Category Archives: mystery

Two by Harlan Coben: Missing You, Six Years

Missing You

Given a year membership to a popular singles dating site, New York detective Kat Donovan reluctantly logs-on, hoping to give her love life a jump start. What she finds instead is a profile from the man who broke off their engagement eighteen years before and has mysteriously disappeared (she’s drunk Googled him a couple of times and comes up short).

Kat reaches out to him, using the lyrics of one of their favorite songs to catch his attention. But when he abruptly shuts down their communication and warns her not to contact him or seek him out again, Kat’s suspicions are raised. Could the disappearance of this guy be somehow linked to the death of her father all those years ago and the man who is about to die in prison for confessing to her father’s murder (as well as several others)?

And is her former fiancee connected to a string of rich widows who are disappearing under mysterious circumstances?

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Review: Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little

Dear Daughter

After ten years in prison, former party girl Janie Jenkins has been released from prison on a technicality. But rather than use this opportunity to put her life back together, Janie has decided it’s time to uncover the truth of who really killed her mother (Janie was doing the time for the crime) and the motive for her mother’s killing.

Janie hasn’t been wasting any of her time in prison — she’s taken advantage of the prison library to study details on the small town her mother escaped as a young girl. Free again, Janie launches a plan to change her identity and head back to the small town — all while eluding various members of the media who want a photo of the former party girl turned convict and one particular blogger who has an ax to grind with Janie.

If you’re worried I’m giving away too much of Elizabeth Little’s engrossing mystery-thriller Dear Daughter, don’t be. All of what I’ve described above is laid out within the novel’s first fifty or so pages (or if you want to be even more nitpicky, on the cover blurb) and most of it’s set-up for what’s to come as Janie peels back the layers of her past to find out who her mother really was and who might have killed her.

Janie is completely unapologetic for her attitude and world-view, both of which are dour, pessimistic and sarcastic. Janie fills us in on details of her present and past on a need to know basis with hints coming first and then later filling in the necessary details. And while you may think you’ve guessed the ultimate ending to the novel by the mid-way point (as I did), Little is able to still pack in a few twists and pull the rug out from under you moments in the finale that are earned and appropriately foreshadowed.

It all adds up to one of the more impressive mystery debuts I’ve had the pleasure to read of late. It also puts Elizabeth Little firmly on my radar as someone to watch for future installments and see where she goes from here.

I was given a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Mystery Mini-Reviews: The Silkworm, All Day and a Night & And Then There Were None

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

Last year, J.K. Rowling created a bit of buzz in the publishing world when she published a mystery novel under the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. But once the initial buzz was over, fans discovered that Rowling had crafted an enjoyable mystery novel with The Cuckoo’s Curse and that she’d already penned and the sequel The Silkworm.

As a fan of the first novel, I was curious to see what Galbraith had in store for us with the second Cormoran Strike novel.

Basking in his new-found fame and finally getting back on his financial feet, Strike has more work than he can handle. But that doesn’t stop him from taking a case that may not necessarily mean a huge financial windfall for him (in fact, the client may not be able to pay at all) but has instead piqued his detective’s curiosity. Novelist Owen Quine has gone missing and his wife asks Strike to help track him down. Quine has just written what he believes is his masterpiece, a thinly veiled portrait of various people he knows within the publishing industry. This means there is no shortage of subjects who would love to see the novel never see the light of day and to finally silence Quine’s poison-pen.

Many might say that Rowling is biting the hand that feeds her with a mystery set within the literary community. But that would sell short the intriguing mystery and, once again, the compelling character of Cormoran Strike.

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Review: Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George

Just One Evil Act (Inspector Lynley, #18)

A good friend (and fellow Lynley and Havers fan) used to say that she looked forward to each new Elizabeth George novel because it offered her the chance to catch up with some old friends. I have to admit that I agreed with her at the time and it still holds true today. George writes a compelling mystery, but it’s the strength of her characters that keeps me coming back to her books time and again.

