Books 2017: Three-Star Mysteries


Lacy Eye by Jessica Treadway. Synopsis from Goodreads: Hanna Schutt never suspected that her younger daughter's happiness would lead to her husband's death and the destruction of their family. When Dawn brings her new boyfriend home from college for a visit, her parents and sister try to hide their doubts because they're glad that Dawn - always an awkward child - appears to have grown into a confident, mature young woman in her relationship with Rud. But when Hanna and her husband, Joe, are beaten savagely in their bed, Rud becomes the chief suspect and stands trial for Joe's murder.
Claiming her boyfriend's innocence, Dawn estranges herself from her mother, who survived the attack with serious injuries and impaired memory. When Rud wins an appeal and Dawn returns to the family home saying she wants to support her mother, Hanna decides to try to remember details of that traumatic night so she can testify to keep her husband's murderer in jail, never guessing that the process might cause her to question everything she thought she knew about her daughter.

Reading this was a really interesting look into the lives and thought processes of characters who are very, very different from me. I've engaged in a spurious justification or two in my time, but I've never done the 'willful blindness' thing. I also always find it interesting to read about parents with difficult relationships with their children (while feeling very, very lucky that this has never been something I've had to deal with). Things could have been a bit more nuanced here, and the prose was very workmanlike, but overall this was an engaging enough read.

Cry for Help by Steve Mosby. Synopsis from GoodreadsDave Lewis is a man with a history. Haunted by his brother's murder when they were children, and scarred by his parents' grief, he's built a bitter life denying everything they ever stood for. He spends his time working as a magician, running a cynical magazine that derides his parents. New Age beliefs, and drowning his sorrows over his lost love, Tori. He's trying to convince himself the past is the past. A promise he made to Tori has got him into trouble before, and Dave's determined to move on and not let that happen again. 
Detective Sam Currie is a man with a past. His failure to prevent his son's death has ended his marriage and cast a shadow over his life and career. He's directed his hatred towards the one man he sees as responsible, but he has other priorities right now. A killer is stalking the city, abducting girls and sending texts and emails to their families before he kills them. When Dave Lewis appears to connect both investigations, it's an opportunity Currie can't resist..

Kind of surprised and chagrined to realize that I don't remember a whole lot about this book. I reread the first book I had read by this author this year and then downloaded more because I really admire his style. This is the only one I three-starred, so maybe that's why, although I still do recall it as being a step up from many mysteries. 

The Missing Hours by Emma Kavanagh. Synopsis from Goodreads: A woman disappears 
One moment, Selena Cole is in the playground with her children and the next, she has vanished without a trace.
A woman returns 
Twenty hours later, Selena is found safe and well, but with no memory of where she has been.
What took place in those missing hours, and are they linked to the discovery of a nearby murder?

‘Is it a forgetting or a deception?’

Call it three and a half. All of the right elements were here - good solid characters with back-stories and nuanced motivations, the odd lovely turn of phrase to highlight the grueling and melancholy nature of murder investigations, and a mystery. But for some reason the plot just didn't draw me in all that much. I like them a little more dark and twisted.

Falling by Emma Kavanagh. Synopsis from Goodreads: A plane falls out of the sky. A woman is murdered. Four people all have something to hide. 
Jim is a retired police officer, and worried father. His beloved daughter has disappeared and he knows something is wrong.
Tom has woken up to the news that his wife was on the plane and must break the news to their only son.
Cecilia had packed up and left her family. Now she has survived a tragedy, and sees no way out.
Freya is struggling to cope with the loss of her father. But as she delves into his past, she may not like what she finds.
'Before the plane crash, after the plane crash, such a short amount of time for the world to turn on its head. 

When I finished The Missing Hours, I was surprised to go to Goodreads and find that I had already read a book by her and forgotten (a little surprised - I read a lot of books and I have a fairly bad memory). This was more of a two-and-a-half. I'm not surprised that it was written earlier. Everything was pretty bland and forgettable. The Missing Hours was quite a bit better, so it's good to see an improvement arc.

