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: Under Color of Law by Aaron Philip Clark

Review: Under Color of Law by Aaron Philip ClarkUnder Color of Law by Aaron Philip Clark
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Trevor Finnegan #1
Pages: 304
Published by Thomas & Mercer on October 1, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

The murder of a police recruit pins a black LAPD detective in a deadly web where race, corruption, violence, and cover-ups intersect in this relevant, razor-sharp novel of suspense.

Black rookie cop Trevor “Finn” Finnegan aspires to become a top-ranking officer in the Los Angeles Police Department and fix a broken department. A fast-track promotion to detective in the coveted Robbery-Homicide Division puts him closer to achieving his goal.

Four years later, calls for police accountability rule the headlines. The city is teeming with protests for racial justice. When the body of a murdered black academy recruit is found in the Angeles National Forest, Finn is tasked to investigate.

As pressure mounts to solve the crime and avoid a PR nightmare, Finn scours the underbelly of a volatile city where power, violence, and race intersect. But it’s Finn’s past experience as a beat cop that may hold the key to solving the recruit’s murder. The price? The end of Finn’s career…or his life.

My Review:

Depending on how you look at it, Under Color of Law is either a mystery thriller about a young LAPD officer who finds himself a witness to a terrible act of police brutality and decides to go along with the coverup in trade for being fast tracked from uniform to detective. Only for karma to come back and bite him in the ass in a way that may be nothing less than he deserves, but endangers not just his career but his life.

Alternatively, this story is a searing indictment of the “thin blue line” and the culture that not merely allows but actually encourages bad cops to stay bad and get worse – because they know that their brothers and sisters in uniform – and even the brass that gives the orders – are more interested in covering up misconduct than investigating it. Because investigations lead to exposure, and exposure leads to questions, and questions cause the people that pay the taxes and support the police to lose even more faith and confidence in the ones who are supposed to serve and protect them than they already have.

It’s about controlling public perception much more than it is about the public good. And if both of the above interpretations don’t sound familiar, you haven’t read much crime fiction – and you haven’t been paying much attention to the news, how it’s delivered, and who nearly always ends up getting the short end of the stick.

Escape Rating A+: Under Cover of Law is compelling as hell. That’s it in a nutshell. This is an absolute breakneck page-turner of a book. I could not put it down and I could not stop reading until the bittersweet, heartbreaking but surprisingly hopeful end.

Although I have to admit that I can’t quite figure out how this could be a series starter. On the other hand, I don’t care. This was beautifully and thrillingly complete in and of itself. If there are more, I’d be thrilled. If there are not, this was marvelously enough.

(The second book in the series has been announced with the title Blue Like Me and will be published in November. I can’t wait to see how this story continues, because it felt like it ended and ended well. We’ll see.)

The, I want to call it the frame but that isn’t quite right, let’s say the opening mystery and its aftermath in the life of Detective Trevor Finnegan is one that has been used plenty of times in police-based mysteries. The story of the young cop who gets caught up in something beyond his control and chooses to go along to get along instead of risking the career he’s just begun has been used before. Sometimes the young cop goes bad. Sometimes he or she tries to blot out the memory and things go wrong that way. Sometimes they just hide it and karma comes around to be her bitchy self by the end.

The most recent series I’ve read that uses this plot device is TA Moore’s Night Shift series that starts with Shift Work. Even in that series’ paranormal setting, the plot device still works. And I’m sure there are others that just aren’t coming to the top of my mind at the moment.

What sets Under Color Of Law apart from other mystery/thrillers that use that same setup to get themselves set up is the way that it uses Finnegan’s experience as a rookie cop and his bargain with the brass to shine a light on the way that entrenched corruption rots even those who start out with the intent of reforming the system from the inside. Then it takes THAT story and contrasts it with a second story that begins with the same intentions, and interweaves it into a contemporary setting where we have all too much knowledge of how bad things really are because we’ve seen it splashed across the news following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner – among entirely too many others – in police custody under suspicious circumstances that would result in murder convictions for anyone not a cop.

We see that story unfold through the experience of Trevor Finnegan, a black police detective in LA, the son of a black police officer, as he is forced to reckon with the crimes that he committed, he allowed to be committed, and their impact on the life he’s dragging himself through instead of living.

And as we read and watch, we can’t turn our eyes away. And we shouldn’t.

