Review: The Book Haters’ Book Club by Gretchen Anthony

Review: The Book Haters’ Book Club by Gretchen AnthonyThe Book Haters' Book Club by Gretchen Anthony
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: books and reading, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Park Row on September 13, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

All it takes is the right book to turn a Book Hater into a Book Lover…
That was Elliott’s belief and the reason why he started The Book Haters’ Book Club—a newsletter of reading recommendations for the self-proclaimed “nonreader.” As the beloved co-owner of Over the Rainbow Bookstore, Elliott’s passion and gift was recommending books to customers. Now, after his sudden death, his grief-ridden business partner, Irma, has agreed to sell Over the Rainbow to a developer who will turn the cozy bookstore into high-rise condos.
But others won’t give up the bookstore without a fight. When Irma breaks the news to her daughters, Bree and Laney, and Elliott’s romantic partner, Thom, they are aghast. Over the Rainbow has been Bree and Laney’s sanctuary since childhood, and Thom would do anything to preserve Elliott’s legacy. Together, Thom, Bree and Laney conspire to save the bookstore, even if it takes some snooping, gossip and minor sabotage.
Filled with humor, family hijinks and actual reading recommendations, The Book Haters' Book Club is the ideal feel-good read. It’s a celebration of found family and a love letter to the everyday heroes who run bookstores.

My Review:

Elliot Gregory is watching from somewhere over the rainbow – or somewhere in the ‘Great Beyond’ – as his business partner, her daughters and his domestic partner all flail together and separately in the aftermath of his sudden death.

Yes, this is one of those stories that starts, to paraphrase Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Elliot was dead, to begin with.

He left behind a mess. He also was a mess. And he’s left behind a whole bunch of people who all loved him in one way or another to clean it up. But first they have to find the depths of that mess.

And then they have to find the true depths within themselves and each other.

Things don’t begin auspiciously. Irma Bedford meets her daughters, Laney and Bree, along with the late Elliot’s domestic partner Thom, at the offices of a real estate development firm to inform them that she has already sold the bookstore and the land it sits on to said investment firm for a sum that does not remotely look like the true value of the business and its real estate.

And that it’s a done deal that closes in less than a month.

What Irma doesn’t tell them is why – no matter how many sneaky and not so sneaky ways they ask. As far as Irma is concerned, it’s her business and not theirs. And an argument could be made for that. (Elliot and Thom were not married, Elliot didn’t leave a will, so as the surviving business partner the bookstore is legally Irma’s to continue to operate or dispose of as she pleases. Or as she feels compelled to. Or whatever the hell is motivating her at this point.)

But it makes no sense. It’s clear from the outset that the development firm is shady AF and that they seriously lowballed the offer. Even if Irma does want to sell she’s being taken advantage of while she’s at a low place. And even if she does want to retire – and she might – she’s been grooming her younger daughter to take over the bookstore for Bree’s entire life. The change in direction is abrupt to say the least.

And the more Laney, Bree and Thom dig, the fishier the whole thing seems. So they fight back with everything they have, banding together and stepping way out of their collective comfort zones to get the developers to back off of the deal before it’s too late.

But just when they think they’ve won, they discover that they had lost the war long before they began the first battle. Now they’ll have to fight on an entirely different front – before it really is too late after all. Again.

Escape Rating B-: I expected to fall in love with The Book Haters’ Club, but I left – or rather I middled – with a whole lot of mixed feelings.

I say middled because the first half of the book is all about Laney’s, Bree’s and Thom’s all-out, no-holds barred campaign to save the bookstore – no matter what Irma thinks. While what Irma thinks, feels and for that matter what in the hell she’s doing this for is all a deep, dark secret that makes absolutely no sense at all.

At the midpoint, the story turns itself around, because it’s only then that the first layer of the secret is revealed. But it kind of feels like that slog to save the store was all a waste. It is a waste for Laney, Bree and Thom, but it’s at that point where the first half of the story feels like it was pointless for the reader as well.

But once that first, brittle, outer skin of that onion of secrets gets cracked and peels away, the story finally starts getting somewhere. Because, while Elliot may have left them all with his big, untidy mess of secrets, they all have plenty that they need to reveal, not just to each other, but to themselves.

So the first half of the story was a whole lot of frenetic action that led nowhere, The second half is a whole lot of introspection and grief and the work of opening up and letting friends in to help with your mess.

While turning a group of people who were once a roiling mass of resentment at each other – and honestly for good reason – into a surprisingly cohesive found family.

The biggest part of the charm of this story is in the characters, once we’re finally able to start getting to know them – and they’re back to getting to know each other. One of the odder things about this story is the way that dear, dead Elliot breaks the fourth wall from on high (presumably) to inject himself into both the storytelling and the proceedings in a way that just didn’t work for me. Your reading mileage, of course, may vary.

So there’s plenty to love in this story about secrets, partnerships, quirky neighborhoods and found families. And if you love books about books and reading filled with terrific book recommendations, there are plenty of those here to savor. I just wish the whole thing had gotten to its point a whole lot sooner.

Review: The Lying Club by Annie Ward

Review: The Lying Club by Annie WardThe Lying Club by Annie Ward
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 432
Published by Park Row on March 22, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

"If you loved Big Little Lies and Little Fires Everywhere, allow me to introduce you to your next obsession. Kim Liggett, New York Times bestselling author of The Grace Year
A tangled web of lies draws together three women in this explosive thriller of revenge, murder and shocking secrets

At an elite private school nestled in the Colorado mountains, Natalie, an office assistant, dreams of having a life like the school moms she deals with every day. Women like Brooke—a gorgeous heiress, ferociously loving mother and serial cheater—and Asha, an overprotective mom who suspects her husband of having an affair. Their fates are bound by the handsome assistant athletic director Nicholas, whom Natalie loves, Brooke wants and Asha needs.
But when two bodies are carried out of the school one morning, it seems the tension between mothers and daughters, rival lovers, and the haves and have-nots has shattered the surface of this isolated, affluent town—where people stop at nothing to get what they want.
Don't miss Annie Ward's other twisty and utterly original thriller, Beautiful Bad!  

