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Wednesday, August 30, 2017


4 stars out of 5

If you'd asked me around the 30% mark how much I was enjoying this book, my answer would have been that it would make a great last entry into the author's celebrated trip through the alphabet - titled Z is for Zzzzzzz. But somewhere around the halfway point, things started to pick up noticeably; by the end, it was considerably better than half bad - prompting me to bump up my rating to 4 stars from the 3 I'd expected.

So what accounted for my initial reaction? Right off the bat, I was put off by the flipping back and forth in time over a 10-year period as the backstory for the current action was developed. If the author ever used that technique in the past, I don't remember it, but it has become so over-used of late that at this point I almost cringe when I run into it even when it's done well, as it is here. And collectively between the then and now, so many characters made an appearance that it was hard for me to keep them all straight.

The action takes place in 1979 and 1989, and I noticed more than one anachronism. I was a fairly active follower of technology during that decade, and I'm pretty sure some of the equipment and processes mentioned in the 1979 accounts simply were not available at that time. I also noticed some errors that thorough copy-editing should have caught (never a good thing in my own professional copy-editor's eyes). Perhaps most distressing, though, is that the stars of the show, including private eye Kinsey Milhone and her elderly neighbor, Henry, exhibited almost none of the spunk and spirit I've come to know and love. 

To a certain extent, I should have seen it coming; the official description calls it the "darkest and most disturbing case report" from Kinsey's files. It takes place about a year after she narrowly misses death at the hands of killer Ned Lowe (a character from an earlier book). He's still on the loose, so Kinsey is always on the lookout, expecting him to show up and try again. To her credit, though, I'm sure that triple-checking locks, remembering to carry a gun and constantly looking over her shoulder would be enough to make anyone cranky.

As she's dealing with the not insignificant concern of personal ambush, Kinsey gets roped into a new case that's rooted in the 1979 murder of a teenage girl for which a juvenile was tried and convicted. He's now 25, just out of prison and once again living with his well-to-do parents. He's not happy to be back with an irritable father and all-forgiving wimpy mother, but neither are they: They've been sent a copy of a sex tape made 10 years earlier in which their son clearly has a leading role - and the sender is demanding $25,000 to not make it public. Both because of the personally damaging publicity and the real possibility that their precious son might be sent back to jail, the parents don't want anyone else to know about the tape - meaning the police - nor do they intend to fork over the cash. That puts Kinsey, who normally plays well with cops, in a bit of a bind - but she agrees to chase down the blackmailer.

Woven into the story are squirmishes, dalliances and other interactions between and among Kinsey's friends and co-workers, although much of that seems a bit lackluster compared to similar situations in previous books. As Kinsey investigates the case of the illicit tape, scenes shift back to 1979 and events leading up to, and including, the murder. Part of the ending is satisfying and another part isn't, perhaps paving the way for what is believed to be the final letter in the Kinsey Milhone series. And while I won't say this is anywhere near my favorite of the bunch - and yes, I've read 'em all - I really, really do hate to see them come to an end.

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton (Marian Wood Books/Putnam, August 2017); 494 pp.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


4 stars out of 5

Honestly, I don't think I've ever read a book that encompasses both the mystery/thriller and romance categories, and after finishing this one (which I truly enjoyed, BTW), I probably won't do it again. The thriller part is great - more than a few times I caught myself right on the edge of my usual seat at one end of our living room sofa. The romance part? SMH.

That's not because I'm anti-romance - heck, I've been married for 55 years, although I suppose some might say that's an argument for both sides of the equation - nor is it because I didn't like the characters. In fact, I liked them all a lot (except for the bad guys and gals, of course). But mostly, that sappy stuff tends to leave me cold when it's on paper. Here, my thinking was more like hey, it's the 21st century - any two people your age I know would have booked a room by now, especially when one of you, shall we say, gets aroused every time the other one of you as much as burps.

So, I'll concentrate my review on the thriller part, and it's pretty much all good. A young girl named Jazzie came home to find her mother lying on the floor dead - and the murderer rummaging around in the closet in the room. She hides behind a chair and - to her terror - sees who it is. About a month later Jazzie, who hasn't spoken a word since the day of the murder, and her little sister Janie are sent to an equine therapy facility. There, they meet Taylor Dawson, who's come from California for an internship after graduating college with a degree in psychology. 

