Review: Don’t Open the Door by Allison Brennan

Review: Don’t Open the Door by Allison BrennanDon't Open the Door (Regan Merritt, #2) by Allison Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Regan Merritt #2
Pages: 384
Published by Mira on January 24, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

“Downright spectacular. A riveting page turner as prescient as it is purposeful.” —Providence Journal on Tell No Lies
A child is shot while playing video games at home. His mother will stop at nothing to find out who did it—and why.
After their ten-year-old son, Chase, was senselessly murdered, Regan's life unraveled. Her corporate lawyer husband, Grant, blamed the death on Regan’s work as a US marshal. Unable to reconcile their grief, they divorced, and Regan quit her job and moved away.
Now she's back after a voice mail from her former boss Tommy said he had important news to share about Chase’s killing. Regan is stunned to learn Tommy is dead too. When she reaches out to Grant, his panicked reaction raises her suspicions. Then a lawyer with ties to her ex also turns up murdered, and the police make Grant their top suspect.
Unsure of his guilt or innocence, Regan risks everything to find Grant before the police do so she can finally get the answers to all that has haunted her since losing Chase. But the truth is not even close to what she imagines—and now she fears she has no one to trust.

My Review:

Former U.S. Marshall Regan Merritt seems to have turned “making lazy and/or corrupt investigators look bad” as her new life’s work. It’s a pity that the cases that bring her skills to bear on her former colleagues come from being much too close to a victim that someone has paid to have whisked under a rug.

Like her 10-year-old son Chase. And now her dead former partner, still a U.S. Marshall, who was looking into her son’s murder. A little too closely for someone else’s comfort.

When we first met Regan Merritt in The Sorority Murder it was a way of easing the reader into the recent tragedies of her life, just as she was easing herself out of the blackest depths of her grief after her little boy’s murder and her subsequent divorce. (Although, honestly, there are PLENTY of reasons why Regan Merritt’s marriage to Grant Warwick was over long before the death of their son – and every single one of them is on display in Don’t Open the Door. OMG the man is a douche. And for once I’m not digressing much at all. Although…my reading group has a metaphorical vat of acid we throw especially asshole-ish characters into on a regular basis. This jerk belongs in that vat!)

We got to know Regan over a case that didn’t have anything to do with her son’s death or the way that the F.B.I. closed it, in her mind very prematurely and with a TON of questions still unanswered. The same thing happened with The Sorority Murder – but as a private citizen Regan is able to turn over rocks and tilt at seeming windmills that finally result in seeing justice done.

So when Regan’s friend and mentor Tommy Granger is murdered after unofficially reopening the case of little Chase Merritt’s murder, Regan is certain – very nearly dead certain, in fact – that Tommy’s death is related to Chase’s, and that she’s not going to let the same damned F.B.I. agents take the easy way out yet again. She’ll just have to retrace Tommy’s steps and rerun his entire search to discover just which rock he turned over and exactly who and what crawled out from under it.

Even if – or perhaps a bit of especially because – it might turn out that her ex-husband is in this mess up to his neck. That perhaps when he blamed Regan’s job for their son’s killing that he already had a sneaking suspicion that it was really all about his own.

Escape Rating A: I read Don’t Open the Door in a single evening for the very same reason I got caught up in The Sorority Murder. I loved following Regan Merritt in her methodical but still compelling investigation. She’s careful, she’s even cautious to a certain extent, but she goes where the evidence takes her – even if she’s not supposed to be the one collecting it and even if it hurts.

I also empathized with the way that she painstakingly processes situations and presents solutions with logic and without much emotion interjected. And I found most people’s – read that as men’s – reactions to that all too realistic. Especially her ex-husband, who always wants everything to be all about him and expects her to have asked for his inclusion at every turn – even in situations where she has all the expertise and he has none. This is just the icing on the shit cake of reasons why their marriage failed.

The other thing that makes Regan such a terrific investigator is that while she trusts her gut instincts, she also verifies those instincts with solid technique. Trust, but verify applies in all sorts of situations, including situations where the person you need to trust is yourself.

