Review: These Silent Woods by Kimi Cunningham Grant

These Silent Woods by Kimi Cunningham Grant—brilliantly plotted thriller with pulse-pounding suspense.

These Silent Woods

by Kimi Cunningham Grant

Published by St. Martin’s Publishing Group Minotaur Books

on sale October 26, 2021

ISBN 9781250793393

288 pages

A father and daughter living in the remote Appalachian mountains must reckon with the ghosts of their past in Kimi Cunningham Grant’s These Silent Woods, a mesmerizing novel of suspense.

No electricity, no family, no connection to the outside world.

For eight years, Cooper and his young daughter, Finch, have lived in isolation in a remote cabin in the northern Appalachian woods. And that’s exactly the way Cooper wants it, because he’s got a lot to hide. Finch has been raised on the books filling the cabin’s shelves and the beautiful but brutal code of life in the wilderness. But she’s starting to push back against the sheltered life Cooper has created for her—and he’s still haunted by the painful truth of what it took to get them there.

The only people who know they exist are Scotland, an overly friendly hermit with murky intentions, and Cooper’s old friend, Jake, who visits each winter to bring them food and supplies. But this year, Jake doesn’t show up, setting off an irreversible chain of events that reveals just how precarious their situation really is. Suddenly, the boundaries of their safe haven have blurred—and when a stranger wanders into their woods, Finch’s growing obsession with her could put them all in danger. When a shocking disappearance threatens to upend the only life Finch has ever known, Cooper is forced to decide whether to keep hiding—or finally face the sins of his past.

Vividly atmospheric and masterfully tense, These Silent Woods is a poignant story of survival, sacrifice, and how far a father will go when faced with losing it all.

Review

These Silent Woods by Kimi Cunningham Grant is an extraordinarily compelling story, tightly plotted, and brilliantly told. It will suck readers in from the first pages. I couldn’t put it down until reaching the unexpected, emotion-packed conclusion. The plot entices readers to rush through the book to find out all the who’s, what’s, and why’s. These Silent Woods is magnificently done in a way that won’t soon be forgotten. It’s a taut, suspenseful thriller that drags readers head first into the story.

Inside this must read thriller, readers meet the main character, “Cooper,” an Army veteran suffering from PTSD who has raised his eight-year-old daughter “Finch” in a cabin in a rugged, remote wooded area since the death of her mother, Cindy. When Cindy died, her parents attempted to take custody of Finch, forcing Cooper to “kidnap” his daughter from them and flee to the off-the-grid mountain cabin owned by Jake, an old Army buddy. There they live a simple life together in hiding under assumed names with little contact with the outside world. As the story unfolds, readers quickly develop sympathy for Cooper. It seems he has never caught a single break. He suffers panic attacks because of PTSD not to mention guilt over something that happened during his time in Afghanistan. He is an honorable but wanted man only because he tried to do what he thought was best for his daughter. From the moment readers enter the lives of Copper and Finch there is an undercurrent of dread that they will soon be discovered, that Cooper will go to jail, and will lose Finch forever. There are plenty of unexpected twists and turns that keep readers on the edge of their seats. Kimi Cunningham Grant is a talented writer who brings her interesting characters vividly to life.

These Silent Woods is one of the most exciting, heart-pounding, and suspenseful novels I have read this year. I highly recommend this book to all fans of suspense thrillers.

I received an advance copy of the book for the purposes of this review from the publisher via NetGalley.

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Review: The Return of the Pharaoh by Nicholas Meyer

The Return of the Pharaoh by Nicholas Meyer—nothing elementary about this new Sherlock Holmes adaptation.

The Return of the Pharaoh

by Nicholas Meyer

Published by St. Martin’s Press Minotaur Books

on November 9, 2021

ISBN: 9781250788207

Genre(s): Mystery & Detective

Page length: 272

Available in hardcover, paperback, electronic, and audiobook versions.

In Nicholas Meyer’s The Return of the Pharaoh, Sherlock Holmes returns in an adventure that takes him to Egypt in search of a missing nobleman, a previously undiscovered pharaoh’s tomb, and a conspiracy that threatens his very life.

With his international bestseller, The Seven Per Cent Solution, Nicholas Meyer brought to light a previously unpublished case of Sherlock Holmes that reinvigorated the world’s interest in the first consulting detective. Now, many years later, Meyer is given exclusive access to Dr. Watson’s unpublished journal, wherein he details a previously unknown case.

In 1910, Dr. John Watson travels to Egypt with his wife Juliet. Her tuberculosis has returned and her doctor recommends a stay at a sanitarium in a dry climate. But while his wife undergoes treatment, Dr. Watson bumps into an old friend–Sherlock Holmes, in disguise and on a case. An English Duke with a penchant for egyptology has disappeared, leading to enquiries from his wife and the Home Office.

Holmes has discovered that the missing duke has indeed vanished from his lavish rooms in Cairo and that he was on the trail of a previous undiscovered and unopened tomb. And that he’s only the latest Egyptologist to die or disappear under odd circumstances. With the help of Howard Carter, Holmes and Watson are on the trail of something much bigger, more important, and more sinister than an errant lord.