At the facility, Taylor meets Ford Elkhart, the hunky son of the facility's owner (almost instantly, they become the two who really, really need to get a room). But Taylor has other issues; as a young child, her mother told her that her absent father was a terrible, mean person who someday would return to do her harm. She's since learned that her mother lied big-time, and she's desperately trying to find her birth father. Meanwhile, Ford's good friend and private-eye Clay Maynard has spent years trying to find the daughter he never knew, stolen by his spiteful ex-wife (hmmm, does two and two make four)?

Much of the tension happens when the murderer - who's been on the loose - begins to suspect that Jazzie could identify him. He finds out where the girl is, and his big question is whether she's shared her secret with anyone else and if so, with whom. How he answers that question threatens the lives of Jazzie, Taylor and several other fine folks.

Throughout if all, a number of other people are "connected" in various ways, with backstories that need to be kept straight (for the most part easy to do). Ultimately, they come together in an all's well that ends well finish.

I should also say that the entire book takes place over the course of a couple of days, making some of what happens a little tough to swallow. I'm pretty much willing to accept love at first glance. Believing that people who are willing to almost instantly forgive those they thought for years had done them wrong is a bit of a stretch. But when Taylor is injured during a squirmish, goes to the emergency room for stitches and the whole thing - from squirimsh to release - takes a total of two hours, it was all she wrote. I've known plenty of folks who had to visit an ER, and not a single one - not ever - got sprung in less than half a day.

My conclusion? Very enjoyable book. My thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for allowing me to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Monster in the Closet by Karen Rose (Berkley, August 29, 2017); 508 pp.

Sunday, August 20, 2017


5 stars out of 5

Guid gear comes in sma' bulk

This Scottish phrase says it all about this wonderful book, set in Scotland: At just 240 pages, it may be a small "package" - but it's put together in a really big way. Not convinced? Consider this: What's not to love about a place where folks think nothing of drinking whisky at 10:30 in the morning?

Truth is, I was hooked on the author's "Whisky Business" series when I read the first installment, Single Malt Murder (many thanks to the publisher for allowing me to read advance copies of both in exchange for honest reviews). This one, the second, stands well on its own, but my suggestion is to start at the beginning simply because the first one is so delightful.

Professional photojournalist Abi Logan, who inherited the Abbey Glen single-malt whisky distillery in Balfour when a close relative died, is back in town after three months on assignment. She's accompanied, as always, by her rather large wheaten terrier, Liam; almost from the time they hit the ground running, Liam finds some human bones that turn out to be, perhaps thankfully, really, really old - perhaps connected to old-time whisky runners who plied their dangerous trade in the area generations ago.

Then, she runs into a stranger named Rory Hendricks, who turns out to be a mostly over-the-hill rock-and-roll star who's here to do a solo benefit concert for veterans and a man on whom Abi had a monster-size crush as a kid. Not everyone, though, is thrilled to relive the heyday of his band. In fact, he may be the target of someone who already has done away with a couple of other former band members who died under somewhat suspicious circumstances. Complicating things is that Hendricks is dead set on making up for lost time with a daughter he didn't know he had until recently (and she's less than thrilled with the getting-to-know-you thing). Abi wants to help protect him, of course, but he isn't always cooperative and she has trouble telling him no.

As if that weren't enough, Abi is trying to set up a charitable foundation in honor of the relative who left her the distillery (most of the money from the sale of very rare whisky found at the distillery will be used to fund it). And, Abi's friend Patrick begs her to hold an extravaganza at the distillery for a group of visiting Japanese whisky-loving visitors - an event strongly opposed by Grant, head distiller and strong contender for Abi's heart. Can Patrick, and the rock star's daughter, an art gallery owner who wants to organize the event, convince Grant that it's all worth the time and trouble? And if Rory wants to attend so he can be close to his daughter, can the local police - with a wee bit of help from Abi - unearth the murderer and keep them both from becoming victims?

The answers to those questions remains right to the nail-biting end, and as for what happens, my lips are sealed. All I'll say is the same thing I said when I finished the first book: Absolutely delicious!

