Category Archives: Mystery

Burntown by Jennifer McMahon

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Burntown by Jennifer McMahon

Burntown
By Jennifer McMahon
Published by Doubleday Books

This book starts with a murder! One night, young Miles is having a little bit of fun lurking in the bushes of his backyard, dressed as Robin Hood, plotting to spring up and scare his mother. All in good fun, right…at first. Instead, what he witnesses is a horrific crime that changes his life forever.

The story jumps ahead a little bit, and we learn what happens to Miles and how he grows up, but not a lot of time is spent on this part of the story. It’s just the set-up to a bigger piece of the puzzle which comes later.

We catch up with Miles, who is now married and a father of two, a boy Errol and a girl Eva. He’s a respected professor and author, and a part time inventor. As an inventor, he forms a bond with Eva, who shares his love of the mechanical toys and trinkets that he builds for her. But there is another secret invention sitting in his workshop that Eva knows nothing about – until the night of the storm.

And this is where the mystery begins. As the storm rages, and the river rises, Miles is checking to make sure that his work shop, and the inventions inside, are protected and kept safe. Lily, Miles’ wife is planning on evacuating their home, as Eva follows her father to the workshop. Eva doesn’t remember much after that; she’s suffering from some form of amnesia. What she does know is that her father and brother are dead, and she and her mother are in hiding, fleeing some unknown danger. She’s not sure if the danger is real or just some figment in her mother’s unhinged mind.

Jump ahead again, and Eva is now Necco, living in a station wagon with her boyfriend. But tragedy strikes once again, and Necco is back on the run and accused of murder. As she tries to figure out how to clear her name, she meets some unusual characters – but are they friend or foe? And what has this got to do with her father’s invention?

I just loved this book. It never slowed down, and it kept moving at such a great pace. There are some very interesting characters that at first make you wonder how they all fit – but it all does fit – eventually. Heroes, villains, and a circus? This book is a delight!

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

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The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

The Essex Serpent
By Sarah Perry
Published by Serpent’s Tail

This book is beautiful! From the gorgeous cover and end papers, to the way the story is written, it’s just a beautiful book.

I want to thank Simon Savidge, from the Savidge Reads blog and The Readers podcast. He’s mentioned this book a few times, and spoke so highly of it that I had to read it. As of this review it’s not yet available in the U.S., so I had to order it from the UK – and it was worth the wait.

So let’s dive in.

In the opening chapters of the book we learn that Michael Seaborne is dying of cancer, and that he is being attended to by his dutiful wife Cora who, although seems to be taking very good care of him, does not seem to be emotionally distraught over the fact that he’s so ill and close to death. In fact, we learn that Michael is an abusive husband, and Cora is beginning to realize that soon she will be free of him, and he will be leaving her a very wealthy woman.

Also attending to Michael is his doctor, Luke Garrett, who seems to have quite a crush on Cora. When Michael makes it clear that he doesn’t want any treatment that will prolong his life, Dr. Garrett is all to happy to comply. With Cora, though, it’s not immediately clear how she feels about Dr. Garrett. She’s fond of him and relies on his company, but more than anything she wants to be an independent woman and considers herself an equal to men – not very common in the Victorian era.

Rounding out the Seaborne household is Cora and Michael’s son Francis, and Martha, the one time nanny who now also acts as a companion to Cora. Francis, or Frankie as his mother calls him, is an odd, quiet child that likes to collect trinkets – a feather, a shell, anything that catches his eye that he finds interesting and wants to study. Martha is devoted to Cora and Francis, but as a very committed Socialist she has some issues with their wealth and privilege.

After Michael’s death, Cora decides that she needs to get away from the home she shared with her cruel and abusive husband. She packs up Frankie and Martha and leaves London, taking up residence in the town of Colchester. It’s there that she happens upon Charles and Katherine Ambrose, old friends who are traveling in the area. From them she learns of the legend of the Essex serpent. It seems there have been some strange occurrences in a nearby town, and the locals believe that the serpent is back and creating these events. Cora is so intrigued, that when Charles Ambrose offers to write an introduction letter to his good friend, the Reverend Will Ransome, Cora at once agrees to travel to Aldwinter to meet the Reverend and his family – with the hope that she’ll get a glimpse of the Essex Serpent.

