Subscribe via RSS Feed

Category: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Review: A Case of Doubtful Death by Linda Stratmann

[ 3 ] September 4, 2013

9780752470184Reviewed by Caleb Shadis

A Case of Doubtful Death is the third book in the Frances Doughty series but the first one I have read. This was very much a cozy mystery and it had an excellent Sherlockian feel… if Holmes and Watson had been women.

Frances Doughty had the profession of private investigator thrust upon her. Her expected profession of being a chemist and dispensing medicine from the family shop was cut short when her father died unexpectedly and left her with too much debt. She investigated and solved a mystery for some important people and so she decided to try her hand as a private investigator. This is 1880s London so women doing investigations is a borderline scandalous undertaking, not to mention that the general consensus is that women should leave such matters in the hands of men who are ‘more capable’ of dealing with these things. Needless to say, Frances and her partner Sarah are supporters of the women’s suffrage movement.

Frances and her friend Sarah have been building their business and are getting enough clients to keep them living comfortably in a flat of their own, but they are a long way from being independent. Frances is the brains of the operation and Sarah is the brawn. They take cases from missing persons to missing pets, though the pets are generally taken on reluctantly.

The sister and future brother-in-law of Henry Palmer come to Frances. Henry has been missing almost a week and they are afraid something awful has happened. It seems a little too coincidental that his employer Dr. Mackenzie died the same night. Frances agrees to take the case to find the missing man. The more that Frances digs into the disappearance the less it appears to be a simple case. More and more characters are drawn into the tapestry of the story being woven by a master. Frances is determined to find the truth, no matter how often people keep lying to her.

To me, the story started off a little slow and it took some effort to get into the book. However, it was like a train leaving the station as it just kept picking up speed. It was an excellent mystery and it had some VERY good twists and turns. I also liked how Frances was more like a real PI where she has multiple cases overlapping all the time. Stratmann even added a little humor by crossing some of the cases in inventive ways. Highly recommend this cozy mystery series.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Caleb is a software engineer and amateur woodworker living in southern Minnesota. He has more hobbies than he has time or money for, and enjoys his quiet time reading.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by The History Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

Pin It

Review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

[ 2 ] August 30, 2013

Pessl_Night-FilmReviewed by Cal Cleary

The beginning of Marisha Pessl’s new thriller Night Film is brilliant. Can’t-put-it-down brilliant. Take-a-quick-break-to-add-her-first-book-to-my-Amazon-cart brilliant. It was a great beginning, but Night Film quickly turns into an exercise in managing expectations. The esoteric horror epic turns into a more traditional detective potboiler. Then a teenage sidekick is added. Then… well, you get the picture. Night Film is a perfectly fine book – enjoyable, even, once you settle into its rhythms – but it has sporadic ambitions at being something more, something smarter and darker and infinitely more interesting.

Scott McGrath is our protagonist, but I’m not sure if I’d call him the main character. That distinction goes to a man who doesn’t have a single line of dialogue in the book, a man whose appearance is brief, unexpected, and powerful: Stanislas Cordova. Cordova, a cross between David Lynch and H.P. Lovecraft, was once an immensely popular filmmaker, making intelligent, dramatic horror films during a time when intelligent, dramatic horror films were popular, but his growing fame and inability to deliver commercial projects lost him his deal – but it didn’t stop him from making movies. Low budget underground films shot on his palatial estates and released in secret in subway tunnels and in broken down old houses. His movies get more disturbing, can only be seen in secret. A sort of cult forms around them. Rumors spring up that his films can drive you mad, that his family practices black magic, that Cordova is a killer, rumors that are only magnified when his mercurial daughter commits suicide. What really happened to Ashley Cordova? Did her father and his lifestyle drive her to this?

Unfortunately, as I said above, we spend the book with investigative journalist Scott McGrath, and Scott McGrath is just not that interesting a guy. Even his two spunky young sidekicks (… ugh) are more interesting than he is. Pessl passed on a powerful horror premise (reclusive cult filmmaker whose movies drive people mad) and a powerful dramatic premise (reclusive cult filmmaker whose life choices drove his only daughter to suicide) to play a smoke-and-mirrors game more interested in upending expectations than telling a story. Even that may have worked, if the thriller were taut and twisty enough, but the book is, structurally speaking, fairly bland as we follow Scott from one interesting character to another, only to find that everyone in this setting speaks in nothing but exposition.