Death Distilled by Melinda Mullet (Alibi, September 2017); 240 pp.

Thursday, August 17, 2017


5 stars out of 5

Every time the author churns out a new Scot Harvath thriller, I have second thoughts about reading it. That's because settings in hot, dirty, far-off countries where war and strife are facts of daily life really don't have much appeal to me. Then too, I know I'll be subjected to a dose or two - sometimes hefty - of the author's opinions about what the United States ought to be doing about it (with which sometimes I agree but more often don't).

But every single time, all that fades into the background once I start reading - and I've been reading for quite some time (according to Amazon, this is the 17th book featuring Harvath, now a covert counter-terrorism operative who does a lot of work for a private company and its aging owner and Harvath's mentor, Reed Carleton). As this one starts, Harvath has left the love of his life in Boston and is chasing a suspected suicide bomber - which turns out to be three - at the Burning Man Festival.

It is also learned that a man thought to be up to his Bunsen burners in  weapons of mass destruction was on a boat that went down in the Mediterranean Sea. Too bad, so sad, on the surface - but his death raises the question of what he was doing there, where he was headed and what he was planning after he arrived. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency wants answers to those questions, but they don't have the reach (i.e., permission to run clandestine operations) to get the them. For that, they turn to Harvath; whether or not he's successful - and there's every reason to believe he will be - there won't be any blowback on the CIA.

As if that weren't enough, it seems someone once close to Carleton may now be his worst enemy - out to get the old man along with any or all of his team members. The ensuing pages are stacked with plenty of intrigue, torture, murder and razor-close calls, with all the story lines coming together for a satisfying ending (plus one that's sure to carry over to the next book in the series). For sure I'll be in line to get it!

Use of Force by Brad Thor (Atria/Emily Bestler Books, June 2017); 369 pp.

Friday, August 11, 2017


5 stars out of 5

Told from the perspectives of several key characters, the chapters in this debut novel weave together a portrait of a young man who seems exceptionally likable on the surface. Readers, though, know otherwise right from the start; successful book author Oliver Ryan (who writes under the pseudonym of Vincent Dax) readily admits punching his wife, Alice, into unconsciousness and a coma from which it's likely she'll never recover.

Since my husband comes from Irish stock (and, in fact, his surname is Ryan, the same as the central character), I was more than a little excited to receive a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. When I opened it on my Kindle, however, my first reaction was far less enthusiastic. For the past couple of years, you see, I've often spoken of growing weary of books in which the chapters shift points of view, each one building on background that leads to the grand finale when everything comes together. That said, I've also maintained that this technique, while it may be over-used, is extremely effective when it's done well. And it's done very well here.

Set in Ireland (where reportedly it was a bestseller, I assume when it was initially released in 2014), the book begins with Oliver's astonishment that he actually punched the daylights out of his wife - even though it's pretty clear that he's treated her like dirt from the git-go. From there, his earlier life is described by other characters, beginning with Barney, the guy Alice dumped after she met Oliver and began illustrating his books. There's Michael, whose sister Laura was at one time a serious contender for the role of Oliver's wife, plus a couple of others who reminisce about Oliver's past and, of course, Oliver himself. Details of his life are unraveled, as it were - coming together again to show how,  why and by whom Oliver's dark side was nourished (clearly, the devil is in the details, none of which I can reveal here without spoiling things for other readers).

At any point along the way, did I feel sympathy for Oliver? Not once. Were there times the story seemed a titch unbelievable? Perhaps - but this is a novel, after all, so a little bit of crossing over that line is perfectly acceptable. More to the point, was I disappointed when I reached the end and there were no more pages to read? Absolutely! Put another way, this book is a gem - highly recommended.

Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent (Gallery/Scout Press, August 2017); 272 pp.

Monday, August 7, 2017


3 stars out of 5

This book would, I truly believe, make an excellent motion picture - one that would keep you on the edge of your seat the whole time. As a book? Sorry, but it just didn't do it for me. 

