Mysteries and Thrillers

 

stalkingStalking Jack starstarstarhalf

by Madison Kent

I have mixed feelings about this book. The prologue was pure info dump and there were many signs of an amateur writer; shoehorning too many subplot lines into the first chapter, showing a limited knowledge of Victorian convention, dialect, British English or proper use of apostrophes, yet the writing was strangely engaging and I took a liking to the main character, Madeleine, early in the story.

Madeleine Donovan is a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and fancies herself an amateur sleuth. She lost her family in tragedy and in the process of looking for purpose, travels to London. All the papers are full of stories about Jack the Ripper and a group of English ladies whom she meets shipboard become concerned about a niece who has gone wayward in Whitechapel and could be in danger. Madeleine vows to find her, despite the danger.

The premise is actually rather unlikely in Victorian England and the author uses American English for English character’s dialogue, but the story itself is engaging and I ignored the occasional cringe and let myself enjoy the story. I think a few words didn’t mean what the author thought they meant and the idea of finding bourbon in a 19th century Whitechapel pub just boggles the mind, especially contrasted with an almost encyclopedic history of the nationalities and religions of people who settled in the area shoehorned into a conversation, but I liked the main character and with Alternative History being a popular genre these days, I started treating this as Fantasy and ignored anomalies like decent women casually going out for a drink in a pub in that era.

Of all the things technically wrong with this novel, the thing that bothered me most was the attempt to have lower class characters talk in dialect. It read like something out of the hills of Arkansas rather than anywhere in all the history of England. Old ladies wearing pillbox hats (invented in 1930) in 1888 London pales by comparison. Other dialogue was sometimes stilted too. Yet despite all the historical inaccuracies and other problems, the characters were brought to life skilfully and the plot moved along in a way that kept me interested.

The editorial mistakes increased later in the book, yet the story itself took on relevance, looking into issues of obsession and addiction in a Victorian setting where opium use was rife. Madeleine is a headstrong character and I found it easy to feel sympathy for her, yet she walks into trouble on many levels and I felt needed rescuing from her own impulses.

I actually liked the way the story ended. The explanation of what happened to Jack the Ripper was as plausible as any of the popular theories and there was a wonderfully poetic passage about the way London leaves its mark on a person’s soul. Just before the poinsettias all bloom in November English weather (poinsettias are native to Mexico and an old association with Christmas travelled to America when the plants were first cultivated in the U.S. in the early 1900s, long after this story takes place. The tradition never travelled to England and the plants don’t survive in under 58 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Apparently there is a series and Madeleine becomes a female detective in her native Chicago, but the ripper’s story is finished so I won’t be following the other books. Perhaps someone who likes detective stories would enjoy them. Hopefully they’ll be set in America where the language and cultural references will fit!

 

Russian Hill starstarstarstar

by Ty Hutchinson

Set in San Francisco, this is one of a series of stories about Abby Kane, a petite Chinese-American FBI agent who can look natural in Chinatown. In many ways it’s like other crime dramas with a killer on the loose and the FBI following, but it is well written and shows an intimate knowledge of the culture and location that makes the story ring true.

Like most stories, it is the main character who makes the reader want to know what happens. She is easily likeable and watching how she handles the case and encounters with other law enforcement personnel keeps interest. While I’m not a big reader of crime drama, I enjoyed watching her work out subtle clues about the killer and how she tried to get inside their head.

There was one plot point that didn’t make a lot of sense, but I don’t want to give spoilers. Just an opportunity for a witness to provide vital information when he had nothing to lose and no reason to withhold it anymore.

Overall the story kept me interested and if I was more into reading crime drama, I would probably read more of this series. I may read at least one more as the setting in San Francisco is what attracted me in the first place.

The only niggle is that a few loose ends were left to entice the reader to buy two more books in the sequential series. I’m not going to bite as I feel I’ve gone as far as I want to with this storyline and as I said, crime drama isn’t among my preferred genres. However, the writing is excellent and I have a soft spot for San Francisco, so I may well read one of the author’s other books.

 

A Duty to the Dead starstarstarstarstar

by Charles Todd

This story caught my imagination when I read the sample. A nurse in WWI promises Arthur Graham, a dying patient, to take a cryptic message back to his brother Jonathan in Kent, memorised word for word. Having developed some unprofessional feelings towards Arthur, she hesitates to encroach on his family, but after a dramatic episode that threatens her own life she decides that it must be done as quickly as possible.

The small village in Kent, England where the family lives is depicted very well and the characters are all well-defined and realistic for the period. This story easily took me to WWI and the subtle nuances that define that period of English history.

