Category Archives: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller

Review: Fractured by Catherine McKenzie

2 Stars

Julie Prentice and her family move across the country to start over after being terrorized by a stalker after the publication of her best-selling novel, The Murder Game. Julie doesn’t know anyone in town and on her morning run, meets her neighbor from across the street, John Dunbar. They have an instant connection and Julie begins to hope that this is a new beginning for her and her family. She never thought that a simple conversation with a neighbor could set her life spinning so far off course and out of control.

After a series of misunderstandings, Julie and her family become the target of harassment that seems to be increasing in their intensity. She believes that her former stalker, Heather, has found her and is after her again. Or could this be someone new? Is someone in her neighborhood out to get her too? The tension increases and new friends turn into enemies and Julie seems to have nowhere to turn when things become dangerously out of control.

The plot was very interesting, but the writing style and the constantly switching point of view was very distracting. Not only did the point of view change constantly between Julie and John (and other lesser known characters) the time changed too. One minute you are in the present day with John, the next you are with Julie, six months previous. This really made the story hard to follow, at least for me. I found myself having to go back and re-read passages just to get the story to make sense again.

Unfortunately I hated the characters. I couldn’t identify with a single one of them. The main character was a mess. She was weak, annoying and consistently made just really stupid decisions. Her husband was just as much of a dishrag as she was. John Dunbar wasn’t much better, he was just as wishy-washy as Julie. His wife had more of a spine than he did and wasn’t afraid to use it, even if she did come off as a spiteful and vindictive brat. And the neighborhood scion, Cindy, was about as unbalanced as they come. If I had a neighborhood association like this, I would have been packing my bags and running for the hills. Why did everyone feel the need to cower before this woman?

Without giving anything away or spoiling the ending, it was unsatisfying at best. There were characters in play that really had no business being there and I can’t even come up with a rational explanation as to why they were there in the first place. It was a rushed ending that still left you with more questions than answers, and I can’t stand that, especially in a book that is listed as mystery/suspense. Read at your own risk.

 

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Review: Lost Dog by Alan Russell

3 Stars

Detective Michael Gideon and Sirius, his K-9 partner, are back again to tackle the strangest cases that the LAPD has to offer.  But this time, the case is a little different.  The case finds them.  One evening Sirius saves a dog from pack of coyotes.  They try to return the dog to her owner, Heather Moreland, only to find that she is missing.  The circumstances around her disappearance seem suspicious at best and the more that Gideon digs, the more convinced he is that Heather has been abducted.

As Gideon tries to help locate Heather, he’s also troubled by the death of Detective Langston Walker, the leader of a support group for families of murder victims.  When they last met, Walker told Gideon about a cold case he had reopened, making Gideon wonder if Walker’s death was truly the accident everyone believes it to be.  Gideon has his suspicions right off the bat and as he continues to look through Walker’s cases and his life, the more he’s convinced that Detective Walker was murdered because of something he uncovered.

This is the third book in the Gideon and Sirius series, and once again, I would recommend reading the previous two entries before taking on Lost Dog.  There’s not a huge amount of backstory in this book as compared to the previous two, but it still helps.

The mystery of Heather’s disappearance plays out very well, even though the mystery isn’t very strong.  You’ll figure it out pretty quickly, there are some very obvious clues that are left behind.  The mystery surrounding Detective Walker’s death was a more interesting one and while it wasn’t entirely surprising, it was satisfying.  There are times that I wish the book could have been longer so that equal attention could be paid to both cases.  It’s hard at times to make the jump from one minute he’s still scratching his head and the next the case is solved.  Even with his visions that he experiences after fire-walking, it’s still a pretty big stretch to get from point A to point B.

The secondary characters are still very washed out.  I think at this point I’m actually disappointed in Gideon’s girlfriend.  I know that she has the patience of a saint, but come on, at least make seem realistic.  I still wish there was more interaction between Gideon and Sirius.  With his humor and biting wit, I think Sirius would make an excellent straight man..er..dog!

 

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Review: Guardians of the Night by Alan Russell

2 Stars

This is book 2 in the Gideon and Sirius Series.  While it is recommended to read the first book in the series, I believe there might be enough explanation for this one to nearly stand alone.  Especially since there are some disconnects between this book and the first book.

