The Secret Place, Tana French (2014)

tanafrenchthe secretplaceThe photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption says, I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.

Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. The Secret Place, a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.

 

Even though this is the fifth instalment of the Dublin Murder Squad series, they’re all standalone novels, so this is as good a place to start as any.

Set in a girls’ secondary school, the book is a study of the hype, drama,  hyperbole, and secrets beloved of teenage girls. Add in the make up, lip gloss, hairspray and tight tops to attract the boys from the school next door and you can see why murder is the least of their concerns.

Into this world apart come Detective Conway who failed to solve the murder last year and Detective Moran who’s languishing in Cold Cases and desperately wants to break into the Murder Squad. But first they must penetrate the wall of lies,  misdirection, and deceit thrown at them by teenage girls who are always one step ahead.

The girls are divided into two gangs: Joanne, Alison, Orla, and Gemma are hell bent on running the show as long as Joanne sets the agenda. Julia, Selena, Rebecca, and Holly are too cool for all that and wedded to each other by a loyalty the others can’t break.

And yet someone killed Chris Harper.

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It’s a classic study of teenage girls, what unites them, what divides them, what obsesses them, what drives them. Between confusion over who likes who, who’s lying about whom, who’s into what boy, how far should you go, how far did she go, what should she wear, why is she wearing that, it’s an impossible fog of hormones and mind games to navigate.

French has it down to a tee in this novel, where you’ll laugh out loud at some of the descriptions. There’s a scene in The Court shopping centre where the boys and girls mingle (preen) that is a pure anthropological study of the mating rituals of teenagers. And very funny. But also very insightful about the pure trial of being a teenage girl where your body becomes a battlefield between your own desires (or not), the desires of teenage boys (who are always trying it on, just because), and the rumour mill which damns you no matter what you do.

 

Review: Stolen Hearts, Andrea R Cooper (2015)

andrea r cooperTrained to be a thief from a young age, Crystal is driven to do whatever it takes to find evidence against the man who had her parents murdered. She’s given up her name, love and even her face in pursuit of justice. When Crystal is forced on a blind date with the cop who is investigating her, she finds herself playing a dangerous game of hearts that could land her in a prison cell.

Kade is in search of a new life, after losing his partner. He’s taken a new job, in a new city, and met a new girl. In order to keep his fresh start, he will have to catch an elusive thief targeting one of the largest corporations in the country. Desperate to forget the failures of his past, Kade has no intention of failing.

Thanks to the author for this review copy.

This is a fast-paced romance thriller with two central characters, Crystal and Kade, both of whom have secrets from each other. That’s a recurrent theme in the book – each character has secrets, none more so than Westridge whom Crystal suspects of murdering members of her family and attempting to murder her and her sister.

The plot is a good one – Crystal and Ruby are effectively modern-day cat burglars with IT hacking skills who are building up evidence to convict the man who got their dad jailed. In too much of a coincidence, they both end up with the cops who are investigating them, though all is not as it seems there either.

Set in New York, there’s little of the city on offer, a lack of depth that’s reflected elsewhere. For instance, we never really get a good feel for the girls’ uncles, George and Gustin, two shady characters whose introduction into the girls’ lives is never well explained. Neither is the character of Tommy, the uncles’ henchman and the girls’ protector/sparring partner fleshed out. Maybe these details will be fleshed out in further novels, as this is the first in a series seemingly.

Of the two cops, Kade and Paul, Kade is well drafted, with a background in gangs to make him interesting. Paul is annoyingly difficult to get a handle on in terms of character substance, but maybe that was a deliberate fudge … or not.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. Would I read more? Maybe. For an enjoyable canter across the pages, this is a good choice. Not too taxing but interesting enough to keep you turning the pages. And that’s a lot more than can be said for a lot of books!

Review: Murder, Madness & Love, Yolande Renee (2013)

YolandeWealthy Businessman Dies in Car Crash … BLACK WIDOW SUSPECTED!

Graphic images swirl through her head and a tear rolls down her cheek. She drifts toward an easel and a trembling hand dips a sable brush into a palette of paint.The Westminster doorbell chimes. The brush slips and blood-red paint stains the floor.

