The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine (2017)

last mrs parrish

Amber Patterson may seem unassuming and naive, a young girl who is out of her depths living among the super-rich residents on Bishops Harbor, Connecticut; but she is not. Behind the plain clothes and subservient demeanor is a scheming, ambitious woman who will do just about anything to become the wife one of the town’s super-rich men. Her target is the wealthiest of them all: Jackson Parrish.

The only problem is that Jackson Parrish is already happily married to a gorgeous and smart woman named Daphne. Amber decides winning Jackson’s temporary attention is not enough, she wants to become his second wife. In order to do that, she must implement a complex plan that will allow her to befriend Daphne, grow close to the family, and try to worm her way into Jackson’s heart from his inner circle.

As her plan is set into motion, Amber is thrilled to find that Daphne accepts her with ease and soon she is almost a part of the family. With skill and ease, she manipulates Daphne time and again, each move bringing her closer and closer to Jackson.

But Daphne has a secret of her own, her life — while lavish and filled with glamour — is not the fairy-tale it appears from the outside. Amber, blinded by greed and lust, misses all of the warning signs and positions herself to take over a life she knows nothing about.

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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!

 

Artemis by Andy Weir (2017)

artemis

Andy Weir, author of the wildly popular novel The Martian, returns with another (unrelated) science fiction novel set in space. Artemis, a colony built on the moon, is home to approximately 2000 Artemisians who run mining operations, conduct scientific experiments, and — for the vast majority of the moon’s permanent residents — work in jobs serving the wealthy tourists from Earth.

Enter our anti-heroine, Jasmine Bashara, a shady smuggler who has a reputation on the moon for drinking, promiscuity, and trouble-making. “Jazz” sees herself as someone just trying to get by, someone willing to bend the rules in order to better her place in the economic hierarchy on Artemis. Since the moon is sovereign, the laws there are flexible and illicit business dealings are par for the course: somethings that many residents, not just Jazz, take advantage of.

After several rocky years since leaving her father’s home, Jazz is still living in the worst section of the moon city and barely saving up enough to cover the basics. When one of the planet’s wealthiest citizens (a man for whom Jazz often smuggles illegals onto the planet) makes her an offer for millions of “slugs” (moon currency) to help him with a dangerous task, Jazz agrees. Seeing dollar signs and not danger signs, Jazz initiates a wild attack on the on-planet mining company and sets into motion a complex series of events that lead to chaos, corruption, and murder.

The author’s, admittedly considerable, knowledge of the phsyics and the realities of the atmosphere on the moon helps add the believability of the plot. He has clearly done extensive research into the technical aspects of the book and, although he gets carried away a lot with the details, the more complex parts of the setting are conveyed well to readers. Setting aside, the plot of the book is a bit stale and the pacing of the story uneven…it is clear that those parts of the book were less considered than the space city where the action takes place.

Additionally, Weir does an admirable job creating a cast of characters that spans all races, ethnicities, religions, and income levels, and in having chosen to divert from most sci-fi literature in telling the story through the eyes of a young, brilliant, bad-ass Saudi Arabian/Artemisian woman. However, the characters come across as juvenile and insufficiently fleshed out, conversing with stilted dialogue and following unrealistic story detours arguing over petty grievances they have with one another.

While it was an enjoyable book and a fast read, Artemis left something to be desired in the way of  character development and plot. My guess is that the movie will be better than the book.

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny (2014)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #10

Spoiler Alert: This blog post contains some information about the series that serious fans might be upset to learn before they read the book themselves! Proceed with caution super-fans!

the long way home

After the thrill-ride of How the Light Gets In, the book that proceeds this one in the series, readers will find The Long Way Home is a subtler, more nuanced story; one that is quite different in tone from the other books in the series. Most notable is the fact that Armand Gamache has retired and he and his beloved wife have moved into a home on the village green in Three Pines. Surrounded by the dear friends he has made while investigating murders in and around the town over the years, Armand finds himself deeply at peace.

