Book Preview – The Forgotten Girls by Owen Laukkanen

forgotten girls - book coverThis is the second time I’ve inadvertently read a book from the middle of an ongoing series rather than started from the beginning. Incidentally, both series happen to be in the crime/thriller genre and—due in part to the nature of the genre—both worked well enough as standalone novels (the first more so than this one). The Forgotten Girls by Owen Laukkanen will be the sixth book in his Stevens & Windermere series when it is released on March 14.

If you’ve ever seen a crime procedural on television, you’re probably familiar with the facts: that many victims of violent crime are women, that women of color are disproportionately victims of violent crime, and that transients, drug addicts, and sex workers are likely to wind up as victims of violent crime. These are the very demographics that make up the target victims of a dangerous serial killer train hopping around the northern Midwest. It’s a case that falls into Stevens and Windermere’s laps and quickly proves larger and—thanks to the winter weather—tricky hunt for the killer. Continue reading

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Book Review – The Black Country by Alex Grecian

book cover - black countryAfter finishing The Yard a few months ago, I quickly put the rest of the books in Alex Grecian’s Scotland Yard Murder Squad series on my To Read list with the intent that I pace myself rather than read them all at once. It will be easier to wait before moving on from The Black Country, the second book in the series. Though the characters that helped make the series’ first installment so thrilling are still present, something of the magic is missing in book two.

Inspector Walter Day and Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith have been called away from London to assist the constable in Blackhampton—a coalmining town—with the search for two parents and their missing son. The inclement weather (a late season snowstorm) promises to be the least of the obstacles impeding the investigation. The people of Blackhampton are falling ill left and right and those who are well want little to do with the out-of-town law enforcement. Everyone seems to know more than they are willing to share leaving Day and Hammersmith with no one to trust but each other. Continue reading

Book Preview – Since She Went Away by David Bell

book cover - since she went awayI’m kind of in the middle of a murder mystery kick, so when I read the description for David Bell’s upcoming Since She Went Away it seemed logical to add it to my list. While there are certainly plenty of mysteries within the novel, I didn’t find the path to the answers—or the mother and son whose perspectives form the main narrative—as engaging as I had hoped.

Jenna blames herself for her best friend’s disappearance several months earlier—it was Jenna who called Celia and suggested the two of them get together in the middle of the night and try to recapture some of the glory of their high school days and it was Jenna who ran late when they were supposed to meet in the park. She finds herself in a static and frustratingly helpless position, as every call could be terrific news or terrible news or worst of all—no news. But as winter moves towards spring and her son finds first love with a vaguely familiar new girl at his school, the seemingly cold case begins to thaw as new leads pop up.

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Book Review – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

the girl on the train - book coverMonths ago, I entered a contest to be able to preview The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I didn’t win so I had to wait until it was officially released… and then I forgot about it until it began hitting all kinds of Must Read lists. I had to wait for many weeks on the wait list at the library but it’s not like I didn’t have plenty to read in the meantime. I was surprised by how much this book reminded me of Gone Girl – not in the plot exactly, but in the general feel of the book.

Rachel Watson rides the train to and from London every day to keep up appearances since losing her job because of her drinking. The other reason for riding the rails daily is the glimpses she gets through the window – the train always pauses right behind the house where she lived with her now ex-husband, Tom (the house he now shares with the woman he left Rachel for, Anna, and their infant daughter). A few doors down from her old house, Rachel watches the idyllic life of a couple she’s dubbed Jess and Jason – they have the life and marriage she thought she had with Tom. One Friday morning Rachel sees Jess in the arms of a man that is not Jason; a few days later it hits the news that the woman – named Megan, not Jess – has gone missing. Rachel is eager to assist in the investigation in any way she can but her personal issues leave the police with doubts as to Rachel’s reliability and motives. Continue reading

Book Preview – MacDeath by Cindy Brown

UnknownHaving started on my mystery kick, I decided to continue with a preview of the first book in Cindy Brown’s upcoming Ivy Meadows mystery series, MacDeath. Lighthearted and fun compared to most mystery thrillers, MacDeath makes a decent introduction for amateur sleuth, Ivy Meadows and her author, Cindy Brown.

Ivy Meadows is an actress, and a stage name for Olive Ziegwart. Eager to break into the Phoenix acting scene, she auditions and gets a part in a circus themed production of Macbeth. But not all of the would-be cast are familiar with the famous curse on the Scottish play and soon it begins to wreak havoc on the production when the actor playing the doomed Duncan dies on opening night. Only Ivy finds the death suspicious and she begins a haphazard investigation into her fellow actors that threatens most of the relationships in her life as well as her career as an actor. Continue reading

Book Review – The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

9780316206877_p0_v19_s260x420I’ve been in the mood for mysteries lately so it seemed like the perfect time to tackle The Silkworm, the second in the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith (a pseudonym used by J.K. Rowling). As usual, I wasn’t disappointed. Now that the main characters are pretty well established, the reader gets to see a little bit more of their backstories as a high profile case unfolds.