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin. Synopsis from Goodreads: I am the star of screaming headlines and campfire ghost stories.
I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans.
The lucky one. 
As a sixteen-year-old, Tessa Cartwright was found in a Texas field, barely alive amid a scattering of bones, with only fragments of memory as to how she got there. Ever since, the press has pursued her as the lone surviving “Black-Eyed Susan,” the nickname given to the murder victims because of the yellow carpet of wildflowers that flourished above their shared grave. Tessa’s testimony about those tragic hours put a man on death row. 
Now, almost two decades later, Tessa is an artist and single mother. In the desolate cold of February, she is shocked to discover a freshly planted patch of black-eyed susans—a summertime bloom—just outside her bedroom window. Terrified at the implications—that she sent the wrong man to prison and the real killer remains at large—Tessa turns to the lawyers working to exonerate the man awaiting execution. But the flowers alone are not proof enough, and the forensic investigation of the still-unidentified bones is progressing too slowly. An innocent life hangs in the balance. The legal team appeals to Tessa to undergo hypnosis to retrieve lost memories—and to share the drawings she produced as part of an experimental therapy shortly after her rescue.
 What they don’t know is that Tessa and the scared, fragile girl she was have built a  fortress of secrets. As the clock ticks toward the execution, Tessa fears for her sanity, but even more for the safety of her teenaged daughter. Is a serial killer still roaming free, taunting Tessa with a trail of clues? She has no choice but to confront old ghosts and lingering nightmares to finally discover what really happened that night. 
Shocking, intense, and utterly original, Black-Eyed Susans is a dazzling psychological thriller, seamlessly weaving past and present in a searing tale of a young woman whose harrowing memories remain in a field of flowers—as a killer makes a chilling return to his garden.

I read a good chunk of this feeling sure it was going to be a four-star. Good writing, well-fleshed-out characters, intriguing premise. Then...maybe it was just me. I admired how she didn't dwell punishingly on the abduction, but I think she might have erred too much on the side of only giving glimpses, to the point where it was annoyingly difficult to figure out exactly what did happen. I'm usually fine with switches between the past and present too, but these were so short all the way through that the effect became jarring and vexing. Tess was a great character, much more than just a crime survivor, and the relationship between her and her daughter and their neighbour was wonderful. Then after all of it, the reveal lacked both surprise and credibility. I'd still say it's worth a read. 

The Murder of Mary Russell (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #14) by Laurie King. Synopsis from Goodreads: Mary Russell is used to dark secrets—her own, and those of her famous partner and husband, Sherlock Holmes. Trust is a thing slowly given, but over the course of a decade together, the two have forged an indissoluble bond.
And what of the other person to whom Mary Russell has opened her heart: the couple’s longtime housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson? Russell’s faith and affection are suddenly shattered when a man arrives on the doorstep claiming to be Mrs. Hudson’s son.
What Samuel Hudson tells Russell cannot possibly be true, yet she believes him—as surely as she believes the threat of the gun in his hand. In a devastating instant, everything changes. And when the scene is discovered—a pool of blood on the floor, the smell of gunpowder in the air—the most shocking revelation of all is that the grim clues point directly to Clara Hudson.
Or rather to Clarissa, the woman she was before Baker Street.
The key to Russell’s sacrifice lies in Mrs. Hudson’s past. To uncover the truth, a frantic Sherlock Holmes must put aside his anguish and push deep into his housekeeper’s secrets—to a time before her disguise was assumed, before her crimes were buried away.
There is death here, and murder, and trust betrayed.
And nothing will ever be the same.

I found this series enchanting when it first began, lo these many years ago. I was working at an audio publisher and got the manuscript for the first book before it was published, and it was delightful. It's lost a bit of its lustre for me, and I'm sad that King didn't write more of her Kate Martinelli series, which I actually preferred - A Grave Talent and To Play the Fool are wonderful. This was interesting, I just find that the series is a bit bloodless and polite, even considering its Britishness. 