All seems to go very well for a while; Frankie and Martha have settled in and have made friends with the Ransome family, and Cora delights in the thought that she soon may see this mysterious serpent. But things take an interesting twist as Cora and the Reverend, who have as many things in common as they do differences, become very fast friends – much to the dismay of Dr. Luke Garrett, who is quite jealous; and Martha, who is worried that what’s happening between Cora and Will is quite inappropriate.

While Cora and Will continue their friendship, which entails frequent long walks and copious letter writing, the people of the town are beginning to believe in the curse of the Essex serpent. Children are no longer playing out doors, and the church congregation is growing as people turn to God, and to Will, for comfort in their fear.

Along the way we meet other characters whose lives are entwined with Cora, but the author manages to separate their stories so that there are sub-plots throughout. She does this by adding vignettes to the various sections of the book, which walk you through the passage of time, but always keeps her eye on the ball of the main plot – the serpent. It’s an interesting way to tell a very full story, and it makes the book move along at a very nice pace. This is also used to great advantage in beautifully descriptive passages, such as how the seasons change, how the air smells, and how the fog rolls in. It can go from seemingly so beautiful one minute, then all at once become dark and a bit gothic.

I could go on and on, but I’d be afraid of spoiling this wonderful story – let’s just say that toward the end of the book things start to happen very quickly, and I found myself racing to get to the end. Once I got there, however, I was sad that it was over – I didn’t want the story to end, and I didn’t want to say goodbye to the characters, or to the Essex landscape that was described with such beauty. This is a book that I could see myself re-reading some day – it’s that good!

If you’ve read The Essex Serpent, I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, please feel free to comment below.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

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The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

The Girl in the Spider’s Web
A Lisbeth Salander Novel
by David Lagercrantz
Published by Alfred A Knopf

Question:  What does a computer company in California, the NSA, a group of hackers, the Russian mob, a scientist, and an autistic child have in common?

Answer:  A girl with a dragon tattoo!

Lisbeth Salander is back – and it’s been a long time coming!

For those of you who may not know, the first three books in the series were written by Stieg Larsson. Dubbed “The Millennium Series”, the books, and subsequent movies, became mega-hits after Larsson’s death in 2004.

The story goes that he had planned on a ten book series, but had only partially completed the fourth book at the time of his death. A legal battle ensued between his long-time partner Eva Gabrielsson, who he never married, and his his estate, which was controlled by his father and brother. It is believed that Gabrielsson is still in possession of Larsson’s computer and the unfinished fourth manuscript; however this book is not based on that manuscript. Instead, this book was written completely from scratch with the permission of Larsson’s estate (his father and brother). The entire story can be found on the wiki page at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennium_series

It’s been about 5 years since I read the last book in the series, so my mind isn’t as fresh on the writing style of Stieg Larsson, but I can tell you that David Lagercrantz does a fine job of bringing these characters back to us, and there was never any sense that this book did not belong with the initial trilogy.

The story and the characters are intricately woven together and it can seem disjointed at first, but what’s important to note is that what may seem inconsequential at the beginning becomes very meaningful later on. With a book like this it’s very important to pay attention to every detail and to read each word. Every. Single. Word.

So, back to my original question – how do these seemingly unrelated entities all wind up together?

When a respected scientist leaves his job at a computer company in California, to care for his autistic son back in Sweden, the NSA receives some chatter that he may be in danger. His work on artificial intelligence is widely regarded as leading edge, and it seems everyone wants to get their hands on it. Between the leaks in the police and the corruption of big business it’s clear that some people will go to any lengths to gain the upper hand. Including the Russian mob – with ties back to Lisbeth’s father.

The book begins from various points of view, and introduces you to some new characters that will play a larger role in the story. Of course there is also the point of view from Mikael Blomkvist, the co-lead character in the previous three books, as we get some insight into his life since the last book. Things are not going well for Blomkvist, or for his magazine, Millennium.