Picking up several months after Strike’s success with the Lula Landry case, he and his assistant, Robin, are busy with a string of new lucrative clients, allowing him to almost completely pay off the debts he owes. But as much as he appreciates the long list of wealthy, cheated-on lovers and spouses, the routine surveillance is getting old. Then Leonora Quine appears asking him to find her eccentric writer husband who has a knack for disappearing and showing up days later in a hotel with some woman. As Strike begins interviewing Quine’s publishing acquaintances, he learns that the writer’s latest book, Bombyx Mori, has caused an uproar and there are an increasing number of people Quine could be intentionally (or unsuccessfully) avoiding. Continue reading

Book Review – The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

51m4P63APoL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Like most of the world, I hadn’t heard of a book called The Cuckoo’s Calling or a writer named Robert Galbraith until a story broke that Robert Galbraith was actually J.K. Rowling. I’d like to pretend that I would have read The Cuckoo’s Calling whether I’d known it was really written by Rowling or not but I doubt I ever would have heard of it to read. I’m glad that I have read it, and I look forward to The Silkworm later this month. The murder mystery/thriller genre is one that I only venture into once in a while but I usually enjoy it thoroughly and The Cuckoo’s Calling was no exception.

Cormoran Strike is going through a rough patch. His private detective business is deeply in debt and his longtime on-again, off-again relationship is almost definitely off for good. But his prospects look a little more promising when the older brother of a childhood friend shows up begging Strike to investigate the presumed suicide of his sister, who happened to have been a prominent model.

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Book Review – The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl

Edgar Allan Poe has been credited with creating the first detective stories that have evolved into the mystery genre as we recognize it today. Poe’s French intellectual C. Auguste Duponte foreshadows the great detective minds perfected by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the form of Sherlock Holmes and by Agatha Christie in Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.

Following the success of The Dante Club, Matthew Pearl in The Poe Shadow looks to pay homage to Poe’s genius and clear up some of the controversy and mystery surrounding the death of the American gothic writer, putting to work some of the same techniques Poe’s Duponte would have used.

Unfortunately, Pearl’s execution of his intentions fell short of his goals. Following the tradition of the Duponte stories and Doyle’s later Holmes tales, the novel is narrated not by the main detective but by a less gifted however eager mind. Quentin Clark, a wealthy Baltimore mortgage lawyer and fan of the recently deceased Poe, creates a mission for himself to clear the late writer’s name in the papers. He sets out to determine, find, and employ the inspiration for Poe’s character.

The reasons Pearl gives Clark for looking into Poe’s death are flimsy. The premise for the entire novel is weak and Pearl has too much going on; the novel cannot recover any sense of balance. Some of the subplots, especially the romantic ones, were predictable, unrealistic, and unfolded too much like a fairy tale.

Quentin, as a narrator, grows tedious early and each stage of his character’s process is more painful to read through than the last. There are some background characters that catch the reader’s attention briefly before Quentin’s voice dulls their personalities or his paranoia paints them in unnecessary suspicions. A few drop out of the novel with no warning and too many loose ends. There is one point where the action builds and the pacing seems to be picking up, but the little momentum gained is not enough to make it through the slamming on the brakes that follows in the plot. Even the final wrap-up, provided in the last few pages, is completely unsatisfactory.

The overall lesson that Poe’s Duponte (and even Holmes, Marple, and Poirot) emphasize is that rather than the overly dramatic or sensationalized, the simplest explanation is often the correct one. Pearl’s central characters come to pretty much the same conclusion as well. Considering this, it is surprising that the plot as a whole turns out to be so over complicated and dramatic. The only piece that turns out to be simple, though the explication of the processes used to arrive at the explanation are drawn out and detailed, is the explanation of Poe’s death.

Though The Dante Club managed to combine a thrilling murder mystery with the work of literary greats, The Poe Shadow missed the mark by trying to combine and capture the magic of too much of Poe’s genius. The reader didn’t have to be familiar with Dante or the Inferno to enjoy The Dante Club. The reader of The Poe Shadow needs to be well versed in Poe or must prepare for spoilers (Quentin Clark not only poorly summarizes several Poe plots, he goes so far as to give away the ‘who-dunnit’ parts of the Duponte stories).

Having taken a seminar on Dickens, I had been excited about Pearl’s latest novel, The Last Dickens, which came out in paperback a few months ago. After finishing The Poe Shadow, I think I’ll wait a while before picking it up.