It also presented a mystery. Slowly, a situation unfolds that brings questions about what the message was really about and some of the dark secrets hidden by Arthur’s family. By the time I got about two thirds through the book, I understood the deeper meaning of the phrase, “The plot thickens.” The mystery aspect had become multi-layered and all my guesses about who the killer really was kept changing as new information presented itself. I also got wrapped up in unexpected twists and turns and some tense situations.

I did guess who the real culprit was before the end, but I wasn’t entirely sure until it was actually revealed. Along the way I was thoroughly caught up and really enjoyed the read. I’m not a big Mysteries fan but I’ll probably try something else by this author sometime.

 

A Spark of Justice starstarstarstar

by J.D. Hawkins

The lion tamer has been killed. Was it an accident? Or did someone set him up? It is the job of John Nieves, insurance investigator, to find out.

This book was wonderfully atmospheric. The author’s bio points out that he’s an ex-Carny, so he knows the difference between a circus and a carnival which is important to me with this kind of setting.

It has some great sideways humour, especially concerning the big cats. As a Mystery it provides a good collection of suspects. The Great Rollo had a lot of enemies, even among his own family.

I loved the interaction of characters and the behind the scenes glimpses of how a Puerto Rican from New York ended up as a Midwest insurance investigator, but most of all the tricks the circus people play on him had me laughing and I think I’m in love with the panther. He reminds me of my cat, Jasper.

The ending wasn’t the sort of big shock, one person you didn’t think of and I had my suspicions before it got there, but the story was enjoyable and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes circus stories. 

 

thornyholdThornyhold starstarstarstar

by Mary Stewart

I can see why this is considered one of Mary Stewart’s best among her Mystery books. In some ways it shows its age and screams ‘pulp’, yet it is written with the skill I’ve seen used in her Merlin series and once it gets going, holds attention and really made me want to know what was going on.

Geillis Ramsay is named after her mother’s cousin, who has something of magic about her. It’s a quality her mother had as well, until she married a clergyman. Much of Geillis’ childhood is characterized by austerity, but when she inherits the house that belonged to her namesake, everything changes.

The house itself is a mystery. Between odd neighbors and strange locked doors, hidden secrets slowly unravel while Geillis discovers just what sort of witch her cousin was. Messages from the dead and animals who behave as if they know more than their new human mistress flavor a story with some interesting and very distinctive characters.

While older stories like this can feel dated, I enjoyed it enough to want to read a couple more of Stewart’s better known Mysteries.

 

LoneyThe Loney starstar

by Andrew Michael Hurley

This story starts out taking its time, letting the reader get to know the characters. I thought when I was reading these early chapters that it explained why Stephen King liked it so much. It is told in first person, from the point of view of one of two brothers who visit the place referred to as The Loney every summer. It’s a place where the tide comes in suddenly and the water is treacherous. Many bones have been found of those who misjudged their timing on the beach.

I’m not a big fan of stories about ordinary people so by the time I was getting close to halfway and starting to wonder when something was going to happen, I began to wonder why Stephen King had recommended it. One creepy couple had just made an appearance but otherwise I was finding it actually boring and far too religious for my taste. This was necessary to the story because there’s a good and evil dichotomy involved, but it was still grating.

There were hints of something sinister happening but it was left to inference and never really explained. It was more a story about faith and fallibility than anything and although there was one moment when I felt fear from a purely physical source, too much was skipped over and left unexplained for me to feel like I’ve read a whole story or one that ever really got going.

 

einsteins secretEinstein’s Secret starstarstarstarstar

by Irving Belateche

This is a fascinating story with enough fact mixed into the fiction to make the reader wonder where one stops and the other starts.

When Albert Einstein died on April 18, 1955, his last words were uttered in German to a nurse who did not understand the language. He had been writing something, and this is where reality and fiction diverge. In the story, what he had been writing was a series of equations and the story is told from the point of view of Jacob, a university professor, who believes that those equations hold the secret to time travel.

The early chapters relate his experience of obsession with Einstein’s theories and attempts to track down clues that might shed light on the equations and those elusive last words that were never recorded.

Jacob isn’t the only person with an interest. In a mind bending series of alternate realities and changed time sequences, contemporaries of Einstein as well as university researchers known to Jacob crisscross time paths, discovering that small changes in events don’t have the far reaching effects depicted in science fiction, but change the personal histories of those directly involved.

This is the kind of time travel I like best, because it makes me think and presents theories of time travel Physics that seem just plausible enough to make a good story. There is an aspect of espionage in this one that makes it gripping and fast paced in the later chapters, while making the reader question the nature of reality. An easy five stars!

 

lake houseThe Lake House starstarstarstar

by Kate Morton

From the description: “June 1933, and the Edevane family’s country house, Loeanneth, is polished and gleaming, ready for the much-anticipated Midsummer Eve party. Alice Edevane, sixteen years old and a budding writer, is especially excited. Not only has she worked out the perfect twist for her novel, she’s also fallen helplessly in love with someone she shouldn’t. But by the time midnight strikes and fireworks light up the night skies, the Edevane family will have suffered a loss so great that they leave Loeanneth forever.”

