Category Archives: Crime Fiction

Audiobook Review: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

 

  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Listening Length: 13 hours and 24 minutes
  • Publisher: Hachette Audio (September 16, 2014)
  • Source: Library

Detroit Detective Gabriella Versado is used to unusual cases. Her latest, however, goes beyond anything she’s ever seen. The body of a teen boy is somehow fused to the body of a deer. Unfortunately, this is just the first of a string of unusual deaths.

Layla, Detective Versado’s teen daughter, struggles with her new life. Her parents are divorced and her father now has a new family, with young children, in Atlanta. Before the divorce, Layla always had a parent at home. Now, with her mom working long hours, Layla spends most of her free time with her best friend Cas. Together, the two have created a game of teasing boys they catch on sex sites. When their game leads them to a pedophile, the two wind up in a dangerous game with terrifying consequences.

Thomas Keen, known as TK, is a homeless man who survives by scavenging homes of the evicted. His best friend, Ramón, is the one who gains the most from TK’s scavenging. Both recovering alcoholics, they do their best to get by, day after day, with the hope of a better life.

Jonno Haim recently moved to Detroit from New York, hoping for a new lease on life after a failed writing career. He’s fallen for Jenn Q, a renowned Detroit deejay, and the two launch a Youtube channel surrounding the recent rash of unusual murders.

Clayton Broom is a quiet recluse. An artist, he has worked in a variety of media over the years to create his visions. Something has taken control of him, using his body to create a completely different caliber of artwork.

The Detroit killings bring all five of these characters together into a dark and harrowing hunt for a serial killer. The fact that the reader knows the identity of the killer from the beginning doesn’t detract at all from this quickly-moving, intense storyline.  The dark and bleak setting adds to the tone, creating a truly chilling atmosphere.

Additionally, while it may seem that multiple perspectives would generate a confusing and scattered reading experience, it actually does the opposite. Perhaps, because I listened to the audiobook with five distinct narrators,  the experience awarded me with varying and unique viewpoints of one storyline.  The narrators (Christine Lakin, Terra Deva, Sunil Mohatra, Robert Morgan Fisher, & J. D. Jackson) each had completely unique voices, making the switch in narration smooth and effortless, easily to distinguish one character from another.

What made this novel stand out to me was its uniqueness.  Honestly, I’m not certain what genre it would fall under, for it contains characteristics of multiple genres, from thriller to horror and science fiction.  It’s certainly a novel that a wide range of readers would enjoy.

While I didn’t find the read to be as chilling and terrifying as others had led me to believe, it was still a truly captivating listen. I intentionally avoided reading Beukes work until the praise and buzz had dwindled, but soon realized her popularity might never die down if she continues to churn out novels like this! Highly, highly recommended.

 

Review: The Ways of the Dead by Neely Tucker

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (June 12, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0670016586
  • Source: Publisher

Washington D.C. reporter Sully Carter has seen his share of brutality. A stint in war-torn Bosnia left him wounded, his body full of shrapnel, leaving him an alcoholic, full of rage. Back home in D.C., he’s often witness to the darker sides of the District, areas not witnessed by the public and tourists, long ignored by authorities. When Sarah Reese, the teenage daughter of a powerful District judge is found murdered in a dumpster in this area of the city, the area is swarming with press and police. Although the police quickly arrest three black teens, Sully Carter believes the authorities have rushed to judgement in order to quiet the spreading rumors.  It is his belief that her death is tied to a host of cold-cases the police have abandoned, including a recent disappearance of a college student.  Cold cases involving black and Hispanic girls, their stories hidden from everyday news.

Going against the authority of government officials, local police, and his own superiors at the paper, Sully leaps head-first into an investigation that takes him to the dark underbelly of Washington, D.C.  As he investigates, he is confronted with the difficult challenge of how much information should be brought to the attention of the public. As a war correspondent, he was granted the ability to report the brutal acts of war, yet back at home, in a different kind of war, his voice is muted by editors and looming individuals of authority.  The secrets he uncovers implicate men in high positions of power, secrets he believes should be brought to the attention of the public.

In The Ways of the Dead, Tucker presents readers with the sort of crimes often hidden to the world around them. In many cases, news only reports on the deaths and disappearances of prominent individuals, not of color, ignoring hundreds and thousands of other victims. Inspired by the Princeton Place murders of the 1990s (in which the deaths of several women were found to be connected), Tucker directly correlates a victims race and class to the attention it receives from local authorities. He doesn’t spout inaccuracies, instead bringing to life a culture our society, including the press and police officials, need to address.