Night Film is somewhat redeemed by a creepy climax with a hilarious twist, but it’s too late to regain the magic of the book’s opening pages. Writer Marisha Pessl is clearly an intelligent, inventive person, and I think she has a truly great literary thriller in her. This isn’t it. Night Film is interesting. Regularly, it’s downright excellent. But its individual pieces never cohere into something larger, and none of them are in and of themselves strong enough to shoulder the entire book. Night Film is fascinating, but flawed.

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Cal is a young, underemployed librarian and a frequent contributor to Read/RANT comic book reviews. He’s currently living in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, with his family and using the post-grad-school grace period to read and write as much as he can.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Random House. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

Pin It

Review: A Question of Honor by Charles Todd

[ 1 ] August 29, 2013

downloadReviewed by Caleb Shadis

A Question of Honor is the 5th book in the Bess Crawford mysteries. In my opinion it is the best one so far. The Charles Todd duo can write an excellent English cozy mystery. I’ve been trying to read each one as it comes out and was very happy to get this one as I enjoyed it from beginning to end.

This one starts by going back into the past about a decade earlier and half a world away in India. Bess is a girl just blooming into a young woman when a letter arrives for an officer’s family in her father’s command. It is not bearing good news. As a matter of fact, it contains the worst news any parent can receive. The officer’s youngest daughter caught a terrible illness shortly after arriving in England and failed to recover. The girls’ father cannot swing leave, so another officer from the unit agreed to escort the girls’ mother back to England.

When the escorting officer returns to India, he falls back into his routine until the military police arrives at the outpost. He rides off to look for his ‘compass’ and never returns. Eventually, some reports surface of a body seen at the bottom of a ravine believed to be the missing man. The story then jumps forward ten years into the middle of the Great War.

Bess is working at an aid station when an Indian man speaking only Pushtu shows up grievously wounded, with a message he feels compelled to pass on. He has seen the Lieutenant who was supposed to be dead all those years ago fighting on the lines.

Bess is more than willing to let it pass as the ramblings of a death clouded mind, until she spots a man with a striking resemblance to the missing Lieutenant. That begins an investigation into the mystery that happened all those years ago and a question of how a perfect gentleman could do something so out of character as the brutal killings he was accused of.

A Question of Honor was an excellent story and it did have a pretty good twist in it. I enjoy reading the books in this series and as I said earlier, this is one of the best ones so far. Definitely worth the read.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Caleb is a software engineer and amateur woodworker living in southern Minnesota. He has more hobbies than he has time or money for, and enjoys his quiet time reading.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

Pin It

Blog Tour & Giveaway: Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet

[ 20 ] August 23, 2013

saveyourselfPlease join Kelly Braffet, author of Save Yourself, as she tours the blogosphere with TLC Book Tours.

Enter to win a copy below – open to US and Canada!

Reviewed by Sarah Lelonek

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet. The fast-moving plot and deeply troubled characters kept me interested until the very last page. My only regret is that the book finished with a few loose ends.

Save Yourself follows the difficult lives of a twenty-something named Patrick and a freshman in high school named Verna. However, with Braffet’s unique writing style, the reader is able to follow almost every character’s thoughts and actions, even if the chapter isn’t necessarily written through their own point of view. Patrick’s father’s drunk driving caused a young boy to be killed, and now Patrick is left to pick up the pieces with his brother Mike and Mike’s girlfriend Caro. Verna’s over-bearing Christian parents led her sister Layla to the proverbial dark side, and Verna doesn’t know which side to choose. Layla becomes the common denominator between Patrick’s and Verna’s lives.

The reader gets a sense throughout the novel that something terrible is about to happen. Between Mike’s drinking, Patrick’s mental state, Verna’s gullibility, and Layla’s cult-like friends, the reader feels for every bad mistake the characters make. It’s easy to relate to some of the small problems each character faces as we’ve all been confused teenagers and troubled young adults at one point in our lives.

As the drama and problems of each character tangled together and then eventually imploded, I was left wondering what happened to a few key characters. I read the explosive ending with great vigor, but was left feeling a little deflated when the last chapter didn’t do everything I wanted it to. I felt like the conclusion after the climax of the novel felt rushed and was not exactly what I needed to get some closure.

Other than the end coming too soon, I really don’t have any complaints about Save Yourself. It was very well-written, mixing description with powerful dialogue. I thought the situations that characters faced were very believable and current as far as young adult problems are concerned. Save Yourself leaves the reader in a sort of shell-shocked state that makes you fear and feel for today’s youth.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Sarah Emily Lelonek has a BA in English Literature from Kent State University. She is planning on attending Graduate School for English Rhetoric and Composition. She enjoys traveling and gaming while on breaks from working on her novel.

Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by Crown. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Pin It

Review: After Her by Joyce Maynard

[ 5 ] August 21, 2013

AfterHer_hc_revisedReviewed by Nina Longfield

Joyce Maynard’s novel, After Her, is so much more than just another mystery thriller. Within the pages, the reader is entangled in an intricate tale of family secrets, coming of age, rebellion, teenage dreams, and over everything is the menacing presence of an unknown serial killer.

After Her is the story of Rachel and Patty growing up in Marin County, north of San Francisco. The story is told from Rachel’s point of view looking back thirty years to hers and her sister’s lives during the time of the Sunset Strangler. Rachel and Patty enter the story as two young teens discussing boys, Patty’s desire to play women’s professional basketball, and their hopes, all while traipsing over the mountain behind their home looking for excitement to enter their lives. Until they find it with dangerous, life changing consequences through an encounter with a man simply known at the Sunset Strangler, a serial killer prowling the mountains of Marin County to the beat of “My Sharona”.

Rachel has visions and she claims to witness via her hallucinations the crimes of the Sunset Strangler. She is repulsed and, at the same time, riveted by her dreams of these atrocious murders. Rachel’s and Patty’s father, Detective Tony Torricelli is lead investigator of the Sunset Strangler case, and it is their fateful decision to help their father that may have led to his untimely downfall and release as detective on the case. It takes Rachel thirty years of moving away before she looks back to her time on the mountain at the time of the Strangler case with clearer, investigative eyes.

After Her was a difficult book to set down. Maynard’s writing style is fluid and her characters compelling. The story comes to us from Rachel’s memories, yet Maynard seamlessly transitions from the reflections of an adult Rachel to the teenager’s mind giving the reader a keen insight into Rachel’s fourteen year old thoughts. With each turn of the page, I was led deeper into the labyrinth of Rachel’s tale. I kept reading wanting to know what was happening around the next bend of the story.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

Pin It

Blog Tour & Giveaway: Mystery Girl by David Gordon

[ 16 ] August 17, 2013

images (1)Please join David Gordon, author of Mystery Girl, as he tours the blogosphere with TLC Book Tours.

Enter to win a copy below – open to US and Canada!

Reviewed by Marcus Hammond

Mystery Girl by David Gordon is a complexly written and enjoyable comedic mystery that involves intrigue, humor, and deep character reflection. Sam Kornberg, a failed experimental novelist, who has recently separated from his wife and is struggling to find an identity, narrates the story.

In trying to meet his wife’s lofty demands to become more motivated and successful, he takes a job assisting an obese, eccentric private detective. Completely out of his element, Sam fumbles around LA trying to follow a mysterious and beautiful young woman. The young woman he is charged to investigate may or may not be missing, may or may not be mixed up with a litany of indecent, despicable, and dangerous characters from Mexico to California, and may or may not be the answer to Sam’s romantic woes.

There are a lot of layers to this novel that make it intriguing. Sam deals with the chaos of his life with critical self-reflection that can only come from learning lessons through failure. In one instance Sam reflects on the how many laws he is breaking as he crouches in dog excrement outside the window of the beautiful mystery girl’s house. In another instance he explains the importance of authors like James Joyce and Marcel Proust to the literary tradition. Sam’s scattered thoughts are laughable and totally believable. The odd combination of Sam’s bumbling, freshman detective mishaps and his insightful, educated musings about literature and movies provide likable and relatable character development.

The large cast of secondary characters that surround Sam also help define him as a regular guy with an extraordinary, disaster-prone life. Among the different personalities Sam has to deal with are his adulterous, condescending wife, a snobby movie lover, a bi-sexual former bookstore owner, and his obese employer. All of these characters allow Sam to see his past and present with a clarity that can only be achieved through hindsight.

There are a lot of moments throughout the novel that will make the reader laugh out loud, which compliments the noir grit of the mystery aspect perfectly. At one point, as Sam tails his mystery girl, he dons a blonde wig to become unrecognizable in an upscale, sex shop. The absurdity of the disguise and the entire situation proves just how out of his element Sam is as a detective.

David Gordon’s writing style is emotional, realistic, and enjoyable, though he does have a distinct love for lengthy, run-on sentences that can feel overwhelming. With that aside, Mystery Girl is a surprisingly funny, gritty, and at times shocking mystery that could make a lazy weekend pass by quickly.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.

Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by New Harvest. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Pin It
Page 16 of 66« First...10...1415161718...304050...Last »