Tag Archives: mysteries

Review: Under Violent Skies (Judi Daykin)

DS Sara Hirst has voluntarily left the Met and moved to Norfolk to join the Serious Crimes Unit – both to get away from her parents in London but also to hunt up her father, who vanished but whom her mother will not talk about.

Her very first day starts off with a bang, as the team is called out to a murder. The dead man has been dead for a bit, and as Hirst is looking over the body, one of the team who is not quite thrilled that she’s there gives her a push into the ditch where the dead man lies. Hirst then becomes part of the crime scene, and she has to submit to a DNA swab for exclusionary purposed. Plus, he nice new shoes are ruined.

As the team investigates, Hirst gets up front and personal with the racism and xenophobia that small town life can bring out in spades. She’s the only person of color on the team, and some of the people of Norfolk aren’t particularly pleased to be talking to her, and also direct their complaints about immigration at her, even though she’s Britain-born.

A series of thefts from surrounding farms gets folded into the murder investigation, as it turns out the dead man was an investigator for an insurance company, and was apparently working on something on his own when he was killed.

From time to time, we get the narrative from the POV of a woman brought in to feed the crop pickers from various Slavic countries. She’s worried about herself, of course, and worried about another young woman who is used by the men as their plaything.

Some surprising forensics results sends Hirst into what will be a difficult choice. As the team closes in on nabbing the killer, they also have to deal with the foreign crop picks, who are about to pack up and move on.

It all comes to a fiery head – literally.

To say more would ruin the story, which I highly recommend. The books covers a number of themes in its telling: what constitutes families, racism, xenophobia, migrant labor, and the plight of women trafficked from Eastern European countries.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Joffe Books and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Shadow Sands – Kate Marshall #2 (Robert Bryndza)

Shadow Sands is book two in the Kate Marshall series. It easily stands on its own, and reading the first entry is nt necessary to understand this one.

Marshall and her son are scuba diving in the Shadow Sands reservoir, and come across the body of Simon Kendall. He’s certainly dead, but is it because of the numerous slashes he’s taken, or something else?

After calling it in, Marshall and her son give the details of how they found Kendal to DCI Henry Ko, the son of a rather legendary retired officer. Since Marshall is no longer a police officer herself – after having an affair with her married boss and then catching her boss as a serial killer – she’s dismissed from the scene.

Simon’s mother, however, wants to hire Marshall to investigate the death of her son. Being a PI is a side gig to her lecturing at the university, and she takes on the case. With her assistant Tristan, she starts looking into the case.

Meanwhile, an Italian professor with an interest in urban legends disappears, As Tristan knew her, they add the missing woman to their case.

As they dig around, they find that the usual medical examiner did not perform the autopsy on Simon. Things get weirder when it seems that there might be something going on with the father and son Ko and their involvement in other incidents where bodies have been pulled from the reservoir.

Add in the involvement of a wealthy family who owns most of the land around the reservoir, and their possible involvement, and you get a mystery that’s worth the read.

Overall impression: a tight story, without any lagging portions, and enough backstory trickled in that readers coming in without having read the first book will not be lost. Marshall is a great character, with just enough flaws  to make her believable.

Five stars.

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


Review: Deep into the Dark (P. J. Tracy)

Deep into the Dark primarily features Sam Easton, a wounded vet with PTSD, in a story about a serial killer. No, he isn’t a cop. Nor a newspaper reporter. He’s just a guy trying to cope with half a burned face and survivor’s guilt, as the only man left from his small unit. He works as a barback at Pearl Club. Melody Traeger? Not a cop – the bartender at Pearl Club.

Margaret Nolan and Al Crawford, however, are cops – LAPD homicide detectives. They’re the ones investigating a serial killer. They are called out to the scene of a murder involving a dancer at Pearl Club. And this is how everything starts coming together.

The dead woman was convinced someone was following her. Traeger has been seeing a black Jeep now and again – as has her stoner friend at the apartment where they both live. Easton has seen it. The cops aren’t so sure.

As it turns out, Easton’s marriage with Yuki is on the rocks. Traeger has been kind of seeing a guy with a volatile temper. When both turn up dead, Easton and Traeger have an issue: how to convince the cops that a guy who has PTSD-related blockouts, and an abused woman who used to be an addict are not cold blooded killers.

