Dark in Death by JD Robb (2018)

Book #46, Eve Dallas In Death Series (Several of which are reviewed in this site, search tag “Nora Roberts” to see them all.)

Lt. Eve Dallas is back in her forty-sixth adventure, set in New York City of 2061, overseeing a murder investigation that has claimed the life of a up-and-coming Broadway star. The bizarre details of the young woman’s death strike a cord with a local mystery writer, who comes to Eve with her fears that the murderer may be committing “lethal plagiarism” by acting out the murders from her series of books called the Dark series.

Almost immediately Eve confirms that the murder of the young woman is almost an exact replica of the murder in book two of the Dark series. A short look into open cases in the city shows her that just a month prior another young woman was killed in a manner that imitated book one in the series. Now the team is scrambling to read all eight books in the series, quiz the author on her plots and motivations for the books, scour fan mail to the author, and follow the available forensic evidence; all in an attempt to stop the murderer from committing six more copy-cat murders.

A cast of strong women, led by Eve and Peabody, come together to dig deep into the damaged psyche of a murderer who went from super-fan to serial killer: to find out what happened and how he can be stopped.



Glass Houses by Louise Penny (2017)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #12

glass houses l penny

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!


Year One by Nora Roberts (2017)

Chronicles of The One series, Book #1

In Year One, Nora Roberts has published what I consider one of the best books she has written in years, and I have read every single book she has ever written. This futuristic novel is a combination dystopian science-fiction thriller and fantasy story: introducing readers to a cast of characters, both human and super-human, who are fighting preserve the United States from an apocalyptic civil war.

As the story opens (presumably in 2017,) an ill passenger boards a flight from Dublin to New York City and unknowingly infects hundreds of people who cross his path. This man sets into motion a violent, deadly plague — called The Doom — that in less than a month kills more than half of the world’s population. In almost no time at all, The Doom causes cities to crumble, governments to dissolve, and turns the United States into a violent waste-land.

Among the survivors there emerges three distinct groups of people: humans who are for unknown reasons immune to The Doom; a population of peaceful magical people (called The Uncanny) who have extraordinary powers; and their murderous counter-parts, The Dark Uncanny. Fear and paranoia grows between the three groups, as everyone struggles to find a way to survive in a world that is quickly running out of supplies needed to keep the remaining population alive.

A group of main characters emerge from the over-arching story, humans and Uncanny who want to work together to build a new, peaceful civilization. This group rescues survivors, stockpiles food, medicines, and other essentials, and who — after a months-long struggle — begins to build a city together, New Hope. At New Hope, the residents take up farming, raising animals, building schools and hospitals, and offering each other solace and peaceful respite from the bloody battles that have raged since the epidemic emerged.

However, two terrifying threats appear on the horizon and threaten all of the hard work the residents of New Hope have done. The Purity Warriors are a group of Christian extremist determined to rid the world of the Uncanny, often in the most bloody and horrific ways. The Dark Uncanny also begin to grow in power, they are using their supernatural abilities to kill everyone who attempts to control them — human or superhuman. A civil war begins to brew between the three groups.

One woman, an Uncanny named Lana, who has worked for months to protect survivors and help bring them from the across the country to New Hope becomes the target of increasingly terrifying attacks; many people begin to believe that she is the person prophesied to bring an end to the civil war to the restore peace to what is left of the United States.

This book is Nora Roberts at her very best: a unique and thrilling story populated with great characters; one that she manages to keep well-balanced between contemporary drama, science-fiction, and fantasy. I am looking forward to Book 2!


The Great Reckoning by Louise Penny (2016)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #12

great reckoning l penny

The the main character of Louise Penny’s outstanding mystery series, Armand Gamache, returns to solve another mystery in A Great Reckoning. In this installment, he must solve a murder, uncover a complicated corruption scheme, and he must also face some painful truths about his own past — revealing secrets he has been keeping for most of his life — in order to solve the crimes.

When the previous book ended, Armand was faced with answering the question “what next?” What would be the next chapters in his personal and professional lives? That question is answered in the opening chapters when Penny reveals that Armand has come out of retirement to take over running the Sûreté du Québec Academy. Armand hopes to undo the damage that years of abusive leadership has wrought and to help lead the young cadets in becoming wise and respectful officers.

