Category: Mystery Review (Page 1 of 6)

Murder in Pigalle by Cara Black Review

A few weeks ago I read Murder in Pigalle by Cara Black for an online book discussion at my local library. It’s time to write my review.

Murder in Pigalle by Cara Black

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Although she wants to slow down her hectic life because of her pregnancy, private investigator Aimée Leduc still rushes to find the missing thirteen-year-old daughter of a friend. She’s afraid the girl’s disappearance may be related to a serial rapist terrorizing the Parisian neighborhood of Pigalle.

Positives:

Setting:

The Paris setting met and exceeded expectations. I was not surprised to learn that  author Cara Black actually tests the routes she writes about in the book. The details about places felt very real.

Protagonist:

Aimée Leduc is half French and half American. In this novel she is expecting her first child and her relationship with its father is complicated, to say the least. I had never read a book with a pregnant protagonist before, especially a private detective. It adds an interesting dimension to the story.

Premise:

The crime is heart wrenching and I really wanted Aimée to find the criminal.

Negatives:

Almost everyone in the discussion group commented on how difficult it was to remember the cast of characters. I finally had to write down a list of names and their roles to keep them straight. Part of the problem might have been that this is book #14 in the series and the author may have assumed we had read the earlier books and didn’t need to be introduced to recurring characters.  All I can say is that other authors have pulled this off much more successfully.

Big Spoiler Alert:

Don’t read any further if you want to read the book. 

Although this book looks like a traditional mystery, it is set up more like a suspense novel. It was disappointing to find out that the perpetrator was briefly introduced on page 193, about two thirds the way through the book. He was not a major character and most of the members of the discussion group admitted that after he was revealed, they had to look back through the text to figure out who he even was.

Conclusions:

Although I liked the Paris setting and the vivacious main character, the flaws in the novel make it unlikely that I will seek out any more of this series.

 

Public Domain Image by Michelle Diagle

#BookBeginnings The Janes by Louisa Luna

So excited to be able to join Book Beginnings on Fridays. I’m reading The Janes by Louisa Luna today.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

The Janes* by Louisa Luna

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  The second Alice Vega novel travels to the San Diego area where the bodies of two young women have been found. Lacking identification, one of the girls is clutching a slip of paper with Alice Vega’s name on it. She calls in her partner from a previous case in Pennsylvania, Max Caplan, and together they begin to piece together what happened to the girls while trying to prevent anyone else from meeting the same fate.

First Sentence:

Meet our girl:  seventeen, arrived here a year ago from a rough and dusty town in Chiapas, considered pretty by most standards because she is young, her face unmarked by scars or wrinkles, her body boasting the tender snap of fresh muscle.

Discussion: 

Did you notice the way the author used “our girl” for the victim? It continues throughout the scene, not just in the first line.  I wasn’t completely sure whether it made the reader empathize with the girl or if it created the impression that she was being described by someone who treated her like a possession.

How did it strike you?

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

The wife tilted back on her heels and then steadied herself. She struggled against the doctor for a moment but then didn’t fight.

In this scene, Cap is watching a couple of suspects.

What do you think? Have you read anything by Louisa Luna?

Recent Reads: Catching Up

Having read a bunch of novels recently, I decided to quickly post summaries of my thoughts before I move on.

Spoilers likely!

The Last Sister* by Kendra Elliot (2020)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: When Emily Mills discovers a man dead hanging in a tree, she is disturbed by the memories of finding her own father hanging under similar circumstances twenty years before. Her phone call to report the crime to the FBI brings special agent Zander Wells with his partner special agent Ava McLane to the scene. When Zander begins to investigate her father’s death to see if the crimes are related, Emily wonders about her older sister’s involvement and what she really witnessed all those years ago.

