Tag Archives: reading and reviews

Review: The Last Exit – Jenny Lu #1 (Michael Kaufman)

The Last Exit features two main characters:on is Jen Lu, a cop in a near-future earth where climate change has ravaged the planet and the Russians appear to have taken over DC(?) but we still have a President and Vice resident. The other is Chandler, an AI implant in Lu’s head, who only “lives” for five years.

The world of this future has those in their late 40s and early 50s having a good chance of contracting mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, in this work, changed slightly to become the acronym ROSE). The top scientists have decided it’s because there are too many old people, so the official policy becomes this: a child can receive the treatment for ROSE, but only if their parents decide to exit when they reach their mid 60s. The policy, of course, tends to result in a lot of elder abuse, with parents at time being abused by their children because the parents don’t want to exit. The mega-rich, naturally, live by a different set of rules – they neither have to exit, nor do their children lack for the treatment, should they need it. The adults who seem to live forever are called Timeless, a strata unreachable for the usual day to day population.

Lu hears rumors of something called Eden – she isn’t sure if it’s a place or a treatment, but keeps running into mention of it, usually at murder scenes. She mentions it to her boss, but he tells her to stow it and focus on her job. But with Eden popping up again and again, she can’t help but poke into it, despite the warnings from her boss, and despite the shadowy figures, including a rep from BigPharma, of course, who meet with her precinct to warn of a counterfeit treatment that causes people to age like progeria on steroids, leaving them dead within three days. Conspiracies galore!

The AI, Chandler, seems to be a route through which the author can get to the reader without it being infodumpy, and it does work to an extent. There were a couple of times when I wondered how it could have seen anything if Lu just scanned past something. These were minor issues, though.

Overall, it isn’t a bad mystery, and while the social justice stuff is here, it is not completely in your face, so if you’re of a more conservative bent, it likely won’t be too preachy for you.

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

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


Review: The Vatican Conspiracy – Marco Venetti #1 (Peter Hogenkamp)

A fine debut in a new series!

Marco Venetti – scratch that, Father Marco Venetti – is a former sailor in the Italian Navy. Not just a sailor, though: he has the skillset of a special forces member. This skillset isn’t often necessary in his current job, but when his ex shows up, carrying stories of human trafficking, it’s a good thing he has them.

Venetti is a good character – he’s not happy about taking lives, and he’s a bit on the fence about his vows and weighing those against helping Elena. It’s nice to have a main character whose flaws and hangups do not involve them being stalked by serial killers and the like. Venetti’s introspection revolves around him taking proactive steps in life (before this book begins and within it) versus having the forces of life act upon him.

The action begins on the first page and doesn’t let up. As with most conspiracies, there’s more than just the surface level in play.

If you like Dan Brown or Gregg Hurwitz – an odd pairing, I know, but trust me on this – you’ll enjoy this one.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Bookouture and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Cry Baby – Tom Thorne #17 (Mark Billingham)

I’m a sucker for origin stories, ever if I’ve never read any of the books in the series.

Such is the case with Cry Baby, listed as Tom Thorne #17, but which is essentially book zero.

The year is 1996, before everyone had the equivalent of a supercomputer in their pocket. Two boys go into the woods, but only one returns. Thorne is assigned to investigate the disappearance of the boy, but with no information at all to go on. He’s also navigating the ruins of his marriage, which comes with the additional baggage of his estranged wife’s boyfriend.

Another couple of deaths – people known and connected to the families of the two boys – ups the ante, and we discover that some people involved are not giving up a;; the information as to what they know.

It’s a taut story. The only misfire for me is a motive that is sadly not as well defined as the rest of the book.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The Ruthless (David Putnam)

The Ruthless is, according to the author’s note at the back of the book, the fourth in the “early years” series featuring Bruno Johnson, and the current books are the series moving forward. I’ve not read any off the books in this series prior to this.

The book opens well – Bruno and a tweaker named Nigel, sitting in a stolen car, with Bruno holding several thousand in cash to give to a PI. The PI clocks Bruno through his used-for-a-sting name of Karl. Bruno (and Nigel) are arrested shortly after the encounter, and Bruno gets reamed out by his former boss, who thinks Bruno is a former cop – he isn’t, he’s just sitting in on a long, long sting.

We get a bit of backstory, including Bruno tracking down his son in law and breaking several of his fingers while trying to get said son in law to admit to abducting one of his twin sons. So we know that either Bruno doesn’t have the greatest temperament, or he’s allowing his emotions to get the better of him.

Wicks, his former boss, comes to talk to Bruno about joining in the hunt to figure out who killed a judge and his wife. They were shot down in their driveway, and Wicks is looking for more headlines, but needs Bruno to help him get there.

The bulk of the book is taken up by that search – following leads, asking tons of questions, and in general being a pain in the ass to criminals. The ending comes in hard and very fast, with¬† a nonstop action ride, one very surprising action by Bruno’s dad, and a conclusion that would be ambiguous were it not for the rather long author’s note at the end.

Thanks to Oceanview Publishing and NetGalley for the review copy.

Three out of five stars.

Review: Echoes of Darkness – Echoes Trilogy #2 (Cheryl Campbell)

This is the second book in a series, but never fear – it works fine as a standalone and enough details are dropped in to understand where things stand.

The Big Bad Dude, Rowan apparently is very invested in capturing Dani, the main character. So invested, in fact, that he sends some Echoes to attack the caravan she’s in, heading back to the main base. Dani survives, as does Mary and a couple of others, and eventually they make their way back to base.

Echoes – of which Dani is one – are self-healers. They can die, but they will regenerate unless you do something drastic: kill them again as they’re regenerating, or give them a death that blows apart their bodies in some way, like decapitating them.

We get a lot of days in camp in this one – training, scenarios, that sort of thing. After one of their own – Oliver, a young man – is kidnapped, Dani and co go after him to get him back, heading to Boston after being forbidden to do so by the base commander. But the commander, knowing they were going to do so anyway, puts pressure on her teams to finalize their new secret weapon.

The battles are excellently done, although I had to question Rowan’s “leadership” of his teams in his quest to get to Dani. Perhaps more motivations for the drama between them is covered in the first book.

Overall, well-written. it could be a tad tauter in a couple of places, but none of those were show-stoppers. At the beginning, Dani is obviously attracted to Mary, but after getting regenerated, suddenly has the hots for Miles, another member of Team Good Guy. I get it – the B in LGBTQ stands for bi, after all, but I’m a little disappointed with this, given that it seems Mary and Oliver are Dani’s foundation of a sort.

The book sets itself up nicely for another book in the series. If nothing else, I’m going to read the next one to see if Rowan gets what’s coming to him.

Three stars out of five.

Thanks to Sonar Press and NetGalley for the review copy.

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.