Tucker’s passion for crime writing, both fictional and in the news, is obvious and evident in The Ways of the Dead. His characters are far from perfect, with jagged edges and secrets of their own. Sully Carter’s character is rich with rage and bitterness, yet while he does tend to drown his pain in alcohol, he is still determined to provide justice to these young women and their families.

I’ve been a fan of Tucker as a reporter so I was thrilled to see him take the leap to writing fiction.  His own history as a crime reporter gives him the edge necessary to write truly intense and gritty crime fiction. He portrays a dark and troubled world often ignored. If the popularity of this debut gives further attention to the part of our society so desperate for help then Tucker, in my opinion, is a hero.

The Ways of the Dead is a truly outstanding debut novel; I can’t to read more from this talented writer. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Stumptown Volume 1 by Greg Rucka

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Oni Press (April 5, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 1934964379
  • Source: Personal copy

Dex is a private investigator in a bit of a slump. Not only is business slow, but she in debt with the Confederated Tribes of the Wind Coast to a tune of $18,000. Sue-Lynne, head of the Wind Coast’s casino, offers to ignore the debt if Dex can find her missing granddaughter, Charlotte Suppa.  Unfortunately, Dex isn’t the only one trying to get their hands on Charlotte. Dex finds herself in more trouble than when she started…if that’s at all possible.

I started this series upon recommendation by Julie of Whimpulsive.  I was looking to introduce more graphic novels to my reading repertoire and Stumptown was a perfect fit! It combines my love of crime fiction with my growing adoration and appreciation of graphic novels.

What stands out about this graphic novel is the main character, Dex. She’s flawed, with a number of personal issues and demons to be faced.  These flaws, however, are what make her a genuine and believable character.  She’s tough, no-nonsense, but is still kind at heart (especially when it comes to her younger brother, Ansel, who has Down’s Syndrome).

The dynamic and skilled illustrations by Matthew Southworth are another aspect of this graphic novel that truly stand out. They not complement the tone and feel of the storyline but also add a bit of visual intensity. Southworth captures the Portland, OR setting quite well, the city coming alive on the page.

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This is a series I definitely plan to continue. While the price point isn’t low, it’s well worth the value. This is a graphic novel I will repeatedly pull off of my shelf to pour through the pages. Highly, highly recommended.

Frightful Friday: Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.  This week’s featured title is Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough:

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books (January 14, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1623650860
  • Source: Publisher (egalley)

The detectives of Scotland Yard are already immersed in the hunt for Jack the Ripper when another serial killer, dubbed the Torso Killer due to his practice of leaving behind a headless body, makes his presence known. The police surgeon, Dr. Thomas Bond, is so overwhelmed with horrific images of the dead that he turns to opium for some relief.

It is in an opium den that Bond meets a Jesuit priest, searching for someone…or something. The priest gives Bond a chilling and unbelievable explanation for the deaths and the identity of the Torso Killer. Something supernatural and horrific is at force. At first, Bond is quick to dismiss him but as the bodies begin to pile up, he begins to wonder of the priest is correct in his claims.  The more he investigates, the more Bond believes that he knows the identity of the Torso Killer, an individual quite close to his circle of friends.

Based on an actual series of killings that took place during the reign of the Jack the Ripper killings (but obviously didn’t receive nearly as much coverage!), Mayhem is a brilliantly executed blend of crime procedural and supernatural fiction. I’ve been intrigued about the Jack the Ripper killings for as long as I can remember so it’s no surprise that this book grabbed my attention.  There are quite a few portions of the book in which the reader must suspend disbelief, but this is to be expected in a novel of this sort.

Mayhem is certainly not a book for the weak of heart (or stomach), but fans of Victorian crime fiction and the supernatural are certain to be enamored by Pinborough’s truly skilled writing. She so expertly captures the essence of Victorian London, making it quite easy for readers to slip right into the rich atmospheric setting.

I’ve been a fan of Pinborough’s writing for some time, particularly her Dog-faced Gods Trilogy, largely due to her ability to combine two of my favorite genres: crime fiction and supernatural/horror.  Her writing introduced me to a whole host of talented UK horror writers and for this I am forever thankful.  If you have not checked out her books I highly encourage you to do so! Highly, highly recommended!

#Mx3 Review: The Red Queen Dies by Frankie Y. Bailey

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  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books (September 10, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0312641753
  • Source: Publisher

The year is 2019.  Police detective Hannah McCabe is charged with investigating the deaths of two women, both killed when the drug phenol was  injected into their hearts.  When a third victim is found, a Broadway actress Vivian Jessup, all stakes are raised. Is a serial killer loose on the streets of Albany?  McCabe must find a connection between the three victims before the killer strikes again. Adding to stress is a reporter, Clarence Redfield, who always seems to have information he shouldn’t. Redfield, dead set on defaming the police investigating these crimes, printing information about  McCabe’s past and an incident that left her brother  paralyzed.

