Books 2017: Four-Star Mysteries


City of the Lost (Casey Duncan #1) by Kelley Armstrong. Synopsis from Goodreads: Casey Duncan is a homicide detective with a secret: when she was in college, she killed a man. She was never caught, but he was the grandson of a mobster and she knows that someday this crime will catch up to her. Casey's best friend, Diana, is on the run from a violent, abusive ex-husband. When Diana's husband finds her, and Casey herself is attacked shortly after, Casey knows it's time for the two of them to disappear again.
Diana has heard of a town made for people like her, a town that takes in people on the run who want to shed their old lives. You must apply to live in Rockton and if you're accepted, it means walking away entirely from your old life, and living off the grid in the wilds of Canada: no cell phones, no Internet, no mail, no computers, very little electricity, and no way of getting in or out without the town council's approval. As a murderer, Casey isn't a good candidate, but she has something they want: She's a homicide detective, and Rockton has just had its first real murder. She and Diana are in. However, soon after arriving, Casey realizes that the identity of a murderer isn't the only secret Rockton is hiding—in fact, she starts to wonder if she and Diana might be in even more danger in Rockton than they were in their old lives.

This has some of that sorcery that somehow renders a fairly mediocre book un-put-downable. Once I finished it I had a couple of quibbles; in some ways it was almost Harlequin romance-like, in that Casey is the female character who's beyond reproach, while most of the other female characters are weak and easily corrupted (man, the word 'bitch' is thrown around a lot). Dalton is kind of a Harlequin hunk too. But I've been putting down books unfinished a lot lately and this one had an interesting premise and great narrative energy.

A Song of Shadows (Charlie Parker #13) by John Connolly. Synopsis from Goodreads: Grievously wounded, private detective Charlie Parker investigates a case that has its origins in a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War.Broken, but undeterred, private detective Charlie Parker faces the darkest of dark forces in a case with its roots in the second world war, and a concentration camp unlike any other . . .Recovering from a near-fatal shooting and tormented by memories of a world beyond this one, Parker has retreated to the small Maine town of Boreas to recover. There he befriends a widow named Ruth Winter and her young daughter, Amanda. But Ruth has her secrets. She is hiding from the past, and the forces that threaten her have their origins in the Second World War, in a town called Lubko and a concentration camp unlike any other. Old atrocities are about to be unearthed, and old sinners will kill to hide their sins. Now Parker is about to risk his life to defend a woman he barely knows, one who fears him almost as much as she fears those who are coming for her.His enemies believe him to be vulnerable. Fearful. Solitary.But they are wrong. Parker is far from afraid, and far from alone.For something is emerging from the shadows . . 

I can't quit this series. It manages to combine mystery and dark fantasy in a magical realism style that makes it seem completely acceptable. This was a particularly good offering. 

Harvest by Robert Pobi. Synopsis from Goodreads: From the internationally bestselling author of Eye of the Storm comes a new novel introducing the fiery Alexandra “Hemi” Hemingway as she tracks down a serial killer cutting a swathe across New York City.
A stifling heat wave rolls into New York City, amplifying the already critical level of tension in the fragile concrete ecosystem. Recently recovered from a shoot-out that nearly killed her, homicide detective Alexandra “Hemi” Hemingway is already on edge. But then, on the morning Hemi discovers she is pregnant, a twisted serial killer makes his debut. And the heat goes up.
Soon, Hemi is besieged on all fronts as she struggles to catch up to a killer who always seems one step ahead. And as she pieces together the clues along the trail, it isn’t long before tensions boil over and Hemi finds herself a target in the deadly competition.
Not for the faint of heart, Harvest is a relentless ride that takes you through the fractured world of a nascent killer. And you will never feel safe again.

Okay. I know I read this. It's in this list because Goodreads told me I read this. And yet now Goodreads has no record of my having read this. OMG, it's a mystery about a mystery. *looks around in paranoid fashion*. It's not a spoiler, is it, if I admit that after reading this I did actually feel safe again? Sorry, I'm just being a dick, I enjoyed this. You can feel the oppressive heat, and the characters all have family drama weighing them down besides, and then there's the actual mystery, which is also well done. 