Blomkvist and Salander have not been in contact with each other for quite some time, and the journalist is feeling the pressure of not having written anything earth shattering in a while. Just as he’s starting to be called out by the Swedish media as a “has-been”, and even worse, Mikael is drawn into a case of stolen research and murder. When he realizes that his favorite hacker is somehow involved he asks for her help. Lisbeth will help, but she also has her own agenda as she continues to struggle to put her past behind her.

Throughout the book there is little interaction between Mikael and Lisbeth, but as usual the two of them find a way to work together to solve the mystery and bring the bad guys to justice. We also see a bit of a different side of Lisbeth in this book, which was refreshing, but when the Lisbeth that we’ve come to know from the other three books is front and center, Lagercrantz doesn’t miss a beat. She’s still a favorite character.

Like the first book in the original series, this one gets off to a bit of a slow start. But right around the 120 page mark there is an incident that feels like a kick to the stomach and you realize – here we go! From that point on the pace picks up, and since the story takes place over a span of only a few days, it’s a race to a very satisfying ending.

One difference that I noticed is that this book isn’t as graphic or gory as the first three, but it still maintains a high level of suspense. I couldn’t put it down and finished it in just about two days.

If you’re a fan of the original trilogy it’s a must read. If you haven’t read the first three books this one might be a bit confusing to start out with – but to the credit of the author or publisher there is a list of continuing characters from the first three books at the beginning of this book. I don’t believe that you have to have read the other three books to enjoy this one – but I highly recommend them as well. As a fan of the series I hope to see it continue.

Any other Lisbeth Salander fans out there? Please leave a comment, and let me know if you think this one lived up to the other three.

Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

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Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly
Published by Kathy Dawson Books

There’s been a lot of buzz around this book, so I was very excited when it was featured in the August Owl Crate box. The description of the book on the back cover sold me right from the start.

“With the wit of Sherlock, the smarts of Veronica Mars, and the humor of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, this is a debut novel you won’t want to miss”

Needless to say, I was not a disappointed.

The book actually begins at the end of the story, then takes you on a wild ride explaining how they got to that point. I have to admit, I love when a book gives you the partial ending and then makes you go all the way back to the beginning to figure out how in the world they wound up there.

The story is narrated by a 16 year old girl named Zoe. Zoe starts out pretty unhappy. She’s the product of divorced parents and has been ripped from the city, school and friends that she’s familiar with, and forced to live with her mother in upstate New York where she attends public high school in a bland and boring town. Leaving a fairly privileged lifestyle in Manhattan and now stuck in the suburbs of River Heights, Zoe is not making any friends and she’s finding it difficult to fit in. But she has a plan – if she keeps her grades up and her record clean, she can finish high school at the prestigious Prentiss Academy, and then on to Princeton. Her plan would mean leaving her mother, which she is all too happy to do, and moving back to Manhattan with her father and his new wife. It’s a great plan. Until Digby drops into her life.

Digby is also a high school student, who shows up unannounced at Zoe’s door one day and tries to convince her to show him some photos that she’s taken. I won’t go in to how he knows she’s taken the photos, let’s just say that Zoe is not pleased. In fact, she opens the story with, “Of course I didn’t like Digby when I first met him. No one does.”

Digby is brazen and brash and very difficult to like, but like him or not Zoe gets pulled in because, as we learn later, Digby never takes “no” for an answer. There is also another character that plays an integral role in the story, and that’s Henry. Henry is a friend of Digby’s from their childhood and is all too familiar with Digby’s shenanigans.  He tries to warn Zoe, but it’s no use, against his better judgement even Henry gets dragged in!

And so an adventure with drug dealers, kidnappers, perverts, and a wacky school dance begins!

As Zoe, Digby and Henry attempt to figure out what happened to a girl from River Heights that’s been missing for months, Digby is also trying to piece together the kidnapping of his younger sister eight years ago. He thinks it’s too much of a coincidence and that the two events are related. Together the three of them pull off some pretty dangerous and illegal schemes, and Zoe is in real danger of ruining her perfect school record. Throughout the story I was cheering them on, even though at times I felt like I wanted someone to ring Digby’s neck. He really is a hard character to like. But then again so is Zoe, who complains so much about her “miserable life” in River Heights that she’s almost as obnoxious as Digby.

