Blood of the Prodigal by P. L. Gaus

blood of the prodigal

Blood of the Prodigal: An Amish-Country Mystery
by
P. L. Gaus

Rating:

It has been ten years since Jon Mills was banished from his Amish Order in Holmes County, Ohio. Now he’s back to face Bishop Miller and reclaim the ten-year-old son he left behind. But something happens:  Mills turns up dead and the son goes missing.

In Book 1 of 7 of the Amish Country Mysteries, Gaus introduces part-time detective, college professor and Civil War expert Michael Branden. He’s helped by his sidekick wife Caroline, Sheriff Bruce Robertson and Deputy Ricky Niell. Gaus tells an engaging story about an Ohio Amish order that must rely on outsiders for help.

I was attracted to the book’s terrific cover and liked reading about the Amish, particularly Rumschpringe, the Amish adolescent rite of passage during which teenagers leave their communities before deciding to return to be baptized. Gaus’ descriptions of Holmes County, Ohio are also interesting, and the later scenes near Lakeside Marblehead are the strongest part of the story. The author ties up loose ends nicely, if not predictably and invites the reader to return for the next mystery.

This series that has received many positive reviews, including this one by Marilyn Stasio, of the New York Times:


For more than a decade, P. L. Gaus has been writing quietly spellbinding mysteries about… the conservative Old Order Amish of Holmes County, Ohio.

I recommend Blood of the Prodigal to readers who like light and fast-moving mysteries and enjoy seeing how characters develop in a series.

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The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

The Lincoln Lawyer
by
Michael Connelly

Rating:

Mickey Haller has a big problem. As a criminal defense attorney, he works the system to get his clients the best deals, no matter the offense. He doesn’t ask if they did their crimes because it doesn’t matter. Admit to this, get a lesser sentence. Say you did this and avoid the death penalty. That’s his job and it pays the bills, usually. But deep down, he wonders if he could tell if one of them was truly innocent. The words of his famous lawyer father, a man who died before he could know him, echo in his brain, “There is no client as scary as an innocent man.” Haller is about to find out.

Haller’s office is the back of a Lincoln, driven by Earl Briggs, a former client who is paying off his legal fees. Briggs drives his boss from LA courthouses to area prisons and everywhere in between, meeting with biker gang leaders, drug dealers, and prostitutes. His two ex-wives still like to help him:  his case manager, Lorna Taylor and prosecuting attorney Maggie McPherson, mother of their young daughter, Hayley.

Everything changes when Haller picks up a new client, Louis Ross Roulet. Roulet is the son of the rich and powerful real estate mogul Mary Alice Windsor and he is sitting in a holding cell, arrested for assault against a woman he picked up at a bar. This case could solve many of his financial troubles.

The injuries to Reggie Campo and the evidence point to Roulet, but he claims innocence. Was it a set-up? Something from an older case nags Haller. His private investigator, Raul Levin begins to uncover the evil truth which will put Haller and those around him in great danger. Haller will have to use all his tricks, in and out of the courtroom, to keep his family safe.

The Lincoln Lawyer is a swift-moving and entertaining legal crime story, full of personality and fun details. Fans of Michael Connelly books will enjoy the brotherly connection between Haller and Harry Bosch, who share the same father. While they don’t meet up in this book, the relationship adds to Haller’s back-story.

While I liked the story and the characters, I was disappointed with a few plot twists that remain tangled and unexplained, and I wondered why Connelly introduced them. Connelly is a talented story-teller, however, and I look forward to reading more of both the Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch books. I recommend The Lincoln Lawyer to readers who like entertaining legal stories – a definite vacation read! I’m also looking forward to watching the movie starring Matthew McConaughey soon.


I read The Lincoln Lawyer as part of my Build a Better World 2017 Summer Reading Challenge to read or listen to any book I choose



Want more?  I enjoyed Echo Park by Michael Connelly – check it out here.

Have you read The Lincoln Lawyer or watched the film? What did you think?

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What’s in a mystery? Solving the genre

Everyone loves a good story and there’s nothing better than an intriguing mystery. But there are lots of books with the mystery label so how do you define the genre?

In the typical mystery, the main character solves a crime or a series of crimes and the story finishes with a nice tie-in of facts and events. It’s often full of puzzling clues, shady characters and red herrings. Sometimes the characters are amateur sleuths, sometimes they are professional detectives. While some readers like to solve the puzzle ahead of time, others prefer to see the story unfold. Many readers like complex stories, others like a fast-moving plot.



Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
is an excellent mystery crime story about a town hampered by racism.

Mystery writers understand that readers have different tastes, which has led to many subgenres. The cozy mystery takes place in an intimate setting and leaves out the gory details. Hard boiled and noir mysteries are gritty and violent. Procedurals include a blow-by-blow analysis. Historical mysteries (surprise!) take place in the past.


     

Second Street Station and Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy are entertaining historical mysteries set in 1890s New York.

A developing subgenre is the science fiction mystery, which places its characters in a supernatural element. Adding to the list are legal and medical mysteries and comic capers. For those who prefer nonfiction, there are plenty of true crime stories. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote is one of the most well-known true crime stories and one that I want to read.

And for readers who like happy endings, there is the romantic suspense in which love and justice conquer. If you like this subgenre, check out Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale.

While these mysteries involve solving a crime, thrillers and suspense come from a different angle – in these the protagonist is in high stakes danger from the very beginning. Many twists and turns propel the reader to an exciting conclusion.


  

If you like medical thrillers, you will enjoy Eating Bull by Carrie Rubin and her earlier book, The Seneca Scourge by Carrie Rubin, which steps into the medical sci-fi world.

No matter the style, writers of all subgenres often create lasting characters that feature in entire series of books. For an avid reader, what’s better than the anticipation of the next story?

In a rut? Expand your scope! Many mysteries include complex characters and dramatic settings and open the genre to readers who might not otherwise venture down the mystery aisle. From classic authors like Edgar Allan Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie to modern writers like Michael Connelly, Peter May and Tana French, you are bound to find an exciting story!

Some mysteries and thrillers overlap subgenres, making them hard to label but always great to read!


  

Death in a Red Canvas Chair and Death in a Dacron Sail by N. A. Granger are a little bit cozy and a little bit medical and a lot of fun to read.

In the Woods by Tana French is a psychological crime story with many interesting characters.

Echo Park by Michael Connelly features the recurring character Harry Bosch, also a popular video series on Amazon. Soon I’ll be reading another by Connelly – The Lincoln Lawyer, Book 1 of the Mikey Haller series.

     

If you like dramatic landscapes and complex characters you will enjoy The Lewis Trilogy by Peter May. I’ve read The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man and I’m getting ready to read The Chessmen.

Others I’ve recently read include:

Caught by Harlan Coben
The Fever by Megan Abbott

The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner

I’m a novice mystery reader and I’m having fun learning more about the genre. The books I’ve listed represent only a fraction of what’s out there. What type of story do you like? What are your favorites?

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The Lewis Man by Peter May

The Lewis Man
by
Peter May

Rating:

When villagers on the Isle of Lewis discover a perfectly preserved body in a peat bog, officials assume it’s from another time, long gone. They think they are looking at ancient remains, for bog bodies usually date back centuries, if not thousands of years. But when clues point to a violent and more recent death, investigators know they have a murder case on their hands. Is there enough evidence to identify the body and find his killer?

Fin Macleod has quit his police detective job in Edinburgh. The death of his young son, Robbie marked the end of his marriage and now he returns to his Lewis home, hoping life on the island will help.  And hoping, too, that he might fix his broken relationship with Marsaili and become a real father to their son Fionnlagh. Once a detective, always a detective, however, and he soon discovers shocking connections between the bog body and the people close to Fin.  Is there enough time to find the truth before the official DCI from Inverness arrives?

The Lewis Man is the excellent second book in The Lewis Trilogy by Peter May. It begins nine months after the conclusion of The Blackhouse, a gripping and dramatic murder mystery surrounding the death of Fin’s classmate, schoolyard bully Angel Macritchie.

This story is focuses on Tormod Macdonald, Marsaili’s father, who is suffering from dementia and trying hard to hold on to details about both his present and past. Fin is sure this information will help solve the mystery of the bog body.

The Lewis Man is a lot more than a mystery as the reader learns more about the characters from The Blackhouse and the hard life on the islands of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. The influence of weather and landscape figures prominently with relentless rain, wind, an imposing sea and the constant shifting of clouds and sun. It’s a beautiful but difficult place to live, yet villagers hang onto their lifestyle and traditions with proud stubbornness.

Fin’s character develops even more in book two, shedding light on the reasons behind his loneliness, his loss of faith and need to find a place called home. As in The Blackhouse, May includes themes of friendship, love and religion and introduces new subjects, including family compromises, obligations and caring for loved ones with dementia.