My Review:

Everybody lies, particularly when their ex has just been murdered and they can’t remember whether or not they did it. In fact, Natalie Bellman goes into her interview with the police deciding that she’s going to be the best liar on Earth to cover up the missing bits of her memory.

And that’s where this story begins, with Natalie waking up – or coming to – in the school parking lot in the middle of a snowy night, trying to remember what she did and didn’t do. Because she had plenty of motive to push the man over a balcony.

At first, the case seems cut and dried, a case of hell having no fury like a woman scorned. Nick was respected and popular, while Natalie’s history is checkered at best.

But, as Natalie’s police interview proceeds, the reader gets a look back at Natalie’s memories of the past several months and just how things reached this particular bloody end. Initially, she still looks guilty, between her out-of-control jealousy and her alcohol and pill-induced blackouts.

The thing is, she’s not the only one lying, and hers are not the only shady goings on in town. What Natalie remembers are a lot of wealthy people who are not used to taking no for an answer and completely unacquainted with having to deal with the consequences of their actions. Along with their over-scheduled, over-indulged and spoiled children.

So for quite a bit of the story, this seems like a “rich people acting badly” story and the reader starts hoping that they are all going to get their just desserts. And there’s more than a bit of anticipated schadenfreude in that reading.

As Natalie’s memories wind their way towards the present, towards her sitting with those two cops being questioned and lying her ass off, the story shifts from Natalie’s perspectives and Natalie’s memories, to that final day that she doesn’t remember – but others certainly do.

They’re all lying, but in the middle of all those lies a truth emerges and the darkness and rot at the heart of this supposedly idyllic community is exposed for all to see.

Escape Rating B: The final third of this book certainly brings on the thrills and chills as all the lies start creeping out of the shadows and getting even creepier as they go. Because what fascinates about this case wasn’t so much whodunnit as why it was done in the first place – also in the second, third and fourth places as it turns out.

The setup took a bit too long to get itself up. The portrait of the wealthy community and the rich people in it, their overindulgences and petty rivalries, went on just a bit too long, to the point where it seemed like that WAS the story and poor Natalie just went off the rails.

Which she did, over the rails, over the top and overdone. Her observations of the bad behavior all around her were way more interesting than her reflection on a relationship where she was so obviously being used in ways that seemed more typical than interesting.

Little did we, or she, know as it turned out in the end.

But that’s where the story finally went into high gear. Not just the way that Natalie, who was victimized before, ended up being victimized again, but in the way that this group, this lying club, got together even though they planned nothing together, or separately or even at all.

So this is a slow burn thriller that’s on simmer for 2/3rds of the story as the pieces are slowly and painstakingly edged together. Then the heat is turned up high and the right person gets roasted at the end.

Review: Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose by T.A. Willberg

Review: Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose by T.A. WillbergMarion Lane and the Deadly Rose by T.A. Willberg
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy, historical fiction, historical mystery, steampunk
Series: Marion Lane #2
Pages: 304
Published by Park Row on February 1, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads


The envelope was tied with three delicate silk ribbons: “One of the new recruits is not to be trusted…”

It’s 1959 and a new killer haunts the streets of London, having baffled Scotland Yard. The newspapers call him The Florist because of the rose he brands on his victims. The police have turned yet again to the Inquirers at Miss Brickett’s for assistance, and second-year Marion Lane is assigned the case.
But she’s already dealing with a mystery of her own, having received an unsigned letter warning her that one of the three new recruits should not be trusted. She dismisses the letter at first, focusing on The Florist case, but her informer seems to be one step ahead, predicting what will happen before it does. But when a fellow second-year Inquirer is murdered, Marion takes matters into her own hands and must come face-to-face with her informer—who predicted the murder—to find out everything they know. Until then, no one at Miss Brickett’s is safe and everyone is a suspect.
With brilliant twists and endless suspense, all set within the dazzling walls and hidden passageways of Miss Brickett’s, Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose is a deliciously fun new historical mystery you won’t be able to put down.   

My Review:

The tunnels under post-war London that house Miss Brickett’s top secret and extremely secretive agency of Inquirers and Gadgeteers stretches far under the city in 1959. It seems to reach from an occasionally tenuous connection to the reality above the ground to imaginary realms as diverse as the Invisible Library, Unseen University’s library in the Discworld, all the way north to Hogwarts and out to the Scholomance. It’s a place where the science is sufficiently advanced to be indistinguishable from magic, and the magic has tentacles in entirely too many places labelled “Here be Dragons”. The monsters there are more than monstrous and dangerous enough to be, if not quite real dragons, entirely too close for comfort.

But the story in Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose, for all the secrets concealed in, for and by Miss Brickett’s, touches more on real-world dangers of the time, along with the darkness that oozes out of the human heart.

Marion Lane, who we were introduced to in the marvelous first book in this series, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder, is now in the second year of her (hopefully) three year apprenticeship at Miss Brickett’s. The events of that first year (and first story) have left her scarred but undeterred. She loves her work, she loves Miss Brickett’s, and she is determined to become a full-fledged Inquirer at the end of her three year apprenticeship.

(This is a broad hint, even a hint and a half, to read the first book first. There are a lot of players in this game and one definitely needs a firm grasp on the scorecard.)

But Marion, like the Librarian Irene Winters of the Invisible Library, has a tendency to be the fool that rushes in where angels would rightfully fear to tread. Not that Marion is anymore foolish than Irene, but they both have that tendency bordering on compulsion to leap in hopes that the net will appear – or at least in certainty that if it doesn’t they’ll be able to think of something on the fly – sometimes literally – before they reach that sudden stop at the bottom of their current plummet towards seeming doom.

