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.

lethal white

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

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!

Repost. Originally posted on January 29 2018.

The Ranger by Ace Atkins (2011)

Quinn Colson Novel #1

Quinn Colson left Tibbehah County, Mississippi at the age of eighteen when he enlisted in the Army and never looked back. In his time away, he rose through the ranks to become an elite Army Ranger, surviving several tours of duty during his decade of service. On leave, he finally returns to his hometown to attend the funeral of his uncle and visit his family over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Quinn finds his hometown unchanged in many ways — same people, same churches, same middle of nowhere emptiness — and dramatically different in others. Old-growth forests have been logged, pristine wilderness razed, and the residents ravaged by Meth. At the funeral, he learns that the circumstances surrounding his uncle’s death are suspicious and the land willed to Quinn are coveted by a man at the center of plan to clear-cut even more land in the County for a proposed “development park” that seems to have little hope of being completed.

Attempting to assure that the land will remain with his family, he goes up against political heavy-weights and greedy religious leaders. As he digs into their affairs, and their overly-keen interest in his property, he finds himself up against another formidable foe: the leader of a white supremacist gang who cooks and sells most the Meth tearing apart the County.

Unable to leave the land to be claimed by a crooked politician or let his fellow residents be left at the mercy of a brutal Meth dealer, Quinn begins his own campaign to clean up Tibbehah County, Mississippi the only way he knows how: kicking-ass Army Ranger style. Heavy on the testosterone at times, but balanced by the crystal-clear descriptions of a rural town falling under the tide of drug addiction, The Ranger was a good — if formulaic — read.

Force of Nature by Jane Harper (2017)

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In a follow-up to her outstanding debut novel The Dry, Jane Harper brings back Australian Federal Agent Aaron Falk for yet another mystery.  (Read more about The Dry here https://wp.me/p6N6mT-34V ) A Force of Nature centers around five women who go into the bush for a corporate team-building retreat, of which only four emerge — battered and terrified — days after they were meant to meet their guide. The women are shocked to find their colleague has not made it back on her own.

When local police determine that the missing woman is Alice Russell, Aaron Falk and his new partner Carmen, are asked to head out of Melbourne and into the wild outback to join the investigation.  As it turns out, in addition to being a corporate partner at her accounting firm, Alice Russell is also a police informant helping provide Aaron and Carmen with information about her boss’ illegal activities. While it seems highly unlikely that her disappearance in the wilderness is related to her undercover work for the AFB, Aaron knows better than to ignore the possibility that it is more than a coincidence.

Offering assistance to the local police Aaron and Carmen help search for Alice, both unable to quell their unease the another member of the company might have learned that Alice was helping the feds and taken advantage of the retreat’s remote location to harm Alice, after all the bush has more than enough places for a women to disappear. Their worries do not end there; rescuers know the cold, rainy temperatures and the hostile terrain pose a challenge for even the most seasoned hiker. Adding to their worries, rumors that have plagued the National Park for decades, relating to a serial killer who targets solo, female hikers, begin to swirl around the search.

As Harper details for readers the search for Alice, she also takes us back to the start of the retreat, into the heads of the five women who were dropped off in the bush with little expertise and many, many long-buried grudges. Between the present day police work and the story the women reluctantly reveal, the full story is finally unearthed…along with several unexpected skeletons, real and figurative.  A great, atmospheric novel, and hopefully the start of a series featuring Aaron Falk.

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny (2010)

bury your dead

The dead abound in Louise Penny’s sixth Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novel, Bury Your Dead. The characters in the book are surrounded by the dead: men dead hundreds of years in the past, men and women dead in a terrible recent tragedy, and — finally — one newly murdered man. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache must simultaneously work to bury his guilt and heartbreak over the loss of fellow officers and work to uncover the person responsible for a man murdered in the present. Layered on top of these two challenges — one emotional, one professional — Armand Gamache is also following the trail of a long-dead man whose final resting place would answer the questions of many Quebecois historians.

After the horror of a police investigation gone wrong, one which left the Chief Inspector wounded and grieving, Armand has traveled to Quebec City to the home of his long-time mentor and friend to recover. While there, Armand is working to recover his physical strength and to quiet the ghosts of dead officers who are haunting him.

In an effort to find peace, Armand begins to spend his days at a small nearby library run by and dedicated to the English settlers of French-dominated Quebec City. Acting as amateur historical sleuth, Armand is hoping the library’s books might offer clues about a famous battle in the 1600’s that resulted in English-rule over the French residents of the city for centuries. What he finds instead is a dead body.