Notes:  The Last Sister drew me right in. It was enjoyable not to notice any frayed edges or issues, but just disappear into the story.  There were some interesting twists, most of which were believable. I also like that author Kendra Elliot uses a few law enforcement (FBI special agents) characters from previous novels, but shows them in a different light or brings someone who was a secondary character in a previous book up front to be a main character. It is less confining than a series with only one main character, yet there are familiar faces.

Although I totally get that the crime has to be of a certain type for the FBI to be called in, the hate crime/racism aspect was pretty disturbing.

Love meter:   ♥♥♥♥

Vanished by Kendra Elliot (2014)

 

Summary:   When eleven-year-old Henley disappears on her way to school, the FBI is on the case. Special Agent Ava McLane stays with the family to keep them safe and informed. Police detective Mason Callahan, who was once married to Henley’s stepmom, also arrives to help find the girl, even though someone he knew through work has just been murdered.  As clues are uncovered, Ava begins to suspect that more is going on than a simple kidnapping and other family members may be targeted as well.

Notes:  Once again, it was easy to lose myself in this novel. I liked that the family was a complicated one, with step moms and step dads in the mix. Although they all had the same goal, conflicts still arose because of their histories. The plot moved along smoothly and the characters were for the most part well developed. I liked the romance that emerged, also. It added some spice.

Love meter:   ♥♥♥♥

 

The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day (2020)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Alice Fine works in a construction office with her dad by day and volunteers with an online group that matches unidentified bodies (“Does”) with missing persons at night. Unlike many of the other members of the group — who started because they have missing relatives — Alice was drawn to the work because she herself was a missing person when she was very young. She was rescued in less than a day, but her kidnapper was never caught. When Alice recognizes a man from a photograph on the missing persons website, she soon realizes he is the one who kidnapped her so long ago. With the help of other volunteers, Alice delves into the mystery of who he was and why he took her.

Notes:  I really like this book. I like that the author was inspired to write it by real events in her neighbor’s life. I like that the amateur sleuths were based on actual volunteers who run The Doe Network website.  I like that Alice’s memories may or may not be reliable, but that her present day narration is reliable.

My only criticisms were that a couple of the male characters had odd character arcs or seemed to get tossed into and out of the story randomly. One example was Jimmy, who was the son of one of the co-owners of the construction business. Jimmy stole Alice’s backpack and hated the fact she secretly owned the business that he thought he would inherit. Except he was in love with her in the end/climax scene?

Merrily’s potential love interest(?), Vasquez, more or less also randomly shows up at the end climax scene. It isn’t clear what his motives are, who he is investigating, and why he keeps popping up except that Merrily needs a guy.

Still, the rest works very well.

Love meter:   ♥♥♥♥♥

The Secret Place by Tana French (2014)

 

Summary:  A teenage student at a boarding school for boys, Chris Harper, was murdered a year ago, but the perpetrator was never found. When sixteen-year-old Holly from the neighboring girls’ school shows up at Detective Stephen Moran’s  desk in the cold case division with a clue, he uses it to join Lead Detective Antoinette Conway of Dublin’s Murder Squad as she reopens the case. Nothing is as it seems, however, as Holly’s friends and rival cliques are determined to muddy the waters.

Notes:  Finally, a Tana French novel to truly love (see my complaints of other novels on the author page). The writing is still gorgeous, as with all the others, but this time the police do their jobs and the ending is satisfying. Yes, Tana French can pull it off.

What is most delightful in this novel is the theme of lies and deception. It is a merry-go-round ride as Moran and Conway try to deceive the girls they interview into revealing what happened and the girls do their best to lead the detectives astray. For that matter, Moran is trying to butter Conway up so he can move to the Murder Squad. Who is lying for the “right” reasons? Perhaps they all are.

Love meter:   ♥♥♥♥♥

Rough Day: Detective Lottie King Mystery Short Stories* by Shelley Coriell

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Author Shelley Coriell introduced Detective Lottie King as a minor character in the first book of her Apostles series, The Broken (reviewed here). Lottie was so popular, Shelley decided to write more about her. By the way, Shelley is a bit of a foodie and she includes Lottie-inspired recipes — and drinks(!) — between each chapter.

