Book Review: THE SILENT PATIENT, if you like psychological thrillers, read this book!

Michaelides, Alex - The Silent PatientThe Silent Patient
Alex Michaelides

Painter Alicia Berenson was found in her living room, wrists cut, rifle on the floor, with her husband, Max, tied to a chair, dead from a rifle shot. From the moment she was taken into custody, she refused to speak, and she was sent to the psychiatric facility the Grove, which, incidentally, was in danger of closing because the innovative methods advocated by medical director Dr. Lazarus Diomedes were far from cost effective.

The only thing resembling a statement Alicia made was a self-portrait entitled Alcestis. In the Greek myth Alcestis, Admetus is condemned to death unless he can find a volunteer to take his place. His parents refuse, but his wife Alcestis is willing. She departs for Hades, but Heracles intervenes and returns her to life. While Admetus is overjoyed, Alcestis responds with silence, leaving Admetus to ask why his wife doesn’t speak.

Forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber had been interested in Alicia’s case since her story was first covered in the papers. Having an abusive childhood himself, he believed that he alone could reach and heal Alicia, so when a position opened at the Grove six years after Max’s murder, he applied, even though it might not be the most advantageous move for his career.

Since therapy with a silent patient presents challenges, Theo ignores professional standards and seeks out Alicia’s friends and families for insight into her thoughts and behavior before Max’s murder. Perhaps something could explain her drastic action–or even exonerate her. At the same time, excerpts from Alicia’s journal reveal that Theo’s sources may have their own secrets to keep.

The Silent Patient is a gripping and solid thriller that I read in one gulp. I don’t want to say anything else about it except that if you like this genre, you will want to read it as soon as possible!

Book Review: NO EXIT, an O-M-G thriller

Adams, Taylor - No ExitNo Exit
Taylor Adams

In No Exit, University of Colorado-Boulder art student Darby Thorne, who previously planned on staying on campus for Christmas vacation, instead tries to beat a blizzard coming over the mountains to get home to Utah for a family emergency. Her car, though, is no match for the snow, and she is forced to pull into a small rest area where the only refreshments are coffee and cocoa and the only amenities bathrooms.

Four other travelers have already settled in: Ashley, a talkative younger man with a penchant for cards and magic tricks; Sandi, a bus driver who loves to read mystery novels; Ed, Sandi’s cousin and an alcoholic ex-veterinarian; and Lars, a creepy guy who hovers at the edge of the group.

In her rush to leave, Darby’s forgotten her iPhone charger, and none of the others have one, not that it matters since the mountain rest stop receives no signal. Ashley, though, said he was able to get one bar outside near some sculptures, and Darby decided to try it, desperate to hear news from home.

Disappointed she couldn’t even get a single bar, Darby walked back to the warmth of the rest stop through the parking lot, passing between her car and a van. And, just for a second, she saw a child’s hand holding a bar through van’s back window. Darby hoped she had misinterpreted what she’d seen and went inside, but later made an excuse to return to the parking lot, and her fears were confirmed. A young girl was locked in a wire dog crate in the back of the van.

Darby, who thought of herself as unremarkable and inferior to her younger sister, realized only she could help the little girl since any one of the other people stranded at the rest stop could be the kidnapper. With few resources, no allies, and no way to contact the authorities, if Darby was to rescue the girl, she would have to draw on strength and cunning she didn’t even know she had.

No Exit is a straightforward, oh-my-god thriller. Once I got about a quarter through, I couldn’t put it down, and I stayed up into the wee hours of the night finishing it. It has surprises, twists, disappointments, moments of heroism and moments of sacrifice. If you like mysteries or thrillers with strong female protagonists, you’ll definitely enjoy No Exit.

Book Review: THE WEDDING GUEST, a well-paced mystery from a reliable series

Kellerman, Jonathan - The Wedding Guest CoverThe Wedding Guest
Jonathan Kellerman

The invitation for the wedding reception at the former strip club Aura instructed guests to look hot for the Sinners-and-Saints themed party. And this guest fit the bill: a red Fendi dress, Manolo shoes, expensive haircut. But the red ring around her neck wasn’t a necklace: it was a nasty gash from someone strangling her to death with a wire, helped along with a fentanyl-heroin cocktail. None of the disgruntled and drunk guests claimed to recognize the woman. Lieutenant Milo Sturgis calls on his friend, psychologist Alex Delaware, to consult on the case.

The bride’s parents, who run a personnel agency hiring personal assistants for celebrities, have a checkered history that might point to a motive, but the groom’s father, a veterinarian, has access to fentanyl. And the history of the venue might shed light on the identity of the victim. Alex and Milo must identify the victim and uncover the layers of secrets before anyone else meets the same fate.