The case Regan is attempting to piece together from scattered fragments keeps the reader’s attention – and not just because Regan’s whole heart is in it. It’s clear that Tommy died because he uncovered someone’s dirty secrets. More to the point, he was on the trail of exposing the kind of dirty secrets that are worth killing a U.S. Marshall over – which means they are very dirty, very costly, or more likely both.

Regan’s ex is a high-powered corporate attorney. It is WAY more likely that he saw or heard something that made somebody very important very nervous than that their son’s killer acted alone out of revenge. Somebody paid someone to make a problem go away and that’s not anything of what the F.B.I. decided to believe in order to close a messy case.

Unless someone at the local office is in on it too. Which just means more money and an even messier trail to follow.

So this case starts out personal for Regan, and only gets more so as it goes along. But what keeps us reading is her dogged determination to look out for herself and keep looking for the truth – no matter how many people try to get in her way – or try to get her out of theirs.

In the end, this was a compelling mystery thriller that also had a huge, heaping helping of closure embedded within it. Regan gets her answers – even if they’re not always the answers she wants. She doesn’t get over her son’s death – because one just can’t. (She’s already way past over her divorce.) But she’s turned a HUGE corner, and is looking forward and not just back. It feels like her story is done. I would love to see her in another mystery, because I enjoy the character. But if that never happens, her journey does feel like it has come to an appropriate conclusion and I’m happy with that ending for her.

My first introduction to this author was through Tell No Lies, the second book in her Quinn & Costa series. While we may, or may not, see Regan Merritt again, I’m really looking forward to the next Quinn & Costa thriller, Seven Girls Gone, coming this April.

Review: City Under One Roof by Iris Yamashita

Review: City Under One Roof by Iris YamashitaCity Under One Roof by Iris Yamashita
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on January 10, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A stranded detective tries to solve a murder in a tiny Alaskan town where everyone lives in a single high-rise building, in this gripping debut by an Academy Award–nominated screenwriter.
When a local teenager discovers a severed hand and foot washed up on the shore of the small town of Point Mettier, Alaska, Cara Kennedy is on the case. A detective from Anchorage, she has her own motives for investigating the possible murder in this isolated place, which can be accessed only by a tunnel.
After a blizzard causes the tunnel to close indefinitely, Cara is stuck among the odd and suspicious residents of the town—all 205 of whom live in the same high-rise building and are as icy as the weather. Cara teams up with Point Mettier police officer Joe Barkowski, but before long the investigation is upended by fearsome gang members from a nearby native village.
Haunted by her past, Cara soon discovers that everyone in this town has something to hide. Will she be able to unravel their secrets before she unravels?"

My Review:

When teenage resident Amy Lin finds hacked off human body parts along the shore, it’s more than a bit gruesome but it’s not exactly unusual. It is for Amy personally, but not in the grand scheme of life on the Last Frontier. “Death by Alaska” is a real phenomenon, where people die by doing stupid things that might be survivable in the Lower 48 but just are not in a place where humans are often the prey of both the wildlife and the weather.

(We lived in Anchorage for three years. Reading a newspaper story about a missing person identified through bear scat was not an uncommon occurrence.)

Amy and a group of her friends only found one hand and one foot encased in a boot. Not enough to identify or to determine cause of death. It looked like death by misadventure, part of a string of such cases washing up on shore up and down the coast.

But Anchorage PD Detective Cara Kennedy looks at the report and sees something that might be a link to the tragic deaths of her husband and young son just the year before. She heads to Point Mettier with her scene of crime investigation kit to see the actual scenes of the crime and interview the people involved in this case that everyone in Point Mettier believes is open and shut and dead and buried.

Just like the case of Cara’s family.

Cara’s investigation throws a gigantic monkey wrench into what “everybody knew”. First she finds the dead man’s head, buried in a local woman’s barn. Now the local two-man (literally) police department has something that can be identified as well as a clear cause of death. Somebody shot whoever-he-was.

Now everyone wants to see the back of Cara after she’s just reopened this truly messy can of worms (not that worms have actually gotten to the head in the middle of an Alaska winter). Cara wants to put Point Mettier in her rearview mirror, believing that this case, as terrible and terribly confusing as it might be, has no relationship to her family’s deaths.