Review: Last Day by Luanne Rice + Giveaway

Review: Last Day by Luanne Rice + GiveawayLast Day by Luanne Rice
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense
Pages: 412
Published by Thomas & Mercer on February 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

From celebrated New York Times bestselling author Luanne Rice comes a riveting story of a seaside community shaken by a violent crime and a tragic loss.

Years ago, Beth Lathrop and her sister Kate suffered what they thought would be the worst tragedy of their lives the night both the famous painting Moonlight and their mother were taken. The detective assigned to the case, Conor Reid, swore to protect the sisters from then on.

Beth moved on, throwing herself fully into the art world, running the family gallery, and raising a beautiful daughter with her husband Pete. Kate, instead, retreated into herself and took to the skies as a pilot, always on the run. When Beth is found strangled in her home, and Moonlight goes missing again, Detective Reid can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu.

Reid immediately suspects Beth’s husband, whose affair is a poorly kept secret. He has an airtight alibi—but he also has a motive, and the evidence seems to point to him. Kate and Reid, along with the sisters’ closest childhood friends, struggle to make sense of Beth’s death, but they only find more questions: Who else would have wanted Beth dead? What’s the significance of Moonlight?

Twenty years ago, Reid vowed to protect Beth and Kate—and he’s failed. Now solving the case is turning into an obsession . . .

My Review:

This is a story about lightning striking twice – and for the same reasons. It’s also a page-turner of a mystery combined with a story of friendship and sisterhood.

The story opens on Beth Lathrop’s last day. Or at least the last day when anyone who loved her woke up and believed that she was alive. But she isn’t.

Instead, Beth’s corpse is found in her bedroom, several days dead, by her sister and the local police. Those events would normally be the place where everyone’s nightmare begins, but it isn’t.

The nightmare began years ago, when thieves broke into their family’s art gallery and left Beth, her sister Kate, and their mother bound and gagged in the basement while they robbed the place. The girls spent 22 hours in that basement, tied to the body of their mother who choked to death on her gag.

Beth turned outward, her sister Kate turned inward, and the cop who rescued them still keeps tabs on them in the hopes of protecting them again.

But their first ordeal happened because their father betrayed them. It was his plan and his idea, and he’ll be paying the price for it for the rest of his life in prison.

Now tragedy has struck again. Beth is dead, Kate and the rest of her family and friends are lost in grief. But just as before, their peace has been shattered because someone in their inner circle betrayed Beth and betrayed them all.

The question is whether that same cop can figure out just who hides the evil behind a mask of grief.

Escape Rating B: Last Day was a compelling read. I think my feelings can be summed up by saying that it was good, and it was just on the edge of great – but didn’t quite get there, at least not for me. A couple of things made it fall just short of the mark.

The biggest thing that threw me off was that there are a few very brief chapters from Beth’s point of view, including the opening and closing chapters. She’s dead. Those chapters are weird, and they took me out of the story every time.

Beth’s contributions aside, the story itself is a page-turner. We see most of the action by following Kate, Beth’s older sister, and Conor Reid, the cop who found them all those years ago. Conor is now on the Major Case Team of the Connecticut Bureau of Investigation, and as soon as he learns of Beth’s death, he assigns himself to the case even though he knows he shouldn’t.

He also shouldn’t jump to conclusions, but he knows all of the principals of this case much better than any investigator should. And he wants the husband to be guilty of Beth’s murder.

Not that Pete Lathrop isn’t guilty of plenty of things, but murder may not be one of them. And Conor’s desire to punish Pete for all of the crap he put Beth through in life blinds him to the man’s lack of means, motives and opportunity to cause her death.

At the same time, Kate is left trying to make sense of it all, not just her sister’s death, but all of the secrets that made up her life that Kate knew nothing about. Somewhere among all the things that Beth hid from her sister but revealed to their best friends may lie the reason for her death. Or may just provide Kate with more reasons to grieve.

In the end, the truth is revealed not by dogged investigation, but by a little girl who is unable to let a lie stand, no matter who tries to gaslight her into believing the lie instead of the truth. The case is finally solved, and the perpetrator is revealed. And it is a betrayal, just as the truth of Beth’s and Kate’s mother was long ago.

But this time only Kate is left to pick up the pieces.

