Category Archives: Mystery/Suspense

Review: Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Forge Books (April 15, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0765333546
  • Source: Publisher

Dominique Monaghan is involved with a married man. Gary Cowan is a former boxer with a history of sketchy behavior. She knows his marriage to socialite Trin Lytton-Jones is a farce and comes up with an elaborate plan to drug him so she can get him to admit it on tape. Instead she gets mixed up in a kidnapping scheme, trapped in an isolated home with no means of escaping. Out of desperation, she calls upon the only person upon which she can truly depend: her brother Desmond.

Desmond has played the role of father to Dominique since their mother was convicted of killing their father many years ago. Desmond is used to Dominique’s out of control behavior,  yet this time something in her voices raises a red flag and he rushes to her rescue.

Upon arriving, Desmond is met with a completely unexpected scene. In order to find out what happened to his sister, he must wade through the deception surrounding Cowan and his marriage. In doing so, he uncovers a slew of lies and attempted murders, all in the name of family fortune.  This situation also forces Desmond to reflect upon his past and sacrifices made to protect  him and his sister.

Blood Always Tells is Davidson’s first standalone novel. As a fan of her previous novels (The Damage Done, The Next One To Fall, and Evil in all its Disguises) and her short story collection, The Black Widow Club, I can honestly say that this novel is her best ever. It is quite a feat to state this because her work is so tremendous; she excels at taking her readers through a labyrinth of plot twists and turns, all ending in a completely surprising conclusion. 

This is replicated in Blood Always Tells.  At the onset of the novel, the reader assumes Dominique will be the main protagonist. Instead, out of the blue, comes her brother Desmond to take over in this role. I was taken aback initially but was genuinely enraptured by Desmond’s character.

A former army chopper pilot, Desmond has carried the weight of family secrets for many years. He has great feelings of guilt and remorse for what transpired. Instead of allowing it to get him down, he does his best to be the most supportive big brother Dominique can have. Unfortunately, the passage of time does nothing to alleviate these feelings of guilt and they weigh heavily on him, even now, decades later.

Davidson used Desmond’s character as a counter-weight against another family with a less than typically family life. Desmond shines through as a bright light what could have potentially been a dark and chilling storyline.  That’s not to say he doesn’t have his faults; he has plenty. It is the integrity of his character that allows him to rise up and overcome his difficult past. Characters like this are a characteristic of Davidson’s writing; in each she takes you on a wild journey, introducing you to the worst members of society with that one character that serves as a ray of hope amidst all the chaos and depravity.

Honestly, my raves about this novel could go on and on.  There are so many facets of  it that I found outstanding, from the character development to the webs of deceit.  I intentionally strung out my read of this novel for I simply didn’t want it to end.  This is a must read of fans of mystery/thrillers with strongly developed characters, prepared to embark upon a thrill ride of a read. Highly, highly recommended!

Note: I do consider the author to be a good friend of mine. I, among many, many others, are thanked in her acknowledgements. That said, this in no way influenced my review of this book.

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Review: Under a Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes

  • Series: Detective Chief Inspector Louisa Smith
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (April 15, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0062276026
  • Source: Publisher

One morning, the police are called to a cottage to investigate a murder in a quiet English village. The victim, Polly, is a beautiful young woman, known for having multiple affairs with both men and women.  Her affairs all end the same way: the other party begs for a more stable relationship which Polly quickly denies.

Soon after, a car is found at the bottom of a quarry. Inside they find the body of Barbara Fletcher-Norman, her death an apparent suicide. Barbara was a known drunk and it’s assumed her death is a suicide.

Leading the investigation on both cases Detective Chief Inspector Louisa Smith soon realizes that there is more to both of these incidents.  Louisa must dig into the small village’s secrets to learn more about these two women.  Unfortunately, the evidence is showing multiple potential suspects making Louisa’s job particularly difficult. As can be imagined, the villagers aren’t volunteering information. Instead, she must use phone records and eyewitness accounts to identify the individual(s!?) at fault.