I enjoyed reading The Lewis Man very much.  Although it’s always best to read the books in order, The Lewis Man could be read independently, as important details from The Blackhouse are clearly explained. It may be harder to understand and appreciate the character development, however, without knowing events and dynamics of the first book. I’ll definitely be reading The Chessmen, the final book of the trilogy and look forward to Fin’s now hopeful search for happiness.

I recommend The Lewis Man to readers who like mysteries set in a dramatic place and stories about characters and their search for happiness.

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Want to start from the beginning? Click here for a review of The Blackhouse.

In the Woods by Tana French


In the Woods

by
Tana French

Rating:

After his friends Peter and Jamie mysteriously disappeared in the woods near their home, Adam Robert Ryan’s parents sent their son away to boarding school. The shock of the 1984 event had already given Adam amnesia, but he could never completely forget his best friends. When the three twelve-year-olds climbed the wall of their County Dublin neighborhood that summer day and entered the woods they knew so well, only Adam came out, with a slashed shirt, bark under his nails and shoes full of blood. Despite an intense investigation, the disappearance of Peter and Jamie was never solved and it’s been haunting Adam ever since.

Now, twenty years later, Adam goes as Rob and, although he’s back in his old neighborhood, he’s kept his past a secret from everyone except his partner, Cassie Maddox. As detectives on the Dublin Murder squad, they are investigating the murder of twelve-year-old Katy Devlin, whose body was found at an archeological dig site, on the edge of the same woods where Rob’s friends disappeared.  Are the two cases connected?  Should Rob even be on the investigation?

Tana French tells an excellent mystery, which is part murder investigation, part psychological study, part political tale and part love story. Clues point in many directions as Rob, Cassie and a third detective, Sam O’Neill, work the case. Is there abuse in the Devlin home? Is the murder connected to Jonathan Devlin’s involvement in a protest group that is trying to stop a highway from going through the dig site? What else happened in the woods the summer Peter and Jamie disappeared? The investigation continues to uncover facts that may or may not be related to the crime, muddling up an intriguing mystery. In addition, French develops sleeper characters that suggest new motives, leaving the reader to sort it out.

Rob, privately and desperately, wants to confront his past and connect it to Katy’s murder, but the intense investigation sends him into a destructive spiral.  As his relationship with Cassie teeters between professional and personal, new events could jeopardize the case.  And Rob, Cassie and Sam may not be ready when the case breaks with shocking revelations.

I enjoyed In the Woods very much for the same reason I like reading any book with many layers of plot and character development:  there’s a lot going on. It’s much more than a classic mystery with a fast-moving plot and red herrings. It’s a commentary on family, relationships, society and police work.  I especially enjoyed the dynamics between Rob and Cassie, their slick interrogation skills, and the unraveling of several key characters.  I also liked the story because of its open-ended finish, with some satisfying tie-ins, but plenty to think about afterwards.

I recommend In the Woods to readers who enjoy complex mysteries and character studies.

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The Blackhouse by Peter May


The Blackhouse
by
Peter May

Rating:

Edinburgh detective Fin Macleod tried to escape a troubled life on the Isle of Lewis, but now he’s been pulled back home to investigate a copycat murder.  Set in the small village called Crobost, an isolated point of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, Fin must confront his painful past, broken friendships and loss.  What follows is an excellent crime story, the first in The Lewis Trilogy, and one which is clouded by Fin’s conflicted character and Scotland’s ever-changing landscape.

The Crobost victim is schoolmate Angel Macritchie, the playground bully who preyed on the weak.  No different now, most in town were not sorry to see him gone, but his brutal murder leaves many questions.  Fin’s investigation is intertwined with the people he knew on the island, and he can’t avoid facing his boyhood friend, Artair Maccines and the girl they rivaled over, Marsaili Macdonald.

Clues point to several suspects, whose stories help depict what life is like in this treeless and remote land, where young and restless teenagers face bleak futures as crofters or mariners.  One of these stories is the ritual of the guga harvest, an annual trip to the rock island called An Sgeir, where a selected group of men spend two weeks killing young gannets to bring back to their people.  The trip through rough seas is dangerous, the time on the rock is treacherous and is a rite of passage for those who are chosen.  Reference to an unspoken tragedy leads the reader through an additional investigation of what happened the year Fin was selected to go.

