Review: A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny

Review: A World of Curiosities by Louise PennyA World of Curiosities (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #18) by Louise Penny
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #18
Pages: 400
Published by Minotaur Books on November 29, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache returns in the eighteenth book in #1 New York Times bestseller Louise Penny's beloved series.
It’s spring and Three Pines is reemerging after the harsh winter. But not everything buried should come alive again. Not everything lying dormant should reemerge.
But something has.
As the villagers prepare for a special celebration, Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir find themselves increasingly worried. A young man and woman have reappeared in the Sûreté du Québec investigators’ lives after many years. The two were young children when their troubled mother was murdered, leaving them damaged, shattered. Now they’ve arrived in the village of Three Pines.
But to what end?
Gamache and Beauvoir’s memories of that tragic case, the one that first brought them together, come rushing back. Did their mother’s murder hurt them beyond repair? Have those terrible wounds, buried for decades, festered and are now about to erupt?
As Chief Inspector Gamache works to uncover answers, his alarm grows when a letter written by a long dead stone mason is discovered. In it the man describes his terror when bricking up an attic room somewhere in the village. Every word of the 160-year-old letter is filled with dread. When the room is found, the villagers decide to open it up.
As the bricks are removed, Gamache, Beauvoir and the villagers discover a world of curiosities. But the head of homicide soon realizes there’s more in that room than meets the eye. There are puzzles within puzzles, and hidden messages warning of mayhem and revenge.
In unsealing that room, an old enemy is released into their world. Into their lives. And into the very heart of Armand Gamache’s home.

My Review:

Armand Gamache’s chickens come home to roost – and lay rotten eggs all over Gamache’s past cases, his present peace, and even Three Pines itself in this 18th book in the series.

A World of Curiosities is a story about reckonings, about settling up accounts and finding out that one has been found wanting. Even Armand Gamache. And that all of his mistakes, omissions and oversights have followed him home and put his family and friends in danger.

The roots of this story go deep, back to events that have been previously touched on but not described in detail, back to Armand’s own early cases as well as to the horrific case where he found Jean-Guy Beauvoir languishing in the basement of an outlying Sûreté office. Because Jean-Guy, being himself, was considered insubordinate. Because he wouldn’t play along.

A case that initially seems to be at the heart of it all. And is. But isn’t. But is after all. Again, one of Gamache’s oversight chickens that has come home to roost and shit all over Three Pines.

At first it all seems like an interesting bit of curiosity. A hidden room is found over the bookstore. It’s been bricked over – actually stoned over – for well over a century, lost to time and hidden from sight until a very old but newly discovered letter makes its way from an archive, to a dead woman, to the descendant of the man who bricked that room over all those years ago.

It’s not a straightforward path, rather a convoluted set of fits and starts that seems to have been in motion for years of its own. As was the intent of its patient and painstaking creator. A man who has been plotting his revenge against Armand Gamache for decades, and now has the perfect pawns in place to make Gamache pay.

Or so he believes.

Escape Rating A+: I know I’m not conveying this one well at all. Obviously, I loved it. I was also a bit disturbed by it, because all of the past crimes that lead up to this present danger were very disturbing.

The story opens at a combined commemoration and graduation ceremony at the École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal. The massacre was a real event, a 1989 mass killing of female engineering students by a man who was outraged by women moving into what were formerly male-only preserves.

In addition to bringing this horrific crime back into the light, it also serves as a way of introducing two of the important characters of this entry in the series, two young women, Harriet Landers and Fiona Arsenault, who both graduate as engineers during the ceremony.

It’s Fiona who links back to the earlier case, and it’s that earlier case that is so very disturbing. Because it began as a missing persons case, which turned into a murder case, which led to the discovery that Fiona and Sam Arsenault, ages 13 and 10 respectively, were being pimped out by their now-dead mother. And the damage that was done to them, that echoed through their lives and their personalities from those foundational experiences to the present day.

One of the questions that echoes down through this entire book is the question about not whether they were permanently damaged by their early experiences but just how much they were damaged and whether they can ever be something that might be considered saved or rehabilitated. That Gamache believes that Sam is the true sociopath while Jean-Guy believes it is Fiona doesn’t alter the question about whether either of them can contain their true natures well enough not to spend their lives harming themselves, each other and everyone around them.

Part of what makes the story such a riveting tangle, however, is the way that the focus is solidly on the Arsenaults and the questions about will they, won’t they, did they, don’t they that the true evil hiding in plain sight isn’t even glimpsed until very late in the game.

A World of Curiosities, like so many of the books in this marvelous series, was just about a one-sitting read for me. I started it at dinner and finished just before bed. Which was after midnight and the only reason it was before bed was that something about the story shook me up enough that I didn’t want to take it to bed with me. It was also one of the rare cases with this series where I did thumb to the end about midway through, not because I needed to find out whodunnit – I was happy to follow that trail with Gamache – but because I needed the reassurance that all my friends, the characters who have come to inhabit the series and the village of Three Pines, were going to come out of this alive if not unscathed.

I also realized that the characters are what I love this story for, rather than the process of the investigation and the sheer brilliance of the detectives. Not that Gamache and his colleagues are not generally brilliant, but that’s not the point for me. Every book in this series is such a deep character study, of Gamache, his family and friends, the villagers, and of course the perpetrators and even the red herring characters. Not that forensics and all the trappings of modern policing don’t play a part in the ultimate solution, but Gamache solves crimes by knowing and understanding the people involved and that’s what makes the series so compelling.

While the mystery in A World of Curiosities is a page-turning twisting, turning, swirling – and occasionally stomach-churning whodunnit, the real charm of the series is in its characters, and the best way to get every single drop of that charm is to start at the very beginning with Still Life.

Now I have a year at least to wait for the hoped-for 19th book in the series. In the meantime, there’s a brand new TV series titled Three Pines, based on the novels, that begins tonight on Amazon Prime. I know what I’ll be watching this weekend!

 

Review: The Twist of a Knife by Anthony Horowitz

Review: The Twist of a Knife by Anthony HorowitzThe Twist of a Knife (Hawthorne and Horowitz Mystery, #4) by Anthony Horowitz
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Hawthorne and Horowitz #4
Pages: 384
Published by Harper on November 15, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

'Our deal is over.'
That's what reluctant author Anthony Horowitz tells ex-detective Daniel Hawthorne in an awkward meeting. The truth is that Anthony has other things on his mind.
His new play, Mindgame, is about to open in London's Vaudeville theatre. Not surprisingly Hawthorne declines a ticket.
On opening night, Sunday Times critic Harriet Throsby gives the play a savage review, focusing particularly on the writing. The next morning she is found dead, stabbed in the heart with an ornamental dagger which, it turns out, belongs to Anthony and which has his finger prints all over it.
Anthony is arrested, charged with Throsby's murder, thrown into prison and interrogated.
Alone and increasingly desperate, he realises only one man can help him.
But will Hawthorne take his call?

