Blue Monday by Nicci French

Blue Monday
by
Nicci French

Rating:

Before I tell you why I loved this terrific book, I want to give you a little background about the novel and the authors. Published in 2011 and set in London, Blue Monday is the first in a series of eight mystery thrillers featuring Frieda Klein, a highly regarded psychoanalyst who, in this story, becomes entangled in a kidnapping investigation. Nicci French is the pseudonym for married suspense writers, Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. Together they have written over twenty books. You can find out more about Nicci French and the Frieda Klein series here.

Blue Monday’s story begins with Alan Dekker, one of Klein’s patients, who is tormented by disturbing recurring dreams of a young boy. Dekker is desperate to have a son of his own and the boy in his dreams eerily resembles recently kidnapped five-year-old Matthew Faraday. What’s the connection?

“This is the place where you’re allowed to say anything. There are no limits,” she tells Dekker. But is that really the case? In no time, Frieda finds herself in the middle of the investigation, led by Chief Inspector Malcolm Karlsson. He wonders if Matthew’s disappearance is related to a similar kidnapping twenty years earlier. A concrete evidence detective, he must then rely on Klein’s unconventional methods, and giving into her ideas may take them down the wrong path.

Getting to know Klein is not an easy task. Only happy when in control, professionally and personally, she relies on long late-night walks through deserted London neighborhoods to clear her head. Readers get to know her as she manages relationships with several secondary characters, including Sandy, a new love interest who wants a bigger commitment.

One of the things I enjoyed about Blue Monday is that it is a character-driven mystery. The authors’ characters are both interesting and complex, with their own sets of problems. They give the reader plenty to think about as they come into contact with what I’ll call the authors’ mood influencers: the dark London streets, deserted neighborhoods, gray fog and mist, all connected by the various rivers that run into and through the River Thames. In addition, I especially liked reading about Klein’s apartment, a safe spot she fiercely protects against intrusion.

I won’t spoil the story by revealing the authors’ clever and changing plot development. Twists and turns to the very last pages make Blue Monday a highly entertaining book. Some hanging details and a whopper development at the finish set the scene for the next book, Tuesday’s Gone. I’m looking forward to working my way through this series.

I recommend Blue Monday to readers who enjoy interesting characters and the challenge of unraveling a smart mystery.

And what’s the meaning behind the book’s title, Blue Monday? It “is about beginnings but also about the difficulty of beginning, its pains and regrets and fears. It also happens to be the title of two (very different) great songs—by Fats Domino and New Order,” explain the authors. (Read the full interview at penguinrandomhouse.com.)

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Exposed by Lisa Scottoline

Exposed
by
Lisa Scottoline

Rating:

Simon Pensiera, one of the top sales reps from OpenSpace, the biggest office cubicle manufacturer in the area, has lost his job. After only one month of missing his quota, he’s sure he has been wrongly fired and that his termination is because of his young daughter’s leukemia and the high cost of treatments, including an upcoming bone marrow transplant. His boss, Todd Eddington, is worried about the insurance policy and tells him, “These expenses are going to kill us this quarter. It’s really too much. We can’t keep this up. They’re going to raise our rates.”

In comes Mary DiNunzio, Simon’s childhood friend from South Philly. She’s a lawyer now and has just made partner at Rosato & DiNunzio. There’s no question she’ll take the case, until Bennie Rosato tells her there’s a conflict of interest. OpenSpace is a subsidiary of their biggest client and Bennie isn’t about to jeopardize her relationship with Dumbarton Industries or Nate Lence, the company’s CEO and Bennie’s classmate from law school.

Pretty soon it’s Rosato versus DiNunzio and Mary must decide what to do. Her entire South Philly neighborhood, including a very sick little girl, is counting on her and she must find a way. And then, a shocking murder puts the wrong person in jail and Mary and her partner in danger. Can they solve the murder and fix things for Simon and his little girl, Rachel?

There are several subplots, including Mary’s relationship with the super-aggressive and take-no-prisoners Bennie, who used to be her boss. Both Mary and Bennie have significant others, which spices up the story a bit. Scottoline also describes Rachel’s illness, her treatments and preparation for a bone marrow transplant. Rachel is surrounded by a large, supportive family and neighborhood, which contributes to the author’s feel-good description of family and relationships. Much of the book is set at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and is a worthy shout-out to the great care she receives.