The first in a new trilogy, The Red Queen Dies creates a unique futuristic world in which many things have changed, yet many remain the same.  A drug, “Lullaby,”  created to help soldiers forget the pain and memories of war and “heal” post-traumatic stress disorder runs rampant on the streets. Global warming is still in full force and government over-spending continues.  Cell phones have been replaced with devices called ORBs, highly advanced versions of modern smartphones.

I appreciated the ties to lesser known details about Alice and Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz that wound their way into the investigation. Police procedural are pretty common, but adding these elements, and the futuristic setting, make this one stand out.

Another feature of this book I appreciated is the main character, Hannah McCabe. Because of a traumatizing experience in her childhood, McCabe is a secretive, self-protecting young woman. Instead of allowing this experience to be her downfall, she uses it in her role as police officer. She’s determined, compassionate, and dead set on justice. I am thrilled that strong, female protagonists in crime fiction is on the up-rise.

Being that this is the first in a trilogy, there is a lot of information that is revealed but not expanded upon.  While many other reviewers complained about this, I think this is a common trait in the first book of a series. So much information has to presented in that first book in order for it to be picked up in subsequent volumes.  The tidbits of information Bailey gives her readers has me clamoring for more!

Bottom line: if you are looking for an intense police procedural with a unique spin, this is the one for you! I am highly anticipating the next book in this trilogy! Highly recommended!
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Review: Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense by Sarah Weinman

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (August 27, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0143122541
  • Source: Publisher

We’re all familiar with modern bestselling crime fiction authors like Gillian Flynn and Tana French, but before them were a host of trailblazing women writers who paved the path for others like them. In Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense, Weinman, an authority in crime fiction, showcases fourteen stories from women who set the stage for today’s female crime fiction authors.  Each story focuses on a wide range of women who have turned to the dark side, spurned by anger or abuse (or, in some cases, pure insanity).

It wasn’t until the launch of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1941 that female crime and suspense writers had a venue for publishing their work, in a world dominated by fame writers. After given this opportunity, these women flourished, many receiving Edgar nominations and going on to writing bestselling novels.

Ranging from the 1940s through the 70s, these women wrote short stories about the darker side of domestic tranquility.  From well-known authors like Patricia Highsmith and Shirley Jackson to many lesser known authors, Weinman not only showcases the stories written by these progressive women authors, but also provides a foray into their lives, describing how many of them had first-hand experience of the chilling stories they portrayed. The majority of these stories, while many are over six decades old, stand the test of time and continue to send a chill down readers’ spines these many years later.

What is most remarkable about this anthology is the timing. Female crime fiction authors are at an all time high in popularity thanks to novels like Gone Girl.  Weinman’s intent in publishing this anthology is not only to remind us all of the women who came before but also to detail the evolution of women crime writers, showing just how far women writers in this genre have come. The future is limitless, given the sheer volume of brilliant female suspense writers out there.

A truly inspiring and simultaneously chilling anthology, Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives is a must read for fans of crime fiction, a book that will have a permanent home in my library. Highly, highly recommended.

Interested in learning more about the authors showcased? Visit the anthology’s companion web site, Domestic Suspense.

Review: The Inquisitor’s Key by Jefferson Bass

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (May 8, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 006180679X
  • Source: Author

In the seventh volume of the Body Farm series, forensic investigator Dr. Bill Brockton leaves the body farm-an outdoor enclosure that studies various levels of body decay-to join his protege, Miranda Lovelady, in Avignon, France. Miranda is spending the summer there excavating a newly discovered chamber in the Palace of the Popes.  It is there she discovers a stone chest inscribed with the crest of Jesus of Nazareth. Could the bones found inside possibly be the remains of Christ himself?  Once the bones are discovered, she calls upon Brockton to help her prove, or disprove, their identity. Both Miranda and Brockton are quite skeptical; ebay is full of fake relics of this time period. But when laboratory tests reveal the bones are two thousand years old, they are confronted with a battle between the Vatican, other anthropologists, and a radical who intends to use the remains to bring upon the Second Coming and ultimately, the end of the world. While investigating this case, Brockton must avoid abduction and assassination attempts, keeping himself free of danger while working on the case of the century.

