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)๐—›๐—ฎ๐—ฝ๐—ฝ๐˜† ๐—ฝ๐˜‚๐—ฏ๐—น๐—ถ๐—ฐ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ถ๐—ผ๐—ป ๐—ฑ๐—ฎ๐˜† ๐˜๐—ผ ๐™‰๐™ค๐™ฉ๐™๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™œ ๐™ˆ๐™ค๐™ง๐™š ๐˜ฟ๐™–๐™ฃ๐™œ๐™š๐™ง๐™ค๐™ช๐™จ ๐—ฏ๐˜† ๐—”๐—น๐—น๐—ฒ๐—ป ๐—˜๐˜€๐—ธ๐—ฒ๐—ป!

In 1976, freshman Boady Sandenโ€™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. Rykeโ€™s home office sends Charles Egin to manage the plant and clean up the operations. Charles, his wife, and his son, Thomas, Boadyโ€™s age, move across the street from Boady on rural Frog Hollow Road.

Boadyโ€™s been so busy keeping his head down, heโ€™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 Poeโ€™s disappearance, Boady is forced to choose loyaltiesโ€”and the wrong decision may be deadly for him, his friends, and his family.

๐™‰๐™ค๐™ฉ๐™๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™œ ๐™ˆ๐™ค๐™ง๐™š ๐˜ฟ๐™–๐™ฃ๐™œ๐™š๐™ง๐™ค๐™ช๐™จ deftly combines mystery and bildungsroman, charting Boadyโ€™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 todayโ€™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 Boadyโ€™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.

๐‘ป๐’‰๐’‚๐’๐’Œ ๐’š๐’๐’– ๐’•๐’ ๐‘ต๐’†๐’•๐‘ฎ๐’‚๐’๐’๐’†๐’š ๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐‘ด๐’–๐’๐’‰๐’๐’๐’๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐‘ฉ๐’๐’๐’Œ๐’” ๐’‡๐’๐’“ ๐’‘๐’“๐’๐’—๐’Š๐’…๐’Š๐’๐’ˆ ๐’‚๐’ ๐’‚๐’…๐’—๐’‚๐’๐’„๐’† ๐’“๐’†๐’‚๐’…๐’Š๐’๐’ˆ ๐’„๐’๐’‘๐’š ๐’Š๐’ ๐’†๐’™๐’„๐’‰๐’‚๐’๐’ˆ๐’† ๐’‡๐’๐’“ ๐’‚๐’ ๐’‰๐’๐’๐’†๐’”๐’• ๐’“๐’†๐’—๐’Š๐’†๐’˜.

Book Review: THE NIGHT FIRE, Bosch and Ballard make sparks fly again

Harry Bosch, somewhat humbled by a knee replacement surgery, attends the funeral of John Jack Thompson, 40 year LAPD veteran who mentored Bosch when he joined Hollywood Division in his first detective assignment. From this legend, Bosch learned how to interview suspects, how to organize an investigation, and how to keep a motivational fire burning.

Thompson’s widow gives Harry an old murder book detailing the murder of John Hilton who was killed in 1990 in a deserted alley known to be a hotbed of drug activity. At first, Harry believes solving finding the murderer will honor his old mentor, and he brings the case to Detective Renรฉe Ballard, his tough, independent, unofficial partner who works the Hollywood Division late shift. As Harry and Renรฉe dig deeper into the investigation, they wonder if Thompson wanted to solve the caseโ€”or prevent others from finding the truth.

Meanwhile, Renรฉe is butting heads with her nemesis, Captain Olivias, over the case of a homeless man killed in a case of arson, and Bosch crosses sides to help Mickey Haller exonerate a defendant accused of murdering a popular judge.

Their work brings them closer together than ever, but their vulnerability may cause them to lower their guard and put them in danger.

Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series has long been among my top five, and I love the introduction of Detective Renรฉe Ballard. This is her third book, the second in which Bosch and Ballard are paired. Ballard’s character suffuses a new energy into the series and the synergy between Bosch and Ballard allows Connelly to present Bosch in a different light. He’s still irascible and intractable yet he is also more collaborative.

Besides the wonderful characters Connelly has created in Bosch and Ballard, his novels are heavily researched and informed by current police procedure and infused with the essence of Los Angeles.

In The Night Fire, the three primary mysteries are interesting, and are surprisingly resolved. The only off-note in the book was a scene in which Ballard was called out to a suspicious death. Certain details signaled that the death was unresolved and that Ballard would return to the mystery, but it wasn’t mentioned again. That, however, is a small complaint for an incredibly entertaining book. Connelly’s mysteries are realistic, gritty though not gory, and fun to read.

Book Review: LITTLE VOICES, Devon tries to exonerate her friend, accused of murder – who will get her first? Her enemies or the little voices?

Lillie, Vanessa - Little Voices (1)Little Voices
Vanessa Lillie

Three months early, in September, Devon Burges goes into labor and is rushed into an emergency C-section. As the anesthesia pulls her under, she hears a report on the radio: Belina Cabrala was found murdered at Swan Point Cemetery. Belina, her close friend as well as the nanny for Emmett, son of Alec, one of her college classmates.

In December, Devon begins venturing outside the house with her premie, Ester. Alec is one of the first people she sees, and he divulges that the police are treating him as their primary suspect in Belina’s death. He begs Devon, a lawyer, to help him prove his innocence.

Not only does Devon believe Alec, she is driven by a compulsive need to find justice for Belina. Though still physically and emotionally fragile, she begins an investigation parallel to that of the police. However, in the throes of postpartum depression, Devon begins hearing voicesโ€”cruel, hateful pronouncements that seem to be rooted in childhood trauma.

Nevertheless, Devon doggedly pursues the killer’s trail, following it through Belina’s passionate affairs and illicit business dealings. She uncovers secrets of powerful individuals, and it’s unclear whether her voices or her enemies are most dangerousโ€”and if she or Ester will pay the price for her persistence.

Little Voices offers an interesting protagonist: a strong, intelligent, yet flawed and vulnerable woman who takes on a male-dominated environment to seek justice for her friends. Even when Devon’s internal voices were eating her away, she projects self-confidence and power. The book had a wide roster of supporting characters, including siblings Cynthia, an astute businesswoman and Philip, a reporter, and Derek, Devon’s animal-loving, addict brother. Her husband, Jack, was both a calming force and a foil, and Jack’s Uncle Cal provided access to the city’s upper echelons. I wish Derek and Jack had been more developed; Derek was one of my favorite characters.

For me, the voices sometimes were so frequent, they were distracting to the narrative. While I suppose that’s a good approximation of Devon’s experience, it doesn’t always make for pleasant reading. Additionally, I thought the pace and the delivery of crucial backstory was a little awkward.

Still, this is a promising mystery debut by Vanessa Lillie, and I’m especially excited that like me she is from Oklahoma! I look forward to her future novels.

Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: THE LAST WIDOW – after terrorists bomb an ATL parking structure, Sara Linton is kidnapped, and Will Trent will go through any obstacle to find her

Amelia with The Last Widow
Will Trent Book 9

Karin Slaughter

Dr. Michelle Spivey, a scientist with the Centers for Disease Control, is abducted on a summer afternoon while shopping with her daughter. Despite their best efforts, authorities are unable to uncover any clues to her whereabouts.

A month later, two explosions rock Atlanta near Emory University. As GBI Agent Will Trent and his girlfriend Dr. Sara Linton rush to the scene to provide assistance, they come upon a three-vehicle accident. Before either is able to completely comprehend the situation, Will is attacked and Sara taken. Saraโ€™s mother, who arrives at the scene only to see Saraโ€™s car depart with her and the kidnappers, blames Will.

