Spending time with old friends

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The Old Success by Martha Grimes

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

A beautiful French tourist is murdered, her body washed up on the Cornish coast.  Two little girls find her body.  Divisional Commander Brian Macalvie doesn’t know what to make of it.  While he and Inspector Richard Jury start their investigation, two more murders occur.  Macalvie and Jury turn to Tom Brownell.  Brownell is retired now but he’s known for solving every case, but one, that he worked on.  Brownell is convinced that the murders are connected.  Will this be the second case that Brownell doesn’t solve?

There’s nothing better than spending time with old friends.  This is the 25th Richard Jury mystery that Ms. Grimes has written, with the first one having been published in 1981.  I’ve read every one of them, including a couple of her standalones.  The mystery always seems to be almost insignificant as its Grimes’ characters that draw me to her books.  She has written some of the most loved, eccentric and humorous characters I’ve ever read.  I was in stitches in this current book when Melrose Plant brings in a young boy who he tells Aunt Agatha is a blood relation and Aunt Agatha squirms from the thought that she might not inherit everything after all.  I love this author’s wry sense of humor.  I do think that it would be wise to read from the start of this series to get the full benefit of the development of these characters.  A new reader starting with this one may feel a bit lost without the backstory.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

 

Excellent new series by the author of “Vera”

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The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Detective Matthew Venn’s father has died.  Venn is not welcome at the funeral so he stands outside.  His family is part of a strict religious sect and when Venn left that community, he also left his family.  Also, his mother blames him for his father’s death due to the shock of learning that Matthew married a man by the name of Jonathan Church.  Matthew and Jonathan are very happy together.  Jonathan runs Woodyard Centre that houses a day-care center, an artist colony and a counselling service center.

As he stands outside his father’s funeral, he’s called to the scene of an apparent murder.  Simon Walden was a resident of a home owned by Caroline, the daughter of a trustee of Woodyard Centre.  Caroline took Walden in when she learned that he was living with terrible guilt over a drunk driving accident which resulted in the death of a child.  Matthew is torn between investigating this murder or withdrawing due to the conflict of his husband’s affiliation with Woodyard Centre.

I’ve long wanted to read Ann Cleeves books since I very much enjoyed the TV series “Vera”.  When I saw that Ms. Cleeves was starting a new series, I knew this was the time to start reading her work.  This is a very slow paced mystery so if you’re looking for a lot of excitement, you won’t really find it here.  This author delves deeper than just setting up one thrill after another.  She writes from the heart and her characters are very human with all their faults.  I loved Matthew and Jonathan and Matthew’s sergeant, Jen.  And I loved the British seaside setting.  Matthew’s relationship with his family and Jonathan and the treatment of two young Down Syndrome girls are all handled with compassion.  The mystery turned out to a heart-wrenching one.  I’m looking forward to the next installment of this series and do hope it also makes it to the TV screen.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

Melodramatic, gothic tale

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The Nanny by Gilly MacMillan

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

After her husband’s untimely death, Jocelyn Holt has no choice but to move herself and her young daughter, Ruby, into her mother’s home at Lake Hall.  She hopes it’s just temporary because she and her mother have always had a difficult relationship.  When Jo thinks of her childhood, it’s her nanny, Hannah, who she remembers as giving her the love and care she needed.  But Hannah unexpectedly disappeared from Jo’s life and home when Jo was 7 years old and Jo has never gotten over the loss.  As soon as she was able to, she left her home and parents behind.  Now she’s returned home but things are tense between Jo and her mother.  Then Jo and Ruby find a human skull in the lake and the past is pulled into the present and Jo doesn’t know if she can trust her memories.

I found this one to be more of a gothic mystery in nature than a true thriller.  I literally cringed at some of Jo’s behavior towards her mother.  The only sensible one in the book was 10-year-old Ruby and I felt a lot of sympathy for her.  The story is told from several perspectives and the author does a good job of shifting the reader’s allegiances.  There is a certain point in the book that gripped me, mainly due to the horrible situations people can find themselves pulled into.  But then it races to the very distasteful, at least to me, ending.

An average book about an extremely dysfunctional family.

This book was won by me in a giveaway contest.