I had not read a Lisa Scottoline book until now. Scottoline has written twenty-nine novels and Exposed is the fifth book in Scottoline’s Rosato & DiNunzio series. The author provides plenty of back story and Exposed can be read as a standalone.

I went in with an open mind, however, I can’t say I enjoyed this book much. It was an easy read, but I found the plot far-fetched, a little boring and the characters stereotypical. In particular, Scottoline’s South Philly characters are over the top, especially her hard-of-hearing father whose dialogue is displayed in ALL CAPS. Scottoline also devotes the first half of the book to a dry legal debate about conflict of interest, so readers need to wait patiently for the action to begin.

In addition, editing mistakes, including repetitive phrases, dialogue and physically impossible descriptions, make me feel like this book was cranked out without much polish. I wish I could say I liked this book. I know the author has a huge fan base, but for me, Scottoline is a one and done.

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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

 

Sharp Objects
by
Gillian Flynn

Rating:

Frank Curry, editor of Chicago’s Daily Post, thinks he’s doing a good thing by sending Camille Preaker to cover a murder investigation in her home town of Wind Gap, Missouri. Camille is just out of a stay in a psych ward and Curry thinks this assignment will get her back on track.

A nine-year-old girl has been murdered in Wind Gap and now a ten-year-old girl is missing. When the second girl’s body is discovered, details of the murder suggest a serial killer. Is the killer a stranger to the town or, more disturbingly, one of them?

Camille’s return to the small town is anything but a warm family reunion. It’s been eight years since she’s visited her mother, stepfather and younger half-sister, Amma. Readers quickly discover a strange and dysfunctional family dynamic. Adora Crellin is a controlling mother to thirteen-year-old Amma, a girl who wears pigtails at home, but runs wild in town. And Camille soon notices their mother’s obsession with Amma’s health, who often suffers from fevers and undetermined illnesses. She wonders if Amma is like their sickly and now dead sister, Marian, who died when Camille was thirteen. Marian’s death marks a dark turning point in the family’s history, a time when Camille turned to self-harm to cope.

Camille gathers information for a series of articles as local police and a special detective from Kansas City look for a suspect and motive. A romantic spark between Camille and the detective leads to shared information that may solve the crimes and put Camille back on track, or not. Several false leads initially distract Camille and police from finding the killer, but help the reader understand Wind Gap’s small-town culture.

To avoid spoilers, I’ll need to stop short of describing the rest of the story and leave the discoveries to the reader. I enjoyed Sharp Objects, a fast-paced suspenseful thriller. Published in 2006, it is Flynn’s debut novel and, while it is similar to Gone Girl (2012) in its darkness and unlikeable and twisted characters, plot and character are less developed. (Read my review of Gone Girl here.) Readers also need to let go of a need for realistic scenarios and accept the developments at the finish as part of the need to wrap things up.

In addition to a suspenseful story, Flynn draws attention to the devastating effects of mental illnesses, especially those that lead to cutting and other forms of self-harm. I recommend Sharp Objects to readers who enjoy dark suspenseful stories. Sharp Objects is now an HBO series. You can check it out here.

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The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese Falcon
by
Dashiell Hammett

Rating:

I wasn’t sure how I felt about reading a hardboiled detective novel from the 1930s, even though I remember liking the Humphrey Bogart movie years ago. But one page in and I understood why Dashiell Hammett is considered a master of this genre. It’s a tightly written story about detective Sam Spade, three murders, a valuable falcon statue and an assortment of shrewd characters on both sides of the law.

The story begins when a beautiful and mysterious Miss Wonderly hires Spade and his partner Miles Archer to keep an eye on man she claims has run off with her teenage sister. Spade and Archer might not believe their new client, but they take the assignment and her retainer. When Archer and the man he’s following turn up dead, the first person the police suspect is Spade. That begins the reader’s view into the long-standing antagonistic relationship between Spade and the police, specifically Detective Polhaus and Lieutenant Dundy.

Written in the external third-person narrative, the reader gets no look into the characters’ thoughts and must decide their motives and truthfulness based entirely on their words and actions. There are plenty of shady characters to figure out, too. Spade quickly discovers Miss Wonderly is lying, that her real name is Brigid O’Shaughnessy and that she’s deeply mixed up in a scheme to get the priceless falcon. But the truth is also muddled up by others who want the bird, a bejeweled and fashionable Joel Cairo, a slick-talking Caspar Gutman and his bodyguard Wilmer.

