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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Merging genres – it’s all good!

Source: Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

Is it my imagination or are genres starting to merge?  When is a mystery just a mystery and when is a suspense only a suspense?  And when did historical fiction sneak in?  No matter, the good books keep coming and that’s all we want!

Here’s a list of some quality mystery/suspense/historical fiction that are sharing space on my bookshelf.


blood of the prodigalBlood of the Prodigal by P.L. Gaus – 3 Bookmarks:  Light Amish mystery set in Ohio


Brooklyn on FireBrooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy – 4 Bookmarks:  Intriguing historical mystery in 1890s Brooklyn


Child 44

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith – 3 ½ Bookmarks:  Someone is murdering children in Joseph Stalin’s Russia.


Anyone else remember this cover?Coma by Robin Cook – 3 Bookmarks:  Creepy throwback medical thriller from the 70s


Death in a Dacron Sail coverDeath in a Dacron Sail by N. A. Granger – 4 Bookmarks:  Amateur sleuth Rhe Brewster solves a murder in Maine


Death in a Red Canvas Chair coverDeath in a Red Canvas Chair by N. A. Granger – 3 Bookmarks:  Rhe Brewster’s first case


defending jacobDefending Jacob by William Landay – 3 Bookmarks: What do you do when your teenage son is a murder suspect?


Eating BullEating Bull by Carrie Rubin – 4 Bookmarks:  Medical/psychological thriller that tackles obesity and the food industry


Elizabeth is Missing picElizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey – 3 ½ Bookmarks:  An old woman with dementia is sure her friend is missing.


frank mary shelleyFrankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley – 4 Bookmarks:  Classic monster story about good and evil


gonegirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn – 4 Bookmarks:  You can’t believe your spouse in this creepy thriller.


Jane Eyre picJane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë  – 5 Bookmarks:  What are those noises upstairs at Thornfield Hall?


reconstructing ameliaReconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight – 3 Bookmarks:  Teen secrets and cover-ups after a classmate dies


Second Street StationSecond Street Station by Lawrence H. Levy – 4 Bookmarks:  Brooklyn’s first female detective solves a high profile murder.


the girl with the dragon tattoo pic           The Girl who played with fire pic           The girl who kicked the hornet's nest pic           The Girl in the Spider's Web

Stieg Larsson Millennium Series – Lisbeth Salander Novels – 4 Bookmarks:  Suspenseful series about an enigmatic but kick-ass heroine


The Good NeighborThe Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner – 3 Bookmarks:  Questions emerge after a neighbor’s house burns to the ground.


the caged graves picThe Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni – 5 Bookmarks:  A mystery about two caged graves outside a cemetery


The DinnerThe Dinner by Herman Koch – 4 Bookmarks:  Twisted murder tale about a family cover-up


the-farm-by-tom-rob-smithThe Farm by Tom Rob Smith – 3 Bookmarks:  Who is telling the truth, Daniel’s mother or father?


The ImmortalsThe Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky – 4 Bookmarks:  A modern day Artemis solves a murder in Manhattan


The RackThe Racketeer by John Grisham – 3 Bookmarks:  Clever crime story about a murdered judge


The Silent Wife picThe Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison – 4 Bookmarks:  Marital twists and turns in this psychological thriller


What are your favorites in this new literary amalgam?

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