The case that Marion finds herself in the middle of, whether she planned to be there or not, has dimensions that encompass the world above and the heart of Miss Brickett’s. A case that at first seems like two cases with little to do with one another.

Out in the real world, a Russian spy known as “The Florist” has left behind a series of corpses with ugly calling cards. His victims are branded with a rose on their torsos. Through rather roundabout means, Marion’s mentor at Miss Brickett’s has been informed that Scotland Yard is stumped but is not asking for assistance from Miss Brickett’s as usual because something that has been discovered in the case has put the agency under suspicion.

At the same time, Marion has received an anonymous letter that one of this year’s intake of new recruits is not to be trusted. As the three newbies begin their first year apprenticeship, something rotten is exposed in Miss Brickett’s that may or may not have anything to do with either “The Florist” or the untrustworthy first-year. But the rot that is exposed will turn out to be the most dangerous secret of all.

Because it has divided the formerly unified Miss Brickett’s into a hotbed of suspicion, lies and power-hungry madness that has pit friend against friend and protegee against mentor. All in an attempt to satisfy greed, a lust for power, and a desperation not to be caught at all costs.

A cost that may, quite possible, include the lives of Marion and her friends.

The gorgeous UK cover

Escape Rating A-: Marion Lane and Miss Brickett’s have tunneled under the crossroads between mystery, fantasy and science fiction and sit in the center of a vast web that encompasses all three genres.

With more than a bit of espionage fiction tossed in to make this mixture a very tasty stew indeed.

While Miss Brickett’s strongly reminds me of the universe of The Invisible Library – and would serve well as a readalike for that series especially now that it has concluded – the way that things work also gives hints of Hogwarts, or the world of A Marvellous Light in that it exists in plain sight, that people in high places know about it, but that it operates in a bit of a hidden pocket of its own.

And even though Miss Brickett’s doesn’t teach or use magic, it still feels a lot like a fantasy.

Very much on my other hand, however, the two issues that Marion feels compelled to solve are both grounded in the real. The case of The Florist, his spy games and his ties to the KGB and the Soviet Union read like a fantasy or alt-history version of the historical case of the Cambridge Five and the infamous British double agents including Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt. The Florist himself may have been considerably over the top, but it’s an over the top version of stuff that actually happened.

The rot in Miss Brickett’s is also all too real, but in an entirely different way. We’ve seen, in real life, in very recent history, just how easy it is to sway people with persuasion, with lies, with propaganda, by seeding doubts, planting suspicions and reaping fears where none originally existed.

Watching those poisoned flowers bloom in a closed, hothouse environment like Miss Brickett’s was chilling – and entirely too real. The tense atmosphere created by the club that becomes a cult just added to the sense of claustrophobia, paranoia and deadly danger that always exists at the fringes of the place.

The two cases fed into one another in ways that were both completely expected and utterly chilling at the same time. We know it’s going to get worse before it even has a chance at getting better – because that part, at least, is something that has happened before and will happen again. It’s humans being human, and sometimes we suck.

As Marion Lane’s adventures (and most definitely misadventures) with the Florist and his “Deadly Rose” come to a close, it’s clear that this case may be wrapped up but that Marion’s adventuring career is FAR from over. I’m looking forward to following Marion Lane’s further escapes whenever she next emerges from the tunnels of Miss Brickett’s.

Review: The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf

Review: The Overnight Guest by Heather GudenkaufThe Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 352
Published by Park Row on January 25, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A woman receives an unexpected visitor during a deadly snowstorm in this chilling thriller from New York Times bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf
She thought she was alone
True crime writer Wylie Lark doesn’t mind being snowed in at the isolated farmhouse where she’s retreated to write her new book. A cozy fire, complete silence. It would be perfect, if not for the fact that decades earlier, at this very house, two people were murdered in cold blood and a girl disappeared without a trace.
As the storm worsens, Wylie finds herself trapped inside the house, haunted by the secrets contained within its walls—haunted by secrets of her own. Then she discovers a small child in the snow just outside. After bringing the child inside for warmth and safety, she begins to search for answers. But soon it becomes clear that the farmhouse isn’t as isolated as she thought, and someone is willing to do anything to find them.

My Review:

This is a book to be read with all the lights on under a pile of warm blankets, because this is a story that will make you shiver with chills – both from cold and from the creeps. Because the terrors in this book are all too real – and because you can feel the winter storm howling around the story.

At the start, there are three stories braided through this book. The first story, the one that seems to be the most obvious – at least on the surface – is Wylie Lark’s story. Wylie is a true crime writer, and she’s in tiny, remote Burden, Iowa to research and write her latest true crime thriller. She’s come to Burden – or rather to a somewhat dilapidated farmhouse outside Burden – because that house was the scene of the horrific crime she’s researching.

That crime is the second story. We’re reading her manuscript as she does her final edits. And the story she’s telling is pretty damn awful. Back in the summer of 2000, the family that lived in the house that Wylie is renting was murdered – while one girl survived and one went missing, presumed dead.

But then, there’s a third story that at first we’re not sure is fixed in either time or place, about a woman and her daughter being held in perpetual hostage by a man who regularly rapes the mother and beats and abuses them both mentally and emotionally as well as physically. It’s a story that should be over the top, but as we know all too well is not. Which just adds to the chills of horror and dread.

As those three stories weave together, a winter storm howls through Burden, piling up snow and ice, cutting off communication and power. Wylie is all alone in her rented house with her creepy story – until she goes out to bring the dog back in and discovers a young boy nearly frozen to death in the yard.

She brings him in and warms him up, even though he’s scared out of his wits – or at least out of his voice – by something or someone that Wylie doesn’t yet understand.