 

Dark, gritty tale

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Bad Axe County by John Galligan

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Heidi Kick’s parents were killed fifteen years ago.  The police said it was a murder/suicide incident but Heidi has never believed that.  She’s still looking to solve the mystery of her parents’ deaths.  Heidi is now acting as Interim Sheriff of Bad Axe County.  While people think she’s doing a great job and want her to take over as fulltime Sheriff, there are many others who will do anything to stop that from happening.  There’s now a missing girl that Heidi is investigating, who most likely has been caught up in a sex-trafficking ring.  She’s also led to information of the disappearance of another young girl four years ago and is determined to find her, even if finding more about that disappearance implicates her husband, Harley.  All of that while facing a dangerous ice storm that’s headed their way and trying to find time for her husband and three children is a heavy burden for Heidi to carry.

This is a dark, gritty, intense, violent book dealing with some of the cruelest characters I’ve ever read.  At times, I thought, “No, this really isn’t my type of book at all”.  But then there was Heidi, the former Dairy Queen, in all of her brokenness and I had to love it and keep reading.  She was the heart of this book and made it an excellent one.  Bad Axe County was one horrible place to live and even Heidi often questioned why she would want to raise her children there.  The author is adept at character development and his depiction of the hard side of the human heart.  I absolutely raced through the final chapters.  I chose this book to read because one of my favorite authors, William Kent Krueger, said it was a dark, beauty of a book and he was right.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Second book in unique reverse order trilogy

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The Island by Ragnar Jonasson

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Four longtime friends decide to have a reunion at an old hunting lodge.  They haven’t been in touch for a long time but this is the tenth anniversary of the murder of one of their friends and they agree to get together in her honor and to re-connect.  When death re-visits this group of friends, Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir is determined to find out the truth.

This is Book 2 in the Hulda Series by this author.  Interestingly, this series is told in reverse order so this second book takes place many years before the events in the first book, “The Darkness”.  I enjoyed this book, but wasn’t quite as impressed as I was with “The Darkness”.  I became very emotionally involved with “The Darkness”, possibly because Hulda was close to my age and approaching retirement so I related more with her in that book.  But regardless of that, I really liked the mystery in “The Island” and had trouble putting the book down.  I liked all of the suspects and felt the author did a great job detailing how good people’s lives can be derailed.  And I loved the additional insight into Hulda’s life.  I’m very much looking forward to the next book in this series, “The Mist”, which is to be published next year, and spending more time with this interesting protaganist.

Great series.  Recommended.

Dark, chilling tale of race violence and the KKK

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Gone Too Long by Lori Roy

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Beth is 10 years old and lives with her alcoholic mother in Georgia.  She’s been told to stay in the house and not go to the door when she’s home alone.   But she’s not alone one fateful day.  Her babysitter is there and that babysitter does go to the door and opens it.  That’s the day Beth disappears and thus begins a horrendous journey for her.

Imogene Coulter’s family is known for its connections to the Ku Klux Klan.  Edison Coulter, the man she calls Daddy, is one of its local leaders.  He’s being buried now but his legacy with the Klan continues with his son, Eddie, his daughter, Jo Lynne, and her husband, Garland.  Imogene tries to distance herself from this part of her family but when she’s asked by her mother to get rid of a wire that leads to her grandfather’s house, she’s tragically pulled into the family’s past and history.

This is a dark, chilling tale of violence against race.  This isn’t a typical thriller but rather an in depth character study of people whose oppose all that the KKK stand for but whose family members are involved in it.  Their lives and families are torn between these opposing forces.  My heart broke for Beth and the life she led after being taken from her home.  And Imogene, who is no stranger to tragedy herself, is so courageous and broken, she’d melt anyone’s heart.

What makes this book even more disturbing are the true life historical references the author places between chapters telling the history of the KKK.  The most chilling historical fact of all is the most recent one – the 2017 United the Right rally in Charlottesville.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

Intelligent and compassionate

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The Body in Question by Jill Ciment

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

A teenage girl has been accused of murdering her toddler brother in a horrific way.  The jury for her murder trial has been chosen and sequestered in an Econo Lodge.  Jurist Hannah, known in much of the book as juror C-2, is a 52-year old married well-known photographer.  She’s married to a much-older man, an 85-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner.  She finds that she’s very attracted to one of the jurists, Graham (known as juror F-17), who is a 41-year-old anatomy professor.  Hannah and Graham find ways to be alone, which is prohibited by the court, and they begin to have an affair.  They don’t discuss the case when alone but find that the affair causes some distraction during the hearing of evidence.  However, the effects of their affair are not seen only during the trial and deliberation but for long afterwards.