My Review:

In this fourth outing of the extremely unlikely duo of Daniel Hawthorne and his reluctant scribe – and all too frequently foil – Anthony Horowitz (yes, the author, really, truly and probably sorta/kinda all at once), it’s Horowitz himself who is accused of murder and quite thoroughly stitched up into the bargain.

He needs Hawthorne, which puts Hawthorne very much in the catbird seat of their strange partnership. Horowitz, referred to as ‘Tony’ in the book to differentiate himself as character from his real self as author, has just turned down Hawthorne’s request that they pair up for yet a fourth book, after The Word is Murder, The Sentence is Death and A Line to Kill.

Tony feels like he’s both out of punny titles and out of patience with Hawthorne. The former, obviously not as it turns out. The latter, frequently and often.

But Hawthorne is sure they have an entire series in them, and lo and behold, they do!

Escape Rating A+: The Hawthorne and Horowitz series is a quirky read. If you like it, you really, really like it (obviously I do), but if its quirks don’t quite set your tastes on fire, they don’t. It’s a break the fourth wall kind of series, with a heaping helping of art imitating life rather a lot.

The Horowitz of the series title is the author of the book, Anthony Horowitz. He’s a version – at least I presume it’s a version – of his real-life self, Anthony Horowitz the novelist and playwright, the creative mind behind the still totally awesome TV series Foyle’s War, etc., etc., etc. But he is far, far from the hero of this series.

He plays Watson to the Sherlock of ex-London Metropolitan police detective Daniel Hawthorne. And it’s a bumbling Watson who sometimes makes the most vapid and insipid portrayals of Watson look like absolute geniuses. (Edward Hardwicke’s wonderful and intelligent take on Watson in the Granada TV series with Jeremy Brett ‘Tony’ most certainly is NOT.)

In other words, the author resisted what must have been a great temptation to make himself the hero of this series and instead turned himself into its everyman substitute for the audience, the character who is not able to follow the ‘great detective’, in this case Hawthorne, and requires that every clue be explained to him – and therefore to the audience as well.

Which is part of the charm of this series, and also part of why it runs so much against type for me as a reader and yet I still adore the damn thing. Because I usually read mysteries for their competence porn aspects. The investigator in the series usually demonstrates extreme competence in order to solve the twisty murder. And that’s not exactly what happens here.

Tony is far from competent as an amateur detective, in spite of the many mysteries he’s written. He’s always at least two steps behind Hawthorne. Which actually isn’t too bad as the real police are at least three or four steps behind him. But still, he’s made his own character a bit of a nebbish and I can’t help but wonder if that reflects real life AT ALL. I suspect not or he wouldn’t be half as successful as he is.

But I digress.

Hawthorne, on the other hand, is über-competent. He’s just a secretive asshole about it. So we don’t get to see what he’s really doing or thinking until the very end when he makes everyone involved look like utter fools. Because they were. So he’s extremely competent but we don’t get to enjoy it because he’s such a jerk about pretty much everything.

Like most mysteries where the official police are more interested in scoring off the private detective – in this case Hawthorne and by extension his ‘associate’ Tony – than solving the crime, the first suspect is never the real murderer. So it can’t be Tony, no matter how the evidence seems stacked against him.

That the victim was a vile individual that had made a career out of publicly venting their spleen should have led even the dimmest bulb to the possibility that the line of possible murderers would be long enough to circle the country at least twice. To the point where I was beginning to wonder if it was going to turn out to be a Murder on the Orient Express situation.

In the end, the solution is ingenious, the motive was both simple and complex at the same time, the killer was exposed but no one got their just desserts except the woman who was already dead. And that was exactly right.

While Hawthorne got his series after all. Which is fantastic!

While I can’t find any word on when the projected fifth, sixth and seventh (!) books in the Hawthorne and Horowitz series will be out, or even the next book in the Susan Ryeland series which I also love (even when it’s driving me crazy), the first book in that series, Magpie Murders, is now available as a 6-episode TV series. And I’m off to watch it ASAP!

Review: Cold Fear by Brandon Webb and John David Mann

Review: Cold Fear by Brandon Webb and John David MannCold Fear (Finn Thrillers, #2) by Brandon Webb, John David Mann
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Finn Thrillers #2
Pages: 432
Published by Bantam on June 7, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Finn's search for his memory of one fateful night leads him to Iceland--only to be followed by an unhinged assassin intent on stopping him--in the riveting follow-up to Steel Fear, from the New York Times bestselling writing team Webb & Mann, combat-decorated Navy SEAL Brandon Webb and award-winning author John David Mann.
Disgraced Navy SEAL Finn is on the run. A wanted man since he jumped ship from the USS Abraham Lincoln, he's sought for questioning in connection to war crimes committed in Yemen by a rogue element in his SEAL team. But his memory of that night--as well as the true fate of his mentor and only friend, Lieutenant Kennedy--is a gaping hole.
Finn learns that three members of his team have been quietly redeployed to Iceland, which is a puzzle in itself; the tiny island nation is famous for being one of the most peaceful, crime-free places on the planet.
His mission is simple: track down the three corrupt SEALs and find out what really happened that night in Yemen. But two problems stand in his way. On his first night in town a young woman mysteriously drowns--and a local detective suspects Finn's involvement. What's worse, a SEAL-turned-contract-killer with skills equal to Finn's own has been hired to make sure he never gets the answers he's looking for. And he's followed Finn all the way to the icy north.

My Review:

Cold Fear is every single bit as good as Steel Fear, but entirely different at the same time. Which may sound like a bit of a surprise for the second book in a series, but is absolutely excellent and completely riveting all the same – even if that riveting is more than a bit chilling in both the figurative and literal senses. Or perhaps especially because it is.

When last we left our hero, Navy SEAL Chief Finn had just disappeared into thin air, on the run from the agent and/or assassin he was certain was waiting at the dock to pick him up – or take him out – when the USS Abraham Lincoln came into port at the end of Steel Fear.

We meet him at the opening of Cold Fear watching the police cut a woman out of a frozen pond in a Reykjavik city park, on the trail of his missing memories of his team’s last operation in Yemen. He’s still not sure whether he himself committed the atrocity he only half remembers – or if he was merely set up to take the fall for it.

All he’s certain of about that operation is that someone on his team was rotten – and it might be him.

But he’s tracked three of his former teammates – who probably know the truth about that clusterfuck – to a contract job in Reykjavik. They’re on the hunt for someone – and he’s on the hunt for them.

Someone is also certainly hunting for him, but he believes he has a few days’ grace to get the information he needs – or at least the next link in the chain – and get out. But with the way that his missing memories and the possibilities of what he might have done during them haunts both his waking and his few sleeping hours, Finn is not exactly at the top of his game. Not nearly close enough to that top to recognize that he’s letting hope triumph over experience and that his pursuit is both closer and more numerous than he thought.

