Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (2018)

Book #4 in the Cormoran Strike Series (Reviews here for Book #1 https://wp.me/p6N6mT-Xx and #3 https://wp.me/p6N6mT-1l )

Note: While I try very, very hard not to give spoilers about the other books in this series in this post, I was unable to 100% succeeded. If you have not read the previous three books, please go back and do so, and then proceed. They are absolutely worth it, being four of the best mystery fiction books to have been written in the past decade.

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At last, Robin Ellacort and Cormoran Strike are back for their fourth adventure in Lethal White. Across the nearly 700-pages of the book, our two private investigators will link several seemingly unconnected events — the murder of a child witnessed, a Cabinet Minister being blackmailed, a communist activist/petty criminal’s activities, powerful men sexually harassing young workers, the vicious infighting of a once-wealthy family — in order to solve not only the crimes their clients have tasked them with, but also all of the intertwined mysteries that appear along the way.

This detective work is, of course, complicated and confused by the emotional journey Robin and Strike are on in the wake of the disastrous and violent completion of their case catching a serial killer in Career of Evil (reviewed https://wp.me/p6N6mT-1l ) That case not only left them both with physical scars, but with mental ones as well, particularly Robin for whom the case forced her to face some of the darkest times of her past. Furthermore, the two had severed their professional relationship and their friendship over disagreements in how to handle the victims in that case. Now the two are delicately rebuilding — not always successfully — their working partnership in the wake of that dramatic ending.

Additionally, the once-close friendship between Robin and Strike has cooled following Robin’s marriage to Matthew Cunliffe. Seeing her new status as married as a potential handicap, Strike has intentionally (without Robin’s knowledge) been manipulating her schedules and duties to keep her from the firm’s more risky cases. The more Strike pulls back, the further cast out Robin feels, increasing her anxiety and fears that she may not be as valuable a partner as she had thought. Given that her work with Strike is among the most valuable aspects of her life, that more he pushes her away, the faster her mental health deteriorates.

In that mix of emotion and miscommunication, things said and unsaid, come two unconnected visitors: a homeless, schizophrenic young man who insists he has witnessed a murder of the child, and England’s Minister of Culture.

The young man tells Strike the details — disjointed and unclear — of witnessing the strangulation and burial of a young girl in his Oxfordshire hometown. Unstable and terrifying, the young man’s call for help in finding the murderer is complicated by his mental state and his subsequent disappearance. Billy flees the office but his story sticks with Strike, who decides to use some of the firm’s new staff to look into the claims made by the young man.

Simultaneously, England’s Minister of Culture calls for a meeting and hires Strike to stop two men who are black-mailing him, asking for both money and his resignation from office. Refusing to tell Robin nor Strike the crimes he is being blackmailed for, the Minister only gives them the names of two men who are after him and asks the firm unearth enough evidence of blackmailers own misdeeds to quiet them. One man accused of blackmail is the husband of another Minister with a personal vendetta. The other one is none other than the older brother of Billy, the mentally ill visitor Strike has had just a few days earlier.

The circumstances are too linked to be passed off as coincidence and soon the entire firm is engaged in tracking all four men — Billy, the Minister, Billy’s brother Jimmy, a communist activist, and the other politician involved in blackmail — and gathering evidence of all of their activities.

As the story unfolds, the connections between these four men grow stronger and stranger, their lives overlapping in — at first — unconnected ways. But slowly, slowly a picture emerges of the group, how they fit together, and what crime (or crimes) they are all, individually and together, trying to prevent the world from discovering. Complicating the story are other characters, many of whom have their own agendas for keeping secrets for these four men: some out of love, others out of fear, and still more for whom it is profitable to help hide secrets.

The spider-like webs begin to connect all of the stories Robin and Strike are hearing, the people they are investigating, and the events that bind the larger group together is astonishingly complex. Never fear, Galbraith is a deft and skilled writer who leads readers long, making sure the threads of each story remains clear and distinct, and lets us thrill in following our hero and heroine as they solve the mysteries…both of their clients, and the ones complicating their friendship.

What can I say? The books in this series are outstanding and crafted to perfection. I have read each of the series previous books several times each, and once my husband finishes Lethal White, I am prepared to begin reading it again.

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Glass Houses by Louise Penny (2016)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #12

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Armand Gamache returns, no longer Chief Inspector of Homicide the Sûreté du Québec and no longer running the Sûreté du Québec Academy, but now as the head of the entire organization. Gamache and his team have been fighting an uphill battle against the opioid epidemic: more and more drugs are entering Quebec and more and more citizens are dying — and killing one another — over those drugs. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Gamache and his chief inspectors are about to embark on a dangerous and unprecedentedly complex plan to stanch the flow of opioids into their province.