I’ve been a long time fan of this series, sparked by my study of forensics and criminal justice in college. It was quite rewarding to be reunited with Brockton in a completely new setting: France. Whereas previous books in this series were more focused on domestic cases, this international setting added a completely new element to this series.  Religion, and art history play a key role in this novel. Admittedly, I was a bit wary when I read the summary: Brockton discovering the bones of Jesus Christ. It seems that quite a few not so good books with similar subject matters have been released over the years and I was afraid my reverence and respect for the two authors that make up the Jefferson Bass name might be forever tainted.  In actuality, the reverse happened: I gained new respect for Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson.  Dare I say this novel is my favorite of the series? The fact that this dynamic writing duo was able to take on such a controversial subject matter with such zeal and skill really raised the level of respect I have for these two individuals.

While I stated that this is the seventh book in a series, readers new to these authors can easily pick it up and treat it as a stand-alone. That’s not to say that I don’t recommend you read the entire series, I definitely do. Long-time fans of the Body Farm novels will too be impressed with this novel for we are allowed to get a glimpse of continuing evolution of the relationship between Brockton & Miranda.

Bottom line: If you like the television series Bones, have any interest in forensic investigation, this is the series for you. Highly, highly recommended!

Check out Janice Bashman’s guest post with the authors here!

Additionally, there are a whole host of posts going up to celebrate the release of this novel. Check out the list here.

Frightful Friday: Nocturnal by Scott Sigler

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.

This week’s Frightful Friday featured book is Nocturnal by Scott Sigler:

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1St Edition edition (April 3, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0307406342
  • Source: Publisher

Inspector Bryan Clauser of the San Francisco Police Department is horrified of the dreams he’s been having, dreams of horrible crimes that have come true. With the aid of his partner, Pookie, he begins to investigate these crimes. Both become frustrated when it seems that those higher up in the department are attempting to prevent Bryan & Pookie from discovering what is really happening. A common thread among all of the victims: they were individuals known to have bullied a teenage boy, Rex Deprovdechuk.

Rex has quite the horrible life, beat up continuously by a gang of bullies at school, then beat by his ultra-religious mother at home. He’s a bit of a wimp, unable to stand up to those that ridicule him. To seek his revenge, he draws horribly graphic pictures involving cruel punishments beset upon this bullies.  When these bullies wind up dead, cause of death identical to the acts in the drawings, Rex isn’t frightened. He feels empowered.

Forensic evidence indicates the savage crimes originally believed to be performed by an animal are in fact done at at the hands of a human. This is just the beginning of a host of evidence revealing a dark and terrifying world, hidden under the streets of San Francisco.

Joined by Aggie, a vagrant held captive by the very men/creatures who are committing these crimes,  Bryan and Pookie embark upon a war with creatures beyond imagination.

Nocturnal
is truly a unique book, a perfect combination of police procedural, urban fantasy, bio-tech science fiction, and horror. At nearly 600 pages, this isn’t a book that you pick up and read within a few hours, but a true investment of time. An investment that is well worth it, in my mind.  The length of the book is necessary, giving Sigler the opportunity to really lay out and develop the characters.  The chapters are short, allowing the reader’s attention to intensify with each turn of the page. While I did take breaks while reading, I found myself melded to the pages, unable to take a break, desperate to learn more. Several late nights were involved in the reading of this book!

As with his previous books, Sigler provides readers with a completely unique and ingenious storyline.  The world he creates is one like none other, filled with monsters that make your skin crawl and force you to sleep with the light on. In other words: brilliant.  Certainly not for the week of heart (or stomach), if you think you have what it takes to face the underbelly of San Francisco,  Nocturnal  is the book for you. Highly recommended.

Following is the book trailer. Also not for the weak of heart (or stomach):

Review: Helsinki White by James Thompson

  • Reading level: Ages 18 and up
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult (March 15, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0399158324
  • Source: Publisher

In the third Inspector Vaara novel, Inspector Kari Vaara has recently learned he has a brain tumor. Experiencing debilitating headaches for some time now, he finally sought treatment, never expecting the news he received. The timing wasn’t exactly perfect; his wife Kate just gave birth to their daughter, Anu. Kari agrees to surgery, which removes his tumor and any sense of emotion he once experienced.

Simultaneously, Kari is asked to lead a black ops unit to battle the most horrific crime. A national hero, he is the only member of the police to survive two gun-shot wounds.  His team battles crime by committing crimes themselves, using money, drugs, and weapons seized from illegal raids to fund their operation. This team of motley characters reports directly to Finland’s national chief of police, a man that isn’t entirely innocent himself.

The political background of Finland plays a key role in this novel. The extreme white wing party, the True Finns, is gaining power. Their agenda is to keep Finland pure, eliminating individuals who, by skin color alone, taint the purity of their nation.