He should be concentrating on his own problems – he certainly has enough of them. But just as he did aboard the Lincoln, while he’s trying to cope with his own crap, of which there seems to be a literal metric shit-ton, he can’t seem to stop himself from getting involved with another murder.

At least this time he’s sure he didn’t do it. Which doesn’t mean he can resist finding out who did. Even if it gives his pursuit a little too much time to get a bead on him.

Escape Rating A+: While Cold Fear is every bit as excellent as Finn’s first outing, Steel Fear, the stories are completely different. Although Steel Fear wasn’t about the military, per se, it still had the feel of a military thriller because of its setting aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln and the way that the serial killer aboard the ship was manipulating the situation, the rules and regulations of the military, and all the people aboard.

Cold Fear is a bit of a cross between Nordic noir and police or investigator-led serial killer thrillers. (In tone, it reminds me a bit of The Silence of the White City – possibly because of the involvement of the local police). Finn’s investigation into his own situation often takes a backseat to the serial killer hunt being led by the Reykjavik police inspector – who can’t make up her mind whether she’s hunting for Finn or with him.

There are two tracks in this story that dovetail together. One is Finn’s search for the truth about his own past. The other is the search for the present serial killer – who is only in Reykjavik to hunt for Finn. So it’s all his fault even if it’s not directly all of his own making. Watching Finn juggle the two things so precariously creates a lot of the tension in the story.

Although Cold Fear is the second book in the series, it truly does stand alone. The first book is excellent but it is absolutely not necessary to read it to get into Cold Fear. The big thing that Finn learns in Steel Fear is that his memory has had holes in it because he experienced a childhood tragedy and suppressed the memory. Events in Steel Fear, although unrelated, brought that earlier tragedy back into light – and showed him that his past isn’t what he remembered it was. So his quest in Cold Fear is an attempt to close all the holes in his memory. He still doesn’t even know what it is that he doesn’t know when Cold Fear opens, so if the reader doesn’t know either they can learn together.

Howsomever Steel Fear is a riveting thriller and well worth reading. Don’t let the page count turn you away because it reads VERY fast in spite of the length.

And so does Cold Fear. I read the first two books in this series back-to-back because once I got into Steel Fear Finn’s story just wouldn’t let me go. Which means that now I have an unfortunately long wait for the third book, Blind Fear, which is planned for July 2023.

I’m certain it will be worth the wait!

Review: Steel Fear by Brandon Webb and John David Mann

Review: Steel Fear by Brandon Webb and John David MannSteel Fear (Finn Thrillers, #1) by Brandon Webb, John David Mann
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Finn Thrillers #1
Pages: 441
Published by Bantam on July 13, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

An aircraft carrier adrift with a crew the size of a small town. A killer in their midst. And the disgraced Navy SEAL who must track him down . . . The high-octane debut thriller from New York Times bestselling writing team Webb & Mann—combat-decorated Navy SEAL Brandon Webb and award-winning author John David Mann.

The moment Navy SEAL sniper Finn sets foot on the USS Abraham Lincoln to hitch a ride home from the Persian Gulf, it's clear something is deeply wrong. Leadership is weak. Morale is low. And when crew members start disappearing one by one, what at first seems like a random string of suicides soon reveals something far more sinister: There's a serial killer on board.
Suspicion falls on Finn, the newcomer to the ship. After all, he's being sent home in disgrace, recalled from the field under the dark cloud of a mission gone horribly wrong. He's also a lone wolf, haunted by gaps in his memory and the elusive sense that something he missed may have contributed to civilian deaths on his last assignment. Finding the killer offers a chance at redemption . . . if he can stay alive long enough to prove it isn't him.

My Review:

Steel Fear wasn’t any of the things I expected it to be. But it sure was good.

At first, this seems like it’s going to be a military thriller. Navy SEAL Finn has been hustled aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, stationed in the Persian Gulf, after a failed SEAL operation in Yemen. What he doesn’t know is why. Why the operation failed. Why he’s cooling his heels on the Lincoln with no orders to head either back to the U.S. for a debriefing reaming, or back to his Team for further assignment.

Why no one on his Team is getting back to him, even on a back channel, to let him know what he’s being blamed for or what he’s heading into. Which is currently nowhere at all.

As he determines that there’s something rotten about the way he’s being kept on ice on the Lincoln, he also determines that there is something rotten going on ON the Lincoln. And that if he doesn’t figure out who is doing what and why, he’s the one who’ll get blamed for it.

After all, it’s clear that he’s already been set up to be the scapegoat for something that went wronger than he remembers in Yemen. He’s the perfect patsy to take the blame for everything amiss on board as well.

But the problems aboard the Lincoln are bigger than just one man – even a Navy SEAL at loose ends. In Finn’s estimation, that fish has rotted from the head down. But it will still slime all over him unless he can figure out whodunnit before he leaves.

Even if his manner of leaving will put an even bigger target on his back from an even more deadly opponent.

Escape Rating A+: I skimmed this last year but wasn’t able to give it the detailed read it really deserved. But I remembered it as being very good competence porn and whatever was going on last year, I was definitely in a mood for it right now. Especially since I’ve been having such good luck with rereads recently. So I decided to go back to this book and am I ever glad that I did!

The story combines a military thriller with a murder mystery. While in the end it leans heavily on the mystery side, everything about the setup, from the protagonist to the location grounds the whole thing very deeply on the military side.

And it is definitely on the thriller side of mystery.

There are two plots running in parallel. On the one hand, there have been an escalating series of deadly incidents aboard the Lincoln. First a helicopter went down with all hands, leaving behind an aching grief and an endless number of questions.

Then it starts looking like people can’t cope with the resulting stress and start throwing themselves off the ship. Into the Gulf. Then things get worse. And worse.

In the middle of all this is Finn. He can’t help but observe everything and everyone around him. It’s what he was trained for. And those observations are telling him that the escalating series of events are escalating because someone is getting off on the chaos they’re creating. He senses that he’s circling in on the perpetrator even as that perpetrator is closing in on him.

What makes this story so compelling, however, is its third track. Because in the midst of Finn’s meticulous detailing of the ship and the ever-spiraling circle of tension and stress is Finn’s increasing realization that there are holes in his memory. That he can’t even rely on himself any longer.

He might be the killer, and he might not remember. He might have committed atrocities in Yemen – and he might not remember. He doesn’t remember vast swathes of his childhood. There’s something in his memories that his conscious mind refuses to approach. He might not be who or what he thinks he is.

And someone seems determined to make sure that he doesn’t find out.

If you’re looking for a thriller within a thriller, for a compelling story of people doing their best jobs in the face of the worst that can be thrown at them, if you enjoy a story where the tension ratchets up every second and then finds itself a whole new ratchet to climb, Steel Fear is a winner that will keep you on the edge of your seat for every single fast-reading page.

