Book Review: SAVE ME FROM DANGEROUS MEN, inaugural book in new series with tough private eye, Nikki Griffin

Lelchuk, SA - Save Me from Dangerous Men CoverSave Me from Dangerous Men
SA Lelchuk

In Save Me from Dangerous Men, tough and independent Nikki Griffin owns The Brimstone Magpie, a used bookstore in Berkeley, where she’s created a community around the books that give her comfort and reassurance. Nikki is also a private investigator. Determined to protect victims of domestic abuse, Nikki’s unpaid specialty is extracting women from these relationships and ensuring the abusers know the costs of contacting the women again.

Her paid jobs require her to follow cheating husbands or track down missing people–until Greggory Gunn enters her office. CEO of Care4, an up-and-coming tech firm producing cutting edge baby monitors, he suspects Karen Li, an employee, of corporate espionage and needs Nikki’s help learning who she is working for. Although some of Gunn’s story sounded slightly off, the $20,000 cash retainer he offered convinced her to accept the case.

Distracted by her heroin-addicted brother and wanting to help Zoe, an abused woman who entered her orbit, Nikki began surveillance of Karen Li. She saw Karen meet two giant, intimidating men, and was sure that Karen looked not just nervous but terrified. Next, Nikki followed Karen to Mendocino, and saw her meet with the same two men on the beach. When one of them pushed her to the edge of the nearby cliff, she broke cover to intervene. Later, she initiated contact with Karen who told Nikki she had no idea what she’d waded into, but if Karen wasn’t successful, people were going to die.

Now, Nikki counted Karen among the women she had to protect, but that put her and her loved ones in mortal danger. Nikki didn’t know who her enemies were or who would die if she couldn’t stop what seemed to be an irrevocable chain of events.

The plot was fast-paced as Nikki seemed to leap from one dangerous situation to another. Her wild sideline was grounded with trips to the bookstore where she bantered with the ZEBRAS (the Zealous East Bay Ratiocinating Amateur Sleuths) and always was able to recommend the perfect book to customers. Save Me from Dangerous Me included a bevy of literary references, but for the most part they were simple mentions instead of integrated into the plot or described, and that might have been overdone a bit.

Although I figured out some elements of the mystery early on, other parts were a surprise to me. Nikki’s backstory and motivation for her work unspooled throughout the book. Nikki herself had some stereotypical elements: she was beautiful, wounded, had difficulty connecting with men, was intelligent and determined. She had an almost preternatural way of anticipating the behavior of others. All this was a tad unrealistic, as was her ability to continue her vigilante work without any consequences. And the book contains several fighting scenes and descriptions of violence which may trouble some readers.

That said, Save Me from Dangerous Men is a high-octane ride, analogous to an action movie where certain rules of reality can be suspended. As much as I was troubled by Nikki’s methods, there was a part of me that was rooting for her and pleased when she achieved vengeance. This is expected to be the first book in a series with Nikki Griffin. I expect I’ll return to read more about her adventures.

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

Book Review: WATCHING YOU, a satisfyingly creepy mystery

Jewell, Lisa - Watching YouWatching You
Lisa Jewell

On March 24, police are called to Melville Heights, an exclusive neighborhood in Bristol, England where they find a body in a pool of blood. . . .

In this tony neighborhood, privacy was only an illusion. Joey Mullen and her new husband, Alfie, moved in with her brother Jack, and his wife, Rebecca. Joey always thought Jack would marry an outgoing, lively woman, but Rebecca, often quiet, is more likely to stay in her home office than interact with the rest of the family.

When Joey notices her neighbor, Tom Fitzwilliam, the handsome head of the local school, she develops an unhealthy fondness for him. Although she believes no one knows about her feelings, Tom’s teenage son, Freddie, an aspiring spy, watches the neighborhood with high powered binoculars from his bedroom window.

Mr. Fitzwilliam, well-known around the community, is regarded as a hero because he turned around the ailing school, but Jenna Tripp is not convinced he’s the beneficent spirit he appears. Jenna’s friend, Bess Ridley, has a crush on Mr. Fitzwilliam, and in Jenna’s eyes, Mr. Fitzwilliam has responded inappropriately. It doesn’t help that her mother, Frankie, suffering from mental health issues, believes that Mr. Fitzwilliam is the head of a group of people who is organizing gang bullying against her. Her surveillance of Fitzwilliam isn’t subtle; she sits in a lawn chair across from his house.

Moreover, Mr. Fitzwilliam’s wife, Nicola, appears to be subservient to Tom, and Freddie sometimes hears sounds from his parents’ room at night that sound like fighting.

Watching You traces the story of the murder as it developed from January. Traditional chapters are interspersed with police interview transcripts, and it is only after several characters are interviewed that the identity of the body is evident, though who the murderer is remains unclear. Despite the number of people watching, no single commands the entire mosaic.

Although at times events strain credulity and the book can give unclear messages about the appropriateness of adult behavior towards teenagers, Watching You has the qualities I want in a mystery/thriller: it is fast-paced and entertaining. Added to these are the quirky characters in the mix and the unusual situation of the civilians, not the police, having most of the answers. With Watching You certainly satisfying, I will likely pick up another Lisa Jewell novel.

Book Review: BRING ME BACK, mysterious signs of a long-disappeared fiancee strain a new engagement

Paris, BA - Bring Me BackBring Me Back
B.A. Paris

In Bring Me Back, a fast-paced psychological thriller, Finn McQuaid prepares to marry Ellen Gray, a beautiful and even-tempered illustrator–who just also happens to be the sister of Layla, his previous fiancée who went missing during a trip to France twelve years previously.

Shortly after they announced their engagement in the local paper, Ellen found a small matryoshka in their driveway, a doll that had special significance only to her and Layla. Finn, then, began receiving cryptic emails from someone using the name Rudolph Hill.

Ellen was convinced that Layla had returned; Finn, though, believed that a kidnapper was making contact or even that someone close to them was trying to manipulate his emotional state and halt the wedding.

As the gestures continued, Ellen questioned whether Finn really wanted her–or if he’d only loved Layla all along–and their marriage suffered as Finn slipped into obsession.

Bring Me Back is a perfect “palate cleanser” or airplane book. It’s easy to read and gripping, entertaining while not requiring much intellectual effort.

There are some cliches: the rich protagonist who doesn’t need to worry about work, the beautiful and perfect wife, and at times, the writing can be less than sophisticated, but that’s not really what I’m looking for in this genre of book. At times, the plot is a little unbelievable and contrived, but in this book, it worked for me, and I was satisfied with the ending.

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.