Under a Silent Moon is the first in a new police procedural series from this author.  Haynes, a police intelligence analyst herself, interweaves police reports, phone messages, and interviews, along with the multiple viewpoints,  to create a rich and intense novel of suspense.  The secondary characters play a pretty active role, having the appearance of primary characters due to their involvement in the storyline.  They are each richly developed, truly making this a more dynamic read than a typical police procedural.

Haynes own background in the field certainly adds a level of authenticity to the actions the investigators perform to trace down the killer. The added addition of the police reports, etc., allows the reader to genuinely feel part of the investigation, gaining privileged access to the case information.  This information provides readers with just enough information to form an educated guess about what may have transpired.  The race to the end is intense; the need to know the truth is great.

Be forewarned that there are some graphic scenes of a sexual nature throughout the book. Certainly not gratuitous but necessary to exemplify the…intensity of one of the secondary characters.

Bottom line, like with all of Elizabeth Haynes’ other books, this one comes highly recommended! I can’t wait to read more!

Other books by Elizabeth Haynes:

Into the Darkest Corner
Dark Tide
Human Remains

 

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Review: Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House UK (April 1, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1846557283
  • Source: Publisher

Six friends, students at Oxford University, create a game. The game is made up of a series of actions, a truth or dare of sorts.  The consequences of failing to complete the actions start off quiet simple and gradually become more arduous. Buy-in to participate in the Game are quite high, so as the stakes are raised higher, friendships that were once strong are shattered.  Now, fourteen years later, the reader knows something went horribly wrong. Just what it was is unknown, the reader must follow a very unreliable narrator to discover the terrible outcome of this seemingly innocent game. Years later, the remaining players are coming back together to play the final round.

Perhaps because I recently read Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, but I couldn’t help but drawn comparisons between the two.  They both involved a group of students at an illustrious university performing actions that test an individual, both involving the need to fit in and be part of the group. That said, Black Chalk does stand on its own, with a unique storyline and twists and turns in the plot.

The reader goes in quite blind; the narrator isn’t revealed until well into the novel. Many other details are revealed in parts and pieces, the novel itself an elaborate mind game that the reader must discover in their own.  To do so, the reader must have patience. Perhaps too much.

Honestly, it took me over 100 pages to become invested in this novel. The narrator was just too unreliable for me.  Not knowing the identity, or the heavy consequences of the game from the beginning, I felt that this information should have been relayed in a more timely manner. Instead, I felt as though my time and patience were strung out, waiting so desperately for a pay off at the end. While there were a few big twists and turns revealed throughout the novel, I didn’t feel the pay off was great enough to warrant the patience it demanded.

I read other reviews of this title before writing mine, a practice I usually avoid. I was stunned to see that my feelings about this book are so different than the experience of others. I don’t regret or feel bad about my feelings; reading a book is a deeply personal experience, each reader getting something else out of the book.  In these other reviews,  I see that others adored the very aspects of the novel that I found lacking. Could it be the timing of my read of the book? Or perhaps this just isn’t the title for me.

All this said, I will leave it up to you to decide whether or not you will pick up this title. It is full of twists and turns, games played on the characters as well as a reader. Give it a chance, perhaps you will have a wholly different experience than I did.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this book. Please check out the other stops in this tour to see other opinions/reviews of this title.

Review: The Revenant of Thraxton Hall: The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Vaughn Entwistle

  • Series: Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books (March 25, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1250035007
  • Source: Publisher

Arthur Conan Doyle is the most hated man in London after he kills off the beloved character of Sherlock Holmes in “The Final Problem.”  When he is invited to come to a meeting of the Society for Psychical Research in a manor house in the English countryside, he willingly accepts the excuse to get out of the city. He’s not there merely to participate in the meeting, but to prevent a murder.  The intended victim: the lady of the house, Hope Thraxton.  A medium herself, Lady Thraxton has predicted that her own demise will take place during a seance at the manor.