And there’s more! The second book in the Finn Thrillers series, Cold Fear, is already out and I dived straight into it. So far, it’s every bit as compelling as Steel Fear turned out to be.

Review: Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

Review: Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna RaybournKillers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 368
Published by Berkley Books on September 6, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Older women often feel invisible, but sometimes that's their secret weapon.
They've spent their lives as the deadliest assassins in a clandestine international organization, but now that they're sixty years old, four women friends can't just retire - it's kill or be killed in this action-packed thriller.
Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie have worked for the Museum, an elite network of assassins, for forty years. Now their talents are considered old-school and no one appreciates what they have to offer in an age that relies more on technology than people skills.
When the foursome is sent on an all-expenses paid vacation to mark their retirement, they are targeted by one of their own. Only the Board, the top-level members of the Museum, can order the termination of field agents, and the women realize they've been marked for death.
Now to get out alive they have to turn against their own organization, relying on experience and each other to get the job done, knowing that working together is the secret to their survival. They're about to teach the Board what it really means to be a woman--and a killer--of a certain age.

My Review:

Women of a “certain age” are expected to fade into the background – and if they don’t fade voluntarily society is more than willing to keep shoving them into the shadows until they finally get the hint.

So it’s not a surprise to 60-somethings Billie, Mary Alice, Helen and Natalie that after 40+ years as an elite assassination team working for the mysterious “Museum” they’ve been retired and put out to pasture. They miss the adrenaline of the work, but they’re not totally miserable at the idea of retirement at least on some levels. Living on the knife edge of danger always did get the blood pumping, but the recovery times are a LOT longer than they used to be.

But the offer of an all-expenses paid elite cruise on a luxury yacht is the least the Museum owes them in addition to the generous pensions they’ve all more than earned.

What they have not earned, do not deserve, but discover they have to deal with anyway, is a member of the Museum’s “operations” staff posing as a member of the ship’s crew. As they have not been contacted about a job, or even just given a heads-up about his presence, they realize that they ARE the job. Their former employers are literally out to get them – and they are very, very good at getting the people they set out to get.

But Billie, Mary Alice, Helen and Natalie were an elite team. The best of the best, trained by the best and tested time and time again in the field. Not many people in their profession live to retire and they plan to enjoy theirs for a long, long time.

In order to do that, they’ll just have to eliminate anyone – and everyone – who is out to get them. It’s a difficult job, but it’s one they’ve been doing for over 40 years. And they’re not done yet.

Escape Rating A-: Readers of a certain age, or even something vaguely approaching it, will probably think the outline of Killers of a Certain Age sounds a bit familiar – only because it is. If you remember the 2010 movie Red, about a group of retired CIA agents who are forced out of retirement because someone at their former agency is trying to kill them, it’s hard to miss the resemblance. Just put Helen Mirren’s character in charge as Billie, change her team to an all-female team and substitute the Museum for the CIA (who knows, the Museum might have been a cover for the CIA anyway) and there you go.

Which does not take a damn thing away from either the book or the movie, because they are both a hell of a good time.

As strange as this may sound, Killers is kind of a slow-burn thriller. A lot of prep work and planning goes into this caper, and we see it. This team doesn’t barge in with guns blazing – not because they’re old, but because that was never the way they worked. Their mission was always to get away undetected – and they were damn good at it.

The mission now is to take down all the people – and for people read men – at the Museum who set them up and plan to take them out in order to cover up their own corruption.

So a big part of this story is seeing them do the work of putting a plan together and getting the job done. That the job is to kill people and the plan is all about getting away with it doesn’t trouble them and doesn’t trouble the reader either. Whether this is justice or revenge, the dish is still going to be served ice cold. And the dessert is very, very just.

But the author called this a book about anger – and that feels like a pretty accurate description. Because in between the meticulous planning and sometimes nearly disastrous carrying out of those plans, the story slips back from Billie’s perspective on the rather fraught present to her recollections of the team’s past training and missions.

And every single one of the missions Billie recalls is an occasion where the very same men who ordered their executions underestimated them on a mission – only to get saved by this team of women that they still insisted weren’t up for the job. A nearly fatal mistake for each man then, and an absolutely fatal one now.

Isn’t it all too telling that the women got put out to pasture while the men who weren’t nearly as good got promoted to the top echelons of the organization?

Because the story in the present is told from Billie’s first-person perspective, and the sections in the past follow her even though we’re not in her head, the reader doesn’t get quite as clear a picture of Mary Alice, Helen and Natalie as we do Billie. Which is possibly the book’s only flaw. Their lives have taken such different turns in spite of their shared work so it would be fascinating to get more of their individual perspectives. But with what we do know, we see that their bond is as strong as the day it was formed. They love each other, sometimes they want to kill each other, often they want to tear each other’s hair out – but each would lay down their lives for the others and their sisterhood is both palpable and powerful.

I loved Killers of a Certain Age and sincerely hope that it turns out to be the first book in a series. The ending certainly hints at that possibility and I’d be thrilled to see it fulfilled. In the meantime, if you find yourself enjoying it as much as I did, there are several titles that might hit the same deadly sweet spot.

In addition to watching or re-watching the movie Red, the following books have at least elements of Killers of a Certain Age: The Thursday Murder Club series by Richard Osman, especially the second book, The Man Who Died Twice, the Slough House series by Mick Herron, Woman on Fire by Lisa Barr, and last but certainly not the least or the least deadly, An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten.

Review: Dirt Creek by Hayley Scrivenor

Review: Dirt Creek by Hayley ScrivenorDirt Creek by Hayley Scrivenor
Narrator: Sophie Loughran
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 336
Length: 10 hours and 29 minutes
Published by Flatiron Books, Macmillan Audio on August 2, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

When twelve-year-old Esther disappears on the way home from school in a small town in rural Australia, the community is thrown into a maelstrom of suspicion and grief. As Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels arrives in town during the hottest spring in decades and begins her investigation, Esther’s tenacious best friend, Ronnie, is determined to find Esther and bring her home.
When schoolfriend Lewis tells Ronnie that he saw Esther with a strange man at the creek the afternoon she went missing, Ronnie feels she is one step closer to finding her. But why is Lewis refusing to speak to the police? And who else is lying about how much they know about what has happened to Esther?
Punctuated by a Greek chorus, which gives voice to the remaining children of the small, dying town, this novel explores the ties that bind, what we try and leave behind us, and what we can never outrun, while never losing sight of the question of what happened to Esther, and what her loss does to a whole town.
In Hayley Scrivenor's Dirt Creek, a small-town debut mystery described as The Dry meets Everything I Never Told You, a girl goes missing and a community falls apart and comes together.

My Review:

Dirt Creek is a “For Want of a Nail” story in the guise of a mystery/thriller plot. “For Want of a Nail” is a proverb that starts out with losing a horseshoe because the protagonist needs a nail to keep the horseshoe on the horse. And it results in the loss of a kingdom because of the chain of events that follows.