The stories range from Lottie working with her granddaughter’s Girl Power group to solve a locked room mystery, to helping a twelve-year-old boy find his missing grandfather.

Notes:  Given that this is a collection of short stories, it is easy to put it down between chapters, which I did over a year ago. When I picked it up again, I had forgotten how much I loved Lottie. She plows right in and gets the job done, all the time wearing the most amazing shoes.

I went to see if Shelley Coriell had any new novels out, but her last apparently was another collection of Lottie short stories published in 2017.  Hope that is remedied soon.

Love meter:   ♥♥♥♥

Three Mysteries with Unreliable Narrators

What was I going to write about? Oh yes, narrators with — ouch — head injuries that mess with their memories.

And, before I forget, this post has spoilers.

Amnesia is incredibly rare in real life, but within the last year I’ve read three novels with this kind of unreliable narrator.

The books

From 1997

Upon a Dark Night* by Peter Lovesey

 

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  A young woman with bad injuries is dumped the the hospital parking lot. When she awakes, she has no memory of who she is or what happened to her.

Although Detective Inspector Peter Diamond is the protagonist of the series, many of the chapters are from the young woman’s rather hazy point of view.

“Her loss of identity was total… She didn’t even know what sex she belonged to.
It called for self-discovery of the most basic sort. Tentatively she explored her body with her hand, traced the swell of her breast and then moved down. “

 

From 2015

Crash & Burn by Lisa Gardner


A mysterious woman survives a car crash, but has a head injury that leaves her memory severely impaired. Is it coincidence that she has sustained two previous head injuries in the recent past? She doesn’t remember.

 

My name is Nicky Frank. Except, most likely, it isn’t.

 

From 2018

The Witch Elm by Tana French

After Toby Hennessy is assaulted badly, he loses parts of his memory. He’s not at all sure what happened and, more importantly, what criminal acts he might have carried out in the past.

Discussion

Unreliable narrators are incredibly popular right now (see Gone Girl, the Girl on the Train, and We Were Liars, for example). As a writer, I can understand the impulse to include a character who is a living, breathing victim, but who can’t reveal too much about what happened.  It helps generate sympathy for them, increasing the chances the reader will stick around to figure out the crime.  When the author drops a dead body in the first few pages, it is up to the detective(s) to generate emotional investment in solving the crime, which can be a more difficult task.

Writing an unreliable narrator, however, can be tricky. The best ones slowly regain their memories, creating a character arc that amounts to a writing trick for revealing back story in a believable way.

The worst ones aren’t consistent, remembering pieces when convenient, then forgetting again in the next chapter. Even worse, when it isn’t believable in what they supposedly forget. Take for example the young woman in Upon A Dark Night quoted above. Gender identity isn’t stored in the same place as the type of memories she appears to have lost. Plus, imagine yourself lying in a bed with your eyes shut. Can you figure out your own gender without feeling yourself up? I can. That error dumped me right out of the story.

Even the set up must be believable. In Crash & Burn, a woman who has had two previous bad concussions receives yet another brain injury. Why would the author do that? Perhaps to make sure the victim doesn’t regain her memory? It seemed like overkill, however, and frankly made an unlikely story even less plausible.

Authors often use unreliable narrators to generate convoluted plot twists, leading the reader down one path before careening off in a new direction. To keep the reader invested, there must be clues that things aren’t exactly as suggested on the surface. Unfortunately, if the clues are too subtle it can make for exhausting reading because you have to evaluate every word, every sentence for hidden meanings.

That was definitely the case in The Witch Elm for me. Not only was the main character an unreliable narrator, he turned out to have a negative character arc, starting out as a seemingly mild-mannered, pleasant young man who might have done something shady. By the end, I was trying to figure out why we were supposed to be interested in this man’s story at all. No one else in the story cared, either. It was only Tana French’s beautiful writing that kept me reading at all.

