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

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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.

Believe Me by JP Delaney (2018)

The second book by the author writing as JP Delaney, is a follow-up to the wildly popular The Girl Before, (reviewed here https://wp.me/p6N6mT-2hq ) Believe Me starts out with promise of being a one-of-a-kind thriller, but unfortunately falls apart mid-way through and never recovers, resulting in a mediocre, but not great, novel.

Our narrator Claire is an aspiring actress living in New York City illegally and trying to find work despite not having green card. Desperate, she takes work for a shady law firm tempting wayward husbands to pick her up so that their wives have ammunition in divorce court. One assignment proves to be far more than she bargained for when the husband rebuffs her advances but then — allegedly — murders his wife that very night.

Now Claire is drawn into an investigation with the husband, Patrick, who police are certain is a killer but cannot find the evidence to link him to his wife’s murder. The police decide to hire Claire (inexplicably) to go undercover and attempt to become Patrick’s lover and try to find evidence of the murder.

Claire falls in love with Patrick and believes he is innocent. Now she must decide if she will tell him about the investigation in an attempt to help him prove his innocence, even if doing so might mean she is deported back to the UK.

A good story-line, but the author wanders off course a few too many times, and loses the tension needed to keep readers interested. The Girl Before is a much more interesting read, in my opinion.

 

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter (2018)

Thriller writer extraordinaire, Karin Slaughter, has written a novel that departs from her signature style — read: dark, violent, very scary — but loses none of story-telling genius with Pieces of Her. Slaughter skillfully tells two unique stories, each equally compelling on their own, and then weaves them into one unforgettable tale.

Our first story is set in present-day Georgia and features Andrea Oliver, a 30-year-old woman who has walked away from every path she has set out on: abandoning first college, then her work in the theater in New York, and finally her art. She has settled into a life of meaningless work, few friendships, and a room over her mother’s garage.

Our second story begins in the early 1980’s and follows a group of young radical activists who are ready to make a mark on the world by committing of a series of violent crimes that they hope will bring down a huge healthcare corporation. Under the leadership of a charismatic and cruel leader, the group recruits the children of the corporation’s billionaire CEO to help him attack their father and expose his abuse of patients in his facilities. Caught up in the planning is Jane, a young, impressionable girl who would follow the group’s leader to the end of the earth…or so she thinks. When the group starts killing people and are forced to go on the run, she begins to see that terrorism will never change the world, only make it worse.

Our two stories collide when Andrea and her mother are in a shopping mall when a gunman opens fire. The people around the two women are killed, but Andrea’s mother stops the shooting and kills the man before he can injure anyone else. When the footage of her mother’s cold, deliberate handling of the gunman goes viral, it stirs up a series of events that bring Jane’s story — and that of her cult — into Andrea’s life.

The attack unhinges her mother and suddenly Andrea finds herself running from another killer, with nothing but a few items from her mother and a series of coded and inscrutable instructions for her to go into hiding. Andrea, however, just cannot ignore the millions of questions her mother’s behavior have left unanswered and, rather than hiding, she goes digging into the past. There she finds things best left unknown and disrupts the lives of  many people who do not wish to have their past crimes brought to light.

A Double Life by Flynn Berry (2018)

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When Claire was eight-years-old, her father brutally murdered her nanny and almost killed her mother. After the attack, her father — assisted by a network of his wealthy and well-connected friends — fled the country, escaped punishment, and was never seen again.

The attack left a stain on lives of Claire, her mother and brother. Years of police investigations, the scrutiny of the press, and the barrage of accusations against her mother (that she attacked the nanny and harmed herself to frame her husband,) left them shattered and fragile. In the end, with no murderer to convict, the case turned cold and Claire’s family relocated, changing their names and never speaking of their father again.

However, outrunning what happened was never a possibility. The constant stress of not knowing where their father was meant that he was potentially everywhere. Her father was a ghost, haunting their every waking (and sleeping) moment. Was he lurking in the shadows, waiting to finish what he started? Was he inside the dark house, waiting to strike?