There’s a subplot involving the son of a famous filmmaker that really isn’t a subplot. It’s more of a parallel, and it’s important to keep tabs on it.

While Crawford is ready to lock up Easton and Traeger, and throw away the key, evidence found at yet another crime scene seem to show that one of Easton’s dead buddies may not be quite so dead after all.

To get into more detail would really be quite spoilery, but I’ll say this: the killer came as no surprise to me.

The book is well paced, and with the possible exception of Crawford, I found the characters to be well-rounded human beings, versus people stuffed into a story because the narrative demanded it. I like the investigation, and Nolan’s bit of confliction about Easton because her brother Max was killed in action.

Three out of five stars.

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


Review: The Girls in the Snow – Nikki Hunt #1 (Stacy Green)

The Girls in the Snow opens with a creepy “girl comes home to find parents slain” prologues. From there, we’re zipped into the future, where the same girl is now a woman, working for the FBI.

This opener in the Nikki Hunt series is quite good: Hunt is back in Stillwater, Minnesota. It’s business, this time, though. Two teenage girls have been found dead in the snow, after previously vanishing from a trail. Hunt has been working a serial killer case known as Frost (as he leaves his victims in the snow after killing them), but Hunt knows this is not his work. Still, she decides to stay on and work the case. This is my quibble with the book, which I’ll touch on further below.

She discovers while she’s in town that the man convicted of murdering her parents is getting a new hearing. There are protestors outside the courthouse, convinced that the investigation done at the time was faulty and Hunt’s memory of the events that night even moreso. That man’s brother also wants her to go talk to the man face to face and also review the case notes. She pushes him away, but tendrils of doubt start her questioning the events of that night. Oh, and her ex-boyfriend is still living in town, too, now married – and is the father of one of the girls found murdered.

The investigation into the current day murders starts very slowly, but pick up steam, and when another body is found – this time a dancer from one of local clubs. Hunt and her team pick up that case, too, and soon the two come crashing together, albeit in a way that might surprise readers.

Overall, a good read. There weren’t many laggy parts, and the characters were all pretty rounded out – no cardboard cutout secondary characters here. My only issue was that Hunt stayed on to head up the investigation once it was clear the girls were not victims of the Frost killer. There was a potential conflict of interest (her ex-boyfriend being the father of one of the dead girls) as well as the issue with the potential that the man she’d helped lock away when she was a teen herself would receive a new trial (not to mention the emotional aspect of it all).

Other than that – and I’m willing to overlook this for fictional purposes in a story that’s well done – it was an enjoyable read.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Bookouture and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: One of Our Own – Gregor Demarkian #30/final in the series (Jane Haddam)

I did not know that this was part of a series – much less one with 29 books prior to this. This is, though, the final Gregor Demarkian book, as the author died of cancer while writing it. The book was finished by her sons. While this can be read as a standalone, it did not work well in that regard for the reasons below. This may be due to the sons completing it, but the editor should shoulder part of this as well.

This is a slow, slow ride of a book. It opens with a nine part prologue, so all the major players can be introduced, instead of pushing them into the narrative, to be introduced more organically. I found this annoying. A 14 year old boy takes a bus to a prison to visit someone named “Russ” who I presumed was his father. There’s no indication as to why Russ is locked up. In fact, we don’t find out the actual reason until almost the 75% mark. I also found this annoying, as other characters would mention him and that he’s gone nutty into conspiracy theories, almost making it sound like he was locked up because he was mentally unbalanced. But what did he do, exactly?

There’s an old Armenian woman named Marta, who lives in a rent-controlled apartment, and who has arguments with the building’s super, Hernandez, because he wants her to move out of her three room apartment into a single room so a larger Hispanic/Latino family can move in. This doesn’t go over well with Marta, who is a racist, hating the Latinos, most of whom she’s convinced are there illegally.

There’s a bunch of nuns, doing their best to help the community, which is admirable, but there’s also a point where one of the nuns infodumps the history of American nuns via dialogue. They’ve seen seeing a black van from time to time, and worry it’s ICE, come to pick off the adults and children they have in the church/school.