Life or Death by Michael Robotham. Synopsis from Goodreads: Why would a man serving a long prison sentence escape the day before he's due to be released?
Audie Palmer has spent ten years in a Texas prison after pleading guilty to a robbery in which four people died and seven million dollars went missing. During that time he has suffered repeated beatings, stabbings and threats by inmates and guards, all desperate to answer the same question: where's the money?
On the day before Audie is due to be released, he suddenly vanishes. Now everybody is searching for him - the police, FBI, gangsters and other powerful figures - but Audie isn't running to save his own life. Instead, he's trying to save someone else's.
Michael Robotham has created the ultimate underdog hero, an honorable criminal shrouded in mystery and ready to lead readers on a remarkable chase.

Three and a half stars (a fair few of those this year). It had amazing narrative energy and I couldn't put it down, and it's only upon reflection that I have a couple of minor quibbles. Audie and Moss work wonderfully as characters, but the love interest being one of those women surrounded by a 'magical sadness' and the sense that she has to be saved? Kind of old and tired for a book written in 2016. Ditto with some of the fairly stereotypical corrupt bad guys. In general, though, a thumping good read if you don't overthink it.

Blind Sight by Carol O'Connell (Kathleen Mallory #12). Synopsis from Goodreads: A blind child and a Catholic nun disappear from a city sidewalk in plain sight of onlookers. There, then gone—vanished in seconds. Those who witnessed the event still cannot believe it happened.
It was all too real. Detective Kathy Mallory and the NYPD’s Special Crimes Unit enter the investigation when the nun’s body is found with three other corpses in varying stages of decomposition left on the lawn of Gracie Mansion, home to the mayor of New York City. Sister Michael was the last to die. The child, Jonah Quill, is still missing. 
Like Jonah, the police are blind. Unknown to them, he is with a stone killer, and though he has unexpected resources of his own, his would-be saviors have no suspect, no useful evidence, and no clue — except for Detective Mallory’s suspicions of things not said and her penchant for getting to the truth beneath lies. Behind her back, the squad’s name for her is Mallory the Machine, yet she has a dark understanding of what it is to be human. A child is waiting, time is running out, and atop her list of liars is the mayor himself…and a theory of the crimes in which no sane cop could believe.

Kathy Mallory was so delightfully new and different a character when this series began. I keep coming back hoping it will find some new life, but this was just okay. The relationship between Iggy and Jonah was riveting. The rest is just rehashed and stale. Too many all caps and italics to indicate surprise and excitement when there really isn't any. I guess there's only so much personal growth a sociopath can demonstrate, but if Mallory continues to stay exactly the same, in my opinion this series is doomed to irrelevance.

Ragdoll by Daniel Cole. Synopsis by Goodreads: One body. Six victims.
William Fawkes, a controversial detective known as The Wolf, has just been reinstated to his post after months of psychological assessment following allegations of a shocking assault. A veteran of the force, Fawkes thinks he's seen it all. That is, until his former partner and friend, Detective Emily Baxter, calls him to a crime scene and leads him to a career-defining cadaver: the dismembered parts of six victims sewn together like a puppet - a corpse that becomes known in the press as the "ragdoll."
Fawkes is tasked with identifying the six victims, but that gets dicey when his reporter ex-wife anonymously receives photographs from the crime scene, along with a list of six names, and the dates on which the Ragdoll Killer plans to murder them. The final name on the list is Fawkes. Baxter and her trainee partner, Alex Edmunds, hone in on figuring out what links the victims together before the killer strikes again.
But for Fawkes, seeing his name on the list sparks a dark memory, and he fears that the catalyst for these killings has more to do with him - and his past - than anyone realises.

A little bit meh. Started out promisingly enough, and I liked all of the cop characters, but the plot devolved pretty quickly into way beyond suspension of disbelief territory. I've lost patience with the villain-as-borderline-evil-superhero schtick. The resolution lacked verisimilitude also. This was a first novel, so things could improve.

