Book Review: LONG BRIGHT RIVER, perfection

Mickey Fitzpatrick joined the Philadelphia PD after high school while her younger sister, Kacey, an addict and prostitute, left home for the streets of Kensington, a neighborhood ravaged by the opioid epidemic.

Mickey responds to a what was supposed to be a death by overdose, but she notices signs of foul play. The young woman isn’t the first victim: her murder initiates a string of homicides in Kensington targeting vulnerable, addicted working women. At the same time, she learned that Kacey was missing.

With her partner, Truman, who is on medical leave, Mickey begins an off-the-books investigation to locate Kacey and find the murderer. Her queries take her into an underworld that threatens not just her and Truman but also her son.

Mickey narrates the present-day mystery while revealing how the once inseparable bond she shared with Kacey slowly disintegrated. Long Bright River by Liz Moore isn’t simply a mystery novel, though. It’s a meditation on place and family and how circumstances can limit choices. It’s a revelatory lament for those in the throes of addiction. And, it is a message about the importance of love and forgiveness.

To me, the writing was so beautiful, at times I had to stop to simply savor the language. Mickey was such an interesting narrator—so intelligent, so damaged, so unemotional. This was one of those books I wasn’t ready to finish.

Book Review: NINE ELMS, promising series debut

ultralight_adjustmentsIn 1995, Kate Marshall, just promoted to Detective Constable, was assigned to the Nine Elms Cannibal case. A deraigned murderer abducted young women, strangled them with a cord tied with a distinct monkey’s fist knot, and took bites from their thighs, buttocks, and backs. On the night the fourth victim was discovered, Kate connected the clues and unmasked the killer, but in the process was brutally attacked. In the aftermath, Kate was embroiled in a scandal, was forced to leave the Met Police.

Fifteen years later, Kate, a recovering alcoholic, was finding some peace as a lecturer at a small seaside university where her class was always in demand. Her ordered existence, however, was upended when the local forensic pathologist asked her to consult on a case. The young girl’s body had a cord tied with a monkey’s knot and bites were taken from her backside. A copycat was at work.

With her research assistant Tristan Harper, an insightful ally with a sullied past, Kate becomes caught up in the investigation—but she doesn’t realize that the copycat is determined to succeed where the Nine Elms Cannibal failed and make sure Kate doesn’t survive this time.

An entertaining introduction to a new series, Nine Elms has great and disturbing characters, interesting settings rendered in detail (for example, a psychiatric hospital), and poignant moments. However, some aspects of the plot didn’t quite ring true, and some situations seemed resolved too easily (such as a political conflict at the university), and I though the writing was a bit choppy at times. Still, I was very captivated by Kate and Tristan. Their partnership shows lots of promise for future stories, and I and look forward to the second Kate Marshall book.

Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer/Amazon Publishing for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: HOW THE DEAD SPEAK, the eleventh Tony Hill/Carol Jordan Mystery

Happy Publication Day to How the Dead Speak!

In the eleventh installment of the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series by Val McDermind, Hill is in prison for manslaughter while Jordan, suffering from PTSD, has been forced out of her job as DCI. Though Hill confessed his love to Jordan, he has refused to have contact with her until she gets treatment—that is, until an unexpected visitor threatens both his and Carol’s futures unless he persuades her to help resolve a dispute. Jordan has also been persuaded to join a group of experts reexamining cases in which miscarriages of justice are suspected. Though she is uncomfortable trying to release criminals, she can’t resist the mystery.

Meanwhile, development at a shuttered Catholic nunnery and orphanage is halted when the construction crew finds an unauthorized cemetery filled with skeletons of what are presumably young girls who were in the nuns’ care. DCI Ian Rutherford, Jordan’s replacement, shows preference for DI Sophie Valente who came to the police via retail management and joined through a special direct entry program while ignoring the skills and talents of the team, particularly DI Paula McIntyre, causing friction among them which only heightened when a second collection of human remains—this time young men—were found on a property near the orphanage. And one of the bodies connects to Jordan’s newest investigation. However, her concentration is derailed when Hill’s prison activities make him the target of angry inmates.

How the Dead Speak weaves several perspectives honing in on two primary mysteries, with significant conflict among the police squad. Because Hill, Jordan, and McIntyre are separated, the book adds new settings, particularly the prison environment. I also liked that it addressed the possibility of false imprisonment and showed the challenges of living with PTSD. The pacing was finely plotted, and the narratives well-resolved, though I would have liked more regarding the bodies found at the orphanage. The denouement, however, was very interesting and makes me intrigued and excited about where the series will go next.

While this is not my first Val McDermid book, it is my first Tony Hill/Carol Jordan novel. I was certainly able to jump in, though I would have had better insight into the characters and their relationships if I’d read the previous books in the series—something I now plan to do!