But the tunnel has been closed by a raging storm, and Cara is forced to remain in Point Mettier with all those people she’s just seriously pissed off – and most likely a murderer as well. If not a whole damn conspiracy of people who are never going to trust the outsider stuck in their midst.

Their distrust may be justified, but in their collective desire to keep Cara in the dark it becomes clear that something, or someone, is hiding in that darkness as well – and that they are way more dangerous than anyone wants to believe.

Escape Rating A-: There’s a real “City Under One Roof” – Whittier, Alaska. Which is intended to sound a lot like Point Mettier, Alaska, the setting of the story. If it all sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because there were several stories about it on TV after one of the residents posted a series of TikTok videos about life in Whittier that went viral in 2021.

While Point Mettier is explicitly NOT Whittier, it does sit in the same geographic position as the real town, has the same weather, and the same single-point of access via a tunnel that shuts down at night and when the weather gets really awful. So it isn’t the real place exactly, but perhaps its twin. Not its evil twin, but absolutely a twin where evil happens.

Which leads back around to this mystery thriller. Just follow Denny the moose as he’s led around town on his leash.

Although Cara certainly finds a lot more clues by following Denny’s person, Lonnie – including that sawed off head that kicks the whole case into gear – frozen or otherwise.

As unusual as the Point Mettier setting is, the mystery has a lot of the hallmarks of a more typical small-town mystery even if Point Mettier is not exactly a typical small town. Because in some ways it still very much is.

The 300 permanent residents all know each other, whether they like each other or not on any given day, week, or month. They literally live in each other’s pockets, think they know of all each other’s secrets, and certainly are entirely too familiar with each other’s quirks and foibles. They are also all up in each other’s business whether they want to be or not.

So it’s not a surprise, either to Cara or to the reader, that the local residents are keeping all kinds of secrets from the outsider. It’s not implausible that there’s a coverup going on, whether of the murder, of the disposal of the corpse, of something illegal but completely unrelated, or all of the above. Cara knows there are secrets, and is sure she’s going to have to watch and wait and hope that someone will finally trust her enough to let her in on the ones she needs to know before the killer strikes again.

What she finds isn’t what she expected – but if it was there wouldn’t be much of a story. And there most definitely is a compelling story. While there is much about Point Mettier that strikes similar chords to other small town mysteries, the claustrophobic, isolated nature of Point Mettier added plenty of unique twists and turns every single shivering step of the way to whodunnit.

One of the things that I both really enjoyed about the story and that drove me a bit crazy as it was happening was just how much of the story is wrapped around Cara simply getting to know the residents. It was necessary but it was also more than a bit of the showcase of the quirky. Everyone had a personal secret, everyone seemed to be marching to the beat of a drummer who was marching out of step with the outside world but really in tune locally. It seemed like Point Mettier had become a haven for people who didn’t quite fit into even the rest of Alaska, which itself is a bit of an off the beaten path place to live.

I particularly liked the way that the mystery managed to both hinge on the kind of outsider that everyone in a small town mystery WANTS to have been the perpetrator while at the same time also feeding into the whole small town covers each other’s secrets trope. That was particularly well done.

On my other hand, I’m not totally sure the slow burn romance between Cara and one of the local cops was completely necessary. The story was plenty compelling without wondering will they/won’t they.

And very much on my third, possibly frostbitten, hand, the explosive revelation at the end leaves the door open for more mysteries featuring Cara Kennedy as the detective – even if Point Mettier isn’t the setting. There’s plenty of room for another female detective in Alaska like Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak (start with A Cold Day for Murder). I’ll be very curious to see if Cara Kennedy will be back, and in the meantime I think I’ll check out what Kate has been up to.

