The Murder Book

Redmond, Lissa Marie - The Murder BookThe Murder Book

by Lissa Marie Redmond

The last to leave the office on a Friday night in November, dedicated cold case detective Lauren Riley was startled from her work when she felt an overwhelming pain in her side and fell to the ground. As she realized blood was pooling beneath her, an assailant stomped on her head. In her last moments of consciousness, Riley saw a figure in city-issued police boots walk away holding her distinctive olive-green murder book.

Despite entreaties from her family, doctors, and coworkers to take time off, when Riley wakes up, she is driven to find out why a police officer would attack her and steal the murder book. Trusting only her partner Shane Reese, Riley turns to retired detective Charlie Daley for assistance. Together, they track down an elusive informant who has information about a decades-old murder that may be related to her attack. As they seek evidence for a police conspiracy, they face challenges ranging from a leak, disciplinary action, murderous suspects, and even a car chase on icy Buffalo streets!

Partners Riley and Reese have a fun, teasing-based relationship that is a strength of the novel, and Daley is delightful character as well. The mystery itself isn’t too surprising, but focuses on how the trio will prove the conspiracy, and there are a few twists and turns to keep it interesting.

Although I am not very familiar with Buffalo, we are relatively close, four hours by car, and because of that, the setting felt relatable and exciting. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery was mentioned, and I’ve put that on our places-to-go list. Our winters aren’t as severe as those in Buffalo, but I certainly identified with the cold and snow described in the book. My favorite character might have been Weston, Reese’s dog who becomes a source of comfort to Riley, who, as a “good mother,” even posts pictures of him on her Facebook page.

While I did get caught up in the book, I was slightly frustrated by the awkward transitions between scenes that were often abrupt and at time confusing. Some of the characters’ motivations weren’t sufficiently clear or justified, and that detracted from the novel to me. I also didn’t like some of Riley’s backstory which I viewed as trite: having domestic abuse in the past, being entangled in a strange relationship with a past client/murder suspect (which also reminded me too much of the Frieda Klein series).

The Murder Book did seamlessly introduce a segue into the next volume in the series without leaving the central mystery unresolved. It promises to deliver tension between Riley and Reese and a cunning antagonist.

Thank you to Netgalley and Midnight Ink for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Author’s Website

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Miracle Creek

Kim, Angie - Miracle Creek.pngMiracle Creek: A Novel

by Angie Kim

Korean immigrants Park and Young Yoo opened the Miracle Submarine, a hyperbaric oxygen chamber large enough for six, in the small town of Miracle Creek, Virginia. They offered this experimental therapy to clients with autism, cerebral palsy, Crohn’s disease, and even infertility. Only open about a month, one August day challenged the new business owners. Protestors against using the 100% oxygen therapy on autism patients picketed and blocked the driveway. Mylar balloons released into the power lines cut electricity to the property, leaving them to operate solely on generator power.

And then tragedy struck: a fire ignited the highly flammable oxygen in the chamber and spread to the barn housing the “submarine.” Henry Ward, an eight-year-old with autism and Kitt Kozlowski, mother of another autistic boy receiving treatment, were killed. Dr. Matt Thompson, a patient with infertility, who had a mysterious relationship with Mary Yoo, was afflicted with serious burns on his hands and lost two fingers. Pak was paralyzed, and his daughter, Mary, was in a coma for eight weeks.

A year later, Henry’s mom, Elizabeth, was on trial for arson, attempted murder, and murder. Abe Patterley, district attorney, and Shannon Haug, Elizabeth’s defense lawyer, were skilled adversaries. As Abe carefully made his case and Shannon eviscerated his witnesses, it became clear that Elizabeth was guilty–but was she guilty of the charges against her?

Shifting perspective between a handful of characters, Angie Kim provides a number of viable suspects who had opportunity and motive to commit the crime. The secrets and lies perpetuated by the primary characters began for each as a means of protection but become virtual prisons. How the characters grappled with the truth and resolved to handle their deception played significant roles in their ultimate fate.

