Great Mystery, Superb Suspense

The Other Girl

The Other Girl by Erica Spindler (St. Martin’s Press, August 22, 2017) is a great mystery story, expertly crafted.

Miranda “Randi” Rader and Jake Billings, police detectives in rural Louisiana, investigate the murder and mutilation of a college professor. Before Miranda became a cop, she’d been a victim herself of kidnapping and attempted sexual assault. Evidence found at the murder scene leads her to believe the professor, who is also the college president’s son, was the man who abducted her and another girl fourteen years ago.

Spindler builds suspense by piling up more and more evidence that points fingers at the wrong people, including Randi. Is someone trying to frame her for murder? Who? Why?

No one seems to believe Randi (Miranda), except her partner Jake and her best-friend Summer. She’s removed from the case and suspended from the department. She has to hire an attorney because she’s about to be arrested for murder.

Things go from bad to worse. Miranda learns Summer has an inoperable brain tumor and is going to die. Randi’s brother informs her their estranged mother is in the hospital recovering from a heart attack.

And when she and Jake fall in love, it only complicates things even more.

There’s an old saying among suspense writers that when your protagonist is hip-deep in alligators, you should throw a back-biting poisonous snake into the mix to add excitement. Spindler does that in The Other Girl, only she throws in more than one. Miranda doesn’t know (nor does the reader) she’s about to be bit in the butt until the snake strikes.

Great mystery, superb suspense. The Other Girl is a page-turner you won’t be able to put down until the very end.

 

Scottoline Scores Again

Damaged A Novel by Lisa Scottoline

 

Damaged: A Novel by Lisa Scottoline (A Rosato and DiNunzio novel, St Martin’s, August 2016) is full of surprises. It’s also filled with psychological insights. It’s a murder mystery, a thriller, a romance, and offers real information about dyslexia, bullying, the family court system, and Philadelphia.

I became intrigued with Scottoline’s writing after reading her short story in Matchup, the recently published (and reviewed) International Thriller Writer’s anthology. Although Damaged features an emotional Mary DiNunzio instead of the more hardboiled Bennie Rosato, the latter does make a brief appearance.

Scottoline’s attention to detail is legendary. She alters long narrative passages of highly descriptive prose with realistic dialog. She does include several fast-paced action scenes, though most of the novel deals with the day-to-day actions and emotions of sympathetic characters. Machiavelli, however, is a manipulative monster, and there are a couple of other bad guys lurking in the wings. There’s enough tension throughout to keep one engrossed, and surprises keep turning up every few pages to complicate matters.

Planning your own wedding is complicated enough, but when Mary takes on a ten-year-old boy who’s accused of attacking a teacher with scissors as a client her life is turned upside down. She’s accused of murdering the boy’s grandfather to gain custody, has a falling-out with her husband-to-be, is followed by a mysterious man in a brown Subaru, and is physically and emotionally attacked by Machiavelli.

If it takes a village to raise a child, then Mary’s extended family is the perfect village. After all, they raised her, didn’t they?

A five hanky read for mystery lovers.

4MK is a gruesome thriller

the fouth monkey

 

The four wise monkeys of ancient oriental myth — hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil, and do no evil — give the killer in The Fourth Monkey by J. D. Barker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 28, 2017) his name. The 4MK abducts women and sends an ear to the next of kin. Two days later, the victim’s extracted eyeballs arrive in the mail. Then the tongue. Two days after that, 4MK positions the victim’s mutilated body where easily discovered.

Hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil, do no evil. Those are the rules.

Detective Sam Porter, on bereavement leave following his wife’s tragic murder by a convenience store robber, receives a phone call from his partner. The Four Monkeys Killer was accidentally run down this morning  by a Chicago bus on his way to mail an ear of his latest victim to Arthur Talbot, one of the richest men in the city.

Sam’s chased the 4MK for five years. Seven dead girls he couldn’t save. Now it appears Talbot’s illegitimate daughter Emory will be 4MK’s next victim. The clock’s ticking as Sam assembles his task force and tries to find Emory before she dies of dehydration.

The killer’s diary found on the man hit by the bus tells what it’s like to be raised in a family of psychopaths. Barker effectively rotates POV among Porter, Emory, task force members, and the diary. The burning questions become: Is the diary real? Is the dead man the 4MK? Will Emory survive? What did Talbot do to warrant punishment by 4MK? Who killed Heather, Sam’s wife, and what will happen to him?

Set in metropolitan Chicago, the action delves into underground tunnels once used by bootleggers where thousands of rats thrive and Emory may be sequestered. Will she be eaten by rats, die of hydration, or have her eyes and tongue plucked out before 4MK is through with her?

Suspense builds as time runs out. Sam, who was neither able to protect his wife nor the seven previous 4MK victims, is desperate to reach Emory before she perishes.

The Fourth Monkey is as much a great horror novel as a mystery or thriller. Very highly recommended for readers with strong stomachs, insatiable curiosities, and time on their hands because they won’t be able to stop until the very end.