The Night Bird by Brian Freeman. Synopsis from Goodreads: Homicide detective Frost Easton doesn’t like coincidences. When a series of bizarre deaths rock San Francisco—as seemingly random women suffer violent psychotic breaks—Frost looks for a connection that leads him to psychiatrist Francesca Stein. Frankie’s controversial therapy helps people erase their most terrifying memories…and all the victims were her patients.
As Frost and Frankie carry out their own investigations, the case becomes increasingly personal—and dangerous. Long-submerged secrets surface as someone called the Night Bird taunts the pair with cryptic messages pertaining to the deaths. Soon Frankie is forced to confront strange gaps in her own memory, and Frost faces a killer who knows the detective’s worst fears.
As the body count rises and the Night Bird circles ever closer, a dedicated cop and a brilliant doctor race to solve the puzzle before a cunning killer claims another victim.

This was good. It was nearly great, with good characters and a nice twisty plot, and I liked that the love interest thing didn't go formulaic and predictable. The writing wasn't fantastic, and the phrase 'finger of worry' was overused.

Lockdown by Laurie R. King. Synopsis from Goodreads: Career Day at Guadalupe Middle School: a day given to innocent hopes and youthful dreams. A day no one in attendance will ever forget. 
New York Times bestselling author Laurie R. King is an award-winning master of combining rich atmospheric detail with riveting, keen-edged mystery. Now, in her newest standalone novel of psychological suspense, King turns her sharp eye to a moment torn from the headlines and a school under threat. 
A year ago, Principal Linda McDonald arrived at Guadalupe determined to overturn the school's reputation for truancy, gang violence, and neglect. One of her initiatives is Career Day--bringing together children, teachers, and community presenters in a celebration of the future. But there are some in attendance who reject McDonald's bright vision.
A principal with a secret. A husband with a murky past. A cop with too many questions. A kid under pressure to prove himself. A girl struggling to escape a mother's history. A young basketball player with an affection for guns. 
Even the school janitor has a story he dare not reveal. 
But no one at the gathering anticipates the shocking turn of events that will transform a day of possibilities into an explosive confrontation. 
Tense, poignant, and brilliantly paced, Laurie R. King's novel charts compelling characters on a collision course--a chain of interactions that locks together hidden lives, troubling secrets, and the bravest impulses of the human heart. 

Three and a half, I think. I read this while in full-blown Christmas prep, so much more slowly over many more days than I usually would. The notes at the end of the book said something about this being written in pieces and then put together, which makes a certain amount of sense. You definitely get a quite vivid sense of the different personalities, although there is a certain lack of connectivity until the actual events get underway quite late in the book. 

The Marsh King's Daughter by Karen Dionne. Synopsis from GoodreadsPraised by Karin Slaughter and Megan Abbott, The Marsh King’s Daughter is the mesmerizing tale of a woman who must risk everything to hunt down the dangerous man who shaped her past and threatens to steal her future: her father.
Helena Pelletier has a loving husband, two beautiful daughters, and a business that fills her days. But she also has a secret: she is the product of an abduction. Her mother was kidnapped as a teenager by her father and kept in a remote cabin in the marshlands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Helena, born two years after the abduction, loved her home in nature, and despite her father’s sometimes brutal behavior, she loved him, too...until she learned precisely how savage he could be.
More than twenty years later, she has buried her past so soundly that even her husband doesn’t know the truth. But now her father has killed two guards, escaped from prison, and disappeared into the marsh. The police begin a manhunt, but Helena knows they don’t stand a chance. Knows that only one person has the skills to find the survivalist the world calls the Marsh King—because only one person was ever trained by him: his daughter.

Very interesting and different from many books of this type, chiefly because it's from the viewpoint of the child who was born in captivity and didn't know anything different until she was an adolescent. Helena's insights about hunting, tracking and living off the land and her difficulty at living a mainstream life make her a compelling character and take this story to a different level than a typical damsel in distress narrative. That said, I still liked it rather than loved it, but I think that's on me rather than the book. 