There’s Tommy, the 14 year old, who seems to be smarter and more level headed than almost anyone else in this book.

There’s Meera, from Mumbai, who hates Americans and America, and wants to move back, continuing to add to the cash stockpile she has going right now.

There’s Clare, from Lithuania, who likewise hates America, but who also hates Indians like Meera.

There’s a Latino whose name I forget who doesn’t like black people.

Everyone seems to be a giant, raging racist here.

Marta, who famously does not go out at night, suddenly does, stomping her way to the Adler Properties office. The building in which she lives is owned by Cary Adler. He owns a number of buildings, it seems. He also has various loans that he has to pay on.

While Tommy and the priest are walking, a black van is racing down the street. It loses control, slamming sideways into a light pole. The back doors pop open, and what looks like a large trash bag falls out. It’s a body – more specifically, an older woman, still alive, but in bad shape. I knew who it was immediately.

Then we get a whole bunch of stuff about illegal immigrants and a racist cop. Gregor and his wife Bennis are fostering a 7 year old Latino boy, so there’s discussion of paperwork, etc.

It turns out that Adler is under investigation by the feds for coyote operations – that is, bringing people illegally over the border and getting them to Philly so they can work in his various buildings, if possible. Clare and Meera are both money people, and they move money around to make things seem a bit rosier than they really are at Adler Properties. But the feds are having a tough time, because although they can see that movement of money, they can’t quite pin it down.

ICE shows up at the church to arrest some 70 year old janitor who had a DUI and served his time. Gregor wanders around as a consultant for the police, who don’t say it, but don’t want him there. He doesn’t add much as a consultant.

It takes a long time to get to the point where things start folding in on Adler. I won’t spoil what’s happening with the coyote operation except to say it isn’t quite as bad or as usual for what we consider coyotes to be.

Eventually, the case is wrapped up, with multiple pieces coming together at the same time.

The writing is fine, some of the characters were nicely fleshed out, but this book couldn’t seem to decide just what it wanted to be. Discussion of the currently broken immigration system and abuses by ICE? Social commentary on people living in cramped quarters, barely eking out a living? White collar crime and embezzlement and/or money laundering? An investigation into an assault and then later, a murder? Race relations and how most everyone is racist to their core? Who knows?

It’s very, very slow. If you can’t get through multiple POVs and narrative that seems to add nothing whatsoever to the store, this is not for you. If you’re a reader of the series, you’ll likely find it satisfying enough a finale.

Two stars out of five. Sorry, folks, this was just not for me.

Thanks to Minotaur and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: A Stranger at the Door – Rachel Marin #2 (Jason Pinter)

My usual disclaimer: this is the second book in the Rachel Marin series, and I have not read the first. However, I was able to read this as a standalone, with little to nothing lost or confusing.

The book opens with the musings of a teacher at the local high school on his ordinary, content life. There’s something he knows, though, and he sends an email to the titular Rachel Marin, couching it in somewhat vague terms, and asking to meet her to discuss it. We can tell this will not end well for him, and it doesn’t. When he answers to door and opens it for someone he appears to know, he is viciously beaten to death.

Rachel herself, and her two children, have settled into smallish town life in Ashby, Illinois. She’s seeing a detective with the Ashby PD, John Serrano, and working as a consultant for the APD. This was one area where reading the first book probably would have helped, but I’m not going to ding the story for that reason.

Serrano gets a call about a house fire and heads out. Rachel isn’t far behind. As it turns out, the house belongs to the (now dead) teacher, who happens to be one of Rachel’s son’s teachers. They find his body in his bed, and several hot points where accelerant has been used. But whoever set the fire has not bothered to try to hide the fact – meaning they are not concerned at all that anyone knows, and very likely want people to know.

The story moves from there into the whodunnit. We get a short intro (no names) to the bad guy’s right hand man, who is instructed to get close to Eric. This is fortunate the next day as Eric is about to get beaten up by bully. But once he’s under the wing of right hand man Ben Ruddock, who now has a name and who looks like a football linebacker, suddenly those types of issues go away. Ruddock invites Eric to join a fraternity of sorts – the description of it sounds like recruitment to some Dickensian group of misfits, with another man, Brice Bennett in the role of Uriah Heep.