It's not the plot, which is solid even though it's not terribly original. A child is kidnapped, his parents (one of whom has a deep dark secret) are distraught, police are not doing what parents think they should, parents set out on their own to find their child against all sensible advice and chaos ensues. Rather, my difficulties come from the writing; transition that is sadly lacking (or worse, nonexistent) and way too many unclear antecedents and misplaced modifiers. Consider, for instance, this gem:

"...woman chatting to a doctor in a pink smock."

Well, as it turns out, the doctor was a guy; so no, I rather think he wasn't the one wearing pink. 

The story begins as Lana Cross thwarts the would-be kidnapper of her 4-year-old son Cooper. Before he gets away, the mystery man - dubbed "Mr. Whisper" - has the last word: "Tomorrow."

Scared out of their wits, Lana and her husband Todd pick up Cooper and leave the home they love for a small apartment in the city. For months, the kidnapper's tomorrow never comes; but convinced that someday it will, Lana determines that she, and only she, must find Mr. Whisper before he makes good on his promise to return (why, exactly, she thinks that way remains a mystery to me). She taps into a crime-scene-finder iPhone app and does some mostly futile digging around, but that all but stops when she and Todd learn they've won a free two-week vacation to an adventure park. 

That's great, they say - we need to get away (my reaction would have been more like, "Are you kidding me? What kind of scam is this?" but then it's different strokes for different folks). And surprise, surprise - once they get to the park, the worst happens: Todd, who leaves Lana to take their son on a ride, is knocked unconscious and Cooper vanishes.

Getting a call to meet up from who she assumes is the kidnapper, Lana rushes off without telling anyone, even passing on heading to the hospital to visit her seriously injured husband. But wait, there's more: Apparently, Todd isn't as bad off as the doctors think; he, too, disappears from right under their noses. From that point on, the action really begins to heat up as Lana goes her way and Todd goes his - mostly for totally different reasons (remember that deep, dark secret)?

From that point on, it's impossible to explain what happens without giving away too much. I will emphasize, though, that the last half of the book was noticeably better and for the most part held my attention quite well. For that, I'm happy; when I'm given the opportunity to read an advance copy of a in exchange for an honest review (as with this one), I make it a rule to not give up till I at least pass that point. In this instance, that worked out for the best even though overall this book really isn't my cup of tea.

Hide and Seek by Richard Parker (Bookouture, August 2017); 393 pp.

Thursday, August 3, 2017


5 stars out of 5

Prolific author James Patterson and co-author Howard Roughan really hit a home run with this one: Intriguing story, interesting characters and, IMHO, an exceptionally satisfying ending. So much did I enjoy the characters, in fact, that I'd love to see psychology professor Dr. Dylan Reinhart and NYPD Detective Elizabeth Needham turned into a series (one that includes, I emphasize, Reinhart's delightful partner Tracy).

The book reeled me in right from the start (well, if I don't count the opening remarks by a serial killer dubbed "The Dealer") with the introduction of 34-year-old Reinhart, who teaches a course on abnormal behavior and is the author of a book on what he calls "persuasion theory." Psychology is my own undergraduate degree, and just about any time I find a mystery/thriller that focuses on that subject, I'm hooked. Sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes not, but in this case, I got to the end with a big smile on my face.

Truth be told, Reinhart has a bit of an obnoxious streak, but he clearly knows his stuff (and his sometimes off-putting personality is nicely tempered by the aforementioned Tracy). The plot begins as Needham interrupts one of Reinhart's classes, making the attention-getting pronouncement that someone apparently wants to kill the professor. Turns out that's her way of asking for help with a murder case in which the killer leaves a playing card. Reinhart is skeptical, but when a second murder takes place and another playing card is left at the scene, he realizes - as does she - that a serial killer is on the loose.

Reinhart and Needham develop something of a rapport, albeit grudgingly at first. Their investigative efforts are  interspersed with bits of humor as they come to respect one another and follow clues that extend to a pesky journalist and even the local mayor, who's in desperation mode while vying for reelection. But is the deck stacked so far against them that the killer will end up with the winning hand? 

Inquiring minds want to know - at least mine sure did. Now I do, and I'm sorry to close the book on these characters. Bring them back, please?

Murder Games by James Patterson and Howard Roughan (Little, Brown and Co., June 2017); 400 pp.