Miracle Creek has the structure of a courtroom drama but offers a number of innovations, primarily the diversity of the characters. With the Yoos as Korean immigrants, the novel offers a window into Korean culture and the difficulty of managing a dual identity based on the author’s own experiences as an immigrant from Seoul. The book also considers the unique challenges and rewards of raising special needs children and provides a difficult and honest perspective.

While less central, Kim also introduces debate on the efficacy and legitimacy of alternative therapies. I can’t remember reading any other novel recently that so thoroughly describes the physical responses of characters, often as sensations that radiate throughout the body. I’m wondering if this is a commentary on the mind-body connection or a quirk of the author.

Although I enjoyed Miracle Creek, at times I found the writing cumbersome. Additionally, as a character, Young was central but in some ways underdeveloped, and some of her beliefs seem unrealistic. At the same time, it was a quick, engrossing read, and I welcomed the unusual context and diverse characters.

Thank you to Netgalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Her Final Hour

Kovach, Carla - Her Final HourHer Final Hour

Gina Harte #2

by Carla Kovach

DI Gina Harte and her team investigate the murder of Melissa Sanderson, who seemingly had an ideal marriage, a perfect house, and a darling two-year-old daughter. At the same time, Ellie Redfern has returned to Cleevesford to confront the demons of her past. As these two cases converge, and Harte is attacked by an ominous man in a forensics suit and red mask, the investigative team wonders what is behind the veil of perfection portrayed by Darrel Sanderson, Melissa’s widow, and his friends.

This is the second book in the DI Gina Harte series, and the members of Harte’s team are the same, but it is not necessary to read The Next Girl to understand the plot. Gina is a determined, scrappy detective who was abused in a past relationship. I was thankful that her daughter, Hannah, was less present in this book because I found her annoying and unsympathetic in the previous entry to the series. When Melissa’s autopsy shows signs of past abuse, her history comes to the fore and provides even greater motivation for her to solve the case. Her co-workers, DCI Briggs, DS Wyre, DS Driscoll, and DS O’Connell receive little characterization.

The crimes themselves are creepy and somewhat intriguing, though what ties the cabal of friends surrounding the murder is not explained enough to fulfill my curiosity. I found the book an easy “clear the palate” read, but some aspects of the writing were not to my taste. For example, there are several sections with long lists of questions, and if you read my reviews, you know this is one of my biggest pet peeves. I also found that some of the writing was undeveloped with characteristics including not using contractions in dialogue when it would be appropriate, overlying on phrases like “how dare you!,” or having characters engage in knee-jerk reactions to anger or frustration with violence or thoughts of violence.

If you are looking for a quick, non-taxing read, Her Final Hour might be for you. Otherwise, there are more sophisticated options in the genre.

Thanks to Netgalley and Bookouture for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Good Son

The Good SonThe Good Son by You-jeong Jeong

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Han Yu-Jin awakens to the smell of blood and images of a crimson umbrella, yellow streetlights, a drunk man singing, and a tarpaulin waving in the wind. He finds himself covered in blood, with bloody footprints between his bed and bedroom door. As he descends the stairs, he sees more blood, and then the petite feet of a woman who was murdered by a slash to her throat. An epileptic, Yu-jin suffers side effects from his medication and often stops taking them. He had been off his pills and the previous night had a seizure. He couldn’t remember what happened or why a woman’s body was in the apartment he shared with his mother and adopted brother, Kim Hae-jin. He reviews possible suspects: an intruder, his mother, his brother, or even himself. Desperate for answers, Yu-jin begins a search for the truth that takes him deep into his childhood and his relationship with his family.

The Good Son is a fascinating psychological thriller told by an unreliable narrator who gradually and unexpectedly uncovers the events leading up to the woman’s murder. It includes frequent flashbacks, but the present day timeline unfolds in a relatively small geographical area (mostly in the apartment with some forays into the neighborhood) and a limited cast of characters. I thought this was an interesting choice and it contributed to a sense of isolation, claustrophobia, and dread. I haven’t read many books out of South Korea, and I found the setting intriguing, particularly the cultural norms around family and obedience. Comparing a psychological thriller by a South Korean author versus one from the United States or Europe was thought-provoking.

For the most part, the writing was engaging, but I did think the author relied too much on lists of questions. A litany of questions is one of my pet peeves in novels. Personally, I find it lazy and would rather the author find a way to describe the conundrum rather than simply capture it in the form of a question.