Review: Look Closer by David Ellis

Review: Look Closer by David EllisLook Closer by David Ellis
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 448
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on July 5, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

From the bestselling and award-winning author comes a wickedly clever and fast-paced novel of greed, revenge, obsession--and quite possibly the perfect murder.
Simon and Vicky couldn't seem more normal: a wealthy Chicago couple, he a respected law professor, she an advocate for domestic violence victims. A stable, if unexciting marriage. But one thing's for sure ... absolutely nothing is what it seems. The pair are far from normal, and one of them just may be a killer.
When the body of a beautiful socialite is found hanging in a mansion in a nearby suburb, Simon and Vicky's secrets begin to unravel. A secret whirlwind affair. A twenty-million-dollar trust fund about to come due. A decades-long grudge and obsession with revenge. These are just a few of the lies that make up the complex web...and they will have devastating consequences. And while both Vicky and Simon are liars, just who exactly is conning who?
Part Gone Girl, part Strangers on a Train, Look Closer is a wild rollercoaster of a read that will have you questioning everything you think you know.

My Review:

It begins with a dead socialite hanging from the stair railing in her wealthy suburban Chicago home. And it begins from the perspective of the man who killed her, walking away from the scene of the crime, on Halloween night, in a Grim Reaper costume with no one the wiser.

From there, this twisty, turny, rollercoaster of a thriller is off to the races.

Because nothing and no one in this story is what they seem. Or even close to it. At all.

Except for the suburban police detective investigating her first murder in a tony suburb that has never seen murder before. A place where everyone expects police investigations to be wrapped up in 60 minutes like they do it on TV.

Detective Sergeant Jane Burke is investigating the case of a lifetime, the kind that will make her name and her career. And the more evidence she turns up, the more the whole thing looks like a slam-dunk. She has means, motive, opportunity and a suspect wrapped up in a nice neat bow.

Even better, a dead suspect, a con artist who got caught up in his own con and killed himself in his expensive condo when it all fell apart.

The case has been gift-wrapped so neatly that Jane can’t convince her superiors – or the village at large- that it’s all a frame and that there’s a puppet master hiding in the shadows pulling all the strings including her own.

After all, he’s done it before. And she can’t stand the fact that he might manage to do it again.

Escape Rating A+: Look Closer is a thriller about the ultimate long game, a game that is played on the reader every single bit as much as it is on the victims and on the detective stuck with the investigation.

Initially, we’re fooled along with everyone else. Socialite Lauren Betancourt is dead, and from the shifting narratives and time frames that make up the story, initially it seems very clear that her lover, Simon Dobias, killed her because she broke off their affair.

We know that nothing is quite as it seems – except for Lauren’s corpse – but what we discover over the course of the story is just how we, and every single person in the story – has been taken for one hell of a ride.

Saying anything else about the story itself is going to hit spoiler territory, and this is a story that deserves to be read without spoiling. Although I have to confess that about halfway through I tried thumbing to the end and the deception has so many corkscrews in it that reading to the end didn’t tell me much at all about how they finally got there – both the mystery and the narrative about the mystery.

The way that it’s written starts at the murder and then goes both backward and forward in time, frequently changing points of view as it goes. (Although I read this instead of listening to it let just say that there’s a reason that the audio had a full cast.)

So at first we know what happened – at least on the surface. As we go forward in time we see the detective investigating what happened and coming up with something she KNOWS is a frame but can’t prove is a frame with her boss and her whole town breathing down her neck for resolution.

As we see her doubts we start seeing the bits and pieces of what really happened, only to discover that what we thought was true was yet another frame embedded in one smokescreen on top of another. And even when we think we know, we don’t actually know much at all.

The way that this story worked – and does it ever! – reminded me more than a bit of Never Coming Home by Hannah Mary McKinnon. Not only in the story itself but in the way that the reader ends up grudgingly admiring all the players involved in this elaborate game even though we KNOW they are not exactly on the side of the angels.

So if you enjoy thrillers that go through some extreme corkscrew turns before they slide headfirst into their wildly surprising conclusions, Look Closer is one hell of a pulse-pounding read.