The dead man is a well-known local man who was known to be obsessed with finding the body of Quebec’s founder, Samuel de Champlain. So obsessed, the victim regularly broke into buildings throughout the city digging for Samuel de Champlain‘s burial site. When the man is found in a shallow grave inside the English library everyone is left to wonder– did he finally find the famous grave site? And if so, was he killed in order to keep the location of Samuel de Champlain a secret?

Assisting the local police, Armand beings to make inquiries into the case and he finds some of the grief that has been hanging over him for months lifting as he digs into the mystery. Working gives Armand a renewed sense of faith in his work as a police officer and allows him to process the deaths of his fellow officers from a remove. Soon police work becomes historical detective work as well; as the city’s history plays a crucial role — 400 years later — in solving this present-day crime. Armand’s love of Quebec history make his findings in the case thrilling as he gets to use his investigative skills to find the killer and learn more about his beloved home province.

Armand must uncover the secrets of the murdered man, a man who was obsessed with uncovering the location of a long-dead hero; and both men — one living and one dead — are following the trails of two mysteries that are intricately linked.

 

Repost. Originally posted November 14, 2017

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Series, #5

the brutal telling

Just as fall is beginning to creep into the woods of Quebec, another murder brings Chief Inspector Armand Gamache back to the village of Three Pines. A body has been found in the town’s beloved bistro, run by Olivier, and shocks the entire village.

This murder investigation is unlike any the Chief and his team have previously investigated. The victim is a man known by no one: who has no name, no home, no neighbors, absolutely nothing at all that allows the police to identify him. Without knowing who the man is, it seems impossible to determine why someone would want to kill him.

The location where the body was found, at Olivier‘s, offers the only insight early in the case. Was this murder a threat to Olivier? An attempt, as some villagers believe, by a new business rival to destroy the bistro, in an effort to make his own Inn more of a success? Armand is not sure, but his instincts tell him the the bistro owner is at the heart of the crime, even if it is not at all clear how or why.

When the coroner finds that the man was not killed at the bistro, but murdered elsewhere and moved to the bistro, Armand and his team begin to search for the location of the murder, with the hope that this will give them more information on the victim.

The trail they follow leads them deep, deep into the woods surrounding the village to a tiny, hidden cabin. Inside the modest cabin they find the murder scene…and a mountain of antique treasures worth millions of dollars.

Was the man murdered by someone who wanted the treasure for himself? Or by a person to whom the treasure rightfully belonged? Or is there a third and more complex relationship this unknown, unnamed man had with the murderer, one that grew so discordant that a murder was committed in a fit of rage?

It is greed, the deep and dirty desire for more that leads Armand to the killer. The killer, “a hungry ghost” whose emotional emptiness he has long been trying to fill with money but could no longer be satisfied with ordinary riches. The hole in the murderer’s soul demands it all, and death was the only way to get more.

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Repost, originally posted 11/2/2017

The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler (2009)

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Swedish National Detective Inspector Joona Linda arrives at an icy public restroom outside of Stockholm to find a man brutally murdered. He soon learns the dead man’s entire family has also been slaughtered that same night. Hurrying to the scene in the family home, Joona finds an utterly horrific site — an entire family tortured and murdered — but he also finds the family’s teenage son is, miraculously, clinging to life.

The boy, Josef Ek, is rushed to the hospital in critical condition, in and out of a coma. Linda is desperate to interview the boy, who he knows can help them identify the murderer. Linda’s superiors believe the killings are over, payment for the father’s gambling debts. Joona Linda knows this is not a mob killing, this is a rage-filled attack aimed at Ek family…and he is almost certain he can catch the killer if he can just talk to the boy.

Enter Dr. Erik Bark, psychiatrist and expert on surviving severe trauma, called to Josef’s bedside and begged to help the police revive the boy so he can be questioned. Bark refuses, insisting there is no way; Linda insists there is a way…hypnosis. However, Dr. Eric Bark’s entire career — his entire life — was nearly ended by his research into hypnosis and he has been ordered never to perform it on a patient again. Joona Linda tells him of the murders and asks Bark to reconsider, tells him the lives of other members of the Ek family depend on what Josef tells them. So Dr. Bark agrees, Josef is hypnotized, and the police and doctors learn more than they could have anticipated from the beaten, tortured boy.

But they are not the only ones that learn something. Word of Dr. Bark’s hypnotism hits the press and a storm of controversy descends on his family. Bark’s former failures — as a doctor, as a husband, as a researcher — come back into focus and soon all manner of people are focusing their attention on Bark and his family.

Now Joona Linda must solve the increasingly terrifying mass murder case and now he must factor in dozens of suspects — all mentally ill — who have arisen from Dr. Eric Bark’s past to complicate the investigation.

An absolutely absorbing and terrifying tale that was impossible to put down! I cannot wait to read the next Lars Kepler book featuring DI Joona Linda; although I may wait a week or two, as this one gave me nightmares.