Two Nights is a double treat

Two Nights Reichs

 

Two Nights by Kathy Reichs (Bantam Books, July 2017) introduces Sunday Night, a traumatized ex-cop on a mission to find a missing girl and save her life.

Although Sunnie Night allegedly lives in Charleston, SC (actually on Goat Island, just offshore), the first half of the story takes place in Chicago. As a Chicago native, I followed Sunny around the city waiting for the author to make an obvious mistake. She didn’t, which means either she was familiar with Chicago from book signings or she did her research.

I love the brilliant images Reichs creates: “Across Lake Shore Drive, the city hummed with all the notes of a midnight symphony.” Made me wonder if she didn’t listen to Gorden Jenkins’ Manhattan Tower while writing this novel.

The action, however, doesn’t remain in Chicago. Sunnie follows the alleged kidnappers to LA, to Washington, DC, and then to Louisville, KY.

Sunnie has a nasty a scar over one eye. Some asshole stabbed her in the eye with a knife, and she had to shoot and kill him in self-defense. That’s why she was forced to leave the Charleston PD: they wanted to stick her on permanent desk duty after she’d killed an unarmed citizen (he had no gun and the knife didn’t seem to count) and she wanted back on the streets but they wouldn’t let her back with only one eye.

So she quit.

Sunnie has other scars, too, though the others aren’t quite so visible. Scars from the military. Scars from her own childhood.

Oh, and did I mention that she’s unusually tall for a woman?

The title refers to Sunnie and her twin brother Gus — Sunday and August Night. Gus is black and Sunnie can pass for white. Although twins, they look as different as day and night. Their mother was a white immigrant from Ireland and their father was an African-American preacherman. There are other meanings to the title, but you’ll need to read the novel to learn what they might be.

Sometimes the tension becomes so taut it’s almost painful, as if there’s literally a ticking timebomb that will explode any minute now. The author doubles the tension by running parallel mysteries that threaten to intersect: the current mystery Sunnie and Gus must unravel and the mystery of what happened to them as children.

Once I started reading, I couldn’t put the book down. Highly recommended for mystery and thriller lovers.

 

Gunmetal Gray by Mark Greaney is lots of fun

gumetal-gray

https://www.amazon.com/Gunmetal-Gray-Man-Mark-Greaney/dp/0425282856/

Gunmetal Gray (a Gray Man Mystery-Thriller by Mark Greaney, Berkley, February 2017) returns Courtland Gentry to the side of the CIA instead of battling the agency to survive. But nothing is ever as it seems in a Gray Man novel, and Court is once again being played even as he plays others. At stake is the Chinese military’s cyberwarfare expert Fan Jiang, whose hacking knowledge the US wants. Unfortunately, so does the People’s Liberation Army, the Russian SVR, and members of the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai crime syndicates.

Court arrives in Hong Kong, ostensibly to find his old friend Sir Donald Fitzroy. That’s his cover. Fitzroy — held prisoner by Colonel Dai, the PRC officer tracking Fan Jiang — convinces Dai that Court will help Dai find Jiang if Dai will promise to free Fitzroy. Zoya “Koshka” Zakharova — a Russian Zaslon spy and highly-trained assassin, code named “Sirena” and “Banshee”, who is a language expert and good at disguises — may prove herself The Gray Man’s equal. Zoya is one step ahead of Court most of the way. She very early identifies Court as a CIA operative by the questions he asks, but she is unable to remember what his face looks like. She wonders, “Is he that good?”

Yes, he is. Court is called “The Gray Man” because he’s trained to blend into his surroundings so well that no one notices him unless he wants them to notice him.

Besides the Gray Man series, Mark Greaney writes the latest Tom Clancy novels. Rumor has it that Greaney once worked for clandestine US intelligence agencies, and the author’s knowledge of tradecraft is evident in all his novels.

This is an action thriller from the word “go.” The fast-paced action is unrelenting as Court takes on fifty triad strongmen, races through Saigon on a motor bike, slogs through rice paddies and jungles, and escapes from blood-thirsty river pirates. Court is always outnumbered, outgunned, and hip-deep in alligators, but he escapes every in extremis situation by the skin of his teeth. He may be battered and bruised, but he’s never down and out. He leaves behind more dead bodies than an atomic bomb blast.

A Gray Man novel is always lots of fun.

 

 

 

Wings of Mayhem Flies Fast

wings of mayhem51xv7AWpiHL__SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Wings of Mayhem

I told you before that Sue Phillips Coletta is a writer to watch, and Wings of Mayhem (Book One of the Mayhem Series,Crossroad Press, June 2016,), Sue Phillips Coletta’s second published novel, proves my point.