Spade’s character is a fascinating mix between calculating, cutthroat, self-serving and occasionally soft-hearted, particularly around beautiful women. That makes for plenty of romantic tension between him and O’Shaughnessy, who is just as slick to manage. She says she’s hired him to help her get the statue, which she’s promised to Gutman. Whether it’s a square deal is for the reader to discover in a twisted and fast-moving plot with plenty of red herrings.

The only woman who has Spade figured out is his loyal secretary Effie Perine, who is willing to put up with a lot of guff because she genuinely likes him. The fondness is mutual, but seemingly platonic, with some teasing affection, and maybe that’s why it works.

The big showdown at the end between all the bird’s players is a section worthy of several re-reads, first to get the facts and later to enjoy the smart and manipulative negotiations between Spade and the rest. It’s never clear, until the final page, who has the upper hand.

Every word counts in this terrific story which is just over 200 pages and both easy and fun to read. I recommend The Maltese Falcon to readers of crime fiction and to all readers who are looking for a great story.

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The safe world of political fiction

If you can’t watch the news, but you still like political stories, you can always pick up a novel. These three books will help you escape into the safe world of political fiction. One all-American story, a smart romance and a clever mystery.


America America by Ethan Canin

In 1971, Henry Bonwiller is near the front of the race to become the next Democratic nominee for president of the United States, and a young Corey Sifter is there to witness his rise and ultimate fall, as an aide to the money and power behind the campaign.


Candidate by Tracy Ewens

Politics are tough and public image is everything for United States Senator Patrick Malendar of California. He’s up for re-election and his young Republican opponent is giving him a run for his money. This modern romance is full of fun banter and romantic tension. But it also tackles many serious subjects, including the price of public life, family secrets and infidelity.


Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery by Andrew Shaffer

Why not write a mystery with Barack Obama and Joe Biden as amateur detectives? This pair has plenty of rapport to wrap around a good story line. Who better to solve a mystery than the former President and Vice President of the United States?


And if you really just want to escape from it all, try

Joy in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse

Imagine a scenario in which ridiculous characters bumble through a series of hilarious coincidences and an equal number of snafus, all in the name of love, marriage and a big business deal. The first of three short novels included in Just Enough Jeeves, a fun introduction to P.G. Wodehouse’s famous characters: twenty-something Bertie Wooster and his manservant Jeeves.


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What’s That Book? The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King

whats-that-book

TitleThe Murder of Mary Russell

Author:  Laurie R. King

Genre: Detective fiction

Rating:  4 stars

What’s it about?  The 14th book of King’s Mary Russell series in which the author incorporates characters from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries into new detective stories. This one includes Sherlock Holmes and his landlady, Mrs. Hudson, as well as Mary Russell, Holmes’ wife, a new character created by King at the beginning of the series. The book is based on Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott,” a tale involving Mrs. Hudson’s father as a young man, as he is transported as a prisoner from England to Australia. A mutiny ensues, the ship explodes and Hudson finds himself adrift.

The bigger story is about Clara Hudson, James Hudson’s daughter, and how she came to be Sherlock’s landlady and housekeeper, first at his Baker Street residence and now in Sussex. It begins in 1925 when Clara returns from the market to a bloody and upturned house. Sherlock is out and Mary is nowhere to be found and Clara fears the worst for a young woman she considers family. Who has been to their house and why are Clara’s personal belongings in disarray?

Clara has learned a few things about how to handle evidence and the process of deductive reasoning and has useful information for Sherlock when he returns. The book is partially narrated by Mary herself, with alternating chapters going back to 1850s when Clara is a young girl and later.

In the back story, James Hudson is not a great father, often drunk and hardly trustworthy, but father and daughter become partners in crime as they work the crowds in both Sydney and London, picking pockets and developing more elaborate schemes to steal people’s money. The stories come together at the finish to connect the Sussex visitor and Clara’s two lives.

How did you hear about it?  I learned about it from the mystery book club I run at my library job. We will be discussing it next week.        

Closing comments:  I enjoyed this story very much. Although I’m sure it’s best to read the series from the beginning, I was pleased to be able to jump in so late. The first of the series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, is presented as a memoir and introduces Mary to Holmes. Most of the books are about their relationship. The Murder of Mary Russell is different because it is about Mrs. Hudson. I would recommend the series to devoted Sherlock Holmes fans as well as to readers who enjoy detective fiction.