Review

Sherlock Holmes’ lasting popularity is a rarity among fictional characters. Most fall out of favor within years, not decades. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died in 1930, but his stories about the English detective Sherlock Holmes have lived on. Sherlock Holmes and all his companions, as penned by Doyle, are now in the public domain and as a longtime fan of Holmes and Dr. John Watson, I’ve been looking forward to reading the inevitable adaptations. That’s why I was so keen to read The Return of the Pharaoh by Nicholas Meyer when I discovered it. If, like me, you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan, this novel won’t disappoint.

Just like the original Doyle novels and the brief adventures published in monthly issues of The Strand Magazine from 1891 to 1892, a Sherlock you are sure to recognize fascinates the reader with his keen observations, quick deductions, and encyclopedic recall of the history of crime. In The Return of the Pharaoh, set in 1910 Egypt, an English duke with an interest in Egyptology disappears and his wife engages the intrepid Holmes to find him. Dr. John Watson travels to Egypt with his wife Juliet after her doctor recommends a stay at a sanitarium in a dry climate to treat Juliet’s tuberculosis. By chance, Watson bumps into his old friend Sherlock in Cairo, who is in disguise, traveling under an assumed name. Curiosity pulls Watson into the case when Holmes reveals the duke has vanished from a luxury hotel in Cairo while on the trail of an undiscovered and unopened Pharaoh’s tomb rumored to be filled with gold. Once again Holmes and Watson join forces to investigate a case, soon to discover that there is something going on far more sinister than a missing duke.

The mystery is straightforward, simple, and easy to enjoy. The story follows a similar formula that has worked for millions of readers these past 120-odd years, Holmes arriving at a solution by spotting a clue no one else notices, asking the right questions, or using his encyclopedic knowledge of human nature and similar cases from the past.

This book is very good and if you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan or someone who enjoys classic mysteries, I recommend adding The Return of the Pharaoh by Nicholas Meyer to your reading list. There is nothing elementary about this new Sherlock Holmes adaptation.

I received an advance copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley.

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Review: Robert B. Parker’s Payback by Mike Lupica

Robert B. Parker's Payback by Mike Lupica—a solid mystery with a serviceable plot and everything Sunny Randall fans could expect.

Robert B. Parker’s Payback

by Mike Lupica

Published by Penguin Publishing Group Putnam

on May 4, 2021

ISBN 978-0-593-08785-5

Genre(s): Suspense & Thriller

Page Count: 347

Available in hardcover, paperback, electronic, and audiobook versions.

In her latest thrilling adventure, PI Sunny Randall takes on two serpentine cases that converge into one deadly mystery.

PI Sunny Randall has often relied on the help of her best friend Spike in times of need. When Spike’s restaurant is taken over under a predatory loan agreement, Sunny has a chance to return the favor. She begins digging into the life of the hedge fund manager who screwed Spike over – surely a guy that smarmy has a skeleton or two in his closet – and soon finds this new enemy may have the backing of even badder criminals.

At the same time, Sunny’s cop contact Lee Farrell asks her to intervene with his niece, a college student who reported being the victim of a crime but seems to know more than she’s telling police. As the uncooperative young woman becomes outright hostile, Sunny runs up against a wall that she’s only more determined to scale.

Then, what appear to be two disparate cases are united by a common factor, and the picture becomes even more muddled. But one thing is clear: Sunny has been poking a hornet’s nest from two sides, and all hell is about to break loose.

The “Sunny Randall” series, created by the legendary Robert B. Parker, follows the cases of the major character Sonya “Sunny” Randall, a female Boston private detective who used to be a cop. Having read and enjoyed the original six books in the series written by Parker, it delighted me when the Parker estate and Mike Lupica revived the series in 2019. Sunny Randall and Spenser, the iconic and better known male Boston PI created by Parker, have much in common. But there are plenty of things besides their respective genders that make them unique. Parker didn’t simply make Spenser a woman and give him a female name.

Payback is the ninth book in the series, the third written by Mike Lupica, who does a remarkable job of capturing the essence of the characters in the series created by Parker. Lupica also mimics Parker’s story-telling style so effectively that his contributions to the series are almost indistinguishable from the originals.

In Payback, the story begins when Sunny’s erstwhile sidekick Spike, a gay restaurateur, gets his restaurant stolen out from under him by Alex Drysdale, a shady hedge fund manager. Drysdale, posing as a friend, loaned Spike money to help him weather the coronavirus pandemic but under what turns out to be a predatory loan agreement that makes it impossible for Spike to repay the loan. After Drysdale forecloses, Spike turns to Sunny for help.

“Payback really is a bitch,” Spike said. “Only it turns out Drysdale’s the bitch.”

While trying to help Spike save his restaurant, Sunny agrees to help her cop friend Lee Farrell with a situation involving his niece, a college student who is seemingly the victim of an assault but refuses to cooperate with the police. When Sunny tries to intervene, the young woman goes from uncooperative to outright hostile. As it usually happens in Sunny