Review: Hide by Tracy Clark

Review: Hide by Tracy ClarkHide (Detective Harriet Foster #1) by Tracy Clark
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Detective Harriet Foster #1
Pages: 380
Published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

From acclaimed author Tracy Clark comes a page-turning mystery featuring hard-boiled Chicago detective Harriet Foster, who’s on the hunt for a serial killer with a deadly affinity for redheads.
When a young red-haired woman is found brutally murdered in downtown Chicago, one detail stands out: the red lipstick encircling her wrists and ankles.
Detective Harriet Foster is on the case, even though she’s still grieving the sudden death of her partner. As a Black woman in a male-dominated department, Foster anticipates a rocky road ahead acclimating to a new team—and building trust with her new partner isn’t coming easily.
After another victim turns up with the same lipstick markings, Foster suspects she’s looking for a serial killer. Through a tip from a psychiatrist, Foster learns about Bodie Morgan: a troubled man with a twisted past and a penchant for pretty young redheads with the bluest eyes. As Foster wades into Morgan’s sinister history, the killer continues their gruesome assault on Chicago’s streets.
In her desperate race to catch the murderer before they strike again, Foster will have to confront the darkest of secrets—including her own.

My Review:

When we first meet Harriet Foster, we know two things. She’s a Chicago cop, and she’s a survivor. And at the moment, the one is inextricably linked to the other, both in the sense that it’s being a cop that gives her the tenacity to keep on living, and it’s being a cop that makes it necessary to have that sheer, driven stubbornness in the first place.

It’s late in the fall, it’s Chicago, it’s cold, and she’s having a damn hard time getting herself across the threshold of her new precinct. She’s just back from eight weeks leave after the senseless killing of her son, the subsequent death of her marriage and the suicide of her police partner in the parking lot of her previous precinct.

She’s thrown right into the deep end as soon as she gets through the door. Her new ‘partner’ is the department’s hard case, and they’ve just caught one. A naked, dead, butchered woman badly hidden under a pile of leaves in a park just off the Riverwalk.

It’s a spectacular mess, the scene is already a spectacle, and the lookie-loos and media are already out in force right along with CPD. Her partner is just so sure that the killer is the young black man who was found sleeping nearby with a single bloodstain on his lapel. Harriet is pretty sure it wasn’t him, because if he’d been the murderer there’d be way more than a single bloodstain on his clothes. He’d be drenched in the stuff.

And she’s certainly unwilling to rush to any judgment. Not just because the young man is the same age as her dead son. Harriet Foster just isn’t the kind of cop who rushes to judgment – even on her worst day.

Which this is already shaping up to be. Worst day, worst week, worst month, worst case. Someone is out there eviscerating redheads, managing to stay just one step ahead of the cops. The news media are baying for somebody’s blood and City Hall is looking for a scapegoat.

But Harriet Foster keeps putting one step in front of the other, one long day and even longer night after the other, using the frustrations of the case to keep her own demons at bay. In the end, she’ll at least have put one monster to rest – even if it’s not one of her own.

Escape Rating A+: This one absolutely had me from the very first page. While some of that was because I can still see most of the settings in my head, it was mostly because of Harriet Foster herself. She’s trapped like an insect in amber, still processing – slowly and badly – her recent losses and hoping that something in going back to the job is going to get her through the day and the one after that and the one after that.

At the same time, she is exactly the kind of protagonist that I read mysteries for, in that she’s questioning and human and oh-so-capable all at the same time. It’s so clear that she hasn’t remotely got her life figured out, but once the case begins she’s all there for it.

That she’s experienced enough to know when to push back on a shit-talking so-called partner and when to suck it up and stand in solidarity with the rest of the cops in her new cop shop just felt right.

And then there’s the case, which is just the type of twisted, humdinger that reminded me so much of the kind of case that Eve Dallas ends up trying to unravel in the In Death series. The bodies are gruesome, the clues are few, the perpetrator is clever and the media vultures are circling.

At the same time, we have alternating perspectives from people who might, or might not, be involved in the mess, from childhood memories of a murderous daddy to adult children trying to pretend they’re normal to a rogue psychologist looking for her next star psychopath. They bring both perspective and confusion to the mystery, allowing the real perpetrator to hide in plain sight.

As much as the case reminded me of many in the In Death series, Harriet Foster only resembles Dallas in her dogged determination to solve the mystery and put the guilty party either away or under. There’s no romance even hinted at here and there shouldn’t be. Harriet’s personal story is about her determination to find a way forward and to spot the light at the end of her personal tunnel of grief. She’s far from there yet, which bodes well for future entries in the series.