Dirt Creek is that kind of book. It begins with a then-unknown person discovering the corpse of a young girl buried in a shallow grave on a remote property outside of the tiny, dying town of Durton not too far outside of Sydney, Australia.

Most of the residents of Durton call it “Dirt Town”, and the creek that runs near town is “Dirt Creek”. (Dirt Town seems to have been the title of the original Australian edition of the book.)

While the book kicks off with the finding of that body, witnessed by a couple of unnamed – at least at that point – children, that event is actually the final nail in the killer’s coffin. The story, the story of how so many things fell apart in Durton, begins the Friday before, when 12-year-old Esther Bianchi doesn’t come home from school. On time. Or at all.

The story, over a long, hot weekend and part of the next week, follows the unfolding events from multiple perspectives. The police detectives who come out from Sydney to investigate Esther’s disappearance, Esther’s mother, Constance. Constance’s best friend Shelly. Esther’s best friend Veronica – who everyone calls Ronnie. And Esther and Veronica’s mutual friend, Lewis, an 11-year-old boy who is being bullied at school and beaten at home.

Everyone in Durton knows everyone else, their friends, their families, their secrets – and their lies. Sooner or later, all the truths are going to bubble to the surface. Nothing ever stays buried for long – not even poor Esther Bianchi.

But by the time Esther’s body is found, the weight of the secrets, both big and small, that are being hidden from both the police and the entire community, have already broken at least one marriage, rescued at least one mother and her children, caused one child to be savagely attacked – and torn an entire town apart.

Because at the very beginning of Esther’s story, two children saw something very suspicious. Something they were much too afraid to tell. And because they didn’t, for want of that telling at a time when it would have done the most good, one event led to another – until all the pieces came together at the quietly chilling end.

Escape Rating B-: This is going to be one of those “mixed-feelings” kinds of reviews. You have been warned.

Before I start on the things that drove me bananas, one thing that most definitely did not was the narrator, Sophie Loughran. I listened to about half the book and read the rest because I was pressed for time. I wish I could have continued with the audio because the reader was excellent and did a terrific job with the Australian and English accents. She made each of the characters sound distinctive, which would have been particularly challenging because all of them, with the exception of 11-year-old Lewis whose voice hasn’t dropped yet, were female. And yet, I always knew who was speaking by accent, by intonation, by vocal patterns. She also did an excellent job of keeping to the slow, deliberate pace of the story, particularly when voicing Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels who both spoke and thought in a thoughtful, deliberate manner.

Howsomever, Detective Sergeant Michaels’ thoughtful deliberation pointed out an issue that I had with the story. For a thriller, it moves quite slowly. It takes half the book to set itself up – and to set Michaels and her detective partner up in Durton. As a thriller, this needed to move a bit faster. The descriptions of everything and everyone were meticulous to a point close to monotony.

There’s also a lot of foreshadowing. Not necessarily the obvious foreshadowing – because the reader is pretty sure that little Esther is not going to be found alive at the end of this story. The story, and the town it is set in, are both so bleak that there’s just no way to eke a happy ending out of this one.

What gets foreshadowed is the “For Want of a Nail” nature of the story. Every time someone fails to inform someone, anyone, else about an important clue, it gets foreshadowed that this lack of information might have changed things before all of the other terrible things that happened were too far along to prevent.

Those omissions do all turn out to be important, because they send the police on wild goose chases that waste time and personnel – both of which are in short supply. But it’s also a truth that everybody lies, so there’s nothing unexpected or exceptional about people lying to the police. It’s just humans being human.

As many red herrings and half-baked clues and misdirections there were in this story, there was plenty going on and oodles of directions for the case and the reader to follow. There were two elements of the various internal monologue that felt like one-too-many. One was that Detective Sergeant Michaels is keeping a secret from the reader and in some ways from herself about the reasons behind the breakup of her recent relationship. The other was that the children of the town who were not directly involved in the plot had chapters as a kind of Greek chorus. Either element might have been fine, but together they distracted from the progress of the mystery without adding enough to offset the time and attention they took.

So very much a mixed bag. I loved the narration. I liked that the small-town mystery was set in a small town somewhere VERY far away. I thought the mystery plot and the way that the police were stuck chasing their own tails a lot of the time was as fascinating as it was frustrating. I did not figure out whodunnit as far as the child’s death was concerned, while the various villains who were exposed during the course of the investigation did receive their just desserts – which is always the best part of a mystery.

But Durton turned out to be a seriously bleak place, and in the end this was an equally bleak story. I seriously needed to visit my happy place when I left there. I’m probably not the only reader who did.

Review: The It Girl by Ruth Ware

Review: The It Girl by Ruth WareThe It Girl by Ruth Ware
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 432
Published by Gallery/Scout Press on July 12, 2022
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Goodreads

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of One by One returns with an unputdownable mystery following a woman on the search for answers a decade after her friend’s murder.
April Clarke-Cliveden was the first person Hannah Jones met at Oxford.
Vivacious, bright, occasionally vicious, and the ultimate It girl, she quickly pulled Hannah into her dazzling orbit. Together, they developed a group of devoted and inseparable friends—Will, Hugh, Ryan, and Emily—during their first term. By the end of the second, April was dead.
Now, a decade later, Hannah and Will are expecting their first child, and the man convicted of killing April, former Oxford porter John Neville, has died in prison. Relieved to have finally put the past behind her, Hannah’s world is rocked when a young journalist comes knocking and presents new evidence that Neville may have been innocent. As Hannah reconnects with old friends and delves deeper into the mystery of April’s death, she realizes that the friends she thought she knew all have something to hide…including a murder.

My Review:

Elinor Glyn, inventor of the “It Girl”

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed A Dress of Violet Taffeta by Tessa Arlen. That marvelous book is a fictionalized biography of the English couturier Lucy Duff-Gordon. It shouldn’t link to this book at all, but it does. Lucy’s sister, the novelist Elinor Glyn, created the concept of the “It Girl” embodied, at least on the surface, by April Clarke-Cliveden, whose murder lies at the center of this book I’m honestly struggling with here today.

It was a hit with my reading group, which is what made me pick it up. But just like last week’s Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen, in spite of that recommendation, it just didn’t work for me. As this book – like that one – has already been reviewed and summarized by oodles of readers, I’m just going to get into why I think it did not work for this reader in particular and let you be the judge of whether those reasons will apply to your reading or not.

Because this is a thriller, it starts in a place where the tension is supposed to already be ratcheted up. But, and again because it’s a thriller, the way in which that tension is created cuts it as well.

In the past, which we see in flashbacks, Hannah Jones was a student at a prestigious college at Oxford. Her suite-mate and “best” friend was the “It Girl” of the title, April Clarke-Cliveden. April was murdered, Hannah discovered her body, and its Hannah’s testimony that put the nails in the killer’s coffin during the police investigation and at his trial.

