Category Archives: Mystery/Suspense

Audiobook Review: Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio; Unabridged edition (June 3, 2014)
  • Listening Time:14 hrs and 22 mins
  • Narrator: Will Patton
  • ISBN: 9781442371347
  • Source: Personal copy

Hundreds of unemployed, desperate for job placement, line-up in the predawn hours for a job fair.  A driver in a Mercedes plows through the unknowing crowd, killing eight and wounding fifteen. The killer is never apprehended.

Months later, that horrid day still haunts now-retired Detective Bill Hodges. His retirement has been less than thrilling; he spends his days contemplating his own suicide. Then he receives a letter by a main claiming to be the “Mercedes Killer,” eluding at another mass tragedy. Determined to prevent another attack, Hodges awakens from his retirement and once again immerses himself in the mind of the brutal killer.

Brady Hartsfield is the Mercedes killer. He still fantasizes about the rush the killing gave him. Living with his alcoholic mother in his childhood home (the same home where his younger brother met his demise) and working two unrewarding jobs, Brady doesn’t have much else to look forward to than experiencing that rush again.

In this classic tale of good versus evil, it is quite apparent early on that Hodges is the only person who can bring Hartsfield to justice. The attention of the police is elsewhere; they recently apprehended a brutal serial killer. So, using his keen detective skills and his continued law enforcement connections, Hodges risks life and limb to bring Mr. Mercedes to justice.

Using alternating points of view, readers get a glimpse inside the mind of both Hartsfield and Hodges. While this isn’t technically one of King’s horror novels, the demented mind of Brady Hartsfield, to me, is more terrifying than an horror character King has created (yes, even more terrifying than Pennywise).  Filled to the brim with plot twists that will having you yelling expletives, I personally found myself pausing the audiobook and taking a deep breath to absorb it all.  While this isn’t the standard size King novel of 800 pages, it has the tremendously developed characters and details of a much longer novel. Fans of King know that he doesn’t cut corners in his writing; every single word is intentional and has meaning.

A note on the narration: I don’t need to tell you how outstanding a narrator Will Patton is. His voice has the edge required to narrate the voice of a deranged killer and also that of a heartfelt, well-intending retired police officer. I honestly can’t imagine anyone else narrating this book.

So, if you are looking for a Stephen King fix until Revival is released next month, Mr. Mercedes is a must read/listen for you! Highly, highly recommended.

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Review: Hold the Dark by William Giraldi

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Liveright (September 8, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780871406675
  • Source: Publisher

Three children have been abducted by wolves in the small, isolated Alaskan village of Keelut. Medora Stone, the mother of one of the victims, overcome by grief, reaches out to Russell Core, a nature writer with tremendous knowledge of wolves.  Core has his own share of burdens, yet he arrives in Keelut in response to Medora’s desperate pleas.  It’s not long before Core discovers the darkness that pervades Keelut and Medora Stone.

Vernon Stone, Medora’s husband, returns from fighting in the war to discover his only son dead and his wife missing. Joined by his childhood friend, Cheeon, the two embark upon a bloody and merciless trek through the Alaskan wilderness in search of answers. Core follows, attempting to save Medora from her husband’s dark and deadly vengeance. Instead, he becomes witness to a culture in which family bonds are unbreakable, no matter the consequences, and the intensity of the primal animal within us all.

So…this novel had all sorts of WTF moments, so many that I don’t know where to begin. I was initially transfixed by this novel due to the premise, but quickly learned that not all is as it seems. A richly intense character study set in a dark and desolate land on “the edge of the world,” I was left feeling remorse and sadness so intense that it left me speechless.

While I can comprehend what Giraldi was attempting to do in this novel, my emotional response completely manipulated any ability to see the deeper, underlying message.  I was desperate for something hopeful and awe-inspiring. It could be the timing of my read had something to do with this. Normally, I can handle the dark and despondent side of human nature but this novel truly through me for a loop.  I’m still suffering the after-effects of this read. It’s shadowed and overtaken my heart, unrelenting in its intensity.