The first case assigned to Kari’s team is the assassination of the country’s leading immigrants’ rights advocate, her head presented as the only evidence of her death. The case involves much more than this murder, tying to the abduction of a billionaire’s children.

Now a true sociopath, Kari is corrupted by the crime that surrounds him. His actions begin to contaminate his marriage as well. His American wife, Kate, begins drinking heavily, so much so that her breast milk becomes tainted and she is unable to feed their infant daughter.  When she becomes involved in the case, the damage done to their relationship may be beyond repair.

By far, Helsinki White is much darker than the two previous books in the series, Snow Angels and Lucifer’s Tears. The setting, cold, dark, Finland, aids in the overall feeling of dread and disparity portrayed in these books. That said, Thompson takes Kari, and the other characters, to a level of violence and depravity that may turn off many of his readers. That is not to say that I did not enjoy this book; I found it as tremendous as his previous novels. However, the emotions I felt while reading, particularly those involving Kari himself, stunned me. I shifted from adoring his character to truly hating him. Agreeably, his lack of emotion wasn’t of his own doing, but a side effect of the surgery. However, this lack of feeling, love, emotion, for his family went to dangerous levels. He toted his daughter around in a carrier while he was immersed in pretty violent acts. Kate, once a source of joy and happiness is forced to resort to violence to protect those she loves.

Fans of the previous two books in this series will be shocked by the transformation Kari takes. Originally, I was furious at Thompson for destroying a character I’ve grown to love. That said, the fact that he was able to transform Kari so significantly, so drastically, proves his true talent as a writer. The ability to evoke emotion from readers is a skill that authors strive for, a talent that Thompson has showcased.

Additionally, his ability to tackle such a difficult issue as race relations garnered even more of my respect and interest in reading this book. The portrayal of this battle isn’t sugar-coated at all, but portrayed without a veil of illusion.  The sad fact is that Thompson pulls these details from reality, often making them an integral part of his novels.

Despite my issues with Kari’s character, I do truly recommend this book to fans of the series, with the warning that all is not what once was. This is Thompson’s darkest, grittiest novel, yet one that I cannot help but recommend. I’m waiting, on pins and needles, for the next installment in this series, due out next year.

Be sure to check out these other reviews of Helsinki White:

S. Krishna’s Books
Book Reviews by Elizabeth A. White (Musings of an All Purpose Monkey) Also, Elizabeth did an outstanding interview with the author here.

Review: The Girl Next Door by Brad Parks

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books (March 13, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 031266768X
  • Source: Author

As Carter Ross is reading the obituaries (“some of the happiest news we print”) he comes across the entry for Nancy Marino, just 42 years old.  As Carter scans the rest of the entry, he sees that Nancy was a carrier for the Eagle-Examiner, the very paper he writes for as an investigative reporter.  Wanting to do a special piece for one of their own, Carter attends Nancy’s wake. After speaking with her family members, Carter learns that Nancy’s death, a hit-and-run, may not have been an accident.

Further investigation indicates that Ms. Marino was involved in a heated union battle with the newspaper. Could the head of the Eagle-Examiner be responsible for Nancy’s death? Carter Ross becomes obsessed with seeking resolution for Nancy’s family, even if that means putting his job, and life, at risk.

Fans of this series will be thrilled to see Carter Ross back in action. An investigative reporter, he always seems to get involved in some pretty dangerous assignments. His witty humor and me laughing out loud. The relationship with his editor, Tina Thompson, is just as steamy and full of sexual tension as before. In this book, however, things are taken to a completely different level (not that level, much to the dismay of Carter Ross).

One of the perks to Parks’ books are his secondary characters. Carter Ross always has the most…interesting entourage of individuals surrounding him. I was happy to see many of the characters from the previous books return (i.e. Tommy, the gay Cuban intern) as well as the introduction of some new “side kicks,” including Lunky, the intern better suited as Literature professor than a newspaper reporter.  One particular scene in which Lunky admitted to reading The DaVinci Code and liking it had me in stitches.

Parks’ talent is his ability to add just enough humor to his mysteries to get the reader laughing, but not so much that you are distracted from the solving of the case. As with the previous two books, Parks inserts the perfect dose of social commentary. This is where his skill at breaking up the serious bits with humor comes into play. His timing in his humor was perfect: just as Carter started getting too serious, Parks’ would insert some bit of humor to return him to the status of a cute and witty investigative reporter.

While this is the third book in a series, I believe readers can pick up any book along the way and be able to become quickly immersed in the series.  All in all, Parks books are ones that I have quickly grown to adore and will continue to look forward to each and every one. Highly recommended.