But it’s ten years later when the reader enters the story, and April’s killer has just died in prison, still insisting that he’s innocent of the crime. Whether he was or not, his death certainly brings all the vultures of the press out again, trying to ambush Hannah for a sound bite.

Including one reporter who is absolutely convinced that the police – and by extension Hannah – pinned the blame on the wrong man.

And that’s where the tension started draining out of the story for me. If the police had the right man in jail, there wouldn’t be a story. Therefore, they must have had the wrong man, meaning Hannah made a terrible mistake that is about to unravel.

Leaving me certain that sooner or later it would all be revealed and just waiting for the story to get on with it.

It didn’t help that Hannah is not and was not a strong enough personality to carry this story that she is irrevocably pinned to like a moth displayed on a card. Because Hannah was the pale moth, while April was the butterfly.

And both are shallow but at least April is vivid where Hannah is anything but.

The story twists backwards and forwards in time, so we get to witness the barely post-adolescent posturing of April, her hangers on and Hannah, leading up to that fateful moment when April is killed and Hannah is left to pick up the pieces of her shattered world.

And to pick up the not-so-shattered pieces of April’s ex-boyfriend, who Hannah later marries. When this story opens, Hannah and her husband Will should be celebrating that they have a baby on the way, but Hannah gets herself involved in re-opening the case of the man she helped convict of April’s murder, leaving her angsting over the past and her terrible mistake.

I didn’t find myself captured by any of the characters. Hannah seems to still be stuck in passivity. April may have been the victim of the murder, but she had so many victims herself along her way that it ends up not being all that much of question why she was murdered, only a question of which of her victims finally got up the courage to do the deed if it wasn’t the man who was convicted for it.

Something I found extremely problematic along that way was just how that wrong person got convicted and the way that false conviction is treated by Hannah once she realizes the truth – or at least her first version of that truth.

John Neville, however wrongful his conviction for April’s murder, was not innocent. He was the one of the porters at Hannah’s and April’s college and did use his position and his access to the grounds to stalk and harass many of the female students, including both Hannah and April. He wasn’t just awkward and a poor communicator. He set out to harass young women and he did so with impunity, as he was adept at making them feel creeped on – because they were – while never quite doing anything that was unequivocally obvious. He used the way that girls are socialized to be polite and not cause trouble to his advantage. He was not harmless in the least – he just wasn’t a murderer.

The defense that “he’s just awkward” has often been used in geek spaces to defend men who may be awkward but are trading on that awkwardness to ignore boundaries and refuse to take “no” for an answer with the claim that the “no” wasn’t clear or emphatic enough. It seemed cheap to use that as a way to defend a sexual predator who may not have been a killer but was never innocent, diminishing something that is a very real problem.

Everything about the conviction does make the reader wonder what the police were doing as all this was going on. It was not April’s responsibility to conduct the entire investigation and it’s not her fault if the police weren’t thorough enough doing their jobs.

(Once upon a time, Oxford’s Thames Valley Police Department was the province of the brilliant Detective Chief Inspector Endeavor Morse in the series of mysteries by Colin Dexter. Morse would be ashamed of their handling of this case.)

Many readers found the twists and turns in this case compelling. I didn’t like Hannah enough to get caught up in her angst – and I didn’t care for April nearly enough to be that invested in discovering who killed her. The police don’t seem to have done their jobs in the beginning, and the reporter who re-opens the case doesn’t seem to have ever learned the difference between assumptions and red herrings. It’s not that he was wrong in the end, it’s that the reasons for his compulsions in that regard don’t hold up to any examination. Then again, even a stopped clock is right twice a day – I’m just not all that interested in watching it.

Especially as the way that the story opens begged the central question. If the right man was convicted, there would be no story. Since there’s a story, they got it wrong. (It is possible to get around this conundrum – The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson does extremely well – but it was obvious early on that just wasn’t the case here.) That Hannah takes the blame for that wrong all onto herself – and then proceeds to keep getting it even more wrong – just did not a compelling mystery make.

At least not for me. Your reading mileage may vary, as it certainly has for others. Escape Rating D

Review: The Binding Room by Nadine Matheson

Review: The Binding Room by Nadine MathesonThe Binding Room (Inspector Anjelica Henley, #2) by Nadine Matheson
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Inspector Anjelica Henley #2
Pages: 512
Published by Hanover Square Press on July 12, 2022
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Detective Anjelica Henley confronts a series of ritualistic murders in this heart-pounding thriller about race, power and the corrupt institutions that threaten us
When Detective Anjelica Henley is called to investigate the murder of a popular preacher in his own church, she discovers a second victim, tortured and tied to a bed in an upstairs room. He is alive, but barely, and his body shows signs of a dark religious ritual.
With a revolving list of suspects and the media spotlight firmly on her, Henley is left with more questions than answers as she attempts to untangle both crimes. But when another body appears, the case takes on a new urgency. Unless she can apprehend the killer, the next victim may just be Henley herself.
Drawing on her experiences as a criminal attorney, Nadine Matheson deftly explores issues of race, class and justice through an action-packed story that will hold you captive until the last terrifying page.

My Review:

This case is gruesome, Henley and her team are flailing around in the pitch dark, and someone might seriously be eaten by an actual grue before it’s finally wrapped up. There are plenty of other disgusting, creepy, crawly things eating plenty of the bodies, so a grue isn’t all that far outside the realms of terrible possibility this time around.

And it’s utterly riveting. So as much as the reader is creeped out and chilled to the bone, it’s impossible to turn one’s eyes away. No matter how much the stomach turns.

We first met DI Anjelica Henley in The Jigsaw Man, another heart-stopping, gruesome thriller where Henley and her team were both the investigators in a serial killer case AND potential victims.

It’s not a surprise that the aftermath of that case left them all with PTSD flashbacks. Nor it is a surprise that nearly all of their personal lives – which weren’t all that stable to begin with – seem to be in even more of a shambles.

Henley’s marriage is hanging by a thread, as is her ability to do her job. There’s too much grief and anger in her not-so-distant past and she can’t seem to let it out or find any closure for it – no matter how many sessions she attends with a therapist who keeps calling her on her bullshit. Of which there is rather a lot.

But it’s the case that draws the reader in, and sticks in both the mind and the queasy belly long after you turn the final page. If it is final – something I’m still wondering about.

It starts with a body. The dead body of a self-ordained preacher in the office of his more than a bit shady megachurch. But the thing that really kicks off this case is that the preacher’s body isn’t the only body in the church. As the cops sweep the building looking for clues, Henley discovers a locked room hidden inside a bland meeting room, and inside that room there’s another body. A body that’s clearly been starved for weeks and tortured before, during and after whatever else happened in that room.