Daisy in Chains by Sharon J. Bolton. Synopsis from Goodreads: Famous killers have fan clubs.
Hamish Wolfe is no different. Locked up for the rest of his life for the abduction and murder of three young women, he gets countless adoring letters every day. He's handsome, charismatic and very persuasive. His admirers are convinced he's innocent, and that he's the man of their dreams.
Who would join such a club?
Maggie Rose is different. Reclusive and enigmatic; a successful lawyer and bestselling true-crime writer, she only takes on cases that she can win.
Hamish wants her as his lawyer, he wants her to change his fate. She thinks she's immune to the charms of a man like this. But maybe not this time . . . 
Would you?

I always enjoy this author. Workmanlike prose here, for the most part, but tight plotting and an engaging story.
Persons Unknown (DS Manon Bradshaw #2) by Susie Steiner. Synopsis from Goodreads: The sequel to Susie Steiner’s bestselling MISSING, PRESUMED
Manon has settled back into life in Cambridgeshire with her adopted son Fly. She’s perfectly happy working on cold cases until a man is stabbed to death just yards from the police station, and both the victim and the prime suspect turn out to be much closer to home than she would like. How well does Manon know her loved ones, and are they capable of murder?

Another enjoyable entry in a fresh and  promising series. Manon Bradshaw is a great character - absolutely flawed, but believably and relatably so. I found the mystery strained credulity a little more here, but I was willing to go along with it. I was really absorbed by the subplot too. 

Nothing Stays Buried (Monkeewrech #8) by P.J. Tracy. Synopsis from Goodreads: The Monkeewrench crew returns to face the city of Minneapolis s worst nightmare a rampant serial killer on the loose in the electrifying new thriller. 
When Minneapolis homicide detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth are called to a crime scene in a heavily wooded city park, everything about the setting is all too familiar. And when they discover a playing card on the victim's body, their worst fears are confirmed there s a serial killer operating in the city for the first time in years. 
Across town, Grace MacBride and her unconventional partners at Monkeewrench Software find themselves at both personal and career crossroads. Weary of the darker side of their computer work for law enforcement, they agree to take on a private missing-persons case in a small farming community in southwestern Minnesota. 
As the violence accelerates in Minneapolis, Magozzi and Gino soon realize their killer is planning to complete the deck, and they enlist Monkeewrench to help stop the rampage. As a baffling tangle of evidence accumulates, the cops and Monkeewrench make the unlikely connections among a farmer s missing daughter, a serial killer, and a decades-old stabbing that brings them face-to-face with pure evil."

After a couple of snooze-worthy entries, and the sad loss of one of the members of this mother-daughter writing duo, this series hits its stride again with this book. A great story, with the quirks and strengths of the Monkeewrench team and Leo and Gino showcased to good effect. 

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins. Synopsis from Goodreads: In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help.
Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind.
But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped.
And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool . .

I thought this was quite a bit better than The Girl on the Train, which was a decent mystery. This is not a perfect mystery - too many things are too heavily foreshadowed - but it's still a pretty good one, and a leap forward in literary merit. The theme of 'troublesome women' is very effective, as is the thread of childhood trauma reverberating through adult lives.

The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter. Synopsis from Goodreads: Two girls are forced into the woods at gunpoint. One runs for her life. One is left behind.
Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn's happy small-town family life was torn apart by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father—Pikeville's notorious defense attorney—devastated. And it left the family fractured beyond repair, consumed by secrets from that terrible night.
Twenty-eight years later, and Charlie has followed in her father's footsteps to become a lawyer herself—the ideal good daughter. But when violence comes to Pikeville again—and a shocking tragedy leaves the whole town traumatized—Charlie is plunged into a nightmare. Not only is she the first witness on the scene, but it's a case that unleashes the terrible memories she's spent so long trying to suppress. Because the shocking truth about the crime that destroyed her family nearly thirty years ago won't stay buried forever.