No where is that more the case than with the latest entry in the series Just One Evil Act.

Picking up where Believing the Lie left off, Evil Act gives center stage to Barbara Havers. Ath the conclusion of Lie, it was revealed that the former lover of Taymullah Azhar and mother to Hydiah had vanished without a trace with Hydiah. Becuase Azhar never married the mother nor was recognized as Hydiah’s father, he has little or no legal recourse is determining where his daughter has gone or in getting her back. Instead, he is forced to turn to private detectives and less than above board means to try and reunite with his daughter and possibly see her return home to him.

Six months later, the mother shows up in London, accusing Azhar of kidnapping their daughter. It seems that someone has taken Hydiah from the Italian marketplace where she and her new lover (and father to her child) shopped each week. Havers is desperate to find a way to help Azhar and get Hydiah back, eventually trying to pressure Scotland Yard to jump into the case by leaking details to a tabloid journalist and forcing the hand of her superior, Isabelle Audrey. Audrey reluctantly goes along but instead of sending Havers to Italy, she sends Lynley.

As events continue to escalate, Havers is forced to go further and further to try and cover her tracks in her attempts to help Azhar. Interestingly, the novel examines issues of trust in the novel and continually asks you to question who you believe and why you believe them. In the case of Barbara, if you’re a long time reader of the series, you can’t help but begin to feel (as Lynley does) that at some point she’s got to wake up and smell the coffee. Multiple clues point to Azhar’s involvement and potentially ulterior motives in the case, but Barbara is so blinded by her attraction to Azhar and her love for Hydiah that she refuses to believe them or won’t examine them until she gets a chance to talk to Azhar in person.

Meanwhile, it seems as though Barbara is more and more willing to throw her entire career out the window instead of coming clean to Lynley or trying to make things right.

The novel seems to adopt the world-view of one Gregory House in that “Everyone lies” because there are lots of lies going on here, all told with good (for the most part) intentions and intended to achieve what each character perceives as a positive outcome to things (or at least so they imagine).

It all makes for a fascinating, compelling novel, even if (as I’ve seen several other reviewers complain) a murder doesn’t happen until close to halfway through the novel. I feel like many of these complaints are missing the forest for the trees. While George can craft a solid mystery, at this point the Lynley and Havers novels are more than about being a simple “whodunnit?” and intended to be more about the impact certain evil acts can have on the community and the characters.

If you approach the novel from that perspective (as I did), you are likely to love just about every minute of this novel. I will admit the ending left me a bit flummoxed, feeling a bit like George trying too hard to push a reset button of sorts instead of really following through on some of the potential consequences of choices and actions made by characters in this book. But I reserve too much judgment on that until the next novel in the series gets a chance to address these things and possibly offers us some more insight into the fallout.

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Review: That Night by Chevy Stevens

That Night

At multiple points in the first half of Chevy Stevens’ That Night, I found myself wishing the story would get to the night in question already and maybe get this novel moving forward.

Instead, the story of the falsely accused and convicted Toni Murphy and her boyfriend kept churning on and on, giving the reader details that didn’t matter much in the question of who killed her sister and why or much in the way of character development for Toni. Early on, I got that Toni was a rebel, misunderstood by her parents and the system. I got that Toni faced bullies all her life and I suppose much of the character arc that Stevens is trying to lay out for Toni and the reader is her slowly realizing that she’s going to have to stand up for herself or else be downtrodden her entire life. Of course, it takes being falsely accused and convicted of her sister’s murder and going to prison for Toni to become self-reliant and a “bad ass.”

It’s a shame really because the hook of this novel and the first few chapters are interesting enough. Early on, Toni is an intriguing narrator for the events unfolding (chapters alternate between the events leading up to Toni’s conviction and events is sent to prison). But my patience for her quickly began to wear thin by the time we get to her third or fourth conflict with her parents who “just don’t understand her” and how she can’t wait to get out from under their roof so she can move in her boyfriend.