On the whole, I would say that mysteries with unreliable narrators who have amnesia or memory loss leave me unsatisfied. Let’s face it, people with their memories intact are unreliable enough. No need to add what is obviously an artificial construct into the mix.

 

How about you? Do you enjoy novels with unreliable narrators?

 

Author Post: Lisa Gardner

Lisa Gardner is a prolific bestselling author known for writing thrillers.

 

Although labelled as thrillers, the novels I’ve read don’t neatly fit in one genre. Gardner’s novels do follow the thriller model because the action is fast paced and tension runs high.  In a typical thriller, however, the killer/villain is revealed early on and the reader wonders whether the protagonist will be able to  catch them. Gardner’s novels (the few that I’ve read so far) ask whether the protagonist will find out who did it, closer to a standard mystery/police procedural formula.

One unique aspect to her novels that I have noticed is that Gardner includes a major character who is either a victim and/or a stand in for the victim. We learn about the victim’s experiences, which adds a lot of depth and complexity to the story. She also carefully researches the experiences, giving rich details.

I’ve seen Lisa Gardner promoting her newest title, When You See Me this month. That reminded me I have picked up a couple more of her books for my TBR pile and I have no idea what order to read them in. Time to get organized!

Note:  It turns out that each novel stands alone pretty well, except for a few personal aspects of D.D. Warren’s life. No need to read them in order unless you can.

Detective D.D. Warren books in order:

  • Alone (2005)
  • Hide (2007) – reviewed (Also recently watched the movie based on the book)
  • The Neighbor (2009)
  • Live to Tell (2010) – full of information about the realities of a pediatric psych facility
  • Love You More (2011)
  • Catch Me (2012)
  • Fear Nothing (2014)
  • Find Her (2016) – Introduces the character Flora Dane (who reappears in Never Tell).
  • Look for Me (2018)
  • The Guy Who Died Twice (2019)
  • Never Tell (2019) –reviewed
  • When You See Me (2020)

FBI Profiler books in order:

The father/daughter team of Pierce and Kimberly Quincy.

  • The Perfect Husband (1998)
  • The Third Victim (2001)
  • The Next Accident (2001)
  • The Killing Hour (2003)
  • Gone (2006)
  • Say Goodbye (2008) – A clear example of suspense with scenes sprinkled throughout from the antagonists’ points of views. Cool spider theme, too.
  • The 4th Man (2017)
  • Right Behind You (2017)
  • When You See Me (2020)

Tessa Leoni series in order:

Tessa is a former Massachusetts State Trooper, now a PI.

  • Love You More (2011)
  • Touch & Go (2013)
  • Crash & Burn (2015) – The main character is the epitome of an unreliable narrator.  She’s had three severe head injuries. Unreliable narrators are not my favorite in mysteries because they interfere too much with the reader’s ability to solve the crime.  Blah.

 

About Author Posts:

Because I read a lot of mysteries, I’ve been trying to come up with a better system to keep track of which novels I’ve finished. I thought blogging would help, which it does, but I don’t always review everything I read. To get more organized, I’ve decided to create a series of author posts with lists of novels and links to my reviews. I plan to edit these pages as needed.

#BookBeginnings The Last Sister by Kendra Elliot

 

 

Today I’m reading The Last Sister by Kendra Elliot –thanks to a giveaway at Bea’s Book Nook — for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

The Last Sister* by Kendra Elliot

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   When Emily Mills discovers a man dead hanging in a tree, she is disturbed by the memories of finding her own father hanging under similar circumstances twenty years before. Her phone call to report the crime to the FBI brings special agent Zander Wells with his partner special agent Ava McLane to the scene. When Zander begins to investigate her father’s death to see if the crimes are related, Emily wonders about her older sister’s involvement and what she really witnessed all those years ago.