Right before I read this I kept saying I was in a reading slump. Then I realized that I just really wanted to read a really great mystery and all the ones I tried were crap. My experience with this author is curiously uneven - nothing really awful, but some books are pretty tame while others just blast it out of the park. This is the latter - all the right ingredients for a dark, dense, utterly satisfying read. Fantastic complex characters and astute character studies. A complicated and engaging plot. Snappy dialogue and some black humour used as a coping mechanism, which I personally love. Realistic depictions of trauma and its aftermath. No false notes.

Black Flowers by Steve Mosby. Synopsis from Goodreads: This is not a story about a girl who disappears. This is the story of a little girl who comes back. As if from nowhere, she appears one day on a seaside promenade, with a black flower and a horrifying story about where she's been. But telling that story will start a chain reaction of dangerous lies and deadly illusions that will claim many more victims in the years to come. Neil Dawson has grown up wanting to be like his father—a writer. When his father commits suicide, he is devastated. But through his grief, Neil knows something isn't right. Looking through his father's papers, he finds a copy of an old novel, The Black Flower. Opening it will take Neil into an investigation full of danger, pain and subterfuge. Hannah Price is also mourning her father. She followed his footsteps into the police force, and knows she has a big reputation to live up to. When she gets assigned to Neil's father's case, it will lead her on a journey into her own past and to the heart of a shattering secret. 

OMG, so good. A layered, multi-generational mystery, reality echoed in fiction, which bounces back to reality, good people that might be bad, people that might actually be other people, and just when you think there might be too many plates spinning in the air he brings it all home beautifully. Sets up a wicked labyrinth of a mystery and entirely lives up to its promise. I read about half of this before realizing that I had already read one book by this author, and immediately resolved to read more.

The 50/50 Killer by Steve Mosby. Synopsis from Goodreads: Mark Nelson is a young police officer, newly assigned to the team of John Mackey--a highly-decorated and successful detective, and author of a bestselling true crime book based on his years of experience catching killers. Mackey is a legend in the force and it's a huge opportunity for Mark, who has dedicated his life to his job ever since the death of his girlfriend years before. 
When a man is found burned to death in his own home, Mackey's team is thrown into an investigation that grows darker and more complex at every turn. The evidence points to a man known as the Fifty-Fifty Killer. His targets are young couples, who he stalks and subjects to a single night of torture and manipulation, testing and destroying the love between them. 
Only one of them ever survives until dawn. Soon afterwards, a young man walks into a police station badly tortured and with his memory in tatters. He knows only that his girlfriend is still being held captive in the woods he's escaped from. But the team know that by fleeing, the man has sealed his girlfriend's fate. If they can't piece together his experience by daybreak then she will die in his place. However, all is not what it seems.

First read in January 2013

This was the book I had already read by Mosby, and I reread it after Black Flowers. Superb mystery. Mosby faintly reminds me of Belinda Bauer, another great British mystery-writer. This is dark and twisted and bittersweet, with a tortured detective figure who is both familiar and his own character . It asks uncomfortable questions about the limits of love and loyalty, and features nuanced characters.

Dog Will Have His Day (Three Evangelists #2) by Fred Vargas. Synopsis from Goodreads: HOW DO YOU SOLVE A MURDER WITHOUT A BODY?
Keeping watch under the windows of the Paris flat belonging to a politician's nephew, ex-special investigator Louis Kehlweiler catches sight of something odd on the pavement. A tiny piece of bone. Human bone, in fact.
When Kehlweiler takes his find to the nearest police station, he faces ridicule. Obsessed by the fragment, he follows the trail to the tiny Breton fishing village of Port-Nicolas – in search of a dog. But when he recruits ‘evangelists’ Marc and Mathias to help, they find themselves facing even bigger game.

The novels of Fred Vargas are a singular pleasure. You won't find propulsive plotting, or chisel-jawed detectives, or straightforward answers to any questions. You will find lateral thinking, and meandering avenues of investigation, and characters that are infuriating and charming in almost equal measure. This is not a Commissaire Adamsberg book, but Louis Kehlweiler fits into the Vargas universe admirably. After all "the world is full of horrors and bloodshed", what can one do but put one foot in front of the other, and periodically conclude that "I could do with a beer." Do read The Three Evangelists first, though, to get the full effect of the three of them together. 


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