Once again we join Detective Michael Gideon and his K-9 partner, Sirius.  They are still in charge of handling Los Angeles’ strange and special cases.  And this newest case is a real doozy.  Wrong Pauley is a homeless man who has long fallen from grace and has given up on anything good in life.  Late one night, his drinking binge is interrupted by a detonation of light and he sees what he can only describe as a being of light being murdered in the alley below.  For once in his life, Wrong Pauley tries to help, but is too late and he believes he has witnessed the murder of an angel.  Gideon’s superiors believe this is a perfect special case for Gideon and Sirius.

Gideon and Sirius are already on another case when this one lands in their lap.  They are trying to track down the man who is being called the Reluctant Hero after rescuing children from a schoolyard shooting.  Braving gunfire and personal injury, the man runs in and tackles the gunman and then disappears.  The LAPD brass want him found so that they can hold a press conference and properly reward his actions.

As they tackle both cases, complications abound.  Wrong Pauley winds up dead and now they have two murders on their hands.  Gideon and his partner are soon on the tail of a very high profile suspect who likes to collect trophies.  He has already hunted every species on earth, who better to want to hunt a being of light?  Gideon finds that being in this man’s cross-hairs can lead to his own demise and he finds that a Reluctant Hero can be a very vital asset to keeping both him and Sirius alive.

Again, the connection between Gideon, Sirius and the serial killer called The Weatherman is back.  They were all burned in a fire while Gideon was in pursuit to capture him.  The killer believes that they have a connection that can’t be denied no matter how much Gideon wants to deny it.  I really wish this had been explored more.  But once again, Gideon is unresponsive, denies everything and throws up a brick wall.  This could be a really great story, but it is relegated to the back burner.  Also lacking in this book as opposed to the first installment was the relationship between Gideon and Sirius.

There are some real gaps between this book and Burning Man.  The relationship between Gideon and his girlfriend never seems to progress and she’s apparently had a complete change in profession that is never explained.  All of the characters seem shallow and incomplete in this book.  And while one case is solved, the case of the being of light is never fully explained.  There were so many unanswered questions that it just really left a lot to be desired.  The case of the Reluctant Hero was the only one truly resolved and even that was more than a little hollow.  After the first book, I really did have high hopes for this one and I felt disappointed.  But I will still read the next book, just to see…

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Review: The Trapped Girl by Robert Dugoni

3 1/2 Stars

This is the 4th installment of the Detective Crosswhite series.  I received this copy from NetGalley and the publishers.  I have also read the previous three books and would definitely recommend reading the previous books, but the author has written these novels in such a way that you can read them without reading the previous installments, but definitely recommend reading them in order, much more satisfying.

A woman’s body is discovered inside a crab pot, submerged deep in the waters of Puget Sound.  Once again, Detective Tracy Crosswhite finds herself with yet another difficult case to solve.  The first order of business is to find out who this woman is.  During the course of the investigation, they find that this woman went to a lot of trouble to hide who she really is.  What or who is she running from?

As Tracy and her A Team of detectives begin to unravel this case, they discover that their Jane Doe is actually a woman who went missing weeks earlier from Mount Ranier.  This woman was married and her husband had been the prime suspect in her disappearance and becomes the prime suspect again now that she has been found dead.  Just as the case gets rolling, the team is told that the case is going back into the hands of the jurisdiction that handled the disappearance case.  Tracy doesn’t want to let go and she is willing to risk her entire career to solve this case.

As the case goes on, it dredges up memories of Tracy’s sister and the twenty year search for justice in her case.  This is another case that hits close to home.  The young woman who disappeared had much in common with Tracy.  She lost her entire family at a young age and Tracy feels that she owes it to this woman to find out the truth, no matter the cost.

Once again, Tracy is an admirable protagonist and I love her strength and her convictions.  But I am getting a little bored with the whole “personal connection” to every case.  It’s starting to feel a little forced at this point, as is the strained relationship with her Captain.  The guy is a creep and should have been shown the door after the last book.  Her team is full of amazing people too and I’m glad to see them taking a larger role in this book.  I especially love Faz and Del.  We also get to see more of Tracy from a personal level and her relationship with Dan.  It was nice to see her outside of the role as Detective and in the role of just an ordinary woman in love with a man.