As the snow piles up and the power shuts down, Wylie and the child learn that they are not alone in their little oasis of safety – and that it’s not safe at all. And that’s where all the stories come together – and finally come to an end.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up because I got all wrapped in This Is How I Lied and hoped for more of the same. Did I ever get exactly that!

I’m not a big thriller reader, but when I’m in the mood for it I’m hooked, perched on the edge of my seat and turning pages frantically to see how all the tense situations of the story manage to work themselves into a catharsis – if not exactly a happy ending. The Overnight Guest was no exception.

But I was also turning pages frantically trying to figure out how the three stories fit together and where they were placed in time. It seemed like Wylie’s narrative was in a present, maybe not exactly 2022 and possibly just before COVID times but at least recent. The story told in her book was dated August 2000 so that was the only fixed point. For the longest time I wasn’t sure where the part of the story about the woman, her daughter and the abusive bastard keeping them prisoner fit into things. In the end all three narratives come together in a single point, but I was lost there for a bit.

Especially as the story of the woman being held prisoner was such a hard read because it was both terrible and terribly plausible, as the real life stories of Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard (among others) attest.

The way that the three stories came together was both suspenseful and moving at the same time. It’s only as Wylie reveals the cliffhanger ending of the original crime that we begin to see how her present just might possibly connect with the horrific crime in the past.

As the story unfolds the reader gets caught up in trauma and/or danger on every side. Wylie fled to Burden to get away from her teenage son who has decided he’d rather live with his father than Wylie. (Personally, this was the least interesting part of the story because we don’t get enough of that situation to be truly invested.)

The crime that Wylie is investigating is both sensational and bloody. Her manuscript, relating the details puts all that old trauma and heartbreak on display for a hopefully eager audience of Wylie’s readers. It’s a story that is all the more brutal because it is rooted in just how awful human beings are.

Then there’s the storm. We feel it blow, we shiver in the wind, our toes curl up in the rising piles of snow. Wylie’s alone, the power is out, the house is cold and then her nerve-wracked solitude is invaded by ill-equipped, desperate people fleeing something or someone that they refuse to name. Whatever it is, they’ll run right over Wylie to escape it – no matter how much she tries to help them.

And that’s when the crisis finally breaks, and we put together all the pieces that have previously refused to fit. Pieces that have to break anew in order to finally heal – and we’re there for it all.

Review: The Women of Pearl Island by Polly Crosby

Review: The Women of Pearl Island by Polly CrosbyThe Women of Pearl Island by Polly Crosby
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, literary fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Park Row on December 7, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"A luminous and beautiful novel that gently lures the reader into a captivating story with a mystery at its heart." – Jennifer Saint, bestselling author of Ariadne
Set on a secluded island off the British coast, The Women of Pearl Island is a moving and evocative story of family secrets, natural wonders and a mystery spanning decades.
When Tartelin answers an ad for a personal assistant, she doesn't know what to expect from her new employer, Marianne, an eccentric elderly woman. Marianne lives on a remote island that her family has owned for generations, and for decades her only companions have been butterflies and tightly held memories of her family.
But there are some memories Marianne would rather forget, such as when the island was commandeered by the British government during WWII. Now, if Marianne can trust Tartelin with her family's story, she might finally be able to face the long-buried secrets of her past that have kept her isolated for far too long.

My Review:

The setting for The Women of Pearl Island is absolutely beautiful, totally fascinating, and stunning in its strange and hidden history. The secrets that the island keeps are explosive, but not nearly as explosive as those kept by Marianne Stourbridge as the story begins.

The story is set in two timelines, the primary one in 2018, as the elderly Miss Stourbridge, the owner of the crumbling island of Dohhalund hires the grieving, escaping Tartelin Brown to serve as her personal assistant, general factotum, and all around helper and housemate.

As Tartelin explores the island, both on behalf of her employer and as part of her own increasing fascination with the mysterious locale, the story slips between Tartelin and Marianne’s somewhat fractious present to Marianne’s past growing up on the island that has been passed down through her mother’s family for generations. The island that Marianne Stourbridge now owns – at least what is left of it.

There are secrets buried in Marianne’s past, lost offshore on the parts of the island that have fallen into the sea in the years since 1955. The year that all the residents of Dohhalund were evacuated from their homes by order of the British military. They claimed to be testing explosives and that it would be too dangerous for the civilian population to remain.

Not that Marianne Stourbridge ever listened to what people in authority were telling her. Not now and certainly not then.

Escape Rating B: The most compelling character in this timeslip story is Dohhalund itself, a fictitious island in the North Sea within sight of both the United Kingdom to whom it belongs and the Netherlands from which it gets much of its language – at least as related to food – and its customs.

(Dohhalund is fictitious, but its geography and ecology are based on the real Orford Ness.)

Something obviously happened in 1955 on the island, a catastrophic event that Marianne Stourbridge has returned to the island to prove. Based on her previous research, and on her requests to Tartelin, it is clear to the reader if not to Tartelin that what Marianne is searching for proof of is a secret nuclear test. The evidence is everywhere among the wildlife of the island.

That the civilian population was evicted in 1955 and the island remained interdicted under military reserve for more than 50 years is a bit of a clue.

Because the most compelling character in the story is the island itself, The Women of Pearl Island reads as more than a bit lit-ficcy. It seems like not a lot is happening, the story isn’t moving all that quickly, and not many of the characters are happy about much of anything. But it still sucks the reader in like the tide that surrounds the island.

The part of the story that Tartelin is telling in 2018 feels like the stronger – or at least the more interesting – part of the book. Tartelin is still grieving the recent death of her mother, and she’s come to the island, to this strange, ambiguous job with this secretive and cantankerous old woman in order to get away from her grief and her memories – only to find herself dropped into the mystery of Marianne’s.