And it’s somehow still alive – in spite of it’s ghastly appearance. But what’s it doing there? And how, by all that is or isn’t holy in that supposed house of worship, did it get into that room and why is it there in the first place?

Caleb Annan – known to his worshipful congregation as Annan the Prophet – is dead. When Henley starts digging into his life, she discovers plenty of reasons why someone might have wanted to kill the bastard, starting with his wife. But nothing explains what that battered young man was doing bound to a bed and locked into that torture cell.

But the closer that Henley gets to the answer, the more bodies that investigation uncovers. And the more pitch dark and gruesome the story gets. Until the scab is finally pulled all the way off and the maggots crawl out.

Escape Rating A: I can’t use words like “enjoy” when talking about the reading of The Binding Room, because this doesn’t feel like the kind of story one enjoys – or at least that I enjoy. It’s the kind of story that has me on the edge of my seat, biting my nails, holding down my gorge and making sure all the lights are on. It’s compelling in the way that does not let the reader turn their eyes away because what it at its heart is a display of the many brutal ways in which human beings seriously suck and are entirely too capable of committing terrible evil in the name of the so-called “greater good”.

There are two cases here. The first, and the one that the powers that be would much prefer be the more prominent case, is the murder of Caleb Annan. That’s partly because he appears to be a pillar of the community and more than a bit because no matter what it seems like he was hiding – and he most definitely was hiding a whole lot – it’s a relatively straightforward case.

And there are the optics of the case, that Caleb was a black man, while the barely alive John Doe who was found hidden in the church is white. It seems like the press would rather follow the case of a missing white man rather than a dead black man – and there are plenty of political hacks willing to ride that angle as far as it will get them.

There’s also the problem that the more Henley discovers about that preacher, the less that any of the cops are able to see him as the victim of a crime. If he weren’t already dead, they’d be prosecuting his ass for everything they could get.

The other thing that hides under that surface is that the case of John Doe is a murky monster concealed under a whole lot of oozing muck. He’s not been reported missing, he has no identification, he was clearly tortured, and no one seems to be looking for him. And while he may have been found alone in that room, the more Henley digs the more she realizes that he was not the only victim of something so vile that no one wants to examine it closely. Or at all.

But she has no choice but to keep turning over rocks to see just how much slime crawls out.

That in the middle of all this her life and her marriage are still falling apart just adds to the ratcheting sense of danger and threat all the way around.

The Binding Room is a story to be read with all the lights on – and possibly a comfort animal or two or ten cuddled around. Because it’s not really about that simple murder. It’s a case about the evil that men and women do and it gets under the reader’s skin and just oozes and you can’t stop wanting to scratch it away.

It’s clear from the way that The Binding Room concludes that this will not be the final case for DI Anjelica Henley and the Serial Crimes Unit. Whenever the next book in the series comes out, I know I’m going to feel compelled to read it – and very possibly in one sitting as I did this one. Because I expect it to be another riveting, edge-of-the-seat, stomach churning read.

Review: The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

Review: The Woman in the Library by Sulari GentillThe Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill
Narrator: Katherine Littrell
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 288
Length: 8 hours and 58 minutes
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on June 7, 2022
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Goodreads

In every person's story, there is something to hide...
The ornate reading room at the Boston Public Library is quiet, until the tranquility is shattered by a woman's terrified scream. Security guards take charge immediately, instructing everyone inside to stay put until the threat is identified and contained. While they wait for the all-clear, four strangers, who'd happened to sit at the same table, pass the time in conversation and friendships are struck. Each has his or her own reasons for being in the reading room that morning—it just happens that one is a murderer.
Award-winning author Sulari Gentill delivers a sharply thrilling read with The Woman in the Library, an unexpectedly twisty literary adventure that examines the complicated nature of friendship and shows us that words can be the most treacherous weapons of all.

My Review:

The mystery in The Woman in the Library is like one of those Russian nesting dolls. It’s a mystery inside a mystery inside yet another mystery.

Mystery writer Winifred (Freddie) Kincaid is sitting at one of the long reading tables in Boston Public Library’s Central Library on Boylston Street staring up at the ceiling for inspiration for her next mystery. When the ceiling fails to inspire, she observes her neighbors at the long table, and begins constructing a story around her three nearest neighbors, who she labels “Freud Girl”, “Heroic Chin” and “Handsome Man”.

Then they all hear a scream from a nearby room. As they wait at their table for security to investigate, they strike up a conversation. The characters on Freddie’s page become real people to her, and the story of who they really are becomes the second story.

But there’s a story wrapped around that, as we see correspondence from a writer named Leo, who seems to be making comments on the story of Freddie and her three new friends, Marigold, Whit and Cain. Now Freddie isn’t the author, Hannah is the author and Freddie and her friends are just a story while “Freud Girl” and her pals are the story within the story.

However, we don’t see the mysterious mystery writer’s responses to Leo’s commentary, so we don’t know if Leo is really writing to a fellow author or if he’s just making it all up.

But we do read the chapters about Freddie and her new friends as they form a surprisingly tight little group. The more they learn about each other, the more we learn about them. Cain McLeod, AKA Handsome Man, is an author like Freddie. Whit Metters AKA Heroic Chin is a law student determined to fail in order to avoid spending the rest of his life under his mother’s thumb as a member of the family law firm, while Marigold AKA Freud Girl is a graduate psychology student who seems to be in love with Whit as well as obsessively intrusive about the entire group.

And then it all goes a bit pear-shaped, as someone starts sending threatening messages to Freddie. The situation escalates when Whit is attacked and Cain’s past as a convicted murderer is brought to light even as Freddie realizes that she’s in love with Cain as much as Marigold is with Whit.

But along the way the comments on the manuscript from the mysterious Leo get creepier and creepier. The reader starts wondering about just how much of everything is either going on in Leo’s head – or is being caused by the increasingly unhinged would-be author.

That’s when all the stories inside the stories all blow up at once and we finally are able to start winding the ball of string that we thought was rolling in a straight line – only to discover that we’ve been wandering through a maze all along.

Escape Rating A: I would have loved to stick with the audio of this, because the narrator was doing an excellent job with the large cast and especially with all the accents. I just ran out of time and switched to the text. But the narrator was very good and I’d be happy to listen to her again. She did a particularly terrific Australian accent – unless she is Australian in which case she did several terrific and different American accents!)

That the narrator did such a good job differentiating the characters made it easy for the listener to distinguish who was speaking and or writing as the story twisted and turned. Because this is definitely one of those mysteries that twists and turns and doubles back on itself until the reader doesn’t know which end is up, down or sideways in the story, the story within the story, or even the story within that story. Or even which story is the story and which is supposed to be real life.

We don’t really see Freddie’s story about Freud Girl, Handsome Man and Heroic Chin, and at first it seems like Leo is commenting on the story we’re not seeing. That particular deception doesn’t last long, only for it to be replaced by questions about whether Leo is really communicating with his fellow author Hannah or whether he’s deluding himself and/or us because we never see Hannah’s side of the correspondence.