This review probably leaves you wondering if I recommended this title. It’s really hard for me to say. While I certainly wouldn’t encourage you not to read it, I do believe potential readers should time it right. Don’t read it on a dark and rainy day. Read it outside in the sun and hopefully its intesity won’t overcome you.

Review: The Secret Place by Tana French

  • Series: Dublin Murder Squad
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (September 2, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780670026326
  • Source: Publisher

One year ago, a boy was found murdered on the grounds of St. Kilda’s School, a girl’s boarding school outside of Dublin. Until now, little to no evidence existed regarding the killer.

The Secret Place is a bulletin board created for the girls of St. Kilda. Intended to be a place where the girls can pin up their secrets anonymously, it is now the site of the first piece of evidence in the stalled murder case. A picture of Chris Harper, the murdered boy,  was left anonymously, with the caption “I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.”

Detective Stephen Moran is eager to get involved in the Dublin Murder Squad. This new evidence gives him the opportunity to do so, alongside Detective Antoinette Conway. Together, they once again interview a group of girls who seem to have a connection to the case, including Holly Mackey, the daughter of Detective Frank Mackey.  This clique of girls – Selena, Becca, Julia and Holly – all have a connection to the murdered Chris Harper, in some cases unbeknownst to one another.  As Moran gets closer and closer to discovering the identity of the killer he is met with increasing resistance. St. Kilda’s wants to protect it’s own, keep any information surrounding the murder hidden from the public and Detective Mackey is ready to rebuke any evidence against his daughter.

Moran quickly learns of the danger surrounding teenage cliques. Willing to do anything to protect their own, even if it involves murder.

Tana French is, by far, one of my favorite authors of dark and gritty thriller. The Secret Place veers a bit from her “traditional” style. As many of the main characters are teenage girls, this latest book in the Dublin Murder Squad series definitely has a younger feel to it. That said, it still contains the dark and twisty murder mystery for which French is known. There’s nothing young and innocent about these young women, characters who honestly sent chills down my spine.

Alternating between past and present, from days before Chris’ death to the days that follow the discovery of his picture in The Secret Place, The Secret Place is rich with complex characters and a truly intriguing plot line.  French is skilled at weaving a dynamic character study in each of her thrillers, this one included. Readers genuinely get inside the minds of each of the characters, understanding their motives and actions with chilling detail. She examines the world of teenage girls, including all the angst, jealousy and rivalry that comes with the age.

What makes French stand above other writers in this genre is her ability to unleash intensity within the first few pages and carry it throughout the entire novel. Also unlike others, she doesn’t traditionally present a perfect ending, instead unleashing a resolution so twisted and dark that it left me speechless.

While it is possible to pick up and read this series at any point, I really do encourage new readers to start at the beginning. While the protagonists are not the same in each of the books, characters do have reoccurring roles.  Reading the early books will add history and dimension to the members of the Dublin Murder Squad.

Bottom line: Tana French is a must-read thriller author. One of my favorites of all time. And, while The Secret Place exhibits some departures from her previous work, it is a truly tremendous and captivating thriller. Highly, highly recommended.

 

FemmeFatale

Frightful Friday: Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly

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 Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly:

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (August 19, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780802123206
  • Source: Publisher

Natty and Sean Wainwright have been married for years. Their two daughters, Alice and Felicity,  and booming hotel business keep them busy.  When Felicity falls ill while overseas on a school trip, it is Natty that rushes to her side. Fortunately, Natty’s college friend, Eve,  is in town visiting and quickly agrees to help Sean while Natty is gone. Unfortunately, Eve takes this new responsibility a bit too seriously.

When Natty returns after Felicity has recovered from emergency surgery, she instantly knows something is amiss.  Sean doesn’t hold back; he quickly reveals that he has fallen in love with Eve. Natty is devastated; while she has been sleeping at the bedside of her youngest daughter, her husband was sleeping with her friend.  With barely enough time to absorb this news, Natty attempts to put on a brave face and get on with her new life.