This was one where I didn’t figure out whodunnit at all. I wanted it to be the husband, but it felt too obvious so eventually I read the last chapter just to figure it out – and I was still plenty surprised. I think that, as much as I was riveted by the investigation and the unraveling of Beth’s life as well as the truth of her death, I found the ending a bit unsatisfactory. I’m glad that the murderer was uncovered, but I’m not sure I felt the catharsis I expected. The motives didn’t make complete sense.

Like the detective, I really wanted the husband to be guilty after all.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of Last Day to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: Forgotten Bones by Vivian Barz + Giveaway

Review: Forgotten Bones by Vivian Barz + GiveawayForgotten Bones by Vivian Barz
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Dead Remaining #1
Pages: 302
Published by Thomas & Mercer on August 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

An unlikely pair teams up to investigate a brutal murder in a haunting thriller that walks the line between reality and impossibility.

When small-town police officers discover the grave of a young boy, they’re quick to pin the crime on a convicted felon who lives nearby. But when it comes to murder, Officer Susan Marlan never trusts a simple explanation, so she’s just getting started.

Meanwhile, college professor Eric Evans hallucinates a young boy in overalls: a symptom of his schizophrenia—or so he thinks. But when more bodies turn up, Eric has more visions, and they mirror details of the murder case. As the investigation continues, the police stick with their original conclusion, but Susan’s instincts tell her something is off. The higher-ups keep stonewalling her, and the FBI’s closing in.

Desperate for answers, Susan goes rogue and turns to Eric for help. Together they take an unorthodox approach to the case as the evidence keeps getting stranger. With Eric’s hallucinations intensifying and the body count rising, can the pair separate truth from illusion long enough to catch a monster?

My Review:

Forgotten Bones is definitely not a book to be read with the lights off. Or alone in the middle of the night. Or anyplace where it can feel like the creepy-crawlies might be closing in.

This one sits at the intersection between mystery/thriller, horror and paranormal – and that’s not a comfortable place to be in the dark. It’s a fascinating place, in the thrills and chills kind of way, but not exactly comfy or cozy.

A place to get really, really to get sucked into – but absolutely not cozy. Unless you like to cozy up to claustrophobia.

There are two protagonists in this story. One seems fairly typical for the genre, but the other is definitely not. And that’s part of what makes the story so fascinating.

Perrick, California is a small town, and Susan Marlan is a member of its equally small police force. She’s relatively young, still pretty gung-ho about policing and crime solving, and kind of stuck.

Not that she can’t leave, but that the police chief is also her mentor – and he’s just weeks shy of retirement. There might be promotions in the inevitable shuffling in the wake of his departure. And Perrick is her home.

We’ve seen Susan’s type before in plenty of mysteries. She’s the young investigator who just can’t let go when a big crime – with its attendant opportunities for recognition and promotion – drops into her lap. So of course she goes out on her own, against orders and definitely off the books, to try to solve the case before the FBI. Or perhaps in spite of the FBI, as she’s sure the neat and tidy solution they finally come up with isn’t all there is.

And there needs to be plenty. Because the crime that has been uncovered under the soil of tiny Perrick becomes known as the “Death Farm”. Twenty-plus bodies have been hiding under a local farm, bodies going back decades. All – but one – children. Young children. Decades of dead little boys and girls.

Susan feels compelled to find the killers – because the FBI find one but not his partner.

Eric Evans is compelled too, but he’s compelled by the dead. He’s just arrived in Perrick to teach at the local community college after his life derails in Philly.

Eric is extremely lucky that he couldn’t possibly have been the perpetrator or any of the murders, because if he were he would have been the FBI’s best suspect. Eric was diagnosed with schizophrenia years ago. He manages his condition with medication, and he’s mostly successful. He’s high functioning, to the point of being a good teacher, a decent drummer and completely capable of forming friendships and relationships and making a good life for himself.

But something about Perrick is sending him off the rails, or so it seems at first. The dead invade his dreams – and his waking life. The dead children from that farm. When he can’t pretend that the visions are just dreams, he tries to believe that they are just a symptom of his illness.

In the end, he teams up with Susan. She’s compelled to find the truth. He’s compelled to bring that truth to light to get those children out of his head, his house and even his classroom before someone decides that he’s even crazier than he actually is.

Or someone decides that Susan and Eric need to be the final victims.

Escape Rating B+: The crime in this story, the multi-year, multi-victim murder spree, is not unprecedented. There have been real-life cases where “death farms” have been discovered, to the nightmares of investigators and local residents alike, after an event uncovers one or a few of the bodies.