Joining Doyle on this journey is his good friend, Oscar Wilde.  Together, they must painstakingly ob the observe guests at Thraxton Hall, narrowing down the suspects in an attempt to identify the killer before the murder can transpire.  Aided by his fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, Doyle soon comes to terms with the fact that things are not necessarily always as they seem.

I was immediately taken when read the premise of this novel. I’ve been a long time fan of all things Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle. Be forewarned, however…Sherlock Holmes doesn’t have as big a part in this novel as fans would hope.  His presence is just enough to serve as a reminder of his existence and Doyle’s inability to separate himself with his renowned and loved character.

That said, there is still much to love and appreciate about this first book in a new series. Doyle and Wilde’s witty banter is one of them. Doyle is living the life he created for his character, Sherlock Holmes, and does so quite willingly. He uses the skills of deduction so prominently used by Holmes.  Wilde, on the other hand, is quite the character. He seems more concerned about the well-being of his wardrobe  than of Doyle and the others.  While some might find this to be annoying, I think it added a bit of humor to their already unusual friendship.

The paranormal aspect of this novel was also quite enticing.  It didn’t monopolize the storyline, it simply added a new level of fear to an already chilling scenario.

I’m excited to see that this novel is the first in a new series. While the “whodunit” aspect isn’t all that difficult to figure out, I think The Revenant of Thraxton Hall is evidence of great potential in this new series.  Recommended to fans of good, old fashioned mystery (with a touch of the paranormal)! 

Review: The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (February 11, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0385538499
  • Source: Publisher

West Hall, Vermont has a centuries-old history of strange disappearances and activity tracked back to old, family legends.  The most infamous is that of Sara Harrison Shea, found dead shortly after her daughter Gertie’s death. The only witness to her death was her husband, so stunned by what transpired that could not speak, taking his own life soon after.

Fast forward to present day: Ruthie, her mother Alice and her younger sister Fawn now live in Sara’s farmhouse. They’ve always lived a secluded life, Alice warning her daughters to stay clear of anyone who walks out of the forest. One morning, Ruthie awakes to find her mother missing. As she scrambles to search for a cause for the disappearance, she is startled to find the diary of Sara Harrison Shea in one of her mother’s many hiding places in the house.  Just as she begins to retrace Sara’s past, she crosses paths with another woman desperate to find answers. The fate of many are in her hands, for she must find a way to prevent the past from repeating itself…in the most horrific of ways.

Each time I read one of McMahon’s novels, I swear that it’s my favorite so far. In each case I’m floored when she writes yet another novel that exceeds my expectations. The Winter People is such a novel. I’m a long time fan of the dark and mysterious, of horror and the supernatural. The Winter People is everything I could have ever hoped for in a novel. Its slow, methodical pacing had me desperate to know more, using every free and waking moment to read just a few more pages.  The ties to old and ancient folklore and the dark and desolate setting compound into a truly outstanding read.

Additionally, the loss the characters experience is genuine. My heart ached, I shed tears, their pain coming alive before me.  I wanted to console them, offer my sympathy for the character building is so well done that the characters became more than just an aspect of a novel but a genuine vessel for my sympathy.  Add on McMahon’s outstandingly skilled writing and you have the most perfect of novels, in my mind.  This will be a novel I will rave about (and likely convince my book club to read!) for it has so much to offer, so much to take away. Highly, highly recommended.

Visit McMahon’s web site and read about the backstory for this novel. Chilling!

Review: Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; Reprint edition (December 24, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1250039770
  • Source: Publisher

Eleven years ago, then twenty-year-old Tobias Sartorius was convicted of killing two seventeen-year-old girls based on circumstantial evidence alone and sentenced to ten years in prison.  After his release, Tobias returns to his home in a small village.  His family home is in shambles; his prison sentence served not only as punishment to Tobias but his parents, now divorced, as well.