Yet when Natty receives a mysterious note indicating Eve has done this before, she can’t help but take action. Diving deep into Eve’s history, she uncovers one dark and unbelievable secret after another. Yet it’s not until Eve’s obsession takes a deadly turn that people stop seeing Natty as a jealous wife and see Eve’s dark and manipulative side.

From the very first few pages, Keep Your Friends Close is a captivating and twisty read.  I honestly didn’t know how Daly was going to sustain the intensity throughout the novel yet she did, with great success. Blow after blow, secret after secret was revealed to the reader as Natty discovered them.  At times, it was frustrating as a reader to know so much information that isn’t believed by the secondary characters. On many an occasion I wanted to reach into the book and shake some sense into Sean.  Eventually, all was revealed with heart-stopping intensity.

Natty’s character is a hard one to pin down. Obviously, as a victim of her husband’s adultery we want to feel sympathy for her. Yet, we know she’s holding a secret herself, one that her husband, father, and Eve are in on yet no one is revealing. Knowing this, it was hard for me to put my full trust in her character.

Eve’s character is just…insane. She starts off as a sweet and caring friend and quickly transforms into a psychotic and manipulative bitch.  She got her due, however, and I found myself whooping and cheering by the end.

Bottom line: Keep Your Friends Close is an incredibly addictive psychological thriller. This is the sort of book that will keep you up at night, taking hold of you and demanding your complete and total attention. Highly recommended.

 

FemmeFatale

Frightful Friday: Conversion by Katherine Howe

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 Conversion by Katerine Howe:

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (July 1, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780399167775
  • Source: Library copy

The seniors at St. Joan’s Academy, a private school in Danvers, Massachusetts, are wrapped up in the stress of their final year of school prior to graduation. The students are expected to take this pressure all in stride. Then one day the school’s most popular girl, Clara Rutherford, breaks out into uncontrollable ticks in the middle of class. Soon, other girls begin exhibiting strange symptoms, including hair loss, seizures, and violent coughing fits. With reason, students, their parents, and faculty are all on edge. What is causing these unusual, abrupt symptoms? Could it be something in the environment at the school poisoning them? Or perhaps, is it somehow tied to the town’s dark history?

Colleen Rowley is one of the students immersed in this chaos. The stress of graduation has overcome her as well. Working on an extra credit assignment on The Crucible, she uncovers what many others have not: Danvers is not the original name of this small Massachusetts town. Originally known as Salem Village, Danvers has a history of unexplained epidemics involving young women. Is it possible this modern epidemic is somehow related to that of the past?

Using parallel narratives, Howe gets inside the minds of two young girls, separated by three centuries of history. Ann Putnam was a young woman fully involved in the Salem witch trials. It was she who accused her neighbors of witchcraft. Today, Colleen Rowley holds powerful information about the town’s past and how it could be related to what is transpiring now.

With a substitute teacher serving as her mentor, Colleen’s research into The Crucible and the dark history of Danvers provides valuable evidence about the power of those in charge:

There are parts of the story that are overlooked . Maybe because they don’t fit with what the people in charge have to say…look beyond the dominate narrative…you can rewrite the narrative if you ask the right questions.

This knowledge forces Colleen to take a different approach to uncovering what is happening to her classmates. As she continues her research, the truth about the past becomes more apparent, simultaneous with revelations as to what is happening in her town today.

Howe forces readers to examine the power of manipulation, how the actions or word of one individual can shape the actions of an entire town. Conversion touches on the pressures society forces upon young girls, both today and centuries in past.  We demand that they not only get good grades and move on to prestigious colleges, but to maintain an appearance of control in the midst of one of the most challenging phases in their lives.  The pressure to be perfect is tremendous and therefore it shouldn’t be out of the realm of belief for consequences and side effects of this stress to be manifested physically.