As the investigation continues, Eric becomes more and more distant from his mother and sister, and the detectives are not having much luck finding anything as to who killed the poor teacher. Serrano interrupts at 1 AM meeting of the boys Ruddock has recruited, saving one of the boy from having his shoulder ripped out as Ruddock pins him.

Now the bad guys know they’re in trouble, and things get murkier and more dangerous along the way, with Rachel herself being clocked in the head by someone with a gun as she’s following Ruddock and Eric as Ruddock makes his rounds, handing out manila envelopes to various people.

In the middle of all this, someone from Rachel’s past shows up, telling Rachel they should work together because they’re on the same side, but Rachel doesn’t see eye to eye with her on this.

Eventually, the hunt picks up speed, snowballing to a dramatic and action-filled resolution.

The writing was good, and while I’m generally not a fan of continued inner monologues from characters to tell us how they’re feeling, I gave it some leeway this time for Rachel and Eric, as they’re going through a tough time. The relationships between the characters was quite good, and while there is violence, it is crucial to the story and not overly gruesome except for the autopsy scene with the dead (and burned) teacher. I recommend you not skip that unless it’s far too much for you. LGBTQ representation: Serrano’s female partner Tally is married to another woman, and they have kids.

There were a couple of points that could probably have been trimmed just a hair, and the actual scheme Bennett was running seemed to be a tad overly complicated, but overall, it’s quite a good read.

A solid four out of five stars.

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

Review: Ruthless Crimes – Sophie Allen #9 (Michael Hambling)

Ruthless Crimes is the ninth book in the Sophie Allen series. As usual, I’m coming into the series at this book having not read the previous books.

A man hurrying to catch a train for work finds a body in one of the carriages. The authorities are called and the dead man identified. problem: he doesn’t seem to exist. The team begins digging around. I was a bit confused, because while this is tagged with Sophie Allen as the presumed lead of the series, she doesn’t show up until chapter four.

As they trace the dead man, with Allen talking to the higher-ups as it seems the dead man may have been an undercover operative, a woman in a secure facility in another jurisdiction is killed by someone acting as a nurse. As with the dead man, the dead woman seems to also be a ghost. The teams intersect and there is more talking with intelligence types, who think this was some kind of off the books operation dealing with immigrants landing in the country.

During all this, an overloaded boat of immigrants is making its way to shore, capsizing as it gets into the breaks at the shore. Several people die, including a couple of children. The rest are taken to the hospital.

The authorities continue to investigate. The head of the off the books op is apparently kidnapped, held for several days, and manages to escape. She can’t think of any leaks, etc., via which anyone would know about the op or who is running it, and seems a tad sketchy.

More dead bodies show up – they seem to be part of the smuggling crew rather than random murders.

Eventually, it all comes to a head and the perps are caught.

I did not like this book at all. Not because of the content. That was fine, even with the author throwing his politics into things via long monologues by characters. There are more nuanced ways to do this that don’t involve the book pausing so a character can preach a the reader. It simply was not captivating in a way a book should be: too much politicking, as noted, too much characters telling one another the story and telling each other things they already know, just so the reader will. There were also some odd moments where the cops didn’t seem to be terribly smart: in one very striking instance, one of them wonders how criminals could have obtained falsified passports. Seriously? An officer offers to resign because a woman she had interviewed during the course of the investigation turns out to have been one of the bad guys. Not a happening thing. A house they’ve taped off for forensics is described as deserted, almost neglected, yet one officer has his service weapon out. Why, if the place is deserted and only other cops are present?

Speaking of -ly, I have never been one for the hard and fast rule of going through a manuscript and ejecting all adverbs. At the 80% point in this book, I was ready to embrace it fully. for this book, though, because by that time I was supremely annoyed by this book.