This is an intelligent and compassionate look at two people drawn to each other during a time in their lives when they’re asked to weigh some heavy issues that will result in finding a young girl innocent or guilty of a horrendous crime.  I found these characters to be true to life and believable.  The author handles the plot with delicate finesse and never makes a misstep.  The case at trial is a heart-breaking one and the jurors are not always given all of the facts, which is the way it often happens in trials.  The story of Hannah and her elderly husband is a touching, faithful rendition of the effects of old age in a marriage.  And the affair between Hannah and Graham is portrayed with a non-judgmental hand.  I loved reading this book and thought it was very well written.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

Portrait of an immigrant family

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Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

Sylvie Lee is a successful, beautiful woman.  Her younger sister, Amy, idolizes her.  When news reaches them that their grandmother is dying in the Netherlands, Sylvie flies there to be with her.  Sylvie grew up in the Netherlands.  Her parents were too poor to take care of her when she was born and sent her to live with her grandmother and the Tan family.  Sylvie didn’t return to the US and her parents until she was 9 years old.  But now Sylvie has returned to the place she thinks of as home.  But Amy and her parents become deeply upset when Sylvie disappears and they are unable to get any answers as to what happened.  Shy Amy must find the courage to go find her sister.  Her search for Sylvie uncovers long concealed family secrets.

The book fluctuates between chapters detailing Amy’s search for Sylvie and Sylvie telling her story starting a month earlier when she leaves for the Netherlands and occasionally a chapter from their mother’s point of view.  The character development in this book is very good and I cared about this family.  The author does a particularly good job of detailing the cultural differences and problems this immigrant family faced and the racism shown to the Chinese in the Netherlands.  But I was disappointed in some respects and felt parts of the books were too much like a soap opera.  I did not feel that the ending rang true at all and it felt out of place to me.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

A deeply satisfying, gripping tale

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The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

The Bright brothers are overseers of a vast amount of land in the Outback in Queensboro.  The land is extremely hot, unforgiving and dangerous and no one leaves home without a large amount of supplies.  When one of the Bright brothers, Cameron, doesn’t come home one day after supposedly going out for a repeater mast repair, an alert is put out.  He’s found dead at the foot of the stockman’s grave, which is a great source of legend in the area.  Cam’s brothers, Nathan and Bub, cannot understand why Cam would have left his car, which was fully stocked with emergency supplies, to walk 5.5 miles, which he knew would be a death warrant.  Cam has left behind their mother, Liz, his wife, Ilse, and two young daughters, all of who are devastated and confused.  This has all happened right before Christmas.  While the police and others believe this to be a suicide, doubts and suspicion abound among family members and threaten to tear them all apart.

I was completely glued to the pages of this book.  It’s a fascinating tale and the author is an expert at making her characters come alive.  Not only that, but what a forbidding area this took place in, one where your life depended on having enough water and air conditioning to survive.  It’s a land that could be hated but also loved for its stunning beauty.  The author has created a dark, suspenseful atmosphere that is completely riveting.   This is a slow burning, heart breaking book that blew me away.  It’s not only the mystery of Cam’s death that was fascinating but also the relationship of Nathan and his teenage son Xander and Nathan’s complicated history with Cam’s widow, Ilse.  And then there’s their mother, Liz, who loves them all so dearly.

A deeply satisfying, gripping tale that I most highly recommend.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

Predictable and a bit of a disappointment

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The Suspect by Fiona Barton

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

18-year-old Alex and Rosie are taking a trip of their lifetime to Thailand.  They don’t know each other very well but hope to be good traveling companions.   They promise to keep in touch with their families but now a week has gone by and no word from them.  Kate Waters is a journalist who tries her best to always be the first reporter to nab any news relating to this disappearance.  She’s a bit distracted because she hasn’t seen her son, Jake, in two years when he left to travel the world.

Maybe I’ve just read too many books of this type.  Or maybe I’ve become a psychic or something.  I just always seemed to be one step ahead of this author and knew exactly what was coming each step of the way.  That’s not to say that this book didn’t have quite a few “big reveals”.  I just knew what they would be before they were revealed.  If I didn’t know this book wasn’t published yet when I read it, I would have thought that I’d read it before.  I really have no explanation as to why I knew what would happen as I don’t think the author spoiled things in any way.

The book is rather long for a thriller at over 400 pages.  I can’t say I raced through it.  I did care about the journalist Kate, but the young girls and their parents could be aggravating at times.  Unfortunately, my commitment to the book did start to wane by the end.  The ending was a bit ambiguous, too.  While it wasn’t a bad book, I didn’t feel it was as good as the author’s first book, “The Widow”.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.