Contributor:  Book Club Mom

For more information, please visit these recent posts:

On mystery writer Laurie R. King, Sherlock Holmes and fan fiction

When you have a Twitter conversation with a character from a book


whats-that-book

Have you read something good?  Want to talk about it?
Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for information.

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Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery by Andrew Shaffer

Hope Never Dies
An Obama Biden Mystery
by
Andrew Shaffer

Rating:

Andrew Shaffer had a very funny idea. Why not write a mystery with Barack Obama and Joe Biden as amateur detectives? If you’ve ever seen some of the Obama-Biden “bromance” memes (click here for a few), you’ll know this pair has plenty of rapport to wrap around a good story line. Who better to solve a mystery than the former President and Vice President of the United States?

The story begins soon after the 2016 election. Obama has adjusted nicely to a new life filled with adventure. He’s windsurfing, kayaking and hanging out with celebrities. But Biden is at loose ends and is a little stung by Obama’s new life and friends. “Why doesn’t Barack ever call me, his best friend?” he wonders.

The pair reconnects when Biden’s favorite train conductor dies under suspicious circumstances. “Amtrak Joe” senses there is more to the story. Biden has been a regular on Amtrak for decades and he knows that Finn Donnelly was a good, family man. But questions arise when Obama shares what police know. Could there be a national security interest at stake? Is Donnelly’s death connected to opioid trafficking?

Biden takes the lead and jumps straight into the case in his full-force, pantser style. And before long, Obama and his cool and calm self are part of the team. As the pair bumbles through their undercover investigation, in caps and shades, it becomes clear that this case is big and that not everyone is on the same team. Can the Obama-Biden team sort it out?

I thoroughly enjoyed imagining Obama and Biden as they adjust to their new lives as regular citizens. And seeing them operate as amateur detectives makes for many hilarious scenarios. Shady characters and a few false leads make the mystery an enjoyable puzzle to solve and, while the crimes and consequences reflect grim problems, the story is light and great fun to read.

I recommend Hope Never Dies to all readers. It is pure entertainment, with a few political jabs and a lot of laughs.


I received a copy of Hope Never Dies from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


I read Hope Never Dies as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to choose a book because I like its cover.

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Death in a Mudflat by N. A. Granger

Death in a Mudflat
by
N.A. Granger

Rating:

When a dead woman’s body emerges from a mudflat in Pequod, Maine, it doesn’t matter that part-time detective Rhe Brewster and the chief of police are at a wedding across the way. Rhe and her former brother-in-law (and new love interest), Sam Brewster, are more than willing to run over, don a set of hazmat suits and secure the scene.

Sam and Rhe can only initially guess at the whys and hows, but their expert team’s careful attention to detail and Rhe’s nose for making connections take the reader on an investigation that is both cozy and challenging and in which Rhe places herself in many dangerous situations. Is she reckless or is she just an ace detective? Now that they’re a couple, Sam may have trouble working this out.

Death in a Mudflat is Granger’s fourth Rhe Brewster mystery, a fun series set in the fictional coastal town of Pequod. In this small-town setting, Granger has developed a cast of characters and community that reflect New England values and personalities. But just like other small towns and larger communities across the country, Pequod struggles with modern problems, including the east coast’s growing heroin crisis.

As the investigation continues, Rhe and Sam discover possible connections to other deaths, casting doubt on several shady characters. And when a student from Pequod College turns up dead, they must consider an even larger case. Granger does a great job introducing the second case into the story and readers won’t know if they are connected until the story’s exciting end.

These investigations consume a lot of time, while Rhe continues to work as an Emergency Room nurse at Sturtevant Hospital and also raise her son, Jack, an active eight-year-old. But Rhe, Sam and their friends manage to keep the fun going in their own lives. A little romance and a couple fights over Rhe’s risk-taking make the story both realistic and entertaining. In addition, Rhe’s close friendship with Paulette McGillivray adds another dimension to the story when Paulette joins a mystery group dedicated to solving cold cases.

Granger’s extensive medical knowledge shows, as Rhe’s hospital and police life forever overlap. The author also includes details about modern police procedures and technology which greatly enhance the story. Readers will also enjoy how Granger incorporates hot coffee and many tasty foods into her characters’ days, often from the Pie and Pickle, Pequod’s local café.