Detective Steven Quaid waits. His Tlingit, Indian features carved from granite, mask his Irish passion … Will he arrest her this time?

All fingers point to her guilt.

But, is she guilty of this cunning plot? Or just a victim of circumstantial evidence?

Thank you to Curiosity Quills for offering me this book for review.

Set in Alaska and Seattle mosly, the book features Sarah Palmer who has moved home after the death of her husband, Michael. Sarah’s accused of murdering Michael for his millions. She says no. The evidence hints otherwise but isn’t convincing enough for an arrest warrant.

In Alaska, she heads up her husband’s corporation and sets up his new Foundation. However, with their wedding anniversary coming up on Valentine’s Day, women start to end up dead. Each time, Sarah gets a Valentine’s note beforehand. And, each time, the woman has a connection to Sarah.

There’s an array of characters – good friends John and Eddie and their respective partners, work colleagues Jonathan, Karen, and Gerald, housekeepers, security guys, and, of course, the cops.

Enter Steven Quaid, the Alaskan detective, who’s fighting his feelings for Sarah and his concerns about her guilt or innocence.

This book is an accomplished run out. Plenty of characters, strong plot lines, unexpected ending. On the downside, (as an editor) I felt it could have done with a good ol’ edit, with some of the dialogue polished off, some of the characters made a little more rounded (including Sarah), and a little more showing, not telling us about emotions and developments.Those irritations aside, I stuck with it because I was curious to see exactly who was committing all these murders. There are plenty of red herrings, and the book is a decent starting point for future work.

Review: Sweet Dreams Boxed Set (2014)

sweetdreamsThis is a great read – with all proceeds raised from the sale of this boxed set of 13 thrillers donated to the US Diabetes Research Institute.

I’ve taken the summary of the books from Goodreads and just given a one-liner feedback to each one. But I was delighted to come across this and have discovered several new authors.

AIM TO KILL by NYT bestselling author Allison Brennan: When disgraced former cop Alex Morgan is shot saving the life of California’s Lieutenant Governor, she doesn’t expect to be caught in the middle of a deadly conspiracy, an FBI sting, an old rivalry … and cold-blooded murder. ~ Liked it, new author for me, will read again

NYT bestselling author Cynthia Eden invites readers to enter a world of darkness and obsession in her new romantic suspense tale, UNTIL DEATH. ~ Liked it, new author for me, will read again

From NYT bestselling author J.T. Ellison comes the long awaited prequel to her Taylor Jackson series. CROSSED, the story of a madman trying to create his own end-of-days apocalypse, introduces Lieutenant Taylor Jackson to the young, troubled FBI profiler Dr. John Baldwin. ~ Liked it, second read of this author for me, will read more

In TOYS IN THE ATTIC from NYT bestselling author Heather Graham, Michael Quinn is accustomed to dealing with the deadly, the dangerous, and the extreme—but a haunted spinning wheel? And on the eve of his wedding? He’ll have to risk his life, limb and soul for love to save Danni Cafferty from the cursed creation if he’s ever to get them both to the church on time—and live. ~ Not for me, I’m afraid

J.J. Graves and Jack Lawson investigate a ritualistic murder while on their honeymoon in DIRTY DEEDS by NYT bestselling author Liliana Hart. ~ Liked it, new author for me, will read again

From NYT bestselling author Alex Kava comes the prequel readers have been waiting for, and the case that destined Special Agent Maggie O’Dell to a career of chasing killers. ~ One of my fave authors

From NYT bestselling author CJ Lyons: When workaholic FBI Agent Lucy Guardino takes her daughter on vacation, the last thing she expects is to become embroiled in a murder—or for her teenaged daughter to play amateur sleuth with disastrous consequences. ~ Liked it, new author for me, will read again

When her twin sister disappears, Ellen Galway enlists the help of a Texas Ranger in SECRET HIDEAWAY, a story of love, danger and revenge from NYT bestselling author Carla Neggers. ~ Liked it, new author for me, will read again