May tells the story, bit by bit, alternating between the present and Fin’s first-person telling of the events that drove him off the island years earlier.  As Fin uncovers motives and truths, they lead to an incomprehensible finish, explained only in the book’s final pages and suggesting future relationships between its characters.

Mystery and crime readers will enjoy this interesting plot and setting.  I recommend The Blackhouse to these readers and anyone who likes conflicted characters and complicated relationships.  Enjoyed and highly rated by everyone in my library Whodunits Book Club, we are looking forward to completing the series!

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Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

crooked-letter-crooked-letter
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

by
Tom Franklin

Rating:
bookmarks-5a

When Cindy Walker goes missing in 1982, the people of Chabot, Mississippi blame Larry Ott, the boy who picked her up for a date, but never brought her home.  Although never arrested, Larry is shunned by the townspeople, who hate him for what they think he did.  Now, twenty-five years later, a second girl disappears.  Is Larry, now a loner on the outskirts of town, responsible?  Could there have been other girls?  Silas Jones, the town constable and once Larry’s boyhood friend, is determined to find out.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a mystery crime story about a town hampered by racism.  As boys on their own and running through the woods, it didn’t matter that Larry was white and Silas was black.  Now grown men, they are no longer friends, but they share a history that neither completely understands and both have struggled to get past.  Years ago, Silas ran and Larry stayed.  Now they must overcome massive obstacles and if they do, they must then ask themselves, “Can a broken friendship be fixed?”

I loved this book, which is a great story on many levels, first with an intriguing scenario and a character-driven plot, but second with an important setting, full of moral questions about the impact of decisions and equally of the characters’ action or inaction.  Themes of family, friendship, religion and love are prominent, making the book a true literary work as well.  No wonder it is an award-winning best-seller!

Franklin jumps between the two time periods and fills in the details regarding Cindy’s disappearance.  We learn about Larry and Silas as both boys and men, and begin to understand their relationship to each other as well as to their families.  All this is enhanced by a close look at the culture of Chabot, the perspectives of people who perpetuate prejudice and others who try to rise above it.  Franklin puts his characters in situations in which they have the chance to step up and make things right and he makes the reader ask, “Is it ever too late to do that?”

With an uncertain, but hopeful finish, this is the type of book that generates thought long after the last page, one of my favorite measures of a great read.  While more about the people than the crime, it also stands as a mystery, with a well-paced plot and developments that help tie up the details.  I recommend Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter to anyone who likes mysteries, but also to readers of books about conflicted characters.

Who's that author finalWant to know more about the author?  Click here to read Who’s That Author?  Tom Franklin

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The Fever by Megan Abbott

the-fever
The Fever

by
Megan Abbott

Rating:
bookmarks-3a

Dryden’s small town high school is a normal place until Lise Daniels has a mysterious seizure in class.  And panic takes over when other girls become ill, with alarming and bizarre symptoms.  Doctors are stumped, parents are in a frenzy and, within the dark and secret teenage culture, Lise’s girlfriends wonder who will be next.

Parents point to the HPV vaccine recently given to all the girls and others think it could be toxins in the school or in the closed-off lake in town, thick with strange foam and algae.  But maybe its cause is something entirely different.  Whatever it is, the media jumps in with all the angles and it’s not long before the police get involved.

The Fever is Megan Abbott’s 2014 modern story about complicated adolescence and sexuality, broken families, false friendships and jealousy.  The story’s central figures are chemistry teacher Tom Nash and his high school children, hockey star Eli and Lise’s best friend, Deenie.  News travels at the lightning speed of texts and uploaded YouTube videos, adding fever to the frightening illnesses.  As the investigation continues, the reader learns about the dynamics of Deenie’s friendship with Lise, Gabby Bishop and the weirdly frightening Skye Osbourne, Gabby’s new free-spirited friend with vintage skirts and bangles on her thin arms.

Abbott does a great job portraying the girls in a contrasting light, initially as clingy and giggly schoolgirls, dressed in brightly colored tights and neon sneakers, but also as teenagers obsessed with intense friendships and lost virginity.  Unexplained events and characters add a paranormal layer to this already mysterious story.  I also like how she integrates the town and its dreary environment into the mood of the story, one of my favorite types of storytelling.

The Fever is a quick and dark read, with a mildly compelling plot and somewhat forgettable characters, but it is otherwise entertaining.  I recommend it to anyone who likes stories about teenagers and their secret lives.


reconstructing amelia

And if you like to read about the scary lives of teenagers, you may like Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight.