The Winners' Circle (Joanne Kilbourn #17) by Gail Bowen. Synopsis from Goodreads: As Joanne Kilbourn-Shreve, her husband, Zack, and their soon-to-be seventeen-year-old daughter, Taylor, rush through the rain from their cottage to their car, the Thanksgiving weekend they just spent at the lake with Zack's law partners is already slipping away, burnished into memory as pleasantly as the hundreds of other weekends the Falconer-Shreve families have shared at Lawyers' Bay. Thoughts of the weekend past will now focus on the future and be prefaced by the words "next time."
Within weeks, a triple homicide will rip apart the lives of those related to the lawyers who, at the end of their first year in law school, only half-jokingly styled themselves "The Winners' Circle." Dazed by grief, Joanne will seek answers to an impossible question: "Why did they die?" 
The facts behind the suicide of Christopher Altieri, known by his law partners as "the conscience of The Winners' Circle," appear to provide insights, but for Joanne those insights raise new, unsettling questions. Knitting this powerful narrative together is Joanne's unshakeable belief that the only thing worse than knowing is not knowing.

Looking at my ratings for the last few entries in this series, I'm clearly only reading this for nostalgic purposes at this point, although I liked this one a little more than the last few as a fast read on an insomniac night. This series is really suffering, first of all, from the problem of any mystery series where the main character isn't a cop or a P.I. - why in god's name does everyone keep dropping dead around her? I mean, come on, the bounds of credulity were strained beyond belief long, long ago. Although it is sometimes nice and comforting to see the evolution of the characters over such a long arc, and my family is from Saskatchewan so I enjoy the setting, it's just all grown a little stale. In this case, by the time we figure out who did it I hardly even knew who the person was. It's like a cozy family drama where incidentally death and destruction pops in every now and then. And yet I keep coming back. I do highly recommend the first few books in the series. 


StephLove said…
I enjoyed this: "This series is really suffering, first of all, from the problem of any mystery series where the main character isn't a cop or a P.I. - why in god's name does everyone keep dropping dead around her?"

The Marsh King book sounds intriguing. I always liked that fairy tale.
Tudor said…
I really love mysteries, and finding new mystery series, and I always use your list to help me find them, so thank you! Two thoughts:

1) Have you read Mary Stewart's mysteries? They're my current "go-to" series - They're not dark at all, but they're very well-written and have interesting female main characters who are very strong for the times the books are written in.

2) Going through your list reminds me how I shop for books (which reminds me how to price my own books). I always go to Amazon first and see if any of the author's books are reasonably priced because there's NO WAY I'm spending over $10 on an unproven author (even with your lovely recommendation). Occasionally a smart publisher will price Book #1 at something like $2.99 and, if so, I'll always buy it - I'm willing to take a chance for $2.99. However - no surprise - most publishers stick to the old "our ebooks are worth $15.99" so, if I'm still interested enough, I leave Amazon and go to the library to see if the ebooks are there. If so, I borrow them. If not ... well there are lots more books on your list / in the sea and there you go - a lost sale (and maybe many more lost future sales) all because the publisher wanted $15.99 or nothing for their ebook.

And, yes, I'm preaching. But I just feel publishers don't get it yet. Oh well, OPL seems to have almost the entire Joanne Kilbourn series, so all is good and thanks for the tip!

Bibliomama said…
I have read some Mary Stewart! It was way back when I worked for the audio publisher and I was assessing them for potential as audio books. Very enjoyable.
COMPLETELY agree about the pricing. I think I bought a bunch of the Steve Mosby books for around 2.99. I do the same thing with book #1 if it's well-priced, but I won't buy it for ten or over either. I think you're completely right that publishers don't get it - even if it's not strictly true, most readers think that publishing an ebook costs so much less than publishing a paper book that the price should reflect that. Everybody still has to get paid, obviously, but the publishers need to be smarter about it.

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