However, his neighbor and friend, Clara Morrow is not at peace: her husband is missing. After a terrible betrayal was revealed to her in A Trick of the Light, Clara asked her husband Peter to leave their home for one year, while they both decided if their marriage could be repaired. Peter was due to come home mid-summer, but he did not arrive, nor write or call Clara. Weeks have passed and Clara, now simultaneously furious and terrified, feels that she must find Peter.  Has Peter not returned because he does not want to, or because he cannot?

Even though doing so will burden Armand Gamache, Clara begs him to help her search. He reluctantly agrees. Together with the help of Clara’s best friend Myrna, and Jean Guy Beauvoir (who still works for the police and can utilize those resources) the group sets off to find Peter. However, finding him proves much, much more difficult than they imagined. Peter seems to have vanished with almost no trace.

Painstakingly the group finds the barest of threads that lead them across Canada, always one step behind Peter. As they draw closer and closer to where they think he might be, it becomes clear that there is a sinister plot afoot that Peter — wittingly or not — may have become involved in.

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (2013)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #9

how the light gets in

For the ninth book in her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Louise Penny has written her most complex, broad-reaching, and thrilling novel of the series so far. Christmas is fast-approaching and Armand finds himself weary and heart-sick: his second-in-command Jean Guy Beauvoir has left the homicide department and cut ties with Armand; his superiors at the Sûreté du Québec are pressuring Armand to quit his job; and the young officers in his department are refusing to follow his command. Armand is working, delicately and carefully, try to unravel the real reasons that his superiors are trying to force him out. His instincts tell him that there are crimes being committed within the Sûreté that someone desperately does not want Armand to look into; so much so that they are trying to make his work-life miserable enough to force him to resign.

Despite the chaos that has descended onto the department, Armand must continue to investigate murders, it is his duty and his moral obligation to help find the men and women who have taken lives and bring them to justice. Only now, Armand must do it with almost no support. It is a murder that brings him back to Three Pines once again, to look for clues into the murder of a once-famous woman. While in the village, Armand realizes its remote location would also allow him to perfect place to investigate his fellow officers from afar.

With the help of a few agents who are still loyal to him, Armand sets up a base in Three Pines and — using the woman’s murder as cover — begins to bring to light the corruption within the Sûreté. What he uncovers is more shocking than any of the team can imagine, and uncovering those secrets puts not only Armand in danger, but all of the villagers in Three Pines as well.

Thrilling and complex, the novel brings to conclusion several story-lines with twists and turns on nearly every page. A page-turner that was impossible to put down, even on the busiest of days, Thanksgiving! My guests may have felt slightly neglected but I had to know how it would all come together in the end!

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny (2010)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #7

Forgiveness is at the heart of Louise Penny’s A Trick of the Light; those offering it and those in need of receiving it, and what happens when forgiveness is offered and met with murder rather than acceptance.

As the book opens, Clara Morrow of Three Pines is celebrating her first ever solo art show at one of the most prestigious art galleries in the world. There is a party at the gallery itself, but a larger, less formal and more fun party that takes place back in Three Pines for Clara’s beloved friends and neighbors.

However, not everyone is happy for Clara and not everyone is in the mood to celebrate her successes. There are people who are jealous of Clara, people who do not wish her well, and even those who would love to ruin her party if only to soothe their own wounded egos. Who are these people? It is hard to tell, for everyone is putting forth their best public faces; saying all the right things to Clara, appearing for all intents and purposes to be rooting for her. Indeed, one person is so angered that they have resorted to murder.

On the morning after the party, Clara’s husband finds a dead body in their garden. He and Clara are shocked to find a body at all, but even more shocked when they learn that the murdered woman was someone they both knew years before…someone who it is highly unlikely was killed in their garden on accident.