Conversion has been compared to Megan Abbott’s The Fever. I admit, their similarities put me off at first. I Having read Abbott’s book first, I didn’t think I could continue reading this one.  How is it possible for two books, published just weeks apart, have such a similar storyline?  Simple! Both books are loosely based on true events. In 2012, eighteen girls in Le Roy, NY began exhibiting strange symptoms, including verbal and physical tics.  Ultimately, their symptoms were diagnosed as conversion syndrome, a disorder in which emotional stress is so strong that it begins to manifest into physical symptoms. Both Megan Abbott and Katherine Howe are from New York, so it is guaranteed that both women read about this unusual case. I don’t know about you, but if I was a writer an read about this case, I’d want to write about it two.

All this said, while Abbott and Howe both loosely base their novels on one actual event, there are enough differences to set them apart as unique novels. Each deserve their own attention and praise for they are truly outstanding and unique novels.

Going in, I didn’t realize Conversion was a young adult novel.  Both teens and adults are certain to enjoy this novel, each taking away something wholly different. For teens, it is the acknowledgement that we know they are under a tremendous amount of stress, and the importance of verbalizing their difficulties before they take a physical toll. For adults, it serves as a reminder that we are often responsible for exacerbating an already stressful time in our teens lives, often forgetting our own experiences in lieu of pushing our children to achieve perfection.

Bottom line, Conversion is a novel that I wholly enjoyed. I couldn’t put it down. I don’t know if it was due to the setting, or the fact that my own teen son is starting high school this year. Whatever the reason, I highly, highly recommend this novel.

Have you read both Conversion and The Fever? What did you think?

Review: The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Orbit; First Edition edition (June 10, 2014)
  • ISBN: 0316278157
  • Source: Publisher

Melanie is a unique girl. She spends most of her day locked in a cell. When she is moved, she is restrained in a wheelchair, her arms and legs shackled to hinder movement. She looks forward to going to “school” and, in particular, her teacher Miss Justineau. She has hopes for her future and life as an adult; unfortunately Melanie cannot comprehend why that will never happen. Like any child her age, she craves attention and affection, both of which are forbidden.

There are other children similar to Melanie, studied by a doctor at the facility. Some leave and never return.  Melanie seems to be the only one of the children who contemplates this; the others seem oblivious and go on with their routine.  Then…something happens, throwing off this routine and sending Melanie’s world into an uncontrollable spiral of change.

Set in a post-apocalyptic society, The Girl with All the Gifts alludes to something not quite being right in the world. Rather than being unveiled immediately, small tidbits of information are relayed to the reader as the characters themselves experience it.  This review is intentionally vague because the reader must experience the revelations on their own, free of spoilers or hints of what is to come.

Melanie, the main character, is a truly unique young girl. This novel is a coming-of-age of sorts, as Melanie undergoes quite a transformation mentally and emotionally as she learns what makes her different from those around her. It is impossible not to feel sympathy for her as she undergoes these revelations.  It will tear at readers heartstrings, for Carey so eloquently portrays the feelings Melanie is experiencing in her “transformation.”

The secondary characters are highly involved in Melanie’s transformation, from Miss Justineau, her sympathetic and caring teacher to Dr. Caldwell, who sees the children as merely test subjects, and finally the guards around her. As they each experience Melanie outside the confines of the facility, they each form a better understanding of what, and who, she really is.

The world the author builds is dark and chilling, difficult to fathom at times but chillingly realistic at others.  I have no doubt that this novel stands on its own as a truly unique spin on a seemingly common storyline.  The cover makes the tone of the book apparent; there is no avoiding the fact that this is a taut, intense thriller.

The Girl with All the Gifts is a must-read for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction, particularly those novels that force you to contemplate your own situation, or your response to the situation at hand.  While this review is so vague as to what transpires, trust me to know that the anticipation and revelation will make it well worth it in the end. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Mulholland Books (July 1, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780316254465
  • Source: Publisher

Hannah’s family has been hiding from a horrific monster that has haunted them for generations. The monster is a shape-shifter, able to take on the appearance of another in a matter of moments. Desperate to seek revenge for an act centuries ago, this monster, referred to as Jakab, haunts the women of Hannah’s family.  The string diaries (journals held together with pieces of string) are passed from one generation to the next, survival guides offering a small beacon of hope in this unending chase.