This is a Mystery story that moves forward to when Alice is an old lady and the mystery of a missing child has still not been solved. In the beginning of the story, we get to know young Alice and become part of her dreamy world. She’s an aspiring writer, has a crush on a man too old for her and she has a secret, something she’s hidden from her family that you just know will be important later, but the reader doesn’t get told what it is so soon.

The writing is really superb in this one. There are three strong female characters, each very different. It transports you to the place and time and inside of Alice’s world easily from the very start. There are a few flashbacks, including the story of how her parents met, and an off duty detective begins to investigate the never solved mystery of the missing child, though the trail has gone cold over the years.

I actually found myself more caught up in Alice’s mother’s story than her own, but all of the facets of the tale kept my attention. The interweaving strands of mystery all come together in the end, although one aspect of Sadie’s story was not resolved to my satisfaction which costs it a star. Definitely five star writing though!

 

AbandonAbandon starstarstar

by Blake Crouch

I admit I wanted to read this because I enjoyed The Pines so much.

Abandon is a ghost town with a mystery; where did everybody go? On Christmas Day 1893, the whole population of the town just disappeared without trace. Scroll ahead to modern day, and a group that includes two paranormal investigators decide to visit the town and see what they can find out. Among them is Abigail, who is a journalist following the investigation.

The beginning where they have to go through some difficult conditions to climb a high, snowy mountain to get to the old mining town was pretty interesting, but the story almost lost me with the first flashback about the inhabitants of the town in 1893. I don’t know, it just seemed to move slowly. Then suddenly things start happening and I found myself breathless with fear for the characters.

About a quarter of the way through, things happen that change the game. I was expecting a ghost story, but got something entirely different. The chapters continue to flip between 1893 and 2009-10 with some pretty unpleasant things happening in both. Most of the story I found slow going and not at all what I had expected. I have to admit that I was disappointed that there wasn’t the supernatural element that having paranormal investigators involved made me assume.

The writing itself is very good, as I’ve seen with Crouch before, but the movement of the story itself was just too slow and depressing.

CatacombsThe Catacombs starstarstarstarhalf

by Jeremy Bates

This is really good.

The story has strong characters with their own individuality and the dynamics between them form a wealth of subplot. Some of the chapters change from first person to third person, but it seems to work and gives some omniscient information about the thoughts of other characters than the narrator.

Parts of it are very intense, claustrophobic, just barely keeping the panic in check… then suddenly I had the giggles. This story is fun!

An interesting array of strange characters pass the main group in their subterranean adventure and add texture to the story. What a long, strange trip it’s been!

About halfway, it gets really scary. I don’t want to give spoilers but don’t let the funny bits and interesting dynamics let you forget that this is a Horror/Thriller story. It definitely earns its stripes as one in the second half. I know it’s cliché, but I really could not stop reading for the last 30%, but had to see what would happen next.

There are a few typos, but not so many that it ruins the narrative and the story is so engrossing that it’s hard to care about a few snags. Horror readers will definitely enjoy this one. Docking half a star for the imperfections, but it’s a 5 star read!

AesThe Aeschylus starstarstarstar

by David Barclay

The story starts out in Stockholm, Sweden, 1938. A Physicist is being followed by the German secret police, his life in danger. A very dramatic scene portrays the fear of the Nazis and their cruelty.

Then Chapter One brings us to the present day and we meet Katelyn, a very independent woman who works in public relations for an oil company. When two hundred and fifty oil workers mysteriously vanish from the offshore Aeschylus drilling platform without a trace, production stops, communications cease, and Katelyn gets a surprise and finds herself deeply involved in the mystery.

The chapters continue to alternate between 1938-9 and modern day and are generally suspenseful and serious, but an occasional piece of humor slips in to break the tension. I did feel like I was reading two different stories concurrently, which of course I was, which threw me a little at first but I got used to it, and I had faith that a connection would be made eventually. The connection did come, but not as significantly as I was expecting.

The Horror elements of the story were well done. It’s technically a Thriller, but has elements of both. The dramatic bits are suitably suspenseful and done at an effective pace. There are a few triggers involving cruelty to animals and children, but they are integral to the plot. The action gets very intense at times, as you would expect in a Thriller. I did find some of the later action in the book a little too fast paced and subsequently hard to keep up with. I also felt that the ends of some of the later chapters were getting almost cliché in their use of cliff-hanger last lines of the chapter. Some of them seemed a little too contrived.

The story definitely held my interest, though it sometimes left me exhausted and feeling all the negative emotions portrayed in the plot. From that point of view, it definitely did its job effectively and the writing was good. As I was reading a pre-release galley, I expect the few typos will have been corrected before release. I would definitely recommend this to readers of Thrillers, as long as they don’t mind a certain level of gore and disturbing situations.