When Armand took over the Academy, he fired most of the old professors and hired new ones to lead the students without cruelty. However, he left in place the most corrupt, cruelest, and most abusive of the old professors — Serge Le Duke — in the hope that having the man on campus would help Armand uncover proof of his corruption and place him in prison.

A few months into his tenure, Armand feels that he is making progress with the students and feels that the safer, more accepting Academy culture is training a new generation of talented investigators. Armand is wrong.

Serge Le Duke is found murdered, execution style, in his private rooms and all of the evidence suggests that either a student or professor was responsible for the crime. Immediately, four students emerge as central to the case. Armand and the other investigators know that these students know more than they are telling, but are they covering up committing the crime? Or are they covering up information that would lead to the killer?

In a questionably legal decision, Armand moves the four cadets to his home village of Three Pines for the duration of the investigation. To keep the cadets busy, he tasks them with finding out the origins of a mysterious map that has been found in the village and — baffling, a copy of the same map was found in the murdered man’s rooms — to see if the students can find out how the map relates to the case.

Armand’s decisions regarding the new rules at the Academy; his choice of cadets he admitted to the school; his decision to move the four cadets to Three Pines; and his decision to leave a corrupt man in a power position are all cloaked in mystery. In order to catch the killer, Armand must answer these questions and many more about his shady actions in the recent months; his answers will not only expose his secrets to his family and colleagues, but also expose secrets that may harm the four cadets at the center of the mystery.



The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny (2015)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #11

the nature of the beast

After a few weeks off from my Louise Penny reading spree, I was thrilled to finally restart the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series yesterday. Penny has returned the action back to the small Quebec village of Three Pines and reassembled her cast of beloved characters who work together to solve another mysterious murder.

Fall is approaching Three Pines and the residents are reveling in the beautiful weather and fall colors descending down the mountain. Now retired from the police, Armand Gamache and his wife are settling into a peaceful, quiet life in the village; filled with rest, good friends, and delicious meals. Armand has recently been fielding offers to return to the police force, as well as other offers to work for various government and international agencies. Despite increasing pressure to return to work, Armand has been reluctant to do so. He is at a crucial crossroads: what does “next” look like for he and Reine-Marie?

The calm exterior of the village is shattered when a little boy is found murdered, his body disguised as an accident and his father rumored to be a prime suspect. Armand assists his former colleagues in solving the murder and makes an early, critical discovery: the boy’s body has been moved. The search for the site of his murder leads to an unimaginable find: a cave hiding an enormous Soviet-era missile launcher hidden in the Quebec wilderness.

Soon the case spins out in a million directions: who build this gun? Why is it hidden outside of Three Pines? Is it still capable of firing? And who was intended target when the weapon was built?

Armand and the police force must dig deep into the weapon’s history, going back to the start of the Cold War and the years of the nuclear arms race. Military experts and secret service agents soon arrive in Three Pines to investigate the case; causing tensions between the different groups. Armand wants to find the boy’s killer, the other agents want to find out more about the gun and who built it. These tensions cause everyone to begin hiding information from one another, stalling out the search for the murderer.

When another citizen is killed, the case veers wildly off course and Armand and the others must dig deep into documents about physics, weapons design, military strategy, and government secrets to find all of the answers they seek.

The Likeness by Tana French (2008)

Dublin Murder Squad series, Book #2

the likeness tana french

Tana French’s first book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, In The Woods, was highly recommended to me by several people but when I read it I found it strangely hard to like and never bothered to read the next book in the series. However, after reading only “light” novels and non-fiction over the holidays, I was in the mood for something a bit juicier and the library had a copy of The Likeness on the shelf. I am so glad I gave the series another try; as this novel was thrilling, intriguing, and completely unlike any police procedural I have ever read.

Our heroine, Detective Cassie Maddox, was a rising star in the Dublin police force, whose work in Undercover had earned her a coveted spot on the Murder Squad in the first book of the series. However, several errors and unethical choices by Maddox during a high-profile murder case resulted in a humiliating nervous breakdown and a demotion to another unit.