(I’m particularly thinking of the case of Belle Gunness in LaPorte County Indiana, which is indelibly imprinted on my brain. I was attending a dinner meeting and the post-dinner speaker gave the assembled – and rather startled – diners a fascinating but stomach-churning talk about her murder spree and discovery – complete with pictures. And I’m finding myself wondering what the post-lecture bar tab turned out to be…)

Susan Marlan is not an atypical investigator in a case – or story – like this one. The young cop going a bit rogue because she (or he) knows that the powers-that-be – the FBI in this case – are willingly overlooking something because it interferes with their neat theory. And because they want to go back to their big city home office and get out of tiny wherever.

And because someone local misdirects the out-of-towners for usually underhanded reasons of their own – as happens in this case. That the reader has a handle on who the perpetrators are long before the FBI – and even somewhat before Susan – does not detract from the compelling readability of the story.

Because this is a case where Susan’s actions and reactions in the face of that discovery are more important than the discovery itself.

What makes this tale rise above its stock characters is Eric Evans. The story does not fall into the trap of making Eric an obvious suspect so that he has to find the killer to get himself out of the frame. That would have been an easy way to go, and the story is much better for not going there.

It also feels like it treats his mental illness sympathetically and realistically – as well as his reactions to it and people’s reactions to him. That Susan is able to accept both his help and him is what powers this book into the opener of what could be a fascinating series. Hidden Bones will come to light this time next year. I’ll be looking for it when I want some creepy chills to go along with my mystery thrills.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of Forgotten Bones to one lucky US/CAN commenter on this tour!

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Review: Obscura by Joe Hart

Review: Obscura by Joe HartObscura by Joe Hart
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 340
Published by Thomas & Mercer on May 8, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

She’s felt it before…the fear of losing control. And it’s happening again.

In the near future, an aggressive and terrifying new form of dementia is affecting victims of all ages. The cause is unknown, and the symptoms are disturbing. Dr. Gillian Ryan is on the cutting edge of research and desperately determined to find a cure. She’s already lost her husband to the disease, and now her young daughter is slowly succumbing as well. After losing her funding, she is given the unique opportunity to expand her research. She will travel with a NASA team to a space station where the crew has been stricken with symptoms of a similar inexplicable psychosis—memory loss, trances, and violent, uncontrollable impulses.

Crippled by a secret addiction and suffering from creeping paranoia, Gillian finds her journey becoming a nightmare as unexplainable and violent events plague the mission. With her grip weakening on reality, she starts to doubt her own innocence. And she’s beginning to question so much more—like the true nature of the mission, the motivations of the crew, and every deadly new secret space has to offer.

Merging thrilling science-fiction adventure with mind-bending psychological suspense, Wall Street Journal bestselling author Joe Hart explores both the vast mysteries of outer space and the even darker unknown that lies within ourselves.

My Review:

Obscura was, in the end, unexpectedly marvelous.

At first, the book reminded me of Lock In by John Scalzi. There’s a disease that seems to have come out of nowhere, but is rising in incidence throughout the population, and so far, there’s no cure. Losian’s Syndrome in its way is even scarier than Hadens – because Hadens preserves the person while leaving the body behind (sorta/kinda) while Losian’s resembles Alzheimer’s in that it preserves the body while stealing away the person by separating them from the memories that make them who they are.

Unlike the scenario in Lock In, however, Losian’s is not yet widespread enough to force governments to inject massive amounts of research funding. Dr. Gillian Ryan is all alone, with only her lab assistant for company, as she studies the disease that took her husband and is now taking her daughter. As the story begins, she feels as if she is on the threshold of a breakthrough, but her funding has been eliminated.

She feels like she has nowhere to turn, except to the opioids that she is addicted to, when an old frenemy contacts her seemingly out of the blue. NASA needs her help, and they are willing to give her unlimited funding to study Losian’s – in exchange for six months of her life aboard the space station.

This is not, of course, out of the goodness of their hearts. If they have any. NASA has a problem, and Gillian is the only researcher who is working on anything that might possibly offer a solution.

Of course, all is not as it seems. The disease may be, but nothing that surrounds NASA’s offer to Gillian bears a whole lot of resemblance to the truth – or even has a nodding acquaintance with it.

In the end, this is a story about secrets. NASA lies to Gillian, Gillian lies to NASA, and everyone is lying to everyone else. And while Gillian’s research into the cure for Losian’s bears fruit, it is not remotely related to the problem that NASA hired her to solve.