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Sometimes I Lie

IMG_7544Sometimes I Lie

by Alice Feeney

Unable to speak or move, but aware, Amber Reynolds lies in a coma after an accident. She unravels the mystery of what brought her to the hospital through three timelines: her current state, the events immediately leading up to the incident, and a twenty-five year old diary. Complicating the narrative is a message from Amber before the story begins: My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me: 1. I’m in a coma, 2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore, 3. Sometimes I lie.

Sometimes I Lie was an enjoyable read, nothing too deep, but I was drawn into the mystery. Even though I was looking for the “trick” in the book, I was still surprised when it was revealed, though I think I probably should have been able to figure it out! I don’t want to say much more about the plot to avoid spoilers. Some of the author’s turns of phrase, such as “It took a lot of love to hate her the way I do,” I thought were well written and enhanced the book for me and elevated it above a simple mystery.

What I didn’t like was that even after finishing the book, I couldn’t get a handle on the extent of the narrator’s misdirection. Often with an unreliable narrator, I find that at the end of the story I have a sense of what is “real” and “fabricated” but here, I was as mistrusting at the end as I was at the beginning, and I wondered if I could count on anything being real in the context of the narrative. Because of that, it felt a little unsatisfying to me, like being unsteady on my feet after riding a roller coaster.

Even so, I do think that fans of Paula Hawkins, Ruth Ware, and Peter Swanson will enjoy this psychological thriller.

Publisher’s Site

Author’s Site

Still Lives

Still Lives by Maria HummelStill Lives, an exhibition at Los Angeles’ Rocque Museum by feminist artist Kim Lord was to open in concert with the museum’s largest fundraiser of the year, the annual Gala. The eleven paintings in the exhibition portrayed female murder victims, including Nicole Brown Simpson and Kitty Genovese, graphically depicting the aftermath of their murders and were based on Lord’s trademark process–she photographed herself as the subject, and then painted the photographs. When done, she ritualistically destroyed a flash drive with the only copies of the photographs.

Much hinged on the Gala and exhibition. The Rocque Museum had been financially mismanaged for years and struggled to stay afloat. Lord hadn’t had an exhibition in ten years, and her last, thought commercially successful, was critically panned. Los Angeles’ elite were on hand, eager to see the artist. Yet, Lord did not show up. Maggie, a writer and editor at the museum, originally planned to skip the Gala. After all, Lord was dating her ex-boyfriend, Greg, and her feelings were still raw. Yet her roots as a journalist compelled her to ask questions, and her history with violence drew her to the mystery of Lord’s disappearance.

My absolute favorite part of Still Lives was the museum setting and the insight into the responsibilities of various departments for creating a successful exhibition. Although Maggie visits the galleries off the exhibition, most of the action takes place in the offices that the public never sees, and so offers a window into its inner workings. The vagaries of the art market also play into the plot. Furthermore, I enjoyed the range of female friendships depicted in the novel. When so many books have isolated and aloof characters or characters whose friendships strain under jealousy, it’s refreshing to have instead positive, strong relationships that, while not always smooth, survive due to mutual respect and trust.

Of course, the novel questions the fetishization of women murder victims’ bodies which is a timely and interesting theme. Most cable packages have at least two true-crime networks, and shows like Dateline and 48 Hours remain popular. Lord said her exhibition was “a tribute to the victims and as an indictment of America’s obsession with sensationalized female murders” and Still Lives itself can be viewed in the same way. But in providing a homage (and creating another victim, the missing Lord), does the book fall into the same trap of exploiting female victims? The book asks what value can be had in viewing the famously murdered faces and how best to honor them.

Enjoyable to read, Still Lives also challenges with its questions relating to women-as-subjects, women-as-victims, and even women-as-perpetrators. I recommend adding it to your “to read” list.