The opening of The Likeness finds Maddox working Domestic Violence cases and still struggling with psychological issues resulting from her last, disastrous case in Murder. When she receives a call from two detectives — her former boss from Undercover and her boyfriend in Murder — asking her to report to a crime scene, she is reluctant to comply. Terrified that refusing would have her fired, and equally terrified that her loss of nerve will be revealed, she goes.

What greets her there is something that she never could have predicted: the young woman who has been murdered is her exact doppelgänger, who has died using the alias “Lexie Madison,” one that Maddox herself invented when she was working Undercover years earlier. Shocked at the turn of events, Maddox cannot understand why she has been pulled into the investigation.

The two detectives leading in the case have an outrageous — and slightly unethical — request of Maddox. They would like to conceal the woman’s murder and send Maddox undercover into the Lexie’s life to see if they can catch her killer. On one hand, Maddox is horrified at the thought of working in the field for the first time since her breakdown. On the other hand, she knows she was a master at Undercover work and is intrigued at the idea of being asked to take on such a delicate — and dangerous — task.

She agrees and soon she is moving into a large estate outside of Dublin, where Lexie — using a stolen identity — lives with her four best friends, all of whom are murder suspects. Each day she must simultaneously be Lexie and learn who Lexie was pretending to be. Having told her friends she survived a stabbing and is recovering from a coma and memory loss (to help conceal any differences they might notice), Maddox slowly has to earn their trust by becoming “their Lexie” and getting them to relax enough to reveal what really happened the night of the murder.

But a strange thing starts to happen to Maddox during the months she is living undercover with the four suspects: she begins to fall in love with the life they are living and deeply care for them. All four of them are orphans, as she is, and they are all creating a life outside of the mainstream: a life filled with music, art, literature, good food, and a friendship that Maddox has never before experienced and finds intoxicating. The lines between who she is and who she is pretending to be grow blurry and soon the investigation stalls. These wonderful people could not have hurt anyone, Maddox begins to believe.

Knowing Maddox is in too deep, the two detectives on the outside force her hand by revealing that one, or all, of the housemates most certainly killed Lexie. Shocked to learn that she has cozied up to the very killer she was sent their to arrest jerks her back into herself. Maddox begins to tear the group apart, hoping that they will reveal the killer before anyone tries to kill Lexie again.

I found it utterly unique to read a murder mystery where the detective lives with and comes to deeply care for the suspects, developing “some creepy variant of Stockholm syndrome” that threatens the case and puts her life in danger. Emotionally rich and filled with a truly unique mystery to unravel, The Likeness was a wonderful read!

Hardcore Twenty Four by Janet Evanovich (2017)

Two other books in the Stephanie Plum series have been reviewed on this site. To find them, click on the “Janet Evanovich” tag on the main page.

hardcore 24

Stephanie Plum, the inept but lovable bounty hunter, is back to solve yet another mystery with her unique brand of mediocre sleuthing. Hardcore Twenty-Four opens with Stephanie in her usual predicaments: running low on cash, juggling feelings for two men, and partnered with wildly unpredictable colleague who hinders her work as a bounty hunter about as much as she helps.

Trenton New Jersey is abuzz with gossip about a series of bizarre crimes: someone has been breaking into funeral homes and decapitating bodies awaiting burial. If that was not creepy enough, the police begin to discover other bodies all over town: some headless, some with their heads left on but their brains gone. The predominant theory:  a zombie horde has invaded Trenton.

When she is asked to track down a young man who blew up a building trying to cook meth (and missed his court dates), Stephanie finds herself drawn into the zombie mystery. While she tracks down her criminal, she keeps having run in’s with people who very well could be zombies — or at least people who look like the living dead. Rather than leave it to the police to solve the mystery, Stephanie feels compelled to keep tracking the so-called “zombies,” certain that if she can find her missing skip, she can get to the bottom of the strange string of crimes upsetting the city.

While Stephanie does get to the bottom of the things, she does so in her signature way: with plenty car crashes, explosions, gun fights, with help from all manner of crazy side-kicks. Hardcore Twenty-Four does not add anything new to the Stephanie Plum series, but it does not disappoint loyal fans either.