Thank you to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic/Atlantic Monthly Press for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS by Lisa Jewell

In The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell, Libby Jones inherits a mansion in London’s exclusive Chelsea neighborhood when she turns twenty-five. Though the house is in disrepair, it is nevertheless worth millions of pounds. With her inheritance, Libby also learns the identity of her birth parents, owners of 16 Cheyne Walk, where, twenty-five years earlier, police arrived to find three bodies dressed in black robes, dead of an apparent cult-related suicide pact. A well-cared for baby was rescued from the scene, but four teenaged children living in the home were missing and never located.

Libby senses more to the story, and aided by her co-worker, Dido, an expert on Agatha Christie, and Miller, a journalist whose dedication to the story cost him his marriage, she attempts to find out what really happened at 16 Cheyne Walk. Libby, however, isn’t the only person who has been waiting for her twenty-fifth birthday, and as she comes closer to the truth, her safety becomes ever more perilous.

To be honest, the book started slow for me, but about eighty pages in, I was hooked at a shocking pivot point, and I ended up liking the book overall. It is told from the perspective of three different characters, and their overlapping and at times conflicting narratives kept me intrigued. Given the events at 16 Cheyne Walk, it was interesting to observe how the teenagers were affected. I do wish, however, that there had been a bit more context regarding the adults’ psychology.

Once I got into the groove of the book, I was highly invested and stayed up late finishing it! The Family Upstairs is my favorite Lisa Jewell book so far.

Book Review: NOTHING MORE DANGEROUS, a teenager confronts prejudice in his small Missouri town as he investigates a missing persons case

Esken, Allen - Nothing More Dangerous (4)𝗛𝗮𝗽𝗽𝘆 𝗽𝘂𝗯𝗹𝗶𝗰𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗱𝗮𝘆 𝘁𝗼 𝙉𝙤𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙈𝙤𝙧𝙚 𝘿𝙖𝙣𝙜𝙚𝙧𝙤𝙪𝙨 𝗯𝘆 𝗔𝗹𝗹𝗲𝗻 𝗘𝘀𝗸𝗲𝗻!

In 1976, freshman Boady Sanden’s widowed, depressed, and overwhelmed mother sends him to St. Ignacius high school, a private Catholic school, after getting into trouble with the wrong crowd. He is friendless and awkward, drawing band logos in a notebook to avoid the attention of the popular boys who enjoy tormenting him. With only his dog and his next-door neighbor, Hoke, as company, Boady dreams of leaving Jessup, Missouri behind and is only waiting until he turns sixteen.

That same year, Lida Poe, an African American bookkeeper at Ryke Manufacturing disappears, and town gossip says she left with $100,000 of embezzled funds. Ryke’s home office sends Charles Egin to manage the plant and clean up the operations. Charles, his wife, and his son, Thomas, Boady’s age, move across the street from Boady on rural Frog Hollow Road.

Boady’s been so busy keeping his head down, he’s noticed little about the tensions in town, but when the black family moves across the street, he is drawn into the racial battlefield of the community and confronted with the prejudices both his classmates and he himself hold. With a new awareness of the secrets people hold, he sees new dimensions in Hoke, Wally Schenicker, his boss at the drywall company down the road, and even his mother.

As Boady and Thomas hone onto the mystery behind Lida Poe’s disappearance, Boady is forced to choose loyalties—and the wrong decision may be deadly for him, his friends, and his family.

𝙉𝙤𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙈𝙤𝙧𝙚 𝘿𝙖𝙣𝙜𝙚𝙧𝙤𝙪𝙨 deftly combines mystery and bildungsroman, charting Boady’s growing compassion, both for others and himself and challenging assumptions about race, personality, and motivation. While I found this a compelling read, I was incensed by the injustice Boady both uncovered and experienced. The rural mid-1970s Missouri setting focuses the mystery and allows Esken to bring race to the forefront, with discrimination more overt and the Civil Rights Legislation still just over a decade old. At the same time, the themes are highly relevant to today’s society.

For me, the dialogue, though, was a bit of a challenge. I trust that the author reliably represented the local dialect, but it was slightly awkward. I also wish that some of the minor characters such as Mrs. Elgin and Diana, one of Boady’s classmates, had been given more development. However, this is definitely a worthwhile book for readers who enjoy coming of age stories, literary mysteries, or novels about social issues.

𝑻𝒉𝒂𝒏𝒌 𝒚𝒐𝒖 𝒕𝒐 𝑵𝒆𝒕𝑮𝒂𝒍𝒍𝒆𝒚 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝑴𝒖𝒍𝒉𝒐𝒍𝒍𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝑩𝒐𝒐𝒌𝒔 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝒑𝒓𝒐𝒗𝒊𝒅𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒂𝒏 𝒂𝒅𝒗𝒂𝒏𝒄𝒆 𝒓𝒆𝒂𝒅𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒄𝒐𝒑𝒚 𝒊𝒏 𝒆𝒙𝒄𝒉𝒂𝒏𝒈𝒆 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝒂𝒏 𝒉𝒐𝒏𝒆𝒔𝒕 𝒓𝒆𝒗𝒊𝒆𝒘.