Author’s Site

Publisher’s Site

Behind Her Eyes

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Behind Her Eyes

by Sarah Pinborough

Londoner and single-mom Louise is caught in a routine. She hasn’t had a relationship since her divorce and her only real reprieve from loneliness is her six-year-old son, Adam. But one night, she meets a mysterious man at a bar. He tells her, “No names, okay? No jobs. No dull life talk. Let’s talk about real things.” They end up kissing but he pulls away, saying he can’t go through with it. The next day, she learns that the man from the bar is her new boss, Dr. David Martin, who just moved to the city with his glamorous and impeccable wife Adele. Not too long after that, Louise literally runs into Adele and they begin a friendship. At the same time, she starts sleeping with David. Louise is torn; she knows her actions are treacherous but she is attached to both Adele and David and can’t give either up. Still, she realizes that their marriage harbors dangerous secrets. Adele shows signs of being abused. Once she had a black eye. Additionally, she faithfully answers David’s regular twice-a-day phone calls and consents to his control of the family finances. As she becomes more embroiled in relationships with them, her loyalties are tested and she becomes drawn into a vortex of manipulation and jeopardy.

Behind Her Eyes can only be described as ridiculous. Up to a point, the plot is predicable. Chapters alternate between Louise and Adele as narrators and their voices are not sufficiently distinct. As a character, Louise was naive, foolish, and stupid, and it was hard to sympathize with her as she made increasingly poor decisions endangering her son in the process. I also found that the writing was simplistic.

However, I could not put this book down! As silly as the plot was, I wanted to know what happened. And the story brought up interesting ideas about secrecy and the weight one should give to past events. Readers who want a serious, thoughtful book, should look elsewhere. However, this is the perfect airplane or beach book because it is compelling but takes little intellectual engagement.

Career of Evil

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Career of Evil

Cormoran Strike #3

Robert Galbraith

When Robin Ellacott receives a package addressed to her at Cormoran Strike’s detective agency, she expects to find party favors she ordered for her upcoming wedding. Instead, she can’t help but scream when she opens it only to find an amputated leg, cut just beneath the knee where Strike himself had his leg amputated after being caught in an IED explosion in Afghanistan. A person non grata among police since he solved two high profile cases that stumped the Met, Strike reaches out to the only detective who will still takes his calls, Eric Wardle. Although Strike respects Wardle, he focuses on an obvious suspect, an organized crime figure, instead of the three men that Strike believes capable of such an act of depravity, three men who have committed atrocities in the past and who have grudges against Strike. Strike and Robin begin their own investigation, skirting danger as they get closer to the three suspects, and as the true killer unspools his plans for revenge.

Career of Evil is skillfully written and well-paced with a fully developed environs populated by exacting detail. Although at times these details are unpalatable, they are evocative of people and place. For example, one character is described as such: “She was leaning on a stick, one of her ankles swollen and bandaged, the foot encased in a sandal that displayed yellowing toenails.” While I found the description repulsive, I was also caught up in the vivid detail it provided. So complete was the world J.K. Rowling-as-Galbraith created, I was at times stunned when I quit reading and found myself in a different universe.

This entry in the Cormoran Strike series delves deeper into Robin and Strike’s relationship, and I have mixed feelings. I don’t really like the will they-won’t they dynamic and wish that they could have a non-romantic, professionally-based friendship. Yet, I detest Robin’s finance Matthew and certainly would like to see Robin jettison him. Although Charlotte, Strike’s ex-fiancee, still weighs on Strike’s mind, she doesn’t appear in the book, a fact for which I was grateful because I thought her presence was unnecessary and irritating in the previous entries.

In both The Silkworm, the previous book in the series, and Career of Evil, Rowling/Galbraith writes characters who are so misogynistic and full of hatred towards women, it can be difficult to read, such as “At heart, of course, all women were cheating cunts, determined to take more than they gave.” The loathing is so vitriolic and the resulting violence so abhorrent, at times I wonder if it is too extreme, and of course, it’s hard to get my head around the fact that the obloquy comes from the imagination of a woman, although in this book, Robin does provide a counterpoint by expressing rage at men who objectify and demean women.

Despite that quibble, this has been my favorite Cormoran Strike book thus far, and there were times I was genuinely surprised. Certainly, those who have read and enjoyed the previous volumes will want to read Career of Evil and it should please most mystery fans as well.

