Book review: My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni

My Sister’s Grave
by
Robert Dugoni

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

If you’re looking for a series starter, you might want to check out My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni. Published in 2014, it’s the first in a crime and courtroom series about Tracy Crosswhite, a homicide detective with the Seattle Police Department, sure that the investigation of her sister’s murder twenty years earlier was handled improperly.

Sarah Crosswhite, then eighteen, disappeared after the sisters competed in a sharp shooting contest. She’d headed home by herself to Cedar Grove, Washington in heavy rain and although police located her truck on a back road, Sarah’s body was never recovered. Edmund House, however, recently released from prison for rape, confessed to the murder and was sentenced to the state penitentiary in Walla Walla. After Sarah’s murder, Tracy fell apart. She quit her teaching job and moved to Seattle to become a detective, hoping to use her skills to uncover what she believed was a conspiracy to frame House. Although she finally put the boxes of evidence in a back closet, her drive to solve the crime cost Tracy her marriage.

Like Tracy, the once-thriving community of Cedar Grove has never been the same since Sarah’s murder, suffering emotionally and economically. And when hunters uncover Sarah’s remains, people in the town, including Sheriff Roy Calloway, want to let things be. “What’s done is done,” says Calloway. But, now, after all these years, this is Tracy’s chance to finally set things right and she returns with a lot of questions. Why are items found at the gravesite inconsistent with prior evidence and why did no one follow up on weak testimonies? Tracy’s more complicated motivation, however, stems from overwhelming guilt in letting her younger sister return alone after the shooting competition, an act of selfishness that she feels led to her father’s and later her mother’s death. She’s the only Crosswhite left and must do right by Sarah. She turns to her childhood friend Dan O’Leary for help. Dan, a lawyer and recently divorced, has returned to Cedar Grove. Could something more develop between them?

I enjoyed this story about family loyalty and how small communities deal with violent crime, together and individually. Dugoni creates a nice home town feel in Cedar Grove and shows how things are not always how they seem. He raises the question of media coverage and whether some things are better left alone, when “those answers could do more harm than good.” I recommend My Sister’s Grave to readers who like crime and romance stories that are relatively nonviolent and clean with a good plot and satisfying finish.

If you’d rather hear an audio verison of my review, you can check it out here on SoundCloud:

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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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What’s up next? The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train

Lots of you have already read this popular thriller and I’m excited to start The Girl on the Train, so I can jump in on the conversations I see on review blogs and in other media. Amazon readers have posted over 40,000 reviews and Goodreads has over 495,000 ratings! If you’re like me and haven’t read it yet, here’s some background on the story and the author.

What it’s about (from Amazon’s description):

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.

 

Paula Hawkins
photo: bookfans.net

Here are some interesting facts about Paula Hawkins:

  • Hawkins was born and raised in Zimbabwe and moved to London with her parents when she was seventeen.
  • She studied economics, politics and philosophy at Oxford.
  • Hawkins used to be a business reporter for The Times of London and during that time wrote a financial advice book called The Money Goddess.
  • Although The Girl on the Train is her first book in the suspense/thriller genre, Hawkins wrote a romantic comedy about a woman who loses her job during the recession. Confessions of a Reluctant Recessionista was written under the pen name Amy Silver. Hawkins wrote three more novels under Amy Silver’s name, but these books had limited success.
  • Financial pressures prompted Hawkins to send her unfinished manuscript to publishers, hoping one of them would like her story. They did!
  • Hawkins is currently working on a new book, a psychological thriller about sisters.

Visit these sites for more information about Paula Hawkins and The Girl on the Train.

paulahawkinsbooks.com
Paula Hawkins Author Page on Amazon
Welcoming the Dark Twist in Her Career” by Alexander Alter, Jan. 30, 2015, from The New York Times
Wikipedia article about Paula Hawkins

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