Because of the whining, I didn’t find Zoe’s inner monologue narration as witty as, let’s say Veronica Mars, however I did find the conversations between Zoe and Digby humorous and even sweet at times. The conversations between Digby and Henry, although humorous as well, were a bit over done with the constant use of “dude” and “bro”. But then again, I’m not a teenage boy, so who knows, maybe it’s perfectly natural.

The story is quick paced, and as it progresses the friendship becomes the best part of the story, and even goes so far as to pull in few more characters – some likable, some not so much. By the time you’re almost at the end of the book, you’re reminded of where Zoe’s story began, and it races to a pretty satisfying ending – for now. YES! there is going to be a sequel.

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I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. For now, I will be impatiently awaiting the sequel, along with the rest of it’s fans – and there are many.

You can follow Stephanie Tromly on Twitter @stephanietromly

If you are interested in learning more about Owl Crate, you can check them out at http://www.owlcrate.com

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below.

Tear Drop by Joanne Clancy

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Tear Drop by Joanne Clancy

Tear Drop
Detective Elizabeth Ireland Crime Thriller Series, Book 1
by Joanne Clancy

Ten years ago Elizabeth Ireland was a detective with the the Metropolitan Police in London, working on a highly publicized serial killer case, known as Teardrop. The killer was caught, and the case was a lock; until Elizabeth was accused of tampering with evidence, and the killer was set free. The allegations proved to be false, and she was able to successfully sue the department for defamation, but the damage was done.

Now, Elizabeth is living in Ireland, working as a private investigator, and dating Frank Murphy, a Detective Chief Superintendent with the Murder Unit. All should be well.

Enter sleazy reporter Brendan Mahon. Mahon brings a letter to Elizabeth, claiming to be from Ross Campbell aka Teardrop, stating that he’s going to kill again. Knowing that she worked the case 10 years ago, Mahon asks her to consult on this new case for The Examiner, the newspaper where he works. She’s reluctant, tells Mahon that it’s likely a hoax and that Ross Campbell is probably dead. After promising not to share the letter with anyone, she agrees to help.

But Elizabeth breaks her promise and she shares the letter with Frank, knowing full darn well that she’s sharing it with the police. Now she’s working with the police as their expert consultant. There’s just one problem. Elizabeth knows that this letter can’t be from Campbell. She knows he’s dead. The reason she knows this, is because she’s the one who killed him!

Wait, isn’t that a spoiler? Before anyone starts freaking out that I just gave away a big plot point, this fact is revealed in the first chapter and in no way diminishes the mystery of who the killer is. I believe it’s important to know that fact right from the beginning because it’s a big reason why I liked this book so much.

With this knowledge, the book takes a different kind of turn. Instead of just trying to figure out who this new killer is, we also have to worry about Elizabeth, and how she’s going to convince the police that they are looking for the wrong person.

At just about every turn, her insights into the case are dismissed. It’s a very badly kept secret that she’s dating Frank, the head of the Murder Unit, and she’s resented by some of the detectives working on the case. In desperation, Elizabeth makes a risky decision that may just put herself in jeopardy. As the clues begin to pile up, and the case takes on a new twist, Elizabeth starts to fear that she’s made a terrible mistake and she’s beginning to wonder who she can trust.

I was engrossed in this book right from the start. I found Elizabeth’s struggle with her guilt and the truth of what she did so compelling, and I’m very interested to read more about her. I also liked her interaction with Frank, the DCS that she’s dating and the lead on this new case. The author did a great job depicting Elizabeth’s inner struggle and how it could affect her relationship.

The story itself is a good one, and the pacing is fantastic. Not once did this book lag or get bogged down. It moved very quickly, and kept me guessing. No sooner did I think that I knew who the killer was, a new clue would pop up and I would change my mind again. By the time the killer was revealed, it was a complete surprise.

Overall, this book was a quick and enjoyable read. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good murder mystery, but doesn’t like all the unnecessary and gratuitous gory violence that’s sometimes found in this type of book. Don’t get me wrong – this book is about a serial killer so there is violence, it’s just not in your face blood and guts.

I’m looking forward to Joanne Clancy’s second book in the series, “Insincere”.

If this sounds like your kind of mystery, please feel free to comment.

Disclaimer – I received a free advanced reader’s copy of this book for an honest review.