But Marianne’s story of the pivotal years of her childhood is told from her perspective in 1928. Not her perspective ON 1928, but her perspective IN 1928. She was 15 at the time, cosseted, protected and privileged, and she is immature, selfish and self-absorbed. Not that we all aren’t at least some of that at 15 – and even later. But it does not make her a remotely likeable character.

Tartelin, on the other hand, as frozen within herself as she arrives, is much more sympathetic. Her journey is one of reaching out and getting past, and it’s slow and sometimes hesitant, but she is getting there and it makes her the more dynamic of the two women.

But not quite as dynamic as the island itself, and the strange, sad but ultimately magical tale of it that she discovers as part of her own journey.

Review: Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian

Review: Never Saw Me Coming by Vera KurianNever Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: psychological thriller, suspense, thriller
Pages: 400
Published by Park Row on September 7, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Meet Chloe Sevre. She’s a freshman honor student, a leggings-wearing hot girl next door, who also happens to be a psychopath. Her hobbies include yogalates, frat parties, and plotting to kill Will Bachman, a childhood friend who grievously wronged her.
Chloe is one of seven students at her DC-based college who are part of an unusual clinical study for psychopaths—students like herself who lack empathy and can’t comprehend emotions like fear or guilt. The study, led by a renowned psychologist, requires them to wear smart watches that track their moods and movements.
When one of the students in the study is found murdered in the psychology building, a dangerous game of cat and mouse begins, and Chloe goes from hunter to prey. As she races to identify the killer and put her own plan into action, she’ll be forced to decide if she can trust any of her fellow psychopaths—and everybody knows you should never trust a psychopath.
Never Saw Me Coming is a compulsive, voice-driven thriller by an exciting new voice in fiction, that will keep you pinned to the page and rooting for a would-be killer.

My Review:

The collective noun for a group of psychopaths is a sling. It’s a necessary bit of trivia for this story, because the fictional DC-based John Adams University has given full-ride scholarships to seven students who have been officially diagnosed as psychopaths.

In other words, there’s a sling of psychopaths at John Adams, and it looks like one of them is bent on killing the other six. Because, after all, that’s what psychopaths are best known for in the popular imagination – being serial killers. So just as the saying goes that it takes a thief to catch a thief, it seems as if it takes a psychopath to knock off a sling of psychopaths.

But just as psychopaths are lacking empathy for others, it would seem like a story about one psychopath killing several others would not contain many, well, empathetic characters. So it’s more than a bit of a surprise for the reader to find themselves not just following the point of view of several members of the group, but feeling for them, more than they feel for each other, if not for themselves.

That is part of why they are there, or at least why they got those full-rides. They are part of a study, conducted by a respected psychologist who studies, naturally, psychopaths, to see if there are ways that psychopaths can work their way around their lack of empathy, compassion and even conscience in order to live relatively normal lives.

Something that obviously won’t happen if one of their number bumps off the rest in this multidimensional cat and mouse game where ALL the participants believe that they are the cats – only to discover they were the mice after all.

Escape Rating B+: This book, like Local Woman Missing a few months ago, is a book I picked up because it was recommended by someone in my reading group. I don’t read a ton of thrillers and this sounded interesting.

I’ll admit to having a strange reaction to this one as compared to Local Woman Missing, in that I liked this book more even though I recognize that Local Woman Missing was a better book of this type. There was just a bit too much domestic in that domestic thriller to really wow me, even though I’m pretty certain that domestic thriller readers – who are legion – will probably adore it.

What made this work for me is that in spite of all the main characters being psychopaths, they still turned out to be sympathetic characters in their own slightly twisted ways.

We follow three of the students in the study, Andre, Charles and Chloe. They are all unreliable narrators, some of which is down to their diagnoses, but quite a bit of which is simply because they are young and still a bit naïve and filled with a bit too much bravado. While it’s possible that time will fix some of those issues and turn them into more successful psychopaths, at the moment they are still young and still have some seriously dumb moments in spite of their intelligence.

It probably helps that the only murder we see committed by the three students we are following is Chloe’s murder of the guy who raped her when she was 12, while his friend recorded the rape on his cellphone. She wants the cellphone, and she wants her rapist dead. She knows she’ll get no justice any other way. And even if the reader decries her methods, it’s hard to dispute that the dude earned some serious punishments. (After all, there are a lot of books where delivering just this kind of justice to a rapist would be the entire book.)

As meticulous as Chloe’s plan is to get her revenge, she gets thrown more than a bit off the tracks when first one student and then a second one in their tiny group of seven are murdered. That’s when Andre, Charles and Chloe form their little circle of untrusting trust. Because they know that people like them lie like they’re breathing. They can’t trust each other.

So they maneuver, and lie, and scheme. Whatever they tell each other, they’re always holding something back. And even when they do reveal some of the truth, it’s filtered through their flawed ability to read and empathize with other people.

And that’s just as true of Andre as it is of Chloe and Charles, even though Andre faked his diagnosis to keep the scholarship. Because he’s maintaining that lie at all costs. Which may make his diagnosis as true as either of theirs.

The other thing that made this story work is that the reader can empathize with the characters without necessarily liking them. Because they’re not all that likeable. Andre is gaming the system, Chloe reads as if she’s likely to become a version of Harley Quinn, and Charles is on his way to becoming the kind of amoral conservative politician that we see all too often these days.

(Would it surprise anyone if entirely too many politicians were secretly psychopaths? Really?)

In the end, they’re all scared and young and dumb, because they all believed they were smarter than the hunter they thought they were hunting, and because none of them could get past the lies they told themselves to uncover the killer they never did see coming – even if the reader does. Watching the trap tighten around them all makes for one hell of a thrill-ride of a story.

