Blue Monday by Nicci French (2011)

Book #1 in the Frieda Klein Series

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Frieda Klein is a gifted psychoanalyst living in London seeing patients in her private practice and in a free clinic. She is presented to readers in very small doses, with the vast majority of her thoughts, feelings, and past kept from us as the story unfolds. This novel, it seems, is not the time to share Frieda’s story, but rather to share Alan Decker’s.

Alan Decker is a patient that is thrust upon Frieda when a colleague of hers finds himself in the midst of his own mental crisis. Displeased to have to take on a client without warning, and knowing she must tread carefully because Alan Decker is a volatile man who was deeply hurt by her fellow doctor negligence, she nonetheless agrees to see him.

Alan is a man whose life has been suddenly controlled by crippling anxiety attacks, mood swings, and terrifying mental images. He is obsessed with becoming a father, which Frieda originally assumes is related to the stress that he and his wife are under trying to conceive. Quickly though she realizes that his obsession is not with becoming a father generally, but with becoming the father on one, very specific, five-year-old boy. Alan has visions of a boy that are crystal clear: what he looks like, what toys he favors, his personality and his exact age: five and a half.

The clarity of these visions startles Frieda, but it is not until a small boy who fits the exact description of Alan’s yearned-for son goes missing from his primary school, that she becomes alarmed. Tormented by thoughts that Alan may have taken the boy, Frieda goes to the police.

Frazzled and under enormous pressure to find the missing boy, the lead detective on the case, Karlsson, lashes out of Frieda for bringing him these unsubstantiated claims about Alan. He is on the verge of throwing her out when she mentions that Alan had a similar “attack” 22 years earlier, but that time, Frieda tells Karlsson, he had been obsessed with being the father of a five-year-old girl.

This stops Karlsson in his tracks. The only case in all of London that police analysts have linked to the missing boy was a 22-year-old cold case of a missing girl named Joanna. Although largely unsure how Alan’s visions, Frieda notes, the cold case and the missing boy all fit together, Karlsson feels convinced they connect and are currently his only lead. He makes an agreement with Frieda, if he investigates Alan, would she be willing to analyze Joanna’s sister — Rose, now 30 — who was with the little girl when she went missing, to see if a repressed memory of the abduction is lingering in her subconscious.

Everything about this agreement is unsettling to Frieda, the missing boy, Alan, and the non-traditional therapy with Rose, but she agrees with Karlsson; there really seems to be something connecting these people and events and she cannot turn her back.





Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich (2009)

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Stephanie Plum series #14.5 (an in between the novels, novel)

Just in time for Halloween, I packed my battered paperback copy of Plum Spooky to read on vacation. I am a unabashed fan of Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels: even though the are anti-intellectual, irreverent, and often down-right ridiculous, I cannot resist reading (and re-reading) them. They are always great fun!

In Plum Spooky, the largely inept bounty hunter and trouble-magnet Stephanie Plum is back for more hilarious attempts at bringing Trenton, New Jersey’s low-rent criminals to justice. This Halloween, however, things are more complicated than usual. Along with her usual side-kicks — a prostitute turned file clerk, an Army Ranger turned security expert, and her sassy grandma — this time Stephanie is paired up with Diesel, a mysterious (and possibly magical) man who needs her help to find out exactly what is happening in the Jersey Pine Barrens. Oh, Stephanie and Diesel bring a mischievous monkey along with him, just to keep things interesting.

Reluctant to get involved in a wackier-than-usual situation, Stephanie finds that she cannot resist helping solve this extra spooky mystery. It doesn’t hurt the Diesel is super sexy and definitely interested in Stephanie. The rag-tag team of misfits heads into the autumn woods determined to solve whether the Pine Barrens really are haunted once and for all…and hilarity ensues.


Leverage In Death by JD Robb (2018)

Book #47, Eve Dallas In Death Series (Several of which are reviewed in this site, search tag “Nora Roberts” to see them all.)

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When a bomb is detonated during a high-stakes business meeting, Eve Dallas and her partner Peabody respond, assuming that a disgruntled and vengeful employee has targeted his bosses. The explosion killed twelve, injured many others, and appeared to have been work of a company VP. A closer look into the murder leads the two detectives to the suspect’s home, where his wife and daughter have been kept captive for days. These two witnesses tell a much different story from the one the police assumed to be the case.

This was not the work of a man bent on killing his co-workers, but rather a man who was himself a victim. He exploded the bomb only after being forced to watch his beloved wife and daughter beaten for days on end until he had agreed to carry out the bombing. The wife and daughter, along with some bombing survivors, give Eve and Peabody key pieces of information that help the two women begin to see the bigger picture.

Two men targeted the victims and used the husband to blow up the office a valuable company, kill their CEOs and then — in the chaos that followed — buy up valuable stock and make millions when the stock prices recovered. The detectives are making slow progress on the case when, just days later, another almost identical bombing occurs.

The second bombing targeted an up-and-coming artist and his art work, killing six more people and (it is soon learned) causing the value of his remaining art pieces to skyrocket in value.

Now it is clear that the two masterminds of the bombings are ruthless and greedy terrorists willing to kill as many people as they like, all while cashing in on illegal gambling schemes. Or that is their plan anyway, but Eve Dallas and her team are not going to stop until the men are in jail and their money seized.

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (2018)

Book #4 in the Cormoran Strike Series (Reviews here for Book #1 and #3 )

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, 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 work required to catch a serial killer in Career of Evil (reviewed ) 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 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.

Into 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, Billy, tells Strike the details — disjointed and unclear — of witnessing the strangulation and burial of a young girl near 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: one asking for money and and the other calling for 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 that 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, and the other politician involved in the 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.

An astonishingly complex web connects all of the people Robin and Strike are investigating, binding the entire group intricately together. Never fear, Galbraith is a deft and skilled writer who leads readers along, making sure the threads of each story remain clear and distinct. He lets us thrill in following our hero and heroine as they solve the mysteries…the ones they are investigating 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.

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.

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 ) 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.