First Sentence:

She wrapped her shaking fingers in the hem of her sweater to avoid damaging any fingerprints as she slid open the rear patio door, following the trail of blood.

Discussion:

That beginning makes me shiver, but I also want to find out what is going on.

Friday 56

Let’s join The Friday 56 hosted by Freda’s Voice, too.

The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

“Looks perfect,” said Ava. She already had a fluffy bite on her fork, headed for her mouth. Her blissful expression after her bite reminded Zander why he’d once been half in love with her.

This scene reveals glimpses of the private lives of the two agents without getting bogged down in back story.

What do you think? Would you keep reading Kendra Elliot’s The Last Sister? Have you read any Kendra Elliot novels?

Calendar of Crime 2020: February Fever by Jess Lourey

Today’s review of February Fever by Jess Lourey is part of the reading challenge called Calendar of Crime 2020 hosted by Bev at My Reader’s Block. 

Month: February

 

February Fever: Hot and Hilarious* (A Mira James Mystery) by Jess Lourey

(*Amazon Affiliate Link)

 

Summary:  In a sly nod to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, a trip to a conference for private investigators in Portland leaves Mira James trapped on a train with a murderer on board. It is soon apparent that some of the passengers are hiding their true identities. Will she be able to figure out who the killer is before someone else dies?

Check out my discussion of the first scene for Book Beginnings.

Review with Possible Spoilers

Lourey has a deft touch with character development. Her main character, Mira, is bright and curious with just the right amount of self effacement. Mira’s sidekick Mrs. Berns is a hoot.  Although she is impulsive and spews one liners, she’s also believable and her quirks are never too much over the top. You probably know someone like her.

The plotting/pacing of the novel isn’t quite as strong, or perhaps just didn’t conform to mystery norms. For example, typically with a mystery, the crime is often revealed near the beginning of the book. In this novel, the story had moved along before the mysterious death. I got so hooked on the characters, however, I was willing to plow through the slower, longer-than-expected set up.

Even though I picked this novel purely because it had February in the title and it fit the challenge criteria, I enjoyed it immensely. I am going to find the rest of the series, and — although this worked perfectly as a stand alone — I’m going to start with the first, May Day.  Maybe that will be my challenge book for May.

In the video below Jessica Lourey reveals why she started writing these novels (be prepared, it is heart wrenching), and encourages others to write as well.  She calls it using fiction to rewrite your life.  Wow. Well worth the few minutes to watch.

 

 

This amazing story is already way more than I expected to get out of the reading challenge.

What do you think?

 

#BookBeginnings February Fever: Hot and Hilarious by Jess Lourey

Let’s take a peek at February Fever: Hot and Hilarious by Jess Lourey for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

February Fever: Hot and Hilarious* (A Mira James Mystery) by Jess Lourey

(*Amazon Affiliate Link)

 

Summary: In a sly nod to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, a trip to a conference for private investigators in Portland leaves Mira James trapped on a train with a murderer on board. It is soon apparent that some of the passengers are hiding their true identities. Will she be able to figure out who the killer is before someone else –possibly Mira herself — dies?

 

First Sentence:

The upright bass strings resonated, the notes deep and husky. In the background, the finger-snapping began. Peggy Lee’s voice threaded over the top of the rhythm. It was playful, hot, and full of delicious promise.

Discussion:

See the Hot and Hilarious subtitle? The novel starts with a steamy scene between Mira James and her boyfriend, giving the hot part.

Readers might expect the rest is going to be a steamy romance novel. It turns out, however, this is only an attention-grabbing hook. It doesn’t truly reflect the rest of the book, which is a solid mystery with some threads of humor and at times downright wackiness.

Have you read any novels where the hook pointed to a different genre than the rest of the book? Did you feel like it was a bait-and-switch device or did it work for you?