Review: Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica

Review: Local Woman Missing by Mary KubicaLocal Woman Missing by Mary Kubica
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 352
Published by Park Row on May 18, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

People don’t just disappear without a trace…
Shelby Tebow is the first to go missing. Not long after, Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old daughter, Delilah, vanish just blocks away from where Shelby was last seen, striking fear into their once-peaceful community. Are these incidents connected? After an elusive search that yields more questions than answers, the case eventually goes cold.
Now, eleven years later, Delilah shockingly returns. Everyone wants to know what happened to her, but no one is prepared for what they’ll find…
In this smart and chilling thriller, master of suspense and New York Times bestselling author Mary Kubica takes domestic secrets to a whole new level, showing that some people will stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.

My Review:

The story begins with an abused, captive little girl escaping from her captors and the dank basement in which they kept her for 11 long, dark years. And the story begins 11 years in the past with the events that somehow led to the girl being imprisoned in that basement.

11 years ago, in a mostly well-to-do Chicago suburb, a woman went running late one night who never came home. In a place that everyone thought was safe. A few days later, after her body was found half buried in a park, a second woman went missing, this time along with her 5-year-old daughter.

This woman, too, was found dead, this time in a cheap room in a no-tell motel, of self-inflicted wounds. Her daughter was never found, although the woman’s husband never stopped looking. Leaving her younger son picked out and picked upon as a freak because his sister disappeared. All the adults felt sorry for him, and all the kids took that out on him.

There are no happy campers in this story. Not even at the end.

What there is in this book is an increasing ratcheting of tension and dread as the story moves on parallel tracks. In the here and now, there’s the wonder and the relief that surrounds the return of the much-abused and long-missing girl who has little memory of her kindergarten self and next to no information about the identity of the people who kidnapped and imprisoned her.

Back in the there and then, a truth is slowly and inexorably revealed. A truth that no one suspects, but that one person – at least – will do anything to keep from being revealed.

After all, they already have.

Escape Rating B: This is one of those mixed feelings reviews, because Local Woman Missing turned out to be one of those books where I am able to recognize that it is a very good exemplar of its type, in this case a domestic thriller, while being all too aware that it’s not my cuppa.

Although there’s plenty of suspense and the tension and dread ramp up slowly, steadily and inexorably – and that part happens very well indeed – there’s a bit too much domesticity for my personal taste.

Your reading mileage, of course, may vary. As it will, and has for other readers, on the way that the dual timelines work. We need that slow unraveling of the past in order to reach the absolutely chilling conclusion in the present, but the switches back and forth may seem a bit abrupt – or at least they did to this reader.

As a former Chicagoan, I did find myself trying to guess which suburb the location was or was at least modeled on. The Riverwalk fixes it at Naperville, but it could be an amalgam of places. I also used to walk late at night in a similar suburb and felt perfectly safe, so I can see where the first woman thought it was safe until it suddenly wasn’t. And yes, I’m sitting here realizing that I was also very damn lucky. We live and learn.

Back to the story.

Like any story about deadly secrets in sleepy little towns and suburbs, we learn a lot that’s honestly pretty awful. Every marriage that everyone else thinks is perfect is discovered to be, well, at least real if not downright dreadful. Everyone has secrets and everyone tells lies. As people do.

I’m not sure that anyone in this story turns out to be likeable. But the search for the truth keeps you turning pages as fast as possible to discover, not so much whodunnit as how did the little girl end up in that terrible house? She deserves justice – the adults, not so much.

The way the story works, seeing into each person or at least someone in each household, brings all the secrets to light as the story works its way towards those fatal events and their even more terrible aftermath. The truth, when it’s revealed, is cathartic but it doesn’t lead to happiness. Only relief.

And that’s how it should be.

Review: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Review: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah PennerThe Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Pages: 320
Published by Park Row on March 2, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course
Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.
Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.
One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.
In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

My Review:

The Lost Apothecary combines a bit of a time slip story with historical fiction, a soupcon of magical realism and just a touch of mystery, then wraps it all up, not in a nice tidy bow, but rather in a potpourri of savory herbs, pungent spices and well-hidden poisons.

It begins in the present, with 30-something Caroline Parcewell alone in London on a trip that was supposed to have been a celebration of her tenth wedding anniversary.

But Caroline discovered that her husband was an unfaithful arsehole just before they were supposed to leave Ohio for England, and Caroline decided to use the non-refundable airline tickets and hotel booking as an opportunity to get some space and take some time to figure out whether to resign herself to the safe, secure and boring life she has or to figure out what of her own independent hopes and dreams she still has a shot at fulfilling.

And at the tips of her loose ends she unearths the tip of a mystery that sets her back on the road to the person she used to be, before she let her husband talk her into being the person that he needs to further his career.

So Caroline undertakes a bit of a historical treasure hunt. The tiny glass vial she has found could be nothing. Or it might just possibly be the key to unlocking a historical mystery. Or two. Or three.

In her search for a late 18th century female apothecary and serial killer, she has a chance to uncover a hidden chapter of history. Along the way she might also find the person she was meant to be.

Or she might be prosecuted for murder.

Escape Rating A-: If you crossed The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane with In the Garden of Spite you might get something in the neighborhood of The Lost Apothecary. And I mean that in all its strangeness, all its depth, all its death, and definitely all its sense of women helping women and women making sure that other women are, if not celebrated, at least remembered.

Even in Caroline Parcewell’s 21st century framing story, it’s still about women’s skills, women’s magic, and women helping each other stand up in the face of men who want to keep them down at every turn and by any means available.

There are two stories in The Lost Apothecary. Caroline’s 21st century story and Nella and Eliza’s late 18th century story. Both are about women doing their best to help other women, although Nella and Eliza are the helpers in their tale, while Caroline is the helpee in hers, and both end with them learning to help themselves and to get by, as they say, with a little help from their friends.

There isn’t a lot of mystery in Caroline’s own story. Her husband is a selfish, self-centered, manipulative douchecanoe and many of the events in Caroline’s story relate to his douchiness in one way or another.