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Caught by Harlan Coben

caught

Caught
by
Harlan Coben

Rating:
bookmarks-4a

When Dan Mercer walks into a televised sting designed to catch sexual predators, TV reporter Wendy Tynes and the New Jersey suburban community are certain of his guilt, even if Dan’s ex-wife says it’s not true.  Then in an alarming development, the courts throw out the evidence.  That’s more than enough for one enraged father to act and when high school senior Haley McWaid goes missing, everyone is ready to pin the crime on Dan.   Are the two cases connected?  Wendy Tynes is beginning to wonder if there’s a bigger story.

Wendy’s intuition points to other suspicious players and she can’t rest until she has it figured out, with the help of police investigators.  Coben introduces many characters who seem to be one way, but have interesting hidden motives that are only made clear as the plot develops.  The investigation takes the reader all around northern Jersey, with a couple Ivy League trips south to Princeton’s campus.

Caught is an exciting thriller that follows the circuitous leads after Dan’s arrest and the questionable motives of the story’s many characters.  It’s a fast-moving and engaging and story that looks at issues of entrapment, vigilantism, destructive viral marketing and, of course, secrets.  In addition to the crimes, Coben includes themes of marriage, families, raising teenagers, careers, and loss and he asks a question that has many answers:  How far would you go to protect your family?

While some of the characters and plot lines stretch logic and plausibility, they are nevertheless entertaining.  And despite the serious subjects, Harlan writes with a good amount of humor.  In addition, any reader with ties to New Jersey will appreciate the unique references.  Coben’s storytelling and writing style make the book a page-turner that is appealing to a broad audience.  I recommend Caught to anyone who likes a fast moving thriller.


Harlan Coben has written twenty-six novels and has over seventy million books in print worldwide.  He has won many awards for his writing.  His first books featured the sports agent character, Myron Bolitar, but he has since branched out to write about other characters. Among his books are two separate series which are set in the New Jersey, New York area.  Each series includes the same main characters, with some who appear in both.

His latest thriller is Home, about a high-profile kidnapping case of two young boys.

I love to imagine a writer’s friend group and found this fun author fact:  Coben has two interesting close friendships.  One with Amherst college fraternity brother, author Dan Brown and the other with high school chum and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Check out Coben’s website at harlancoben.com.

Click here to read about Coben in a 2012 Family Circle interview.

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Echo Park by Michael Connelly

echo-park
Echo Park
by
Michael Connelly

Rating:
bookmarks-4a

When a serial killer agrees to confess to a string of murders, LAPD detective Harry Bosch may finally have an answer for Dan and Irene Gesto, whose daughter, Marie has been missing for thirteen years.  Bosch is never at rest until a case is solved, and ever since he came out of retirement, he’s been pulling the Gesto file regularly, hoping for a break.

Echo Park is the story of how Raynard Waits becomes the center of a high profile case, made conveniently public during a tight political race for Los Angeles District Attorney.  Harry Bosch is a guy who follows his own rules, but is true to his deep-seated drive to get the bad guys.  He maneuvers through city politics and other hidden agendas to nail Waits and whoever else may be responsible.

I jumped into this Bosch mystery series, knowing nothing about the main character.  In creating Bosch, Connelly was inspired by the 15th Century Dutch painter, Hieronymus Bosch, known for his paintings depicting sin, violence and hell.  Connelly fans have their pick of twenty-nine novels, many with Bosch as their main guy.  While it may be best to start at the beginning, I enjoyed this 2006 crime mystery very much.  It’s smartly written, with many well-defined characters, has a little bit of romance and not too much violence.  I always like reading about the battle between good and evil, particularly in combatting violence against women.  Connelly makes it clear which side he and Bosch are on.

I especially enjoyed getting to know Harry and his quirky nature.  As with many mysteries, we learn about area restaurant menus and what everyone eats.  And, although I’ve never driven through Los Angeles, I had fun reading about the different neighborhoods and got a realistic feel for how the action was unfolding.  Equally fun is the banter between Harry and his contacts across the city who help him uncover the facts – they’re often resistant at first because they know he’s a rule-bender – but they always come through for their friend.

Echo Park has many exciting twists and turns.  I’m not a trained mystery reader and prefer to have the story develop for me, without thinking too far ahead.  I was surprised more than once by plot and character shifts.  Connelly includes surprises to the very end that would satisfy even the seasoned mystery reader.

I recommend Echo Park to anyone who enjoys mysteries and likes to see justice served.

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