HANOVER HOUSE, from NYT bestselling author Brenda Novak, features Evelyn Talbott, a psychiatrist who studies serial killers at a revolutionary new medical health center in remote Hilltop, Alaska. Evelyn’s determined to unlock the mysteries of the anti-social mind, even if it kills her—and being surrounded by men who feel no remorse means it just might…~ Liked it, new author for me, will read again

NYT bestselling author Theresa Ragan’s newest suspense, DEAD MAN RUNNING, is set in motion when an accused murderer escapes prison in a body bag and sets out to prove his innocence. ~ Liked it, new author for me, will read again

From NYT bestselling author Erica Spindler comes the prequel to her exciting new series starring reformed southern belle turned kick ass cop, Michaela Dee Dare. In RANDOM ACTS, Micki must uncover the link between a series of bizarre and seemingly random murders in New Orleans. ~ One of my fave authors

Someone is slaughtering homeless people in WITHOUT MALICE, Jo Robertson’s latest suspense-thriller. It’s personal to Parole Officer Santiago Cruz because the targets are his parolees. With no motive or murder weapon, but with help from prison doctor Frankie Jones, Cruz must trace the brutal killings back to their tragic origin. ~ Liked it, new author for me, will read again

Before Kathleen, there were just two brothers: Blane and Kade. One bonding trip to Vegas later and Sin City will never be the same in TURN THE TABLES, prequel to the Kathleen Turner Series by Bestselling Author Tiffany Snow. ~ Not for me, I’m afraid (less)

Review: Eric Van Lustbader, Last Snow (2010)

Eric Van L_Last SnowAn American senator, supposedly on a political trip to the Ukraine, turns up dead on the island of Capri. When the President asks him to find out how and why, Jack sets out from Moscow across Eastern Europe, following a perilous trail of diplomats, criminals, and corrupt politicians. Thrust into the midst of a global jigsaw puzzle, Jack’s unique dyslexic mind allows him to put together the pieces that others can’t even see.

Having been disappointed by Linda Fairstein’s Terminal City and Lee Child’s Personal (Jack Reacher), I was really looking forward to (and desperately needed) a new author.

I thought I had found my new author when I read Nelson de Mille’s testimonial on the front of this book: ‘Last Snow catapults high above the bar of great thrillers.’

Not IMHO!

So, the US President’s trusted aide, Jack McClure, is dispatched to the Ukraine to find out how and why a US senator was murdered. He ends up being saddled with the First Daughter and a rogue Russian agent.

Those three alone are fine, actually, with many redeeming characteristics – each has been damaged by their pasts (Jack’s dead daughter was best friends with Alli, the First Daughter; Russian agent Annika has a past whose layers are peeled back like an onion).

Then there’s a dizzying array of US, Russian, and Ukrainian characters, some with back stories, some without. The plot itself, about Russia’s interests in the Ukraine was interesting to me precisely because of Russia’s annexation there in the recent past. Add in US interests in the region and it made for an interesting geopolitical exploration – if you like that sort of thing. I could tolerate it, I must say.

However, for me, the dialogue is very wooden – at one stage, an American woman utters that most Jeeves and Wooster phrase: ‘You unspeakable toad!’ Seriously, how likely is that. And that is just the tip of the iceberg with the dialogue – there were whole phrases and sentences that just didn’t flow as natural dialogue at all.

And, yet, I kept reading. As any creative writing class will tell you, you must make the reader care about the characters and it was that trinity – Jack, Alli, and Annika – who sustained my interest. But only for them, I would have quit half way through.

Not a repeat author for me, I’m sorry to say.

Suggestions, please!

 

 

Review: Ryan David Jahn, The Dispatcher (2011)

RD Jahn The DispatcherIan Hunt is the police dispatcher for the small town of Bulls Mouth, Texas. Just as his shift is ending he gets a call from his fourteen-year-old daughter, Maggie. Maggie, who has just been declared dead, having been snatched from her bedroom seven years ago. Her call ends in a scream.

The trail leads to a local couple, but this is just the start of his battle to get his daughter back. What follows is a bullet-strewn cross-country chase along Interstate 10, from Texas to California.