What we have in Hide is a case of one person unraveling, and one person, well, raveling. When the murderer starts coming apart, their descent is swift and sprays lots of collateral damage. Harriet Foster, on the other hand, is oh-so-slowly raveling herself back together, one day, one clue, and one paper clip at a time. And her progress, both on the case and on herself, is utterly absorbing to watch.

Hide is the first book in what looks to be a compelling mystery suspense series. While it isn’t officially out until January 1, it is available NOW to Amazon Prime members as one of the Amazon First Reads books this month. So if you are as impatient to read it as I was there is a way to get it this month.

The second book in the series, Fall, will be out one year from now. And I can’t wait to see how and what Harriet will be doing next winter. In the meantime, if you’re on the hunt for a series with a similar vibe, take a look at Harriet’s British counterpart, Inspector Anjelica Henley, solving the case of The Jigsaw Man.

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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: Braking Day by Adam Oyebanji

Review: Braking Day by Adam OyebanjiBraking Day by Adam Oyebanji
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, science fiction, space opera, thriller
Pages: 359
Published by DAW Books on April 5, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

On a generation ship bound for a distant star, one engineer-in-training must discover the secrets at the heart of the voyage in this new sci-fi novel.
It's been over a century since three generation ships escaped an Earth dominated by artificial intelligence in pursuit of a life on a distant planet orbiting Tau Ceti. Now, it's nearly Braking Day, when the ships will begin their long-awaited descent to their new home.
Born on the lower decks of the Archimedes, Ravi Macleod is an engineer-in-training, set to be the first of his family to become an officer in the stratified hierarchy aboard the ship. While on a routine inspection, Ravi sees the impossible: a young woman floating, helmetless, out in space. And he's the only one who can see her.
As his visions of the girl grow more frequent, Ravi is faced with a choice: secure his family's place among the elite members of Archimedes' crew or risk it all by pursuing the mystery of the floating girl. With the help of his cousin, Boz, and her illegally constructed AI, Ravi must investigate the source of these strange visions and uncovers the truth of the Archimedes' departure from Earth before Braking Day arrives and changes everything about life as they know it.

My Review: 

This debut science fiction thriller combines both “We have met the enemy and he is us” with “No matter where you go, there you are” into a story about the baggage that we literally carry with us as we attempt to make a seemingly fresh, new start.

Three colony ships, the Archimedes, the Bohr, and the Chandrasekhar, have been traveling through the black of interstellar space for 132 years. That’s seven generations of shipboard life, all in service of a single goal – reaching Destination World and disembarking for a return to planet bound life that is otherwise so far in the past that no one alive remembers any sense of gravity other than that generated by the gigantic revolving rings that make up their ships.

But all of that is about to change when we first meet Midshipman Ravi MacLeod aboard the Archimedes. Because Braking Day is only weeks away. On that day, the ship will fire up its main engines to start their final push for their new home.

When everything that has become familiar over so many decades of shipboard life will finally change.

But there are always plenty of people who prefer the status quo, and that’s just as true aboard the Archie and her sister ships as it is in any other gathering of humans. Some are just afraid. Some don’t want to take the chance of screwing up a pristine new world the same way that their ancestors – meaning us, now – made a mess of Earth.

And some, the privileged few of the officer class in particular, are not looking forward to the loss of their purpose or especially those much vaunted privileges. After all, a planetary colony won’t need an officer class to run things anymore. At least it won’t need the same people and skills in that officer class that it has needed while aboard.

First, however, Archie and her sister ships have to get there. The crew has always been told that there’s no one out there to stop them – except their own internal squabbles. And not that they don’t have plenty of those to be going on with.

But as operations gear up for Braking Day, engineer-in-training Ravi and his hacker-extraordinaire cousin Boz hack their way into secrets that no one was ever supposed to find.

Archie, Bohr and Chandrasekhar are not alone – and never have been. The officers have a plan for dealing with the threat that they’ve never officially acknowledged. The problem is that the so-called enemy has a plan to deal with them, too.

And Ravi and Boz are caught right in the middle of it.