Not because she’s not a good scientist, but because NASA doesn’t know what the problem really is. Once Gillian finally sees the truth for herself, she realizes that she is, after all, NASA’s best hope of solving it – not because of her scientific strengths, but because of her human weaknesses.

Escape Rating A-: The beginning of the story moves a bit slowly. There is a lot of set-up involved before the story gets off the ground, both literally and figuratively.

This is one of the other points where the story reminds me of Lock In, as in Obscura the author needs to take some time and a fair number of pages to introduce the world as it is in this near-future, as well as the issue of Losian’s and Gillian’s reasons for attempting to cure it as well as her setbacks in working on that cure.

Lock In solved this problem by introducing Hadens in the prequel, Unlocked. It meant that Lock In could start rolling immediately, but that readers who had not picked up Unlocked first could be, and often were, lost.

Part of what kept me going at the beginning of Obscura was just how many stories it reminded me of. When we finally hear a truth about what has gone wrong at the space station, it sounded a lot like two interlinked Star Trek episodes, the Original Series episode The Naked Time, and the Next Generation episode The Naked Now. In those stories a virus runs rampant through the crew, causing people to lose all their inhibitions, expose their innermost selves, and, if left unchecked, eventually results in death by extreme stupidity.

That resemblance turns out to be a red herring, but it kept me going for quite a while. And it may be a pink herring. The results are very similar to the virus in Trek, but the cause turns out to be something different all together.

There are also elements of both The Martian and The Retrieval Artist series. Just as in The Martian, Gillian spends an incredible amount of time completely isolated. The circumstances are not dissimilar in a number of ways. She is, in the end, equally as productive as the hero of Andy Weir’s book – but her reaction also feels more human in that she keeps focus in some directions but loses it in others – going more than a bit crazy and hitting absolute bottom – while still continuing to work.

The Retrieval Artist series is a detective series set on in a lunar colony, and in the end, Gillian is accused of a crime she did not commit and is forced to become a detective in order to set herself free.

But in spite of, or in some cases, because of the resemblances, the second half of this book kept me on the edge of my seat. I had to see what happened next, and whether Gillian managed to get herself out of the huge mess she found herself in. The actual ending contained both a surprise and a delight as well as a dose of reality.

One final thought – as a Star Trek fan, I couldn’t help but be struck by one revelation of the story – Bones was right.

Review: The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley + Giveaway

Review: The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley + GiveawayThe Dead Key by D.M. Pulley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 470
Published by Thomas & Mercer on March 1st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads


2014 Winner — Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award — Grand Prize and Mystery & Thriller Fiction Winner

It’s 1998, and for years the old First Bank of Cleveland has sat abandoned, perfectly preserved, its secrets only speculated on by the outside world.
Twenty years before, amid strange staff disappearances and allegations of fraud, panicked investors sold Cleveland’s largest bank in the middle of the night, locking out customers and employees, and thwarting a looming federal investigation. In the confusion that followed, the keys to the vault’s safe-deposit boxes were lost.
In the years since, Cleveland’s wealthy businessmen kept the truth buried in the abandoned high-rise. The ransacked offices and forgotten safe-deposit boxes remain locked in time, until young engineer Iris Latch stumbles upon them during a renovation survey. What begins as a welcome break from her cubicle becomes an obsession as Iris unravels the bank’s sordid past. With each haunting revelation, Iris follows the looming shadow of the past deeper into the vault—and soon realizes that the key to the mystery comes at an astonishing price.

My Review:

This is one wild story. It’s even wilder because the background is based on real events, specifically the events in 1977-1978 that resulted in the city of Cleveland defaulting on its debts in 1978, plunging the city into a downward spiral that took decades to recover from.

When I grew up in Cincinnati (the two cities are rivals), Cleveland was referred to as “the mistake on the Lake”, after the Cuyahoga River caught fire. During the default era, the joke was to ask the last person leaving Cleveland “to please turn out the lights”.

Cleveland defaulted because the Cleveland Trust Bank refused to extend its loans after the new Mayor refused to let some of their sweetheart deals go through. There was a LOT of corruption between the bank and City Hall.

In the book, Cleveland Trust becomes the First Bank of Cleveland. I suspect that the real skullduggery wasn’t quite as colorful as the fictional version. I’m also certain that the names of the players were changed to protect the guilty. Or at least the author. In real life, this situation was a big hot mess.