Beginning in Hungary at the turn of the century and spanning to Oxford of the 1970s and present-day, The String Diaries follows the path of the man who started it all, a wealthy young with the ability to assume the shape and life of anyone around him.  Thwarted in the ways of love, he now tracks down descendants of his first love, forcing her descendants to face his deadly wrath.

Yet when he begins to pursue Hannah and her family, he meets a more challenging match.  After he takes everyone near and dear to Hannah, she refuses to relinquish the last person left in her life: her young daughter, Leah. Hannah and Leah were both raised to be prepared for this inevitable battle.  What makes Hannah different than those before her is her refusal to let this nightmare continue. She will stop at nothing to put an end to this curse, sacrificing everything, including her own life, to guarantee her daughter’s future.

The String Diaries is a truly unique blend of a host of genres, including thriller to horror and the supernatural, all with a taste of historical fiction. I’m a fan of classic horror, and was particularly pleased with the ties to folklore. There’s nothing that frustrates me more than a novel with no backing and was therefore pleased to read of Jakab’s chilling story of origin.

While I had little to no connection to the characters from earlier generations, I did quickly bond with Hannah and her young daughter. They lost so much, yet they faced each day with a new determination to overcome this creature that has haunted their family for generations.  The pain they endure is incapacitating, yet they draw on that, along with their love for one another, in order to persevere.

Without giving anything away, the only thing I didn’t enjoy was the ending.  At times it felt far-fetched, others it felt too convenient.  All that said, the pros of this truly outstanding, yet simultaneously chilling, debut novel clearly outweighed the negatives. I can’t wait to hear more from this author; I’m thrilled to see a sequel is already in the works. Highly recommended.

Review: Eyes on You by Kate White

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (June 24, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780061576638
  • Source: Publisher

It started with a nasty note on the night of her book launch, followed by her author photo sliced from the jacket of her book. Soon, however, the attacks against television host and, now author, Robin Trainer increased quickly with severity.  After losing her on-air job a few years ago and an emotional divorce, Robin’s life is finally on an upward climb. Someone, however, is obviously jealous of Robin’s increase in popularity and is out to stop her, at any cost.

Robin struggles to find the individual responsible for these atrocious acts, unfortunately not soon enough.  The life and career she so carefully and diligently built up begins to collapse around her. Rather than finding evidence to prove someone close to her is responsible for these wrong-doings, everyone begins to suspect Robin herself. Her past and a torrential relationship with her stepmother comes to light, further evidence to indicate Robin is responsible for these incidents as a plea for attention. Robin watches as everything she’s held important is ripped from her, realizing with fear that this individual won’t stop until Robin’s life is taken as well. She begins to work on her own to develop a case to prove that she is under attack by someone, requiring people from her past to come forth and speak in her defense. As she struggles to prove her case, she’s challenged with keeping information about her personal life and the past from the public’s prying eyes.

Eyes on You is a chilling exploration of the cost of fame. Readers follow Robin as she questions everyone around her, no one completely innocent in her eyes. She’s left with very few people she can trust, everyone a potential adversary in this race to prove her innocence and protect her life.  What starts out as a slow progression of attacks quickly builds into a strong and steady vengeful attack toward Robin’s life itself. The attacks against her are terrifying; readers will be at the each of their seats with every turn of the page. A truly addictive and intense read, it will be difficult for readers to not devour this thriller in one sitting. Highly recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me with an opportunity to review this title. Please be sure to check out the other stops in this tour.