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

 

Dear Blogger Friends, 

For some reason, I can not leave comments on Blogger blogs. Any comments I add disappear when I hit publish. I have tried many different fixes, but nothing has worked yet. I want to let you know I’m still reading your posts. 

Roberta

Calendar of Crime 2020: Jeopardy in January

Today’s review is part of the reading challenge called Calendar of Crime 2020 hosted by Bev at My Reader’s Block. 

Month: January

Jeopardy in January* by Camilla Chafer

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Category:  I chose a mystery with the month in the title.

Summary:  As the head of the Calendar Public Library, Sara Cutler is fighting to keep the lovely old building from being torn down by a real estate developer named Jason Rees. When she discovers her assistant dead in the rare books section, handsome Rees is on hand to keep Sara safe. Soon Sara’s life becomes complicated as she must solve the mystery of her assistant’s double life, save the library, and figure out what to do about Rees.

Review with Spoilers

At times I’ve been known to compare a book to food. In this case, I was looking for something light, such as the cozy mystery version of a salad. Jeopardy in January turned out to be a salad, but one of those iceberg lettuce versions you get in diners sometimes, the ones with a few hard, tasteless tomato wedges and perhaps a carrot shred or two. It is a salad, but you are disappointed the creator didn’t put in a tiny bit more effort, like adding some new ingredients or at least better lettuce.

In Jeopardy in January we are offered two men who serve as both love interest and potential killer. Two.  No red herrings, no non-love interest bad guys, no bad women, just those two.  That pretty much takes the joy out of the mystery.

I also expected a head librarian to talk about books once in awhile. Granted, she’s upset about the library being threatened and her assistant being killed, but when the readership is filled with book nerds, throw them a bone. Or because we’re doing salad, a bit of cucumber at least.

There are a few other things I noticed, but perhaps I’m being too harsh. On the whole the main character, Sara, was spunky and resourceful, plus the small town setting sounded delightful.  So, let’s say I was actually in the mood for coleslaw instead of a salad. Either that, or this review is sour grapes because I really wanted the harried police detective to get the girl in the end.

Public domain image by Marina Shemesh at Publicdomainpictures.net

Reviews: Two More Ruth Galloway Mysteries

Over the recent holiday I read the second and third Ruth Galloway Mysteries by Elly Griffiths. See the author post for more information about the series.

Number 2. The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths

In The Janus Stone, construction workers uncover the bones of a child buried under the foundation of a structure. Ruth Galloway investigates and figures out the death is decades old, not centuries old. She and Detective Nelson search for the previous owners of the house and the child’s identity.

Number 3. The House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths

When workers recording beach erosion uncover a mass grave, it is Ruth Galloway’s job to figure out how six men ended up bound, shot and buried there.

Quick Notes with Spoilers:

Both books feature the things that attracted me to the first novel, the compelling characters, the Norfolk setting, and the use of the present tense to give the action an immediate feel.

Although I enjoyed the second novel, there was some repetition of plot from the first.

By the third novel, however, the plot became a clone of the previous one, even though the victims were very different and the main character’s circumstances had changed drastically. In the climax scene, Ruth Galloway trudged  off to get captured by the villain on a boat, exactly like what happened in the second novel.  Once again Detective Nelson throws himself into the water to rescue her, but instead endangers himself, again the same scenario as the second novel.

I was particularly disappointed when Ruth Galloway chose to go off to meet the villain, when she had a compelling reason to go home to be with her child. The boat wasn’t that exciting a find, and to leave her child after her friend had just chided her for being an inattentive mother seemed weak and self-centered.

Personally, I thought the plot would have been stronger and more believable if Detective Nelson put himself in danger and Ruth figured out she needed to go save him.  That would have been a credible reason for Ruth to leave her child. According to the blurb for the next novel, Detective Nelson becomes ill and is in danger. So, perhaps I am being prescient?

 

 

Ruth Galloway Mystery

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