PinesPinesstarstarstarstar

by Blake Crouch

The opening of this story reminds me of the beginning of Nine Princes in Amber, because the Protagonist awakens, lacking memory of who he is, in a forest with light hurting his eyes.

He has no wallet or I.D., he’s bruised up severely, and his neck hurts a lot. After some not very clear-headed investigation, he finds out where he is at least, and starts to remember what put him in his current condition.

In the quest to work out who he is, how he got where he is and why he can’t contact anyone outside of a small Idaho town, a lot of confusing details work into the story to keep the brain working to make sense of what’s going on. Clues to some sort of deception are constant and increase throughout.

There are some edge of your seat action scenes and it’s a pretty wild ride. Near the end, just when I was getting worried that loose ends might not be explained until the sequels, things actually fall into place and the reader finally learns what it’s all been about. The story kept me reading and left me breathless at times.

If you like mysteries and thrillers, this is recommended. Personally I need a rest!

DensityofSoulsA Density of Souls starstarstarstar

by Christopher Rice

This story was originally released in 2000, but has been reissued for 2015.

The story is about a group of young friends in New Orleans and starts out with them riding their bicycles to one of the above ground graveyards that the city is known for and getting caught out in a nasty storm. There are some poignant insights on facing fear, as well as a sensual moment between two of the boys, which will be significant to the story later on.

The writing is very good and very descriptive of New Orleans. There are some dramatic moments, but it largely concerns issues of adolescence; losing virginity, discovering sexuality and a boy’s experience of navigating through high school in a southern state, knowing he’s gay.

It sometimes jumps at the beginning from one group of people to another too suddenly. Just as you’re getting to know a character, you’re dealing with someone else. There are issues of bullying in school and dealing with death so that much of it is really depressing.

Overall the book is primarily about relationships between people. While I couldn’t identify with high school age people, having been out of school for more than ten years, the writing was very literate and showed a talent for description in particular.

Oddly, the author says in the afterword that he was dissatisfied with the prose, which I thought was its biggest strength.

tenth chamberThe Tenth Chamber starstarstarstar

by Glenn Cooper

The Prologue begins in 1899, Ruac, France. Two men have made a significant discovery, but the locals diligently protect their secrets.

The story then moves to an ecclesiastical setting and the importance of a book called The Rule of St Benedict. There is a fire in the monastery kitchen which leads to the discovery of another, mysterious book. Experts on restoration are consulted and an adventure begins for the protagonists, Hugo and Luc, who is an Archaeologist, to find the significance of this book. Some references to Roger Bacon, John Dee and Alchemy give us an impression of the nature of the book.

The author expresses the characters very well, getting across who they are beyond just physical description. The descriptions of places are also very well done, and I had to smile at the references to Jim Morrison’s grave at Père Lachaise Cemetery. The narrative also gives the impression of very good research to the point that I actually looked up Lascaux cave, the Voynich manuscript and an Aurignacian Blade. All are references to real places or objects of historic significance.

The dynamics between Hugo and Luc as they travel in a quest to gain information about the book keeps interest. They travel to monasteries and up the sides of mountains and there is a sense of immediacy in the narrative so that the reader is quickly caught up, feeling what Luc was feeling as he made a significant discovery.

Another character, Sara, who is a paleobotanist and Luc’s ex, is introduced a little awkwardly. Her history with Luc adds a new dimension to the interpersonal relationship aspect of a group of scientists looking for answers. They meet everything from official resistance to studying a cave with paintings that match those in the book to local vandalism as they continue their quest, despite attempts to thwart their efforts.

As the story progresses, supernatural elements creep in mixed with good scientific research and references as well as verifiable points in history, though the story is pure fiction set against this mostly realistic backdrop. The Archaeological procedures seem very well informed. Shamanism, magic, murder and warnings of curses filter in and we get an information dump in the form of the translated text of Barthomieu that slowly reveals the background of the book and why it was hidden. There is much intrigue and an interesting twist near the end

Some of the events in the middle of the book happen a bit fast and Latin terms are used a lot to explain the Botony involved, so you might say this is intellectual intrigue. The pacing of multiple stories intertwining can be a little perplexing as three eras are represented, but it all comes together in the end when all is revealed.

Over all I really enjoyed the book and plan to recommend it to a friend who is a Biologist. Some of the explanations for pharmacology involved in the story had me running to look up references that I would otherwise know nothing about. I do like it when a book teaches me something. The story has a fast paced and intense ending that will satisfy readers of Thrillers and there are some interesting convolutions in the intrigue. There was, however, one transition that wasn’t entirely clear so 4 stars out of 5.

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