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Review: Don’t Try to Find Me by Holly Brown

Don't Try To Find Me: A Novel

“Don’t try to find me.”

With those words, fourteen year-old Marley sets off every parents’ worst nightmare — your child running away from home, vanishing without a trace. The only clues are how thoroughly Marley went to cover her tracks, including erasing her tablet and clearing out messages from her e-mail in-box, cell phone and her social media accounts.

Marley’s parents, Rachel and Paul throw themselves into trying to figure out why their daughter would board a Greyhound bus and attempt to vanish. Paul throws himself into the crisis, embracing the role of the father trying to hold his family together while Rachel realizes that the intense scrutiny may bring up some secrets she doesn’t necessarily want shared with her husband, much less the rest of the world.

And while these secrets are devastating to Rachel, Paul and Marley, author Holly Brown wisely keeps the secrets fairly restrained and doesn’t indulge the temptation to make them overly melodramatic or predictable. The reader is clued in early that things aren’t necessarily what they seem and that both narrators (Rachel and Marley take turns narrating chapters) aren’t necessarily reliable or telling us the whole story. The back and forth of the chapters as each secret and the consequences of certain decisions are played out for each of the characters helps keep the story moving forward and keeps raising questions that are (thankfully) all answered by time we get to the final pages of the novel.

It’s interesting to see that the marketing blurbs compare this book to Gone Girl and Reconstructing Amelia. While I understand the temptation to hype every book coming on the market told from the point of view from two (or more) unreliable narrators, I think that marketing Don’t Try to Find Me along those lines is a disservice to this book. The book is more along the lines of Reconstructing Amelia with much of the mystery and suspense coming from how little the parents in question know about their teenage children. Luckily Don’t Try to Find Me can have a happier ending since Marley has only vanished and is trying to disappear from the grid and start a new life, but the questions of just how well you can and should know your children and what you can and should know about their friends (both in real life and on-line) will linger with you long after the final page is turned.

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Review: The Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones

The Next Time You See Me

There were multiple instance while reading The Next Time You See Me that I had to pause and glance at the cover again to make sure I wasn’t reading the latest offering from Elizabeth George or Laura Lippman.

Like George and Lippman, Holly Goddard Jones isn’t only interested in solving the crime at the core of her debut novel but she’s also interested in the impact the crime has on the characters and community before and after the event occurs. In this case, the central mystery centers around the disappearance of Veronica “Ronnie” Eastman. Ronnie is considered a black sheep of her small Kentucky town and her family, but that doesn’t mean she’s quite the pariah that local gossip makes her out to be.

Jones weaves the story of how Ronnie impacted various members of the community throughout the novel. And while the reader may suspect that they know what’s happened to Ronnie long before the reality sets in for various characters, Jones takes time to explore the events preceding and proceeding from her disappearance.

Chapters center on her married sister, who is feeling unfulfilled in her role as mother, teacher and wife to a devoted high school band director who neglects her during band season. We also get a glimpse of the awkward teenage girl who is confused by the world and a popular teenage boy who treats her at times with tenderness and at others with disdain. There’s also the older, lonely guy who makes the mistake of going to a local dive bar with some of the younger guys from the office one Friday evening.

All of these various threads intersect with Ronnie and we get various views of her and her fate. The Next Time You See Me isn’t just interested in how Ronnie met her fate but also as to why she met it and how it impacts her friends, family and the members of the town. Some of them are direct, while others are not. The novel sets up a nice romance between the older gentlemen from the plant and his nurse (they met on the night at the bar in question), giving hope to both before it’s torn away in the novel’s final chapters. And I’ll give Jones a lot of credit for not allowing her characters to do cliched things in the interest of the plot.

All in all, this is a satisfying, emotionally rich novel. It was over far too soon and it leaves me wondering what Jones has up her sleeve for her next book.

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