Escape Rating A+: This was another reread for me, from another STARRED Library Journal review. So I went back to this after several months and, like The Bruising of Qilwa yesterday, it was every bit as good the second time around. I don’t have the opportunity to reread terribly often these days, so this was kind of a treat!

I got caught up in this right away, both times, because this complex story in this large, artificial ecosystem is anchored in one, multi-faceted character, Ravi MacLeod. From one perspective, Braking Day can be seen as Ravi’s coming-of-age story. When we first meet him, he’s a cadet in engineering, but that’s just the tip of a ship-sized iceberg. And from another, it’s a gigantic mystery with potentially deadly consequences. Certainly for Ravi, and quite possibly for everyone else as well.

After 132 years, the social stratification of shipboard life has reached the level of downright ossification. Children of officers become privileged officers in their turn. Children of crew become crew. Children of criminal lowlifes eventually get recycled (literally) as “Dead Weight”, just like their parents.

Ravi is a maverick who gets punished at pretty much every turn because he comes from a criminal family. He doesn’t “belong” to the officer class and few people on either side of that divide ever let him forget it. (If this part of the story sounds interesting, take a look at Medusa Uploaded by Emily Devenport, which shows what happens after century upon century of such ossification. It’s not pretty but it is compelling.)

There’s also a gigantic secret hidden in the history of the Archie’s expedition – as there was in David Ramirez’ The Forever Watch. It’s a secret that was born out of the same kind of fear and that results in the same deadly consequences.

There is also an enemy within Archie, in a place and position that all the powers that be refuse to even look at. It’s an issue that has more resonance to today than I originally saw. The privileged classes, the officers, don’t want to lose their power and privilege, and fear the changes that landfall will bring. Some of them don’t care that if they don’t land that eventually the ship’s recycling will fail and they’ll end up drifting in space. After all, it won’t happen in their generation. But the officers who are investigating the increasing incidents of sabotage never look among “their own” for the perpetrators.

Add in an actual, living, breathing enemy that has been raised for generations to hate everything about the Archie and her sister ships, that wants nothing more than revenge for past wrongs, and you have multiple recipes for disaster all playing out at the same time – a disaster that just keeps on getting bigger and having more facets every minute.

The question of whether the fleet will cripple itself, whether they and their old enemy will wipe each other out, or whether the cybernetic space dragons will decide that they are all collectively too stupid to live creates the kind of non-stop adventure that will keep readers on the edge of their seats even after the big, explosive climax.

Braking Day was the author’s debut novel, and it was wild and marvelous and thoughtful all at the same time. I literally gobbled it up not once but twice and still wished there were more. His next book is a complete surprise as it’s a contemporary mystery thriller. A Quiet Teacher is coming out next week, and I’m terribly curious to see where the author takes me next.

Review: Skibird by M.L. Buchman

Review: Skibird by M.L. BuchmanSkibird (Miranda Chase NTSB #11) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: political thriller, technothriller, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #11
Pages: 364
Published by Buchman Bookworks on October 25, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

When the political battlefield spreads to Antarctica, can the team survive the deep freeze?Those who work there call Antarctica “The Ice.” A secret Russian cargo jet crashes into a crevasse near an Australian Station. The Aussies call in the top air-crash investigators on the planet.The best of them all, Miranda Chase, must face the Russians, Chinese, and use her own autistic abilities to keep her team alive. As the battle spreads across The Ice, are even her incredible skills enough?Or will they all be buried in the frozen wasteland?"Miranda is utterly compelling!" - Booklist, starred review“Escape Rating: A. Five Stars! OMG just start with Drone and be prepared for a fantastic binge-read!” -Reading Reality

My Review:

This one begins, as the entries in this series generally do, with a plane crashing. It’s just that this particular crash is a bit more inconvenient than most. (Considering that the last crash they investigated (in Lightning) was on a remote island in the South China Sea, that’s saying something.) But this one is definitely in a much dicier location.

A Russian cargo plane has crashed near Australia’s main Antarctic base, Davis Station, on Australian territory. In a crevasse. It was supposedly carrying fuel and supplies for Russia’s extremely remote Vostok base.