With over thirty books in the Alex Delaware series, Jonathan Kellerman has mastered the genre. Reading The Wedding Guest is like putting on a favorite sweater: familiar, cozy, and comfortable. Alex and Milo maintain a strong friendship with humorous banter, and Alex’s relationship with Robin grounds him in “normal” life. Alex’s (silent) sardonic commentary is witty and often insightful, giving the book weight.

While there isn’t a lot of action in the book–most of the forward momentum comes from interviews and research–the book is still gripping and well-placed. I had a hard time putting it down while I was reading it. When the action scenes did arrive, I found myself holding my breath!

Now that I’ve been away from the book for a bit, some plot holes and questions of motivation are niggling at me. Additionally, it seemed the attitude towards the Me Too movement was a little condescending and dismissive. However, I enjoyed reading The Wedding Guest and recommend it to mystery lovers.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group / Ballantine for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: THE EARTHQUAKE BIRD, an atmospheric mystery set in Tokyo

Jones, Susanna - The Earthquake BirdThe Earthquake Bird
Susanna Jones

In The Earthquake Bird, police officers come to take translator Lucy Fly in for questioning in the disappearance and likely murder of Lily Bridges, a woman recently arrived from England. Lucy refuses to answer most of the officers’ questions, even if they might help her. While confined by the police, Lucy considers her past and how became a murder suspect.

Ten years ago, Lucy Fly left England for Tokyo, cutting off all ties with her family. The only girl out of eight children, always told she was strange, she had sought refuge in isolation and in fake languages. As an adult, it was natural she sought a country where she could escape.

Even in Tokyo, Lucy had few friends: just a co-worker, the other members of a string quartet in which she played cello, and occasionally other ex-pats that post often exasperated her. Yet when she met amateur photograph Matsuda Teiji by stepping into the frame of his picture, she became caught up in the relationship, though it was often a mystery to her and he seemed to set the terms of their contact.

Though Lucy was uninterested in seeing anyone else, her acquaintance Bob asked her to help a new arrival, Lily Bridges, who spoke no Japanese, find a place to live since Lily seemed overwhelmed and anxious. Lucy reluctantly agreed.

Lucy’s traumatic past, her relationship with Teiji, and her budding friendship with Lily layer and intersect, opening up childhood wounds that echo in the present. But, do they make her a murderer?

The Earthquake Bird is written in economical, elegant language and offers a lovely view of Tokyo from the perspective of an outsider. Its commentary on translation and in living in two languages is also interesting. To some extent, the book is a commentary on the tendency to rewrite and reinterpret memories and the past and the possible danger involved. I also liked the idea of Teiji experiencing the world so completely through photography and how that affects Lucy.

The mystery element of the story was less compelling. We know from the beginning that Lily is missing and likely dead. What happened to her is wrapped up in the final pages of the novel. Arguably, the mystery wasn’t the point, but it was positioned that way, so I was expecting a little more.

Furthermore, the author used some techniques, such as the similarity of Lucy and Lily on the page, that had no consequence in the narrative. Additionally, another frequently used device (which I won’t describe to avoid spoiling it for anyone who cares) seems like it will be very important but also has no resolution or explanation by the end of the novel.

People who are interested in a portrait of Tokyo or a unreliable narrator’s excavation of her past will likely enjoy The Earthquake Bird. Those who are looking for a more conventional mystery, though, will be disappointed.

Book Review: THE NIGHT OLIVIA FELL, tangled in the lies we tell

McDonald, Christina - The Night Olivia FellThe Night Olivia Fell
Christina McDonald

One October night, Abi Knight receives a call every parent dreads. Her daughter, Olivia, has been in an accident. She fell from a bridge and a passerby found her on the shore. Though brain dead, the hospital is forced to keep Olivia alive because she is pregnant, another shock to Abi.

Though Olivia has bruises on her wrists and there is evidence of cyberbullying on her computer, the police decline to investigate. Anthony Bryant, a victim’s advocate from nearby Seattle, joins Abi’s crusade to find the truth about what happened to Olivia the night she fell, though he may not be what he seems. And getting to the truth may be difficult when Abi has surrounded Olivia with lies her whole life…

The Night Olivia Fell is told in two timelines, the present, in which Abi is investigating Olivia’s fall, and about six months earlier, in which Olivia is trying to find out the truth about her past after she sees her doppelganger at a school event held at the University of Washington.

Although I found Olivia’s sections juvenile and slightly annoying (as might be expected as they are told from her point of view), they were also incredibly poignant given what we knew about her fate. As she was on her own quest for answers, Olivia pushed against her overprotective mother and started developing a voice of her own.

Abi, backtracking the last months of Olivia’s life, had to face her overprotectiveness of her daughter and her tendency to live vicariously through her.

The Night Olivia Fell questions the validity of lies we tell to protect others, the role of trust in relationships, and the bonds of love even beyond death. Although heartbreaking, the novel is a compelling read with a satisfying conclusion.

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