If you have read any of the previous books in this series, I definitely recommend this one.  I would not recommend this to someone who hasn’t read the backstory, it just wouldn’t give you the complete story and for that reason alone, I had to deduct half a star.  It’s always hard to review books in a series to someone who hasn’t read the previous books.  But this is a solid undertaking and I don’t think we are done seeing Detective Tracy Crosswhite.

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Review: In the Clearing by Robert Dugoni

3 Stars

This is the third book in the Tracy Crosswhite series.  You could probably read this particular novel as a stand-alone, but you will definitely get more out of the story if you read the previous two installments.

Once again we find Detective Tracy Crosswhite once again taking on another unsolved cold case.  She is asked by Jenny, a former police academy classmate to continue her father’s work and find the killer of a young Native American woman who everyone else assumed committed suicide.  But her family never believed the official story and neither did the investigative detective, Jenny’s father.  Tracy begins to follow up on the evidence and she begins to probe into the small town’s dark secrets.  Secrets that the town seems hell bent on keeping.  Is Detective Crosswhite going to be able to solve this case or is she going to become a victim too?

Again, this is another case that seems to hit close to home for Tracy.  Her sister was murdered and she spent twenty years trying to solve her case and bring the killer to justice.  Since then, she seems to be drawn to cases that are very similar to her sister’s murder.  She gets very personally invested and involved, which causes trouble for her both with her superiors in the department and in her personal life as well.  But she just can’t seem to let these cases go and while it’s a great thing for the victim, it’s playing havoc on her own life.

There is plenty of action and the investigation never lags.  The interaction between the characters is always solid and believable and the characters are very well thought out and none of them are one-dimensional.  Some end up being a little bit of a cliche.  Especially Tracy’s boss, Captain Nolasco.  But the victim’s brother also follows a stereotype and not a very flattering one when it comes to describing Native American men.  But the main core of characters are very enjoyable and you find yourself really rooting for Tracy in more ways than one.

I was a little surprised at the climax, I really didn’t expect the reveal.  You think you know who the killer is, but there’s one last surprise for you in the end.  Watching Tracy work her investigative magic is always entertaining.  While I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed the previous two, it was still a very solid installment in the series and I can’t wait to see what’s next for Detective Tracy Crosswhite.

 

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Review: Burning Man by Alan Russell

4 Stars

Michael Gideon is a LAPD cop who became a reluctant hero and celebrity along side his K-9 partner, Sirius, when they shot to fame by capturing a notorious serial killer in the midst of a raging wildfire.  For their heroism, and continued PR appearances for the LAPD, they are chosen to head up the new Special Cases Unit.  They are picked to take on the more unusual and unexplained cases.  Given almost full autonomy, Gideon can’t pass up the chance to work together with his partner without all the red tape and bosses breathing down your neck.  Perfect job for someone who is still trying to fight his own inner demons that have been haunting him since the night he and Sirius captured the serial killer known as the Weatherman, a man still haunting his dreams.

Those dreams that haunt Gideon also provide him unexplained information.  He will wake from his dreams where he is walking through fire again, actually feeling the flames and the pain of the fire.  He will also wake with unusual and unexplained insights into the cases that he is working on.  A skill that he and Sirius need to learn to trust in so they can not only solve this case, but also save a bit of themselves in the process.

In their first Special Case, a teenager is found crucified in a city park.  There are few clues and a whole lot of questions.  Who would go to such lengths to not only kill this young man, but to give further insult by crucification?  At the same time, another case appears that is close to Gideon’s heart.  An infant is found dead, left in a box by what seems to be an uncaring mother.  This discovery plays havok on Gideon’s PTSD and hits very close to home, as he was a foundling, dropped off as an infant in the parking lot of a church.  Gideon must face his own inner demons as he unravels the threads of these cases.

While the dialog is a little sophomoric at times, the wit and sarcasm of Michael Gideon does make up for it at times.  He reminds me a bit of Harry Bosch or even Harry Dresden.  His sarcasm is biting and his wit is quick.  His jokes and sarcasm hide the insecurity and the PTSD, you can see the defense mechanism at work and it makes him all the more human.  I wish the interaction with Sirius was a little more pronounced, he seems to spend an awful lot of time in the car.

The connection that he has with the serial killer called the Weatherman is never fully explained and it more than a little creepy.  It reminds me at times of the relationships that Hannibal Lecter had with his victims and those who brought him down.  Definitely a bit of a creep factor there.  I’m hoping that this gets fleshed out and explained in subsequent novels.