But when three very disparate teams show up at Davis Station to either “investigate” the crash or prevent it from being thoroughly investigated, there are a whole lot of people who are left wondering just what was in that plane that was worth dying for – or killing for.

Miranda and her team are there because the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has recalled Holly Harper from her secondment to Miranda Chase’s NTSB team – and the Chairman of the (U.S.) Joint Chiefs of Staff has requested that Miranda and the rest of the team go with her. Miranda’s expertise is clearly going to be needed.

The Russians have sent the officer in charge of their Antarctic bases from Moscow to prevent anyone from investigating the crash or even exploring the downed plane – assuming they can. Why the Chinese Central Military Commission have sent their own agent is anyone’s guess once she adds herself to this rather eclectic expedition.

Someone, or something, brought that plane down. The Russians seem dead set on making sure that no one finds out what it was carrying or who might have destroyed it – on pain of death. The Chinese seem to be operating on the principle that if the enemy of my enemy is not exactly my friend, that they and the U.S. might have coinciding interests in whatever caused the crash and/or is causing the Russians panic over the crash.

And Miranda and her team just want to find out why this old, sturdy but reliable plane, in the hands of an extremely capable pilot, turned into such an explosive crash so very far from home. Whether they can do a damn thing about the political explosions that will inevitably follow in their wake is not even on Miranda’s radar.

But she and her team are certainly on someone’s. As always.

Escape Rating A: I love Miranda, and I adore this series, but I found myself wishing that Skibird had come out in the summer. A northern hemisphere summer, that is. Because the author does an entirely too excellent job of describing the extreme conditions under which Miranda’s team conducts their Antarctic investigation. It’s already cold enough around here that I didn’t need to experience the shivers vicariously as well. I’d have appreciated the chilly scenario a lot more in the middle of an Atlanta summer.

That being said, this was a fascinating, albeit chilly, entry in this terrific series. (The series starts with Drone, it’s a compelling adventure conducted by a great team and every entry is an edge or the seat thriller in multiple ways. If any of that appeals to you, or if you’d like to read something that reads a lot like Tom Clancy before he stopped paying attention to his editor, pick up Drone and buckle up for a wild thrill ride.)

Back to hot but nearly-frozen Skibird. I need to explain that a bit.

The stories in the Miranda Chase series often have a “ripped from the headlines” feel – sometimes because they’ve anticipated the headlines. As Miranda and her team head to Antarctica, the U.S. and Russia are in the middle of a proxy war in the former Soviet Bloc countries that may be a Cold War between the major powers but a hot war on the ground. At the same time, the U.S. is in a bit of a Trade War with China while relations between the Chinese and the Russians are fractious and on the point of fracturing.

It’s a mess, and I say that without differentiating between the book and real life.

Miranda and her team are just there to investigate the crash. Miranda’s autism requires her to focus on the job at hand and ignore any chaos that may surround it. The rest of her team are there to help her maintain that focus AND deal with that chaos – often at the same time.

The Russians are clearly up to something. The Chinese are clearly up to taking advantage of the situation between the Russians’ “something” and the Americans trying to get to the bottom of it – preferably without finding themselves at the bottom of another crevasse. The political maneuvering takes place at the highest levels as well as in the lowest of places and Miranda and her team are caught in the middle of it.

But underneath the big, exploding story of crashing planes and illicit arms imports into Antarctica, there’s also a quiet and potentially even more chilling story about the relationships on the team. Holly is panicking because she never expected to be in a relationship – only to finally realize that she is and has been for a couple of years. Miranda never expected to find the level of emotional support and happiness in her life that she has found with Andi, and is worried that the relationship is founded on smoothing out her world and not on love or romance or a partnership of equals.

In other words, both Holly and Miranda are running scared in their own particular ways, causing an even bigger chill in their worlds than the ambient Antarctic temperature.

The political brinkmanship quotient in Skibird is high, the air crash problem solving is even more fraught than usual, and the relationships on the team have never been more brittle. Skibird is a page-turning delight from beginning to end – even while bundled up in the warmest blankets.

Next up for Miranda is Nightwatch, promised for early 2023. Which is a good thing, because I can’t wait!