In other words, I loved her and I hated him and there weren’t a lot of surprises in that part of the story.

But this is also Caroline’s journey of self-discovery – and there were plenty of fascinating things happening along that particular way. One of the things that this story does well is the way that it portrays the joy and the compulsion of historical research. While it is seldom as easy as it turns out to be for Caroline, the way that she gets sucked into her deep dive into the past and her need to keep hunting no matter what was very well done. The reader absolutely gets sucked in right alongside her.

That the friend she makes on her journey of discovery is a librarian at the British Library was absolutely the best icing on the cake for this reader.

The story of the apothecary herself, or herselves as it turns out, Nella and Eliza, was a different kind of fascinating, but I didn’t find their story – at least not until the end – as compelling as Caroline’s. The idea that a female apothecary was helping women poison their husbands was sensational on many levels, but their internal dialog, the beliefs that drove them, while they felt true to the times in which they lived at the same time felt like a bit of a strain from my 21st century perspective. It’s not that it didn’t work, because it definitely did, but more that I wanted to reach through the book and shake both of them. Which, come to think of it, says a lot about how compelling I found their characters.

But the way that the two stories wrapped themselves together was utterly marvelous. I am absolutely astonished that this is the author’s debut novel – and I can’t wait to see where she takes me next!

Review: Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder by T.A. Willberg

Review: Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder by T.A. WillbergMarion Lane and the Midnight Murder by T.A. Willberg
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery, steampunk, thriller
Series: Marion Lane #1
Pages: 336
Published by Park Row on December 29, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The letter was short. A name, a time, a place.
Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder plunges readers into the heart of London, to the secret tunnels that exist far beneath the city streets. There, a mysterious group of detectives recruited for Miss Brickett’s Investigations & Inquiries use their cunning and gadgets to solve crimes that have stumped Scotland Yard.
Late one night in April 1958, a filing assistant for Miss Brickett’s named Michelle White receives a letter warning her that a heinous act is about to occur. She goes to investigate but finds the room empty. At the stroke of midnight, she is murdered by a killer she can’t see—her death the only sign she wasn’t alone. It becomes chillingly clear that the person responsible must also work for Miss Brickett’s, making everyone a suspect.
Almost unwillingly, Marion Lane, a first-year Inquirer-in-training, finds herself being drawn ever deeper into the investigation. When her friend and mentor is framed for the crime, to clear his name she must sort through the hidden alliances at Miss Brickett’s and secrets dating back to WWII. Masterful, clever and deliciously suspenseful, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder is a fresh take on the Agatha Christie—style locked-room mystery with an exciting new heroine detective at the helm.

My Review:

Somewhere in the depths of Miss Brickett’s Investigations and Inquiries, which masquerades as Miss Brickett’s Secondhand Books and Curiosities, there must be a door that leads to the Invisible Library as well as some stacks that wander into the “L” space that leads to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

Or if there isn’t, there certainly ought to be. While the Discworld librarian would probably just throw some bananas at the entire mess, Irene Winters, the Librarian who serves as spy, agent and occasionally thief on behalf of the Invisible Library would fit right into Miss Brickett’s. To the point where I wonder if the Library hasn’t used Miss Brickett’s as a training program on multiple occasions.

Because first-year Miss Brickett’s apprentice Marion Lane has exactly what it takes to become Irene’s kind of librarian, and her misadventures read like just the kind of thing that Irene probably cut her teeth on.

And just as much the kind of misadventure that cut its teeth on her.

Marion Lane, like Miss Brickett’s itself (and Miss Brickett herself, for that matter) is more than she appears to be. Miss Brickett’s (the agency) is the kind of place that feels like it ought to exist, even though it really doesn’t. Both in the sense that it would be marvelous if there were people whose lives were dedicated to resolving issues and solving crimes for anyone who needs help, and it would be marvelous if said secret agency operated in secret tunnels under one of the great cities – like London.

London in particular, is so large, has been a city for so long, and has such a many-layered history that we’re not surprised when real things that have been lost for decades – or centuries – turn up under it. Like lost Underground Stations – something that has really happened.

Miss Brickett’s, both the agency and the person, also intersect with the post-World War II history of women who found important jobs and purpose during the war and just weren’t interested in giving it all up afterwards. Particularly women who served at Bletchley Park as codebreakers.

Come to think of it, Sparks and Bainbridge (The Right Sort of Man, A Royal Affair and the upcoming A Rogue’s Company) would have fit right into Miss Brickett’s – even if they would have chafed at some of its many rules and restrictions.

But there are secrets in and under Miss Brickett’s. Not just the secrets its Inquirers investigate, but the secrets that they are keeping. Including their own. Because Miss Brickett’s conceals some of the very shady parts of Britain’s involvement in the late war. And because it guards the mysterious and deadly “Border” between the worlds we know – and someplace we very much don’t.

So when the “Border Guard” is murdered in a locked room named the “Lock Room” Marion Lane risks her apprenticeship and her life to determine who really done it. Because it couldn’t have been the person who was framed for it.

It’s up to Marion and her friends and frenemies to discover the truth – before that truth discovers that they are out to get it – and definitely before it gets them.

The gorgeous UK cover

Escape Rating A-: The blurb is a bit misleading. While the murder at the heart of this mystery is a locked-room mystery, the totality of Marion’s story bears no resemblance to anything by Dame Agatha.

Rather, this reads like it sits at the dangerous crossroads between The Invisible Library and the Scholomance of A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik. The dark passages under Miss Brickett’s, the atmosphere of “here be dragons”, complete with monsters that serve as the equivalent of real, honest to goodness dragons, feels very much like the dark, dank and deadly corridors – and especially the lost halls – of the Scholomance.

It’s also clear that survival skills are an unstated but absolutely necessary part of all three curriculums.