In fiction, the story is about a whole bunch of young women who were used and taken advantage of by a powerful man. And how they managed to get revenge on him and the other bankers who facilitated a whole bunch of fraud. Last but not least, one more young woman who they severely underestimated brings them all down. It only takes about 40 years to bring everyone left alive to the justice they so richly deserve.

This one is a mystery and a thriller all wrapped into one big package.

In the story, the bankers were defrauding their customers by stealing from safe deposit boxes. People put a lot of interesting things into the boxes, because they are supposed to be, well, safe. As long as you make your payments, that is.

So the bankers were going through the deposit records and looking for dead boxes, ones where the payments had stopped. Instead of turning the contents over to the State of Ohio, they were robbing the boxes, at least the ones containing valuables, and moving the contents into boxes under the names of people who had no idea this was happening. Usually the names of female employees that one of the bank directors was screwing. And also screwing over, since owning the boxes containing the loot would have made the women look like the perpetrators – no one would ever believe that the bank officers, all members of prominent and wealthy families, could possible have anything to do with theft.

One young woman kept her own records of what happened. Twenty years later, she planted her niece in the bank as an employee, so that the investigation could continue. Unfortunately for both of them, this was in December 1978 just as the bank was about to close, not that they knew that.

Poor Beatrice Baker found herself in the middle of a very amateur investigation, trying to figure out what was going on. Not that she started the investigation, but that her best friend Maxie started poking her nose where the bankers didn’t think it belonged.

In 1998, Iris Larch is working as a structural engineer, drawing plans of the old Cleveland Trust Building. The building has been locked up since 1978, and feels like a time capsule. Unlike most of the empty buildings in downtown Cleveland, someone is paying for around-the-clock security and the building is completely intact.

Possibly too intact. The desks still contain the employees’ stuff, and all the paper files are still intact. The longer she works in the creepy, empty building, the more weirded out Iris gets. Especially after she finds records of Beatrice and Maxie’s 20-year-old investigation. And Beatrice’s suitcase.

Iris seems to be disturbing old ghosts that wanted to remain hidden. Nothing that is happening is anything like it appears to be. Except the dead body in the blocked up bathroom. When Iris finds that, she discovers that none of the dead of the old bank are resting in peace. Except for the body she finds, they aren’t even dead.

But they want her to be.

Escape Rating B: This is a big book, and it’s a long story. While it felt a bit saggy in the middle, the final third is an absolute race to the finish. Once Iris finds the body, the book goes at a breakneck, edge of your seat pace until the wild finish.

If money is the root of all evil, then all the bankers at this place had their roots sunk in some very nasty places.

The story is told from two perspectives. We see Beatrice in 1978, trying to uncover what is going on. She is not an investigator, she is a very young woman who sees and hears too much. She finds out a lot, bit by excruciating bit, not just about what’s going on at the bank, but also about her own identity. Her world is much more dangerous than she imagined, and it was no bed of roses to begin with.

So we see Beatrice get herself in deeper and deeper hot water, but we don’t know for certain if she ever got out.

In 1998, we follow Iris as she creates the structural diagrams of the building. Along the way, Iris can’t resist poking into all those files and desk drawers, and discovers much too much about the events of 1978, and especially about Beatrice and her investigation. Her world gets creepier and creepier the more she discovers – especially when she starts asking questions of her own.

The difficulty that I had with the story is that Iris is not a sympathetic character. She gets in way over her head, and she’s being used, and she’s in terrible danger, but I just didn’t like her. I was fascinated by what she discovered, but I didn’t enjoy seeing the world through her eyes. It’s not that she is young and stupid about her future, because we were all there once. It’s her self-destructive attitude. She’s not merely a bored slacker, but she also seems to be a functioning alcoholic without being aware of it. All she does before she discovers Beatrice’s stuff, is to drink every night and go to work late every morning with a hangover and a blackout. And she always thinks she was entitled to get drunk for whatever reason.

She’s being set up to be fired, but doesn’t ever realize that she’s let herself fall into a trap that makes it a reasonable idea. Your mileage may vary, of course. I sympathized way more with Beatrice.

The mystery that surrounds the bank and its ending is teased out in way that keeps the reader on tenterhooks through the entire book. As Iris and Beatrice get deeper into the mystery, it becomes impossible to let go of their story.

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