There was far too much telling versus showing in this book. Don’t tell me “(Name) could see something was wrong as (Other Name) came toward him.” How? Were they frowning? Brows furrowed? Walking briskly? Running? Scanning the surroundings for a threat? Just ending a phone call? Who knows? This happens A LOT.¬† Like the deserted, almost neglected house above. A couple of paragraphs after that, the author does give some details as to how the place looks. Dump the tell-y “looked deserted” line and just go with the description, as that will show the reader the same thing, instead of telling the reader and then showing it.

The author gets points for diversity, and for having a mystery involving current events like immigration and systemic racism. I just think the story could have used another developmental editing pass.

Two and a half stars out of five, rounded down to two.

Thanks to Joffee Books and NetGalley for the review copy.

Reviwe: The Night of the Fire – Ann Lindell #11, #8 in English (Kjell Eriksson)

This is the eleventh book in the Ann Lindell series and the eighth to be translated to English for those of us (like me) who generally love Nordic noir.

The titular night of the fire is how this entry to the Ann Lindell series begins: an abandoned schoolhouse, used as temporary housing for immigrants goes up in flames, rapidly running out of control and decimating the building, killing several immigrants in the process. There are several characters introduced – one an immigrant, who ran from the building, one an old man who saw who set the blaze, but does not tell the authorities, etc.

My biggest gripe and level of disgust came when the story indicated Swedes from the area made no attempt to do anything about the fire. According to the man who saw the arsonists, they stood around “as if attending a bonfire”. I had to take a short break from the book at that point, and that was right after the opening chapter.

In the meantime, someone has called the police, wanting to speak to Ann Lindell, the detective attached to the local station. But she no longer works there, leaving after her mentor retires. She now lives in a cottage in the village, making cheese , while still acknowledging to herself that she misses the thrill of the chase.

Anyone who has ever lived in a small town knows that small town folk tend to be guarded, and small towns usually have tons off secrets. Ann is drawn into the investigation, feeding the information she susses out to a former colleague. When additional fires break out, she does the same. There are also bombs going off, in the village, and in Stockholm. Are all these things related? And where is the missing immigrant? Is he the one going around doing this? If so, why?

Many current issues are brought up in the book: immigration, xenophobia, racism, and so on. Ann fights through all of these things in addition to the tight-lipped nature of her village. Eventually, the mystery is solved, but while on vacation, Ann is approached by a man who works for the national police, and cryptically tells her perhaps they will meet again when she walks away. Will she be drawn back to the work permanently and officially? I suppose we’ll need to read the next book to find out.

Overall impression: it does go heavy on current events, as noted. On the plus side, the book works just fine as a standalone, so reading the previous books in the series, while informative, is not necessary. Ann is a complex, deep character, without some of the tics/schticks that some writers put in place to make their characters memorable for reasons other than whatever it is they do in the story. The story is good, the investigations are carried out competently, without anyone suddenly doing anything completely out of character.

On the downside, at times the narrative got a bit clunky, but this could be more about the translation than anything else, as is not always easy to translate something and have it retain the same flavor as the original. The pacing drags just a bit, and there are numerous characters the reader has to track throughout, and this may be an issue for some people. The issues that pop up in the story may be a tad depressing for some people, and at times threaten to overwhelm the entire narrative. if you’re looking for a fast-paced mystery, this is not the book for you.

I’m giving it a solid four out of five stars. Ann is what really carries this book through to the end.

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

Review: Should Grace Fail – A Twin Cities Novel (Priscilla Paton)

Quick note: I know this was an uncorrected ebook, but the formatting of it was DREADFUL. Hopefully, they get it under control for the release.

Detective Deb Metzger, who was to speak briefly at an event hosted by Nancy Leclerc, scion of a hotel chain, is asked to take over the keynote speech, which was supposed to be given by Dan Routh, a former policeman, when Routh doesn’t show. She hesitantly agrees.

Routh, it turns out, has been murdered, his body found in a Dumpster. Detective Erik Janssen, Deb’s partner, is on the scene where the former policeman and now quasi-social worker has been found.

The duo are assigned to investigate, and the first person they wind up speaking to is Gordy, Routh’s sponsor in AA. Gordy’s one of the most delightful and funny characters in this book – clearly wanting to o good, and right by Routh, but he also clearly has a case of scattershot thinking. After collecting the information he has, they continue on, following Routh’s footsteps.