Once we do, the situation gets even crazier – and possibly so does Leo. At first his comments just seem very meta, literature commenting on literature. Then he seems obsessive and we start wondering whether he’s a true colleague or just a crazed stalker-fan. In other words, was the reference to Stephen King’s Misery a bit of foreshadowing or just a red herring?

But the story of Freddie and her new friends also gets more compelling – in spite of Leo’s increasingly creepy commentary. And even though we know that Freddie is a creation of some author’s imagination, we still become completely invested in her budding romance with a man who might be a serial killer. Or might just be the victim of an elaborate frame.

Freddie likens her own creative process to boarding a bus and watching as the characters drive that bus to a place or places unknown. Freddie’s story careens all over the road. She’s the only character we don’t suspect might be the murderer. There’s enough of a stew of clues and red herrings to make any explanation plausible.

Which is what makes this thing so damn much fun. We know it’s a story, so as much as we are invested in Freddie’s life, we also know it’s not real or serious. Leo, on the other hand, might possibly be both. Whatever conclusions we thought we had come to, in the end the resolution of all the mysteries is cathartic and surprising. It’s like arriving at the end of a roller coaster ride, smiling and laughing because it was fun not in spite of the thrills and near-spills, but because of them, even though our legs are still a bit wobbly as we depart. And because we feel just that tiny bit of astonishment that we survived everything that was thrown our way. Although there’s a ghost of a hint of a possibility that maybe neither story is truly over.

And isn’t that just a chilling way to end a mystery!

Review: Find Me by Alafair Burke

Review: Find Me by Alafair BurkeFind Me by Alafair Burke
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Ellie Hatcher #6
Pages: 293
Published by Harper on January 11, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

The disappearance of a young woman leaves her closest friend reeling and an NYPD homicide detective digging into her own past in this thrilling mystery full of twists from the New York Times bestselling author of The Better Sister and The Wife.
Some pasts won’t stay forgotten . . .
She calls herself Hope Miller, but she has no idea who she actually is. Fifteen years ago, she was found in a small New Jersey town thrown from an overturned vehicle, with no clue to her identity. Doctors assumed her amnesia was a temporary side effect of her injuries, but she never regained her memory. Hope eventually started a new life with a new name in a new town that welcomed her, yet always wondered what she may have left behind—or been running from. Now, fifteen years later, she’s leaving New Jersey to start over once again.
Manhattan defense lawyer Lindsay Kelly, Hope’s best friend and the one who found her after the accident, understands why Hope wants a new beginning. But she worries how her friend will fare in her new East Hampton home, far away from everything familiar. Lindsay’s worst fears are confirmed when she discovers Hope has vanished without a trace—the only lead a drop of blood found where she was last seen. Even more ominously, the blood matches a DNA sample with a connection to a notorious Kansas murderer.
In pursuit of answers, the women search for the truth beneath long-buried secrets. And when their searches converge, what they find will upend everything they’ve ever known. 

My Review:

The title has a chilling double meaning in this wild thrill-ride of a story. On the surface it’s about Lindsay Kelly’s search for her missing best friend, Hope Miller. Under the surface of that desperate search, there’s Hope Miller’s search for herself.

Once upon a time, fifteen years ago, the woman now known as Hope Miller crashed a stolen SUV outside tiny Hopewell New Jersey. Her seriously injured body was found by the police chief’s daughter, Lindsay, on her way home.

When Hope regained consciousness in the hospital, she had no memory of the crash – or of any part of her life before it. She was a blank slate with no knowledge of who she was or what she was doing on that road or in that car. She had to start her life over with nothing to guide her.

But Lindsay saw her rescue of the young woman as a responsibility. She stood by the woman now called Hope every step of the way. The entire town protected her once the police chief and his daughter took her under their wing, always looking out for her. And making sure that no one tried to take advantage of her. They even found work for her, always paying in cash because Hope had no ID and no way to get one without a birth certificate. Legally, Hope existed in limbo.

Emotionally, she was a woman who began to want to stretch her wings – however tentatively. Hopewell was safe for her, but it was also a place where everyone was up in her business all the time. Lindsay’s close friendship was comforting but also confining, so Hope struck out on her own.

She moved to the Hamptons, found a place to rent for cash and an under-the-table job as a realtor’s assistant. Also for cash.

And then she disappeared. After a couple of weeks of no calls and no texts, her frantic best friend went to East Hampton to see Hope for herself. Only to learn that her friend hadn’t been seen or heard from for over a week. And that no one, not even the local police, was willing to start even a cursory search for a missing woman who might have just decided to vanish just as thoroughly as she had appeared all those years ago.

But Lindsay refused to believe that. She refused to let go. And in her unrelenting search for her missing friend she turned over a rock that no one even knew was there – until the snake crawled out.

Escape Rating A+: What makes this thriller so suspenseful and so damn, pardon me, thrilling is the way that it turns itself inside out not just once, but over and over and over again. The story starts out simple – a woman is missing and her friend wants to find her.

Then it grows tentacles.

Hope may have scammed her boss out of some cash before she disappeared. It looks like someone left behind a lot of blood in her last known location – and it’s not her blood. Someone claims she was stalking her boyfriend – and the man’s corpse turns up literally dead in the water – but not a drowning victim. No one shoots themselves in the back of the neck, hiding the wound under the hairline to make it harder to spot.

So Hope, whoever she really is, is wanted for murder.

But those tentacles suck in an NYPD homicide detective who has never given up on finding her father’s murderer. Which should be one hell of a stretch of the long arm of coincidence. Except that Hope has no memory of who she was or where she came from, so it’s just barely possible that she had something to do with either the death of a cop in Wichita Kansas fifteen years ago OR that her true identity had some relationship to the serial killer case that obsessed him.

And it’s equally possible that nothing Lindsay Kelly thought she knew about her best friend was really true. Or that someone that either Hatcher or Kelly has relied upon in this crisis is who they think they are. Or both. Possibly both. Frighteningly both.

This is a page-turning, nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat read as ideas and assumptions knot and unknot at breakneck speed with each move that Lindsay Kelly and Ellie Hatcher take. They are both searching for a truth that neither of them really wants to find. A truth that very nearly finds them first.

And just when the reader thinks the story is done, it twists one last time and muddies all the water all over again.

I had not realized when I picked this up that it was the 6th in a series featuring NYPD homicide detective Ellie Hatcher. I was immersed in it immediately without that background as the story focuses more on the original characters Lindsay Kelly and Hope Maxwell than it does Hatcher. But the story was so compelling that now I’m terribly curious about the earlier books in the series, starting with Dead Connection, so I’ll probably go back and pick them up the next time I’m looking for a compelling police thriller.

Because Find Me had me in its grip from the very first page.