A painting that figures in the book…

in-thoughts-of-you-notecardIn Thoughts of You

Jack Vettriano

 

The Death of Mrs. Westaway

the death of mrs westaway

The Death of Mrs. Westaway
Ruth Ware 

Harriett “Hal” Westaway, a twenty-one-year-old tarot card reader on the Brighton West Pier, avoids her mail, full as it is with “Final Notice” bills and tries to hide, with little luck, from loan shark Mr. Smith’s enforcers. When she receives a notice from a lawyer based in Penanze that she is a beneficiary of the estate of Hester Westaway, her grandmother, she couldn’t be more relieved. The only problem is that her Westaway grandparents have been dead since before she was born. Yet, armed with her extraordinary cold reading skills, she believes that she can con the family and save herself from her penury, not to mention broken teeth and bones at the hands of Mr. Smith’s goons. But, meeting the Westaway clan, Hal senses that deep secrets underlie their civilized and polite exteriors. As she gets closer to uncovering these secrets, she finds she is in more danger than she could imagine.

The book includes descriptions of tarot cards and tarot card readings which I found fascinating, and accompanying that, characters consider superstition versus suspicion and fate versus free-will. Magpies factor into the story in the form of the “One for sorrow…” poem, an infestation of magpies at Trepassen House, Mrs. Westaway’s estate, and a tattoo Hal has in memory of her mother. I thought, though, that this symbolism was not as effective as that that came from the tarot cards.

Hal was an interesting character, forced to fend for herself when her mother was killed in a hit-and-run accident when Hal was just two weeks shy of turning eighteen. Other characters view her as reticent, and she refers to her external presence as mouse-like, but her spirit and her determination are fierce. Other characters were less developed, and I couldn’t understand the motivations of some of her new “family” members, but all of them had some bit of complexity or nuance.

This was definitely my favorite Ruth Ware book thus far, and I found it engaging and well-written. I think her fans will be pleased with this title, and readers who like Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins should enjoy it as well.

Ruth Ware’s website includes more information about this and other titles.

As is often the case, the UK edition of the book had a different design. I like the American version better. What do you think?

the death of mrs westaway uk

Restoration Heights by Wil Medearis

Restoration Heights - Cover ImageReddick worked as an art handler and spent his free time playing basketball at the Y, ignored his own painting career. On a winter’s night in his Brooklyn neighborhood Bedford-Stuyvesan, a young blond woman, drunk, followed Reddick into an alley and invited him to kiss her. He declined, offering instead to get her a ride home. Before he could call a car, she disappeared into his apartment building, apparently returning to a party that she’d momentarily escaped. The next day, he mined the story for laughs until a coworker reminded him that a woman went missing under similar circumstances in Coney Island a few years earlier and her body had been found on the beach. He began questioning his inaction, worrying about the fate of the girl.

That day he was working with a crew dismantling and installing art at the home of the Seward family, one of the wealthiest families in the country and a patron of the arts. While at their home, he learns the woman he encountered the night before was Hannah, the fiancee of Buckley Seward, the family’s only child. He was eager to share his information, but the family was hostile, demanding he refrain from contacting them about Hannah or going to the police hardly veiling that they would have him fired if he disobeyed.

Aghast at their reaction and convinced Hannah was in peril if not dead, Reddick began his own investigation. As he uncovered the layers of relationships in the Seward family and among Buckley’s friends, he confronted the scourge of gentrification in his neighborhood, the specter of a mysterious crime boss, The Genie, and his own racial identity.

Something about the book grabbed me, and I stayed up almost all night reading it. I enjoyed the writing style and was invested not just in the mystery of Hannah’s disappearance but in the question of Reddick’s investment in the case. The characters engaged in difficult and honest questions about race, class, and privilege. Fittingly, these themes were never resolved but offered continual touchpoints throughout the novel. The book also returns to the idea of biases that distort the truth, and Reddick must confront his own assumptions as he unfurls the connections between Hannah, his neighborhood, and the elite world of the Sewards.

In the vein of Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda, Restoration Heights vividly evokes a Brooklyn neighborhood and its class and racial tensions. Wrapped in the guise of a mystery, Restoration Heights delivers much more.

Thank you to Netgalley and Hanover Square Press for providing an advance electronic reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review.