Concussed and with internal injuries, Will nevertheless prevails upon his supervisor, Amanda, to let him go undercover to try to rescue Sara, and, possibly, Dr. Spivey. Meanwhile, his partner, Faith, engages in power plays with the FBI to gain information that will help in their investigation.

As Faith and Will pursue their separate inquiries, they realize their prey is ruthless, well-financed, and eager for bloodshed, leaving Sara more vulnerable the longer she is missing. As Will slips into his cover, the tendrils that keep him anchored fray.

The Last Widow has point of view chapters from Will, Sara, and Faith, and besides the prologue and epilogue, takes place just over three days. The same events overlap, and at times it can be humorous to see how different characters view the same situation. Other times, the overlap shows an information imbalance which can be heartrending.

The Will Trent books are my favorite from Karin Slaughter, and I highly enjoyed this addition to the series. In addition to a timely mystery and fast-paced plot, Will and Saraโ€™s relationship gets attention without the devious machinations of Angie Polaski, Willโ€™s ex-wife. My one complaint is that the primary antagonist in the book might have too many pathologies. Still, that didnโ€™t impact my pleasure from the book. I count Slaughter among my top five mystery writers. The Last Widow is a must for her fans, but I think any mystery lovers will enjoy it, and itโ€™s easy to dive in without having read any other Will Trent books.

Book Review: THE LONG CALL, meet Detective Matthew Venn

Cleeves, Ann - The Long Call (ed)The Long Call
Two Rivers Book #1
Ann Cleeves

Happy Publication Day
to the Long Call!

Detective Matthew Venn watched his fatherโ€™s funeral from the periphery. Since he renounced his familyโ€™s strict evangelical faith when he was in college, heโ€™s not been in contact with them. But he was startled out of his memories back into his current reality when his office called to report that a dead body had been found on a nearby beach. After a rough period, the man, Simon Walden, had been living with devout social worker Caroline Preece and her roommate, Gaby Henry, artist in residence at the Woodyard Center, a hub of the community containing an art studio, theater space, cafรฉ, and day center for adults with learning disabilities.

As Venn investigated with the savvy single mother DS Jen Rafferty and young, ambitious Constable Ross May who has uncomfortable ties to the DCI, a woman with Downโ€™s Syndrome who attended the adult day center went missing. Since Simon Walden volunteered at Woodyard, it became a focus of the investigationโ€”difficult for Venn since the visionary behind Woodyard and the current managing director was his husband, Jonathan Church. Just as shocking, Venn received an unexpected call from his mother. The murder and missing girl represented a tangle of secrets involving his past and present selves, and he wasnโ€™t sure he wanted the answers.

The Long Call is the first book in a planned series featuring Matthew Venn who is unlike most detectives in literature. He is gay, which is refreshing, but also refreshing is that his sexual orientation is not an issue except vis-ร -vis his family and their conservative religious community, the Barum Brethren. More than that, Venn generally follows the rules and is less a lone wolf than some of the other protagonists in my favorite detective series. Heโ€™s also quite insecure and vulnerable making him very relatable but at times maudlin. I enjoyed DS Rafferty because she is tough and outspoken though very empathetic, but at times (though not always) both she and Constable May seemed to be โ€œoff the shelfโ€ charactersโ€”the brass female sidekick and the young Turk.

The mystery took some unexpected detours, sometimes making such a hairpin turn I was momentarily confused and had to reorient myself and one character felt more like a deus ex machina than an essential element of the narrative, but I found the art center setting interesting and thought Cleeves presented the members of the adult day center with sensitivity. As far as I can remember, I havenโ€™t read books that take place in North Devon, and Cleeves gives vivid descriptions of the towns and landscape of the area. This is actually the first Ann Cleeves book Iโ€™ve read, though, so Iโ€™m unable to compare this book to her previous work.

The Long Call was engrossing, and I was overall invested both in Detective Venn and the secondary characters and plan to read subsequent volumes in the series. I think it is a good investment for mystery fans.

Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.