To counter her constant fears, teen-aged Claire decides to learn everything she can about her father, the attack, and the police investigation into his disappearance. She spends hours each day reading everything she can and, slowly, becomes an expert on the events of her father’s life, her parents marriage, and the night of the brutal beatings. After years and years of thinking of little else, Claire finally believes she might know of a way to find her missing father and ensure his arrest.

She assembles all of her knowledge and uses it to infiltrate the lives of her father’s former inner-circle, certain that they helped him escape all those years ago and they might still be in touch. With nerve and cunning, she befriends these men and women and digs up their secrets, using what they are hiding as leverage to get information about her father.

Even though this novel may have, in its opening chapters, felt similar to other books in the “you thought you knew him” sub-genre of thrillers, it quickly becomes something much more. Claire’s descent into the mind of the killer is riveting to follow; she is called to use the very skills that her father employed in order to commit murder and get away with it for nearly 20 years. She is forced to mingle and socialize with the very people who hid a murderer, impugned her mother, and nearly destroyed the lives of her and her brother; and she does so with grace and ruthlessness that is thrilling to witness. Berry truly created a unique and satisfying story about the mental toll a crime takes on its victims.

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott (2018)

“She poured the poison in my ear and now I am inflamed.” 192

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Megan Abbott’s newest novel, once again, explores the intricacies of female relationships and the ways in which they teeter, precariously, between competition, compassion, and cruelty. Her stunning prose, her crystal clear insight into the minds of girls and women, and her willingness to stretch her plot lines into dark and twisted places all mean that her works are not to be missed.

At seventeen, Kit is poor and scrappy; assuming that — even with her obvious intelligence — she is destined for a life one step above that of her blue-collar parents. Diane is gorgeous, rich, and a star in the classroom and on the track. When the two meet, something is sparked inside them both. The harder one girl pursues a goal, the harder the other works to beat her to it; the faster one runs, the farther the distance the other covers.  For the most part, the two girls acknowledge that their relationship is helping them both achieve more and more; but under the surface a sharp, dark edge is developing between the girls.

“We are bound, ankle to ankle, a monstrous, three-legged race. Accidental accomplices. Wary conspirators.  Or Siamese twins, fused in some hidden place.” 3

Shortly before graduation, Kit glimpses something in Diane that is dark and terrifying. Realizing that she has what it takes to succeed without Diane’s relentless perfectionism to mirror, Kit ends their friendship before whatever lies beneath Diane’s sleek exterior become too much for her to keep under control.

“Her blood ran cold and merciless. The girl who could do anything. Who had a rage in her like a bomb in her chest. I readied myself for anything.” 201

The two women part for college, then graduate school, and Kit assumes she is free from whatever chaos is brewing in Diane’s future. Kit, propelled by scholarship money and a limitless desire to excel, is a star student and proceeds through college and a PhD program, finally landing as one of the elite doctoral students on a prestigious team of researchers.

When Diane arrives in the lab, newly hired to help the team embark on an ambitious study of PMS and PMDD, Kit’s orderly and sterile life is thrown into complete disarray. Now, she sees sabotage in every conversation she is not included in; sees competition and challenge in every action; and begins to act so erratically she could jeopardize her entire career trying to understand what, if anything, Diane wants from her. Diane’s return has unlocked something inside Kit, something that she is sure will lead only to destruction.

Set against the back-drop of case studies about women who become unhinged during their menstrual cycle, the stories of Kit and Diane and their dark and terrifying emotions — described in terms of blood, cycles, urges, hormones — adds a eerie and out of body quality to Abbott’s story. The overall effect is chilling and compelling, a book that is impossible to put down.

“Don’t we all feel we have something banked down deep inside just waiting for its moment, the slow gathering of hot blood? [It’s] the fear all men have that there’s something inside us that shifts, and turns. A living thing, once dormant, stirring now, and filled with rage.” 21-23

Three other outstanding novels — The Fever, Dare Me, and You Will Know Me — by Abbott have been reviewed on this site; those posts can be found following the tag “Megan Abbott.”

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.