Enter Armand Gamache and his team of investigators, who arrive and learn that the body belongs to a woman — once well-known and powerful in the art world — now despised by many people in the Quebec art community, a woman blamed with ruining careers without a care, a woman many people at the party would have wanted dead — including Clara and her husband. Even more perplexing is the fact that the victim seems to have not seen or spoken to anyone involved in the case for decades; so her death at this juncture is deeply puzzling.

The officers must delve into the murky world of artists, art dealers, art galleries and art critics in order to sort out why this woman has been killed and who wanted to hurt Clara by killing her in Clara’s yard. As their investigation progresses, they also must delve into the world of Alcoholics Anonymous of which the victim was a part of in recent months. It is there, in the world of the addicted and the recovering that the theme of forgiveness emerges as central to solving the case.

Was the woman killed because someone could not forgive her for her past cruelties? Or perhaps, killed her so she could not ask forgiveness for herself and in the process reveal the lies of another person?

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton

Kinsey Millhone Mystery Series, Book #25

I am astonished that in more than two years writing this blog, I have never before reviewed one of Sue Grafton’s outstanding Kinsey Millhone novels. Kinsey is Grafton’s smart, cranky private investigator who relentlessly digs into the cases she is hired to solve and many mysteries she feels compelled to solve, if only to satisfy her own curiosity.  Kinsey narrates all of the alphabetically named books in the series; beginning with A is for Alibi and ending (for now) with book number twenty-five, Y is for Yesterday.

In this most recent installment, the year is 1989 and Kinsey is back home in Santa Teresa California, recovering from nearly being killed by a serial killer who she tracked down in book twenty-four, X. The serial killer got away, but Kinsey has gathered enough evidence of his murders to have the man living on the run, being hunted by the FBI and several California police departments. In a display of her typical hard-headedness and refusal to quit or leave it to the authorities, Kinsey is still on the look out for the serial killer.

To pay the bills, Kinsey accepts a case from the wealthy local McCabe family who want her to look into who might have sent them a blackmail letter demanding $25,000. The couple’s son, Fritz McCabe, has only recently been released from prison where he served ten years for his role in the death of a high-school classmate in 1979. Enclosed in the blackmail letter, is a videotape that has highly damaging footage of Fritz that would almost certainly send him back to prison.

Despite her insistence that they should go to the police, the McCabe family implores Kinsey to look into the threat. If they go to the police, they will have to reveal the contents of the videotape and their son’s will likely be charged with another crime. Against her better judgment to shield Fritz (whom she instantly dislikes) from the police, Kinsey takes the case.

To begin looking into the blackmail demand, Kinsey must first research the murder that Fritz was an accomplice to; she is certain that the two crimes must be linked together. As always, her instincts are correct.

Kinsey learns that in 1979 Fritz and three other boys from an elite private high-school had brutally raped a 14-year-old female classmate and videotaped the entire assault. When the tape was stolen from the young men, they panicked knowing that they would be arrested if it is found. The boys learned that another classmate, Sloan Stevens, had the tape. When their attempts to bully Sloan into turning over the tape fail, the boys went further: they lured her to a remote cabin in the hills above Santa Teresa. Sloan was kidnapped, dragged into the woods, shot in the head and buried in a shallow grave.

Two of the boys were sent to jail for her murder, another was found to have played a role but was not sent to jail, and the fourth boy — the one whose father owned the gun and the cabin; the one who police believed to be the mastermind of the murder — took off and was never found.

Ten years later, the tape has resurfaced and a copy is now in the hands of Kinsey Millhone who has been entrusted with keeping it secret, and with keeping Fritz McCabe from going back to jail. Kinsey must simultaneously investigate the sexual assault, the murder of Sloan Stevens, and the blackmail attempt in the hopes that one of the players in these heinous crimes is stirring up the trouble. Oh, and she’s still hunting a serial killer…it’s a busy month.

Even though she is disgusted with Fritz McCabe and the other students who raped one girl and murdered another, Kinsey feels compelled to solve the mystery, Not to protect them, but in the hope that she can put all of the perpetrators back in jail where they belong once she is finished.