Coletta’s writing has matured, especially when she writes from the first-person female protagonist’s POV. Coletta’s language is as uniquely beautiful, as full and rich and supremely confident, as her characters, primarily when she writes about what she knows best: women and crime. Her prose seems to lack that same confidence, however, when she describes men, especially gay men. Maybe that’s only because she’s not as comfortable writing third-person narration as she is writing first person.

Shawnee Daniels, Shawn to her friend Nadine, is a cat-burglar. Shawnee’s day job is the chief cyber-crime consultant for the local police department. At night, Shawnee still burgles. But now she burgles only rich bastards who steal from the poor to teach them a lesson. Shawnee, like a female Robin Hood, steals back from those bastards and donates the proceeds, less her small commission, to the helpless victims of white collar crimes. It’s become Shawnee’s mission in life and her way of making up for her past misdeeds.

When Shawnee sneaks into Jack Delsin’s up-scale house in Bear-Clave Estates to steal $30,000 in cash and jewelry, she discovers Delsin is more than a simple retirement fund embezzler. Delsin is actually the brutal serial killer known as “The Creator” who butchers women and stretches their rib cages to look like angels’ wings. Because Shawnee finds this evidence, plus an antique wooden puzzle box, during a breaking and entering (B & E) escapade, she doesn’t dare tell police. Instead, she confides in BFF Nadine.

If anyone deserves to die, it’s Nadine. People that stupid and self-centered don’t deserve to live. Nadine may mean well, but she’s a disaster waiting to happen. Unfortunately, Nadine and Shawnee have been best-female friends since childhood. Shawnee’s long-term emotional commitment to Nadine turns Nadine into a target. Delsin strikes at Shawnee through Nadine. He slits Nadine’s throat, but Shawnees finds her in time and Nadine survives.

For one street-savvy chick, Shawnee lets her emotions too often get in the way of her better judgment. Instead of striking back hard at Delsin after Delsin kills one of Shawnee’s beloved cats, Shawnee acts like a nervous wreck. She’s conflicted about her relationship with homicide cop Levaughn Samuels. If Shawnee’s honest with Levaughn, he’ll have to arrest her for burglary. If she remains silent, Levaughn could become Delsin’s next victim. What’s a girl to do? Shawnee makes a whole bunch of bad decisions that place her and her closest friends in harm’s way.

There are times while reading you’ll wonder if Shawnee is also too stupid to live. That’s what Coletta wants you to think. She wants readers to feel the fear as Shawnee’s life becomes even more complicated with every twist and turn. She turns up the heat and readers sweat right along with the characters in this fast-paced novel.

There are still a few loose ends that Coletta leaves hanging at the end of the novel, but I expect she’ll answer all our questions in future books of The Mayhem Series. I look forward to learning more about Shawnee Daniels and her family and friends in Book Two.

Blackwater Val is my kind of place

 

 

Blackwater Val by William Gorman (Crystal Lake Publishing, April 23, 2016) is Gorman’s first published novel, and it’s a hum-dinger! Filled with graphic sex and violence, the author has thrown everything but the kitchen sink into 467 fast-paced pages. There’s a little girl, a dog, a scalp-taking Native American, a white buffalo, a sadistic cop, a plague, a fallen angel, an ex-con, a woman politician, a lesbian, prostitutes, ghosts, haunted houses (hell, the whole Val is haunted), psychic phenomena, a real live witch, Nazis, a reluctant hero, and a whole lot more. There’s even a history lesson or two thrown in for good measure. Blackwater Val is an ambitious first novel.

The story is primarily set in the Rock River Valley of north-central Illinois, which just happens to be where I live. I can recognize many of the landmarks, although the author used poetic license and renamed a few. But I know this haunted place, just as Bill Gorman knows this haunted place. Gorman once called this place home. I still do.

Richard Franklin and his six-year-old daughter Katie return to the Val to scatter Katie’s mother’s ashes in accordance with her last wishes. Michelle Deadmond Franklin had suffered from terminal cancer, but it wasn’t cancer that killed her. She died as a result of a hit-and-run accident in eastern Maine where Richard and Michelle had moved after they married. Eyewitnesses said the dark-colored car that killed Michelle looked dirty, and someone had written “Wash me” on the dirty car. The car and driver were never found. Until now, that is, when Richard sees, parked outside Nain Lutheran Church, a dark-colored car with “Wash me’ still written in the dirt.

Rich Franklin can smell the evil that infests the Val, but he’s blind to how close the evil is to his own family. In fact, Rich is blind to a lot of things until his daughter is kidnapped by the evil and Rich is forced to act. Michelle and Katie are the seers in this tale. Rich sees nothing until Katie shows him.

I can envision this novel as an epic motion picture with a cast of thousands and multimedia special effects. The movie would need an “R” rating, of course, for the violence and the sex and the foul language.

If you like extreme horror with a strong, almost blasphemous, supernatural theme, you’ll love Blackwater Val.

And, if you happen to live in the Val like I do, you’ll find it impossible to sleep nights after reading Gorman’s gruesome tale.