They find that Routh was lately working primarily with a girl named Luna – a fetal alcohol syndrome baby who grew up to be a talented musician. But she is in the wind, leaving Erik and Deb to start digging around in her life as well, trying to find her.

There’s a secondary plot involving Jaelyn, an accomplished pianist, who may or may not know Luna, but who is definitely seeing Ray, a drug dealer – and carrying cash and/or product around for him.

By this point, we have a good reading of the two detectives’ personalities: divorced Erik, quiet, and prone to going off to do something without telling Deb. Deb, single after breaking up with her last girlfriend, but seeing a possible new love interest in Jude, right hand to the imperious Nancy Leclerc.

As the story progresses, the overall investigation gets both broader but also more intently smaller, focused on Jaelyn’s drug dealing boyfriend, another young man who seems to be ready to spill his guts, and someone within Nancy’s inner circle.

Erik and Deb doggedly follow the clues, resulting in the arrest of the killer and a rather satisfying ending.

While there were a couple of draggy spots – the neighbors and voles/gophers, for instance – overall the book is quite readable and there weren’t any gigantic plot holes to run trucks though en route to all the pieces of the investigation dovetailing quite nicely at the end.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Coffeetown Press and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Absence of Mercy – Lightner and Law #1 (S. M. Goodwin)

Absence of Mercy is the first of what I hope will be a very long string of books featuring Jasper Lightner, son of a duke sent to pre-Civil War America and Hieronymus Law, a former New York City policeman Lightner rescues from the Tombs, NYC’s notorious prison.

Lightner is a veteran of the Crimean War, having taken part in the charge of the Light Brigade and is the best Inspector the Metropolitan Police have. Police reformers in NYC have requested his assistance in solving a string of murders of wealthy men, all found outside brothels. The Home Secretary prefers that he go, but his father – horrified that the son of a duke is working at all – gives him a choice between two positions, neither of which he really wants: go to America for a year to assist them, or take a position that involves being a figurehead and nothing else. Lightner, stubborn, chooses to go to America for a year.

He lands not only in the period just prior to the American Civil War, but in a city already at war with itself, and corruption at every turn. The captain to whom he reports doesn’t want him, the rank and file resent him, and the Alderman he first meets seems to have his finger in every pie.

He begins his first case immediately: a wealthy man, killed in the same fashion two others were. As he susses out the case and finds out details of previous cases, he tracks down Law. Lightner’s boss has said he can have anyone he wants to assist him, so he basically jailbreaks Law in order to get the information Law has on the first two cases, as the case files for those have been conveniently lost at the precinct.

Together, they go through the mean streets of New York, into the bleakest, hellish basements of the poorest residents, to the posh and spotless homes of the very wealthy – including the widows of the men who had been killed.

As they continue to turn over every rock and put together evidence, they find men with disgusting predilections, men who claim to be reformers, men who actually are reformers helping free blacks flee to Canada (if you have seen 12 Years a Slave (and if you have not, you should) you will have seen at least one story of a free black man captured and sold into slavery; it is the same here in 1857 New York), women who know more than they tell, a plot involving guns, slaves, and money, and corrupt cops looking to get ahead by any means.

Lightner and Law’s investigation finally puts them on the trail to determining the culprit, but other factors are at work in the shadowy world of actors behind even the corrupt governing forces of New York. The real truth, when Lightner finally comes to it, is a punch to the gut.

This story takes no time at all to get moving – in fact, on the first page, we are with Lightner as he looks over a grisly murder scene. Lightner has sharp mind, an superb control of his emotions. Unfortunately, he also has a good chunk of his memory missing, a bum knee, gets headaches, and smokes opium-loaded cigars to treat his ailments. Law, for his part, turns out to be a fair detective himself, and tries to follow Lightner’s lead – asking questions people don’t want to answer, tracking down clues, so he can become a good detective rather than a fair one.

This is an excellent book, although there are a lot of characters, both dead and alive, and with differing loyalties, to keep straight. However, this does not detract from the book at all. The pace is quick when it needs to be, slower when it is appropriate. Overall, a superb read.

Five out of five stars.

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