related stuff: dress, caterers, etc. Her overbearing mother is helping – and by helping, I mean basically taking over all of it. Her fiance Graham is assisting her with the case, which she worries might be the beginnings of a serial killer, and that the killer will move up a bracket to start offing people.

The case seems to have a ton of possible suspects: the brother, a jealous girl from school, the father, the boyfriend/not boyfriend. As McClellen fears, people start dying,even as she and Graham start to get a grip on the case. About halfway through it became obvious to me who the killer was, but it was still an enjoyable ride watching McClellan and Graham make their way through to (livestreaming) denouement.

No terrible slow spots, and in this instance, the bad guy infodump at the end is warranted – it is being livestreamed, after all.

Solid four out of five stars. Plus a desire to go back and read the first three in the series, to see how McClellan came to this version of herself.

Thanks to Severn River and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: The Girl in the Ground – Nikki Hunt #4 (Stacey Green)

After three months away from the job, FBI agent Nikki Hunt is back in the office, and expected to gradually ease her way back into full duty. That plan takes a detour when she’s tapped to lead the investigation into a heavily pregnant, due any day now surrogate for a rich couple.

Her boyfriend Rory is also having issues after finding skeletal remains on a job site. After they find a locket with the body (as well as fetal remains), Rory becomes suspect number one after it’s clear he knows who the young woman is: a girl he date briefly and then broke up with at graduation. But is the child his? Did he kill her? He doesn’t do himself any favors by being antagonistic to the police.

The FBI and local police continue their search for the mussing surrogate, but there are few clues and fewer leads. Eventually, they make a plea to the public for any information.

I read the first book in this series, but now the two between that one and this. At some point, Nikki’s ex-husband was murdered. After another agent comes to town, claiming to be working on a tax fraud case and Nikki learns that the missing surrogate is also that agent’s confidential informant, Nikki starts going through her ex’s papers, looking for clues as to why he was investigating the owner of a limo service – who has conveniently flown to NY and disappeared.

Nikki gets the scoop on the missing surrogate, who once was held by a sex trafficker for a period of time before she escaped. Is he back now, and reclaiming her?

Nikki and company find more skeletal remains, and more fetal remains with them, and eventually determine how the girls were likely chosen, and based on descriptions given by the missing surrogate, zero in on the likely suspects.

The story is good, and there aren’t any dragging parts, even when the characters are moving between locations. My only dislike is Rory – I get it, his brother was wrongfully accused and imprisoned for something he didn’t do, but Rory should have just lawyered up at the first second the police started sniffing around, so as to relieve some of hi anxiety about being questioned over and over. For their par, the police should have understood why he didn’t want to constantly hear their questions, fearing they would railroad him as they did his brother.

The mystery tied together nicely, and there were some pretty gruesome deaths in this one, so if you don’t have a strong stomach, you might want to skip this one, or at least skim or skip the fire scene.

Overall: a solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Bookouture and NetGalley for the reading copy.