This is a great premise for a novel – your daughter’s on the phone, except she’s been missing for seven years and you attended a funeral for her four months ago so her mother could get ‘closure’.

Jahn’s novel sort-of lives up to its promise – it took me a while to adjust to the staccato style of his writing. In parts, I felt the novel read like a film script, with detailed descriptions of each move made in a particular sequence by a particular character. What kept me engaged was the freshness of those descriptions – and the hope that time wouldn’t run out on the father-daughter chance of a reunion.

The central character, Hunt, is a police dispatcher, a ‘sort of’ cop, with three ex-wives behind him and who can’t move on from the kidnapping of his daughter. The story is told from his perspective, with contributions from Maggie herself who’s caught in the Nightmare World, and from her kidnapper.

It’s a classic road movie style scenario, with stopovers in cheap motels with willing waitresses and greasy burgers. It’s also a tale of how far you would go to find your daughter once you’ve readjusted your thinking from the gone-but-not-forgotten notion to the now-she’s-alive-OMG nuclear option. In Hunt’s case, he’s prepared to go all the way, and it’s a very bloody way. Plenty of bodies and mutilation here, so not for the faint-hearted.

My litmus text for any novel is whether I want to add the book to my bookshelves. In this case, I’m not too bothered. Nor am I tempted to read any other of Jahn’s novels.

Did I enjoy it? Yes.

Do I miss the characters now that I’m finished the novel? Not really.

Review: Mary Higgins Clarke & Alafair Burke, The Cinderella Murder (2014)

M HIggins Clarke The Cinderella MurderTelevision producer Laurie Moran is delighted when the pilot for her reality drama, Under Suspicion, is a success. Even more, the program—a cold case series that revisits unsolved crimes by recreating them with those affected—is off to a fantastic start when it helps solve an infamous murder in the very first episode.

Now Laurie has the ideal case to feature in the next episode of Under Suspicion: the Cinderella Murder. When Susan Dempsey, a beautiful and multi-talented UCLA student, was found dead, her murder raised numerous questions. Why was her car parked miles from her body? Had she ever shown up for the acting audition she was due to attend at the home of an up-and-coming director? Why does Susan’s boyfriend want to avoid questions about their relationship? Was her disappearance connected to a controversial church that was active on campus? 

This can’t be my first Mary Higgins Clarke though I’m hard pushed to remember the title of any previous novels of MHC that I have read. And, if anything, it may be better if I read her earlier work than her later work, judging by other reviewers’ comments on her style over the years.

I’ve said before on this blog that I judge a book by whether I’ll add it to my bookshelves when I’ve finished reading it – or pass it on to a second-hand charity/thrift shop. This one will be filed under Thrift Shop, I’m afraid.

I should add that I do keep books, just not the last few I’ve read and reviewed. Among my keepers are David Baldacci, Karin Slaughter, Karen Rose, Lisa Gardner, Meg Gardiner, Sheila Bugler, Mo Hayder, Harlan Coben, Mark Billingham, Jane Casey, David Hewson, Linwood Barclay, Nicci French, Sophie Hannah. Over the years, I’ve ‘gone off’ Michael Connolly, Faye and Jonathan Kellerman, Dean Koontz and probably a few more.

So, back to this novel: it’s the second in the Under Suspicion series and a first in MHC’s link up with Alafair Burke (whom I haven’t come across). Styled as a reality TV show investigation rather than a cop investigation, it’s an interesting approach to solving crime. Here producer Laurie teams up with defence attorney Alex to revisit cold cases and bring closure to the families through, hopefully, solving the crimes.

And, as with cold crime cases, the passage of time helps to loosen tongues, fracture old loyalties, and let old memories rise to the surface now that perceived threats/fears at the time of the investigation have dimmed.

And so it is that the old suspects are revisitied – the college roommates, the old boyfriend, the college colleagues and friends, the alternative church led by a now-wealthy man with little regard for threats to his ‘kingdom’. As the death toll rises, people’s memories shake loose along with their alibis. And in the middle of it all is an only child whose future was robbed, but whose fate was sealed by those who had information but chose not to reveal it for personal gain ….