Meanwhile, detectives Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein are called to investigate a mysterious traffic accident. A woman fell from a pedestrian bridge onto a car driving below her. The woman is identified as Rita Cramer, mother of Tobias Sartorius.  Is Tobias’ release somehow connected to Rita’s accident? As Pia and Bodenstein take their investigation to the small village, they are hit with silence. Everyone refuses to identify the man responsible for her “fall” although it is obvious that they recognize him.  When another girl goes missing, the past comes flooding back to this small, secretive town.  The villagers know a lot more about what has happened than they are admitting to the police. Rather than involving the authorities, they attempt to take matters into their own hands and seek vengeance not only for the current disappearance, but for the crimes committed a decade ago.

Snow White Must Die was one of the many books released last year that I didn’t have the opportunity to read and review…until now.  The wait was well worth it, for Snow White Must Die is a deeply atmospheric thriller set in a small town riddled of decades-old secrets.  Initially, the numerous sub-plots were distracting, but once it was made apparent how they are all interconnected, I was amazed at how brilliantly Neuhaus was able to pull it all together! I’m being intentionally vague about these subplots because their revelation, and execution, are key to the flow of the storyline.

Readers learn a great deal about the characters of Kirchhoff and von Bodenstein, both professionally and personally. I appreciated learning about their personal lives, allowing me to understand their motives and behaviors on a completely different scale.

Other reviewers have commented about the length and “bulk” of this novel.  Rather than releasing a second book with this character and history-building information, Neuhaus included it in the first book of the series, allowing readers to flow right into the next book. Speaking of next book, Bad Wolf was just released yesterday, allowing readers new to the series instant gratification with the first two books! Bad Wolf is up next on my reading stack; I can’t wait to once again immerse myself in the rich, atmospheric world Neuhaus has created. 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!

Review: The Kept by James Scott

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (January 7, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0062236733
  • Source: Publisher

Set in 1867 at an isolated farm in upstate New York, Elspeth Howell, a midwife, returns home to find her husband and four of her children brutally murdered.  Before she is able to locate her remaining son, she too becomes a victim of gunfire. She survives thanks to the aid of Caleb, her surviving son,  who hid in the pantry while the farm was under attack.

Twelve-year-old Caleb nurses his mother back to health and, after fire decimates their home, the two embark upon a journey in search of the men responsible for destroying their family.

I’ve intentionally kept this summary short as to not give away too much of the novel’s premise. Upon reading the publisher’s full summary myself, my initial perceptions about the novel ended up being completely different than what actually transpired. While this is not necessarily a fault, I did find myself confused as I read, expecting something completely different.  So, what is this novel about? To me, it’s a novel about a mother and son and the things they discover about themselves and one another after a tremendous tragedy.  The journey they embarked upon together was far beyond just physical, but mental and emotional as well. Young Caleb is forced to grow up far faster than he should and, during the journey, uncovers secrets that alter his perceptions of himself and his family.  Elspeth is forced to face and overcome her own inner demons herself, a painful past of lies and deceit that are now hitting her full force.

The Kept is certainly not a light novel, but one that will encroach upon your life, taking your emotions prisoner, forcing readers to approach moral decisions and implications that are dark and devastating.  What this author has crafted is a brilliant masterpiece, a novel so eloquent and beautifully crafted, despite it’s morose tone.  This is a novel that will make you think, long and hard, about the characters’ decisions, closing with an ending that will leave you speechless, stunned by the realization of what has transpired in the pages beneath your fingertips. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Starter House by Sonja Condit

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (December 31, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0062283057
  • Source:  Publisher

When Lacey and Eric, a young expectant couple, began their home-shopping journey, Lacey knew exactly what she wanted in a house.  Growing up with unstable living arrangements and a flighty mother, she wanted more for her unborn child. When she saw “the house,” she knew it had to be theirs. Their realtor tried to warn her that deaths had occurred in that home, but Lacey would hear nothing of it. The house had to be theirs.