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Review: Exhume by Danielle Girard

3 Stars

Dr. Annabelle Schwartzman has started to get comfortable.  She has found a new home and a place where she feel she finally belongs.  She is the Medical Examiner for the San Francisco Police Department and she enjoys her work, her calling, helping the dead find their voice.  Her job is a safe haven from her past, a former life she left seven years ago.  A life that included an abusive husband.  A life that still has her looking over her shoulder to make sure there’s no one there.

Schwartzman’s latest case threatens to shatter her feelings of safety.  A woman is found murdered in her home.  As she begins her initial examination, she’s struck by the striking resemblance this woman has to Schwartzman.  The colors and the layout of the apartment remind her of a life that was left behind, a life she fled.  The necklace the young woman is wearing is an exact match to the one that Schwartzman wears around her own neck.  Is this just a coincidence or is someone sending Annabelle Schwartzman a message?

I did enjoy this novel.  It was fast paced and very well written.  I know that some people took issue with how Annabelle Schwartzman was portrayed.  I thought she was a little flat, but I can definitely understand why she could appear so strong and then so fragile.  She had an abusive husband who nearly killed her, what woman wouldn’t be afraid?  She is a damaged woman who still has some steel in her spine.  Now that she has a new life and people who care about her, she doesn’t want to let them go and she’s willing to face the past and the man she ran away from years ago.

There are a lot of twists and turns in the beginning and the middle of the book, which make for a very satisfying read and it really does keep you turning the pages.  But the story definitely loses steam at the end.  What looked like a very carefully woven plan completely unravels and becomes nearly incoherent and unbelievable.  I don’t mind a nice, tidy ending.  But I think that the climax and end need to at least make sense.  I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Dr. Annabelle Schwartzman and I’m looking forward to see if the next installment will improve.

 

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Review: Her Final Breath by Robert Dugoni

4 Stars

This is book two in the Tracy Crosswhite Series.  While you will still enjoy reading this book by itself, you will definitely understand the back-story and get more out of the book itself if you read the previous book My Sister’s Grave.

Tracy is back in Seattle after finally solving the mystery surrounding the murder of her sister two decades earlier.  She comes back to a new killer who the media has dubbed The Cowboy.  He’s killing women in a manner that’s eerily familiar to Tracy.  The women are all hog-tied and die by strangulation.  Is this a copycat or did the wrong person end up behind bars 10 years ago?  A case that involved her captain, Johnny Nolasco and one that he would prefer to keep buried.  Just to add more intrigue, it seems that someone has it out for Tracy after leaving a noose behind at the shooting range for her to find.  Is it the Cowboy or is someone else targeting Tracy?

This is another fairly solid police procedural.  There is drama between Tracy and her captain that gives some additional tension.  He’s a slime ball who has had it out for Tracy ever since they were in the police academy.  The man can definitely carry a grudge.  Their negative chemistry was really good.  He second-guesses every move she makes and he undermines her at every turn through some pretty under-handed methods.  Ever wonder how the media got some of their juiciest tidbits?

The Cowboy was definitely an interesting serial killer.  I was definitely surprised to see who the killer ended up being.  I did enjoy how the case was solved.  I really didn’t see it coming.  It was just one small detail.  One vigilant police officer.  And that’s all it takes sometimes.  I really did enjoy the interaction that Tracy had with the killer in the end.  And I would have paid good money to see the look on her captain’s face.

I did not enjoy the stalker angle.  I know that it ties in the first and second book.  But I just didn’t think that it fit with the rest of the story.  It was nice to see Dan is still in the picture and their interaction and chemistry is still there.  They make a really great team.  I hope that they’ll continue to be able to team up together in the future, because this is certainly not the end for Tracy Crosswhite.

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Review: A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain

1 Star

Kendra Donovan is a rising star in the FBI, her team has finally tracked down one of the FBI’s most wanted and she’s there for the takedown.  But everything goes wrong and her team is ambushed and half her team is murdered as she discovers a traitor.  Kendra barely survives after being shot several times but vows revenge against the man responsible for the deaths of her team members.  She ‘goes rogue’ and travels to England to put her plan into motion.