Themes about love, friendship, helping others and justice over the bad guys make Death in a Mudflat and the whole series great reads and I recommend these stories to mystery readers who like a good puzzle as well as others who enjoy reading about modern life in a small town.

Also by N. A. Granger:

Death in a Red Canvas Chair
Death in a Dacron Sail
Death by Pumpkin
Death at the Asylum (coming 2020)


I read Death in a Mudflat as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to read a book set within the past 20 years.

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The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry
by
Jane Harper

Genre: Mystery

Rating:

Federal Agent Aaron Falk left his home town of Kiewarra in Victoria, Australia, twenty years ago, right after Ellie Deacon died in the river. Now another of Falk’s childhood friends, Luke Hadler and his family, are dead. Despite the friendship, Falk would rather stay in Melbourne, but when he receives a letter from Luke’s father, he knows he must go back. Gerry Hadler’s words are unsettling: “Luke lied. You lied. Be at the funeral.”

Falk dreads returning to a town that chased him and his father away years ago, all because of an alibi that no one believed. Since then, lies and secrets have crippled the small farming town and a two-year drought has made everyone desperate. Falk wants to get in for the funeral and get out as soon as he can, but at the service, a chilling picture rotates through the slide show. Luke, Falk, Ellie and Gretchen Schoner, a tight teenage foursome and now only two are left. Is there a connection between Ellie’s death and the Hadler murders?

When Luke’s parents ask him to look into the murders, Falk reluctantly agrees. Headed by Kiewarra’s new Sergeant Raco, Falk and Raco follow leads and suspicions as hostility against Falk grows. Nothing is at it seems, however, and Falk will have to dig to the raw core to understand, if he survives the process.

The Dry is a terrific atmospheric thriller in which Kiewarra’s setting on the edge of the bushland and the drought’s devastating effects weigh heavy on the characters. False leads, unclear motives and complex relationships make this story both an entertaining read and a more serious study of human behavior. Why do people keep secrets and what could have been different if the truth were told? Harper may not have the answer, but she shows how lies and secrets can crush.

I recommend The Dry to readers who enjoy mysteries and to anyone who is interested in human behavior. I’m looking forward to reading Harper’s next book, Force of Nature.


I read The Dry as part of my library’s Summer Reading
Challenge to “read a book set in a place you’d like to visit.”


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Tell No One by Harlan Coben

Tell No One
by
Harlan Coben

Rating:

Dr. David Beck’s life fell apart eight years ago when his wife Elizabeth was taken by strangers. Even though a serial killer sits in prison, Beck can’t move on. He trudges through life and work as a pediatrician in a low-income New York neighborhood. The years have passed, but how can he let go of his best friend and sweetheart?

When Beck receives a computer message, he’s certain it’s from Elizabeth because it’s about something only she would know. But there’s a warning: “Tell no one.”

Readers are in for a wild ride as Beck tries to make sense of this message and later instructions. Set in New Jersey, New York and parts of Pennsylvania, the story revolves around Beck, his sister Linda and her partner, plus-size supermodel Shauna, as well as Elizabeth’s cop family. Added to the mix is the powerful billionaire, Griffin Scope, a third-generation rich guy. Scope is consumed by avenging the death of his golden-boy son Brandon and by preserving Brandon’s good-works charitable foundation, headed, coincidently, by Linda.

Several messages later, Beck is certain Elizabeth is still alive. He needs help and turns to Shauna. Shauna keeps him grounded, but events get out of hand when Beck becomes a wanted man for murder.

Coben leads the reader through the preliminaries, then adds a great variety of side characters, including my favorite, the conflicted Tyrese Barton and the unknowable bad guy Eric Wu, someone you don’t want to meet in an alley. Other characters with questionable morality, but a sliver of conscience make this story more than just a thriller, but an interesting character study.

In addition to an exciting plot, Coben’s writing style is full of dry humor as well as many laugh-out-loud moments, as Beck somehow escapes certain death, more than once.

Just as in an action movie, Tell No One is a terrific, fast-moving suspense, with twists and turns to the final page. I recommend this book to readers who enjoy reading about the battle between good and evil in a highly entertaining story.

And if you like watching action movies, Tell No One was adapted to the screen in the French film of the same name. Read all about it here.

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