This year Three Pines had a visitor on Halloween, one who — before he left — would stir up feelings of confusion, fear, and anger in the town residents. A man who would be tied to a brutal murder before his visit came to an end… a cobrador. A cobrador is an ancient Spanish tradition, in which a person who has done a terrible misdeed but gone unpunished is haunted day and night by a man in black, a man meant to represent the perpetrator’s conscience.

When the cobrador appears, Armand begins to research the origins of the tradition while also wondering who in the village has a great crime hanging over his or her head that someone feels has gone unpunished. When on the same day, the cobrador disappears and a woman is found dead, Armand opens a formal investigation.

Soon the evidence links the murder of the woman to the very opioid crisis the Sûreté is fighting to stop. In order to bring both the murderer and the drug dealer out in the open, Armand must put his family, his village, and his job all on the line.

Penny has outdone herself with this smart, thrilling novel filled with many unexpected story-telling elements that only add to the suspense. Wonderful!

Repost. Originally posted on January 29 2018.

Believe Me by JP Delaney (2018)

The second book by the author writing as JP Delaney, is a follow-up to the wildly popular The Girl Before, (reviewed here https://wp.me/p6N6mT-2hq ) Believe Me starts out with promise of being a one-of-a-kind thriller, but unfortunately falls apart mid-way through and never recovers, resulting in a mediocre, but not great, novel.

Our narrator Claire is an aspiring actress living in New York City illegally and trying to find work despite not having green card. Desperate, she takes work for a shady law firm tempting wayward husbands to pick her up so that their wives have ammunition in divorce court. One assignment proves to be far more than she bargained for when the husband rebuffs her advances but then — allegedly — murders his wife that very night.

Now Claire is drawn into an investigation with the husband, Patrick, who police are certain is a killer but cannot find the evidence to link him to his wife’s murder. The police decide to hire Claire (inexplicably) to go undercover and attempt to become Patrick’s lover and try to find evidence of the murder.

Claire falls in love with Patrick and believes he is innocent. Now she must decide if she will tell him about the investigation in an attempt to help him prove his innocence, even if doing so might mean she is deported back to the UK.

A good story-line, but the author wanders off course a few too many times, and loses the tension needed to keep readers interested. The Girl Before is a much more interesting read, in my opinion.

 

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter (2018)

Thriller writer extraordinaire, Karin Slaughter, has written a novel that departs from her signature style — read: dark, violent, very scary — but loses none of story-telling genius with Pieces of Her. Slaughter skillfully tells two unique stories, each equally compelling on their own, and then weaves them into one unforgettable tale.

Our first story is set in present-day Georgia and features Andrea Oliver, a 30-year-old woman who has walked away from every path she has set out on: abandoning first college, then her work in the theater in New York, and finally her art. She has settled into a life of meaningless work, few friendships, and a room over her mother’s garage.

Our second story begins in the early 1980’s and follows a group of young radical activists who are ready to make a mark on the world by committing of a series of violent crimes that they hope will bring down a huge healthcare corporation. Under the leadership of a charismatic and cruel leader, the group recruits the children of the corporation’s billionaire CEO to help him attack their father and expose his abuse of patients in his facilities. Caught up in the planning is Jane, a young, impressionable girl who would follow the group’s leader to the end of the earth…or so she thinks. When the group starts killing people and are forced to go on the run, she begins to see that terrorism will never change the world, only make it worse.

Our two stories collide when Andrea and her mother are in a shopping mall when a gunman opens fire. The people around the two women are killed, but Andrea’s mother stops the shooting and kills the man before he can injure anyone else. When the footage of her mother’s cold, deliberate handling of the gunman goes viral, it stirs up a series of events that bring Jane’s story — and that of her cult — into Andrea’s life.

The attack unhinges her mother and suddenly Andrea finds herself running from another killer, with nothing but a few items from her mother and a series of coded and inscrutable instructions for her to go into hiding. Andrea, however, just cannot ignore the millions of questions her mother’s behavior have left unanswered and, rather than hiding, she goes digging into the past. There she finds things best left unknown and disrupts the lives of  many people who do not wish to have their past crimes brought to light.

Florida by Lauren Groff (2018)

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Groff bring her spell-binding writing style to her newest work, Florida, a novel that links the stories of several searching, wounded souls; mostly set against the backdrop of gritty, swampy Florida.