Review: All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke

  • Series: Ellie Hatcher
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (June 10, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780062208385
  • Source: Publisher

When therapist Helen Brunswick is found murdered in her Park Slope office, blame immediately falls to her estranged husband.  Then the District Attorney’s office receives an anonymous letter detailing aspects of the crime not made available to the public,  behavior eerily similar to a twenty-year-old case. In that case, Anthony Amaro was convicted of murder and for the past two decades has been serving time for his crime. Now, with this new information available, Amaro is requesting release from prison on the grounds that he was wrongly accused.

NYPD Detectives Ellie Hatcher and JJ Rogan are brought in to reevaluate the the investigation that led to Amaro’s arrest. Ellie’s relationship with the lead prosecutor on the case has her questioning her loyalties. They have few allies in this search; everyone is certain Amaro is the guilty party.  In a surprising move, Carrie Blank, the half-sister of one of Amaro’s victims, joins the legal team led by a head strong celebrity lawyer to defend Amaro. Carrie does so more as a means to get answers to questions surrounding her sister’s death, not necessarily because she believes Amaro is innocent. Yet as each side of the investigation digs through past, all evidence takes them back to Carrie’s hometown.  Someone is trying to prevent the past from being revealed, influential people in high positions of power want these secrets to remain buried, no matter the cost.

This is the fifth book in the Ellie Hatcher series, but the tenth book written by former prosecutor Alafair Burke.  While I have read only a few of the previous books, I didn’t feel as though I was missing out on a great deal of content or back story. Burke excels at creating and developing her characters and it was able to reacquaint myself with the characters with great ease.  Her obvious and apparent knowledge and familiarity with criminal law most certainly shines through. The legal aspects of the novel are accurate, explained in layman’s terms rather than technical legal-ease. The intense pacing of the storyline and the gradual reveal instantly reminded me of why I am such a fan of Burke’s writing.  It captures you from the beginning, patiently builds the storyline and characters, and ends with a stunning yet satisfying conclusion.

Bottom line: All Day and a Night is just another piece of evidence to prove the talent of the great Alafair Burke.  A classic detective series at it’s finest, I look forward to going back and reading more of the books in this series. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Never Look Back by Clare Donoghue

  • Series: Mike Lockyer Novels (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books (June 10, 2014)
  • ISBN-13: 9781250046079
  • Source: Publisher

Three young women are murdered in south London, the killer becoming increasingly brazen with victim. Detective Inspector Mike Lockyer, the head of homicide, and Detective Sergeant Jane Bennett are struggling to find a connection between the victims. When the most recent victim resembles Lockyer’s own daughter, his determination to bring the killer to justice becomes stronger. Eventually, a connection is found, but not before more innocent women are killed.

Sarah Grainger was once an outgoing and social London photographer. For the past several months, however, she’s secluded herself in her apartment, attempting to allude a stalker that follows her every move. When the stalker’s actions begin to intensify, she files a complaint with the police. Recent attempts to do the same have been met with less than desirable outcomes. To Sarah’s luck, however, she’s introduced to Lockyer after the police realize her stalker’s behavior parallels that of the killer. The stalker has information he is desperate to share with Sarah, information vital to Lockyer’s homicide investigation.

Never Look Back is a cleverly written debut, the first in a series featuring DI Mike Lockyer. The character Donoghue creates in Lockyer is a crafted and dynamic one.  She reveals shades of his character slowly through his police work and his relationships with his daughter.  In this first book alone, Donoghue has wielded a character both strong and sympathetic, a characteristic demanded for a successful new series.

Additionally, Donoghue expertly captures the terror experienced by Grainger, her character brimming with fear as she faces the endless phone calls and messages left by her stalker. Readers will find themselves aware of their surroundings, looking for a person that stands out in the crowd, wary of every move they make.

The atmosphere generated is wholly chilling, the reader granted access into the consciousness of not only Lockyer and Grainger but of the stalker as well.  It will be impossible for even the most seasoned thriller reader to not get chills while reading this novel, the hairs on the back of your neck raising with each terrifying scene.  This is just the first in a new procedural series, I wait impatiently for more from Donoghue. Highly, highly recommended.