While preparing her assassination attempt, Kendra is surprised by an unexpected complication and ends up needing to flee for her life through the back passages of Aldrich Castle but when she stumbles out of the passageway, she’s faced with an impossible sight.  She is still in Aldrich Castle, but she’s in a different time.  She’s in 1815 and in the presence of the current Duke.  She is mistaken for a maid, hired to help with weekend guests.  Kendra is forced to adapt to the time period until she can figure out how to get out of there and back to her own time.

The body of a young woman is discovered on the grounds of the estate and Kendra can’t help but get involved.  She was a profiler back in her time and she knows she can put her knowledge to use in helping solve the mystery of how this young woman died.  She has none of her 21st century tools at her disposal but must rely on her own wits and extensive knowledge of crime and criminals.

As unbelievable as the premise sounds, I was intrigued.  I’ve read the Outlander series, so I can learn to suspend belief and buy into time travel.  I’ve seen time travel done very well and I’ve seen it done very poorly.  Unfortunately, this was in the latter category.  Kendra is supposed to be a woman of incredible intelligence, someone who was genetically pre-disposed to be a genius and everything in her background seems to confirm this.  So how does someone so smart act so unbelievably stupid?

Kendra constantly uses phrases and words that would have absolutely no meaning to anyone from the 19th century and instead of everyone looking at her like she belongs in an asylum, they just shake their heads and let her continue.  And how does a woman (one posing as a maid no less) somehow become the lead investigator of a murder case?  She can’t explain how she knows what she knows, and everyone is content to just leave it at that?  And the romance angle?  Give me a break.

It’s not often that I give a book 1 Star, but I just couldn’t justify giving any more.  The characters were not believable.  The main character was annoying.  The entire situation was ludicrous.  And the ending?  Atrocious.  Apparently there are going to be more Kendra Donovan books, but not for this reader.

 

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Review: 30 Pieces of Silver by Carolyn McCray

2 Stars

I will admit that I was sucked in by the comparisons to Dan Brown.  While I’m not a huge fan of his work, I am interested in the subject matter.  For over two thousand years, scientists and researchers have been trying to prove or disprove the existence of Jesus Christ and the mystery of the crucifixion and resurrection.  So when I read the description for this book, I knew I had to pick it up.  Especially when the description comes with a huge warning label calling the book “an extremely controversial religious/historical thriller.”  Come on, who can resist bait like that?  Obviously not me.

Rebecca Monroe is working on a theory that there is a “genius” gene caused by good radiation that can explain away God and other theories of creation.  She’s pulled away from her research by a Special Ops team that has been sent to bring her in after a bombing in Paris brings her old professor out of hiding (back from the dead?) for the discovery of a lifetime and one that could rock the foundations of Christianity.

From there, we’re off on a wild chase across continents while Rebecca and the team are ambushed, shot at, bombed, electrocuted, chased and put through one unbelievable scenario after another as they go from one clue to the next.  The clues are left on ancient bones inscribed in ancient Greek.  Bones that are believed to have belonged to some of Christianity’s most sacred people.  John the Baptist.  James, brother of Jesus.  Mary Magdalene.  All seem to be pointing to the final resting place of Christ.  Not only that, but the bones are telling a different story about the Crucifixion than the one that the Bible has been telling the faithful for over two thousand years.  As they are trying to uncover the secrets the bones are trying to tell them, they are being hunted down by The Knot.  The Knot is trying to keep these secrets safe because if the truth ever got out, it has the power to destroy everything.

I really, really wanted to like this book.  But I just couldn’t.  Too much of it was so far-fetched that it was almost laugh out loud ludicrous.  Most of the characters were just completely unlikable and there was just very little authenticity in 90% of the characters and their interactions.  I can totally two opposing forces fighting for power and having lots of intense action scenes, but the fights should be believable and make some logical sense.  Can you see a person jumping from a boat travelling at 100 miles per hour onto a bridge and suffering absolutely NO injuries?  Especially a professor with absolutely NO training?

And the contrived romance angle?  Give me a break.

The stars were solely for the twist near the end.  If you’re a quick study, you’ll actually figure it out well before Rebecca does and for a Christian, it’s definitely what most would call sacrilegious.  The best passages of the book were the looks back into history and how the author imagined the interaction between Jesus and his followers.  The rest of the time you’re jumping from one absolutely unbelievable situation to the next.  Since this is a work of fiction, and not a very good one, it shouldn’t rock your faith too much.  I think this would have less impact than even the Dan Brown books.

 

 

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