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.


Repost, originally posted 11/2/2017


The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn (2018)

the woman in the window

Dr. Anna Fox was once a prominent child psychologist with a thriving practice in NYC. At the start of A Woman in the Window, however, readers find that she has fallen far. Now, Anna Fox is an agrophobe, unable to leave her house for the last year, surviving on daily cocktails of booze and psychotropics, and estranged from her family.  What has caused this dramatic change? It is unclear as the story opens.

Anna, alone and desperate, tries to keep her terror at bay by keeping herself occupied. Busyness, she finds, helps her avoid dark thoughts about the past. She divides her time between “counseling” other agrophobes online, chatting with her estranged family, watching old movies, and spying on her neighbors.

It is the latter of those past-times that starts to cause Anna trouble. Anna becomes obsessed by the Russell family when they move in across the park. Anna learns about the family from the way they spend their days and nights, helped along by the lack of curtains in their house. She finds herself transfixed by their beautiful, shy teenage son Ethan, his wealthy and aloof father Alastair, but most of all by Jane Russell.

Then, suddenly and incredibly, the Russell’s make themselves a part of her life. Ethan visits her and opens up about the stress his family is under. Anna’s psychological training kicks in and she cannot resist offering him advice. Then, Ethan’s mother arrives on Anna’s doorstep, and Anna spends one captivating, unnerving night with her.

Now, all Anna can think about (and watch) are the Russell’s, growing more obsessed by the day. And then, Anna, witnesses someone murder Jane Russell.

Terrified and shocked, Anna tries to leave the house to help Jane but her own terror of the outside world prevents her from getting there. She awakens in the hospital and finds that no one – not her doctors, not the police – believes her story.

She is a drunk, they explain, taking dozens of strong drugs many of which induce  hallucinations. Her history of mental illness, her agoraphobia, and her disheveled and wild manner make her more than an unreliable witness…they make her a crazy and entirely worthy of ignoring.

Anna, however fragile her mental state, refuses to believe she has imagined the murder. Growing more unstable by the hour, she cannot stop investigating what she is certain she saw, but her inquiries draw the ire of the police and the Russell family.

But something drives Anna on and on, fueled by drugs, wine, and her refusal to believe she has become someone who has completely lost touch with reality. With no allies, Anna realizes she cannot trust anyone to help her. Without being able to leave the house, Anna realizes she is an easy target for a murderer. Now she is the one under the microscope, her life is being scrutinized and her privacy violated; but who is watching?

The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler (2009)


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.

Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts (2018)

On an ordinary summer night, in a shopping mall filled with families, three teenage boys armed with their parents guns, opened fire killing nearly one hundred people and forever changing the lives of those who survived. Among the survivors, are Reed and Simone, teenagers at the time of the shooting, whose lives were shattered by the violence they witnessed and the loved ones they lost.

Shelter in Place follows Simone and Reed as they work to rebuild their lives and fill it with purpose and love. As the two grown up, their paths never quite crossing, readers see how the mass shooting haunts them both: Reed becomes a police officer to help protect the lives of innocent people, Simone becoming an artist whose work is deeply influenced by her survival.

Nearly a decade after the attack, a serial killer surfaces and begins to target the survivors of the shooting. One by one, the killer tracks down and ends the lives of people who would have otherwise died in the mall shooting attack. Reed and Simone are both on that list. They are also both now living on Tranquility Island and are embarking on a romance and trying to build a relationship that is not marred by terror or death.

While Roberts have crafted a good story with a strong plot, her story meanders too far from the action for too many pages. She distracts with unnecessary characters and sub-plot lines drawing out for nearly 500 pages a story that could have been told — and possible told better — in 300 pages. While enjoyable, Shelter in Place is not as good as some of her older works.

Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz (2018)

This is book #3 in the Orphan X series. Book #1 reviewed here:  Book #2 reviewed here:


Although this series falls into the action sub-genre of “ex-assassin with a heart of gold” that I generally do not find myself much interested in, I have to admit the the Orphan X series is really enjoyable…even if it does get a bit testosterone-fueled during the shoot out scenes.

As book three opens, we once again find Evan Smoak wishing for day-to-day normalcy that seems out of his reach. To compensate for the unsettled nature of his “work” — namely, his ultra-violent protection of the extremely downtrodden — he has built a lonely life, hidden from all others behind a wall  of secrets. Even though he longs to find his place among the regular people who fill his apartment building, he cannot seem to break away from the killers who want him out of their way.

When Evan receives a call  for help from his childhood mentor, Jack, he jumps into action in an desperate attempt to save the man he considers his father. Despite his high-tech gear and state-of-the-art weapons, Evan is too late to save Jack. Jack’s dying wish is for Evan to retrieve a secret package and keep it safe. Evan agrees before realizing the package is a 16-year-old girl, Joey, who Jack has rescued from the exact same assassin-training program that Evan was a part of as a teen.

Now Evan is fighting to keep Joey safe; keep a team of ex-operatives from killing them both; and trying to find a way to exact revenge on the man who killed Jack. As expected, he goes about these tasks with guns blazing, leaving a trail of dead bodies in his wake.

Despite the reliance on high-tech lingo and gun-lover chatter, the books expose the conflicted heart of a man who is acting the only way he knows how, all the while wishing he had more choices in his young life and hoping he can give Joey a chance a better life…if only he can save it first.


Fragile by Lisa Unger (2010)

In the small, upstate New York town The Hollows, an idyllic appearance obscures the town’s darker parts, its past secrets always lurking just out of sight. Returning to their childhood home to raise their family are the town’s lead detective, Jones Cooper; his wife and town psychologist Maggie; and their son, Ricky whose recent rebellious streak has his parents on edge.

When Ricky’s flighty, melodramatic girlfriend goes missing, he and both his parents are pulled into the dramatic search for her. Ricky’s newfound defiance of his parents crumbles under his fear for Charlene and the increasingly intense pressure he feels from local police. His parents, meanwhile, are concerned deeply for the missing girl (despite the fact that both dislike her and wish her out of their son’s life) and greatly unsettled by similarities between Charlene vanishing and the disappearance and grisly murder of their friend that happened when they were both teenagers.

As the search for Charlene unfolds, Jones seems to be unraveling. His behavior grows more and more erratic and his relationship to his wife and son grows ever worse. Baffled that this case seems to be affecting her husband so much, Maggie worries that Jones is keeping vital information from her — and the men on his police force — that might incriminate one or more of the people she loves.

Local residents begin to weigh in on the girl’s disappearance and soon what seemed like a runaway situation or possibly a stranger-abduction comes into focus as a crime committed by someone close to the girl.

As with all of her books, Unger writes a fast-paced and character-driven thriller that was hard to put down.

Sunburn by Laura Lippman (2018)

sunburn lippman

When Polly and Adam meet on a hot summer evening at a bar in a middle-of-nowhere town near the Delaware coast, their crossing paths seems curious but thrilling. Both young and good-looking, both with nowhere to be and nothing to do but kill time. As though without a thought, they take jobs a run-down bar and begin a steamy affair.

Despite appearances, both Polly and Adam have a lot going on beneath their calm surfaces. She is running from two failed marriages and a criminal past. He is in this small town not on a whim, as he suggests to Polly, but as a PI sent to track her down. Both of them keep their secrets even as their affair deepens, but both know it won’t be long before their true selves catch up with them.

Told in PI-noir manner, Lippman tells Polly and Adam’s stories slowly, deliberately revealing one layer at a time. Carefully, the author unveils small snippets of their histories — one tantalizing piece at a time — and sprinkles in just enough lies to keep the reader constantly guessing whether they know the whole story. A great read by a wonderful author.