While Marion’s misadventures read like some of Irene Winters’ training at the Invisible Library, Marion as a character is very much like El in A Deadly Education. She’s young, she’s still learning, the apprenticeship feels like her last chance to save herself, she’s in over her head and the place and everyone in it really are out to get her.

Not everyone in either case, but that’s how it feels from each of their perspectives at the time the stories open.

Marion’s situation is in many ways more poignant because it is based in the real. She knows that she doesn’t want the life everyone thinks she should want – marriage and children – and she definitely doesn’t want it with anyone that her grandmother picks out for her. She’s desperate to escape her situation and Miss Brickett’s is more than just a job, it’s Marion’s ticket out of her life and into something meaningful, purposeful and marvelous.

She has a lot riding on this apprenticeship – if she can just stick it for the three years required, not merely survive but receive good evaluations,  she’ll be offered a full-time position as an Inquirer – which includes room and board at Miss Brickett’s and away from her harridan of a grandmother.

But, as much as the creepy monsters under the agency, the mysterious “Border” and the hidden laboratories add to the chilling atmosphere of both Miss Brickett’s and the story, it’s the human side of all the equations that compels the reader to explore this world with Marion.

We feel for her personal predicament in the outside world, but it’s her motivations inside Miss Brickett’s that push her to investigate the murder. And it’s those same human motivations that are behind everything; pride, ambition, greed, jealousy and revenge, set against the need to keep the agency’s actions secret at all costs.

And it’s that balance and its breaking, the need to give justice to both the many – the people of London who rely on Miss Brickett’s services – as well as to the few – both the victim of the murder and the man framed for it, set against Miss Brickett’s own need to keep the agency secret so that “Official” London doesn’t shut down its clandestine and frequently illegal operations, that underpins the whole story and provides both its dramatic tension and its relief and release.

Marion and Miss Brickett’s are both fascinating characters. Marion’s career at Miss Brickett’s and her life are both at their starting points. Based on this initial outing, it’s clear that both have many more marvelous stories to tell us.

I hope we get to read them.

Review: This is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf

Review: This is How I Lied by Heather GudenkaufThis Is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 336
Published by Park Row on May 12, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Twenty-five years ago, the body of sixteen-year-old Eve Knox was found in the caves near her home in small-town Grotto, Iowa—discovered by her best friend, Maggie, and her sister, Nola. There were a handful of suspects, including her boyfriend, Nick, but without sufficient evidence the case ultimately went cold.

For decades Maggie was haunted by Eve’s death and that horrible night. Now a detective in Grotto, and seven months pregnant, she is thrust back into the past when a new piece of evidence surfaces and the case is reopened. As Maggie investigates and reexamines the clues, secrets about what really happened begin to emerge. But someone in town knows more than they’re letting on, and they’ll stop at nothing to keep the truth buried deep.

My Review:

I don’t usually like suspense – and This is How I Lied is definitely suspense. But I got so completely engrossed in the book that I couldn’t put it down. I loved it! And I kind of hated that I loved it because all of the terrible things that happened to the protagonist were just the kind of thing that I hate reading about. But I couldn’t stop. And you won’t be able to either.

Let me explain…

The story begins in the past, 25 years ago. For a brief moment, we’re in the mind of Eve Knox as she attempts to escape her killer – and fails. As Eve falls into unconsciousness, with death certain to follow, perspective shifts to the present, away from Eve (this isn’t that kind of story) to her best friend Maggie, now a police detective in their small town.

And someone has discovered fresh evidence in Eve’s still unsolved murder.

The cold case investigation is handed to Maggie. It shouldn’t be. Maggie is WAY too close to the case. She was Eve’s best friend. She found the body, along with Eve’s sister Nola. And Maggie’s dad, back in 1995, was the police chief who investigated the crime.

But there are only 2 detectives on the local police force, and Maggie is one of them. Maggie is also 7 months pregnant, and has just about reached the point where she can’t buckle her gun belt around a baby bump that is much, much bigger than a mere bump. She needs to go on light duty, and the cold case seems like a perfect way of doing that – at least to the current chief of police.

Not her dad. Her dad was forced to retire when the symptoms of his previously diagnosed dementia became just too debilitating to ignore.

So Maggie has the case, and a case file that throws up all kinds of questions that weren’t answered back then. And probably should have been. But Maggie’s dad was more focused on obscuring the evidence than discovering it.

After all, he wouldn’t want to put his own daughter in jail for murder.

Escape Rating A: I got way, way, way more absorbed in this than I ever expected to. In the end, it felt like this book spilled its guts all over the floor, and the reader can’t help but be glued to the unfolding tragedy.

Because this is definitely a tragedy. It feels like one at the beginning, with a young girl murdered and no resolution. We do see the days leading up to Eve’s murder through her perspective in a series of flashbacks, and it is obvious not just that the whole thing is going to go pear-shaped, but that there were more than a few people who saw that Eve was heading for a disaster – just not the one that actually occurred.

There’s also a sense that, in spite of Maggie’s police career, a job where she has had to take charge and be assertive every step of the way, that the entire story is one where all the women are victims. Maggie is a victim too, and so is Eve’s younger sister Nola. All of them were victimized by the way that society treats and socializes young women, expecting both innocence and sexiness, teaching them that what men want is always more important than what they want or think or believe.

But the story is absolutely gripping. We start with Eve’s murder, and from there move to Maggie’s investigation of Eve’s murder, which seems straightforward until about halfway through when Nola blackmails Maggie into pinning the murder onto Eve’s abusive boyfriend. Because Nola wants his life ruined the way that he ruined Eve’s life – even if he isn’t actually guilty of the crime she wants him convicted for.

It’s a tangled web being woven by everyone attempting to deceive everyone else, each thinking they know who killed Eve – when in reality they are all wrong. And the climax of that wrongness is every bit as terrifying as Eve’s final moments.