The only recurring character, a stay-at-home mother whose malaise and rage at the state of the world is draining her marriage and compromising her parenting, is haunting and wild, lashing out at a world that she wishes were safer and kinder. “I can’t stop reading about the disasters of the world. I read and savagely mourn, as if reading could somehow sate this hunger for grief, instead of what it does, which is fuel it.” 7

Satelliting around the nameless mother, are other lost men and women. For some, their sadness is their constant companion: as with a lonely man whose isolation from others, a life-long condition, becomes complete when he loses his hearing as is — literally — set adrift from the people in his life. For another woman in the story, sadness and loss descends on her quickly, when she goes from broke student to homeless woman and must fight every single day to eat, rest, and even stay alive. For two little girls who make a brief appearance, their lives — while just beginning — are already shaped with fear and abandonment. They learn that on their own, there are dangers but that there are even more things to fear when others rescue them.

On and on the stories unravel, slow and smooth, even when violent or heartbreaking, Groff maintains control of them words so deftly, that the emotions the characters are feeling seem too far away to hurt the reader too deeply. If you enjoy this novel, consider reading her wild and utterly unique 2008 novel The Monsters of Templeton, reviewed here https://wp.me/p6N6mT-Po

The Late Bloomers Club by Louise Miller (2018)

Nora Huckleberry’s adulthood began when she was just thirteen, when her mother died and her father withdrew into himself, leaving his young daughter to care for her little sister, their home, and their family run diner. For the next twenty-nine years, Nora has put everyone in her family — and indeed in her rural, Vermont village — ahead of herself. She financed the wild adventures of her younger sister, made sure her diner employees were well-paid, donated generously to the charities in town; all while nervously watching the bills pile up.

Now forty-two, Nora cannot help but feel that her life has not begun and realizes that she is lonely and spends all of her time keeping the diner — her father’s dream, but not hers — going and no time at all on things she would like to achieve. However, see cannot seem to find a way to to make changes without upsetting the people who rely on her.

All at once, change comes, unbidden, into Nora’s life when she and her sister inherit the a home and a large patch of land from a distant neighbor. While the property is beautiful, the inheritance comes with huge bills that Nora and her sister could never afford to pay off. When a big-box corporation makes a million-dollar offer for the land, the sisters are faced with a dilemma: do they sell so they can make their personal dreams come true, even if it means that doing so might ruin the picturesque Vermont village?

Nora must accept the upheaval of a life that she has fought to keep as safe and steady as she could her entire life and decide what it is she really wants and what she is willing to risk to have a second chance.

The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall (2018)

Spoiler Alert: This post will include some information about all of the novels in the five-book Penderwicks series! If you are a fan of the books, do not read any further so you can enjoy the newest adventures of this lovable family for yourself!

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The Penderwicks are back! The book series by Jeanne Birdsall that follows the lives and adventures of the wonderful Penderwick family are among my favorite in all of children’s literature. The author has written a fifth book about the wacky, loving, kind, and quirky family for devoted readers to enjoy. Following up the fourth book in the series, The Penderwicks in Spring (reviewed here https://wp.me/p6N6mT-VL ), which was a deeply emotional portrait of the struggles and triumphs of the Penderwick siblings, The Penderwicks at Last is back with a buoyant and uplifting stories for fans to swoon over!

The Penderwicks are preparing for another amazing summer, this year they will host the first wedding of one of the six Penderwick children: Rosalind! Told from the point of view of the YAP (youngest available Penderwick) Lydia, the book follows the preparations that the entire family undergoes as they plan for — and cook for, design dresses for, write music for — the big event!

The wedding gets all the more exciting when Rosalind announces a surprise relocation of the ceremony: to Arundel! Beautiful, mythical, adventure-filled Arundel — a mansion in the Berkshires and the setting for the first Penderwick book — is  legendary among the OPS (oldest Penderwick sisters) as the place where they had one of their best summers ever and where the met their beloved best friend Jeffrey.

After years of hearing the stories about that unforgettable summer, Lydia is beyond thrilled to finally get to travel to Arundel and experience the magic of it for herself. Not only will Arundel host the entire Penderwick clan for the summer while the wedding is being planned, it will welcome almost every single (beloved and not-so-beloved) character from each of the previous four books. In addition to all of the friends, neighbors, and cousins who come together to celebrate Rosalind’s marriage; there are several new characters (human and animal) to are every bit as wonderful and charming as those from the other Penderwick adventures.

Lydia and her family decamp to Arundel to prepare for the wedding and along the way have a series of experiences — some hysterical, some dramatic — that result in some unexpected last minute changes to the big day. The book was such a wonderful addition to the series that I read the entire thing in one evening and then re-read it to my youngest boys. If you have not experienced the magic of the Penderwicks, now it your chance: grab The Penderwicks and dive right in!