Soon after, a dark presence envelopes the house. The “spirit” of a young boy, Drew, makes his presence known. He’s tied to the house, unable to leave. His temperament is uncontrollable and soon his very existence, along with the dark presence in the home, begin to affect Lacey and her baby physically.  As she begins to investigate the history of the house and its inhabitants, she uncovers the first of many dark secrets: No baby has survived in that home in over 40 years. Determined to save the life of her unborn child, Lacey will stop at nothing to bring to light the secrets that have been haunting this home for all these years.

I’m all about a spooky story and, in a large part, Starter House succeeded at sending chills down my spine. The dark presence, the horrific family secrets long ago buried, all added up to a wonderfully creep experience.  The images of the spirit of young Drew and his emotional outbursts was truly terrifying. I don’t know about you, but creepy ghosty kids truly terrify me.

That said, there were aspects of the story that irritated me. Lacey, before the move, was a teacher. Fine, that’s great. I like teachers. Yet the author repeatedly brought up the fact that she was a teacher, that she would have what it would take to tame this emotional and unruly young ghost.  One or two times, I’m okay. Repeatedly? It makes me feel like the author things I’m an idiot or have a short term memory.

Additionally, there were connections between characters that I think were a bit far-fetching. I’m not going to specifically mention which characters as I don’t want to influence the perceptions or experience of other readers but when you come across it, you’ll understand what I’m referring to.

That said, despite these few issues I did honestly enjoy this novel. Starter House succeeded at spooking me! An impressive debut, I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to participate in this tour. Please be sure to check out the official tour page for additional stops in the tour!

Review: Rustication by Charles Palliser

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (November 4, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0393088723
  • Source: Publisher

It is the winter 1863. Seventeen year old Richard Shenstone has been suspended from Cambridge amid a cloud of suspicion. He seeks temporary solace in a crumbling old mansion currently inhabited by his mother and sister, Effie, now impoverished after his father’s death.  They hoped that Richard would be their salvation, continuing at the university and finding a lucrative job following. Yet when he reveals his addition to opium (among other addictions), their hopes are shattered.

The family “reunion” is less than loving, twisted and dysfunctional, to say the least.  Both sides keep secrets from one another: Richard holds back the truth about his “rustication” from the University and his mother and sister hide the truth about his father’s death and the subsequent actions that resulted in them losing everything.  Through Richard’s journals, the reader is eventually given answers about what happened at Cambridge and, slowly, as Richard discovers them, uncovers secrets about his now-deceased father’s actions.

When a series of graphic and disturbing letters are sent to Richard’s neighbors as well as his own family, he is immediately found suspect.  Adding to the horror are a series of brutal attacks against farm animals, their bodies literally ripped open and defamed. Despite Richard’s attempts to clear his name, a shroud of guilt consumes him. Neighbors indicate that he is seen walking around late at night, an act which he adamantly denies. His own family refuses to stand behind him, instead acknowledging his strange and unexplainable behavior.

What makes Rustication a truly outstanding novel are all of the “unknowns.” Richard is undeniably one of the most unreliable narrators I have come across. He’s addicted to opium and has a lustful desire for young girls.  It is only from his eyes, his viewpoint that readers get a glimpse of what is transpiring. A young man who has obviously grown used to being well-off, Richard is certain that someone will rescue him, both from his transgressions at Cambridge but his less than admirable actions now that he has returned home.

In Rustication, Palliser has created a truly phenomenal Gothic novel that you just don’t see anymore. Full of twists and turns, even when you think them impossible, flows throughout this brilliantly written novel.  While the characters are anything but likable, the world that Palliser creates in his prose, the intrigue he builds with each written word, is what will compel readers to devour this great novel.  Highly, highly recommended.

Note: There are aspects of this novel that are quite crude and graphic. They are not liberal in nature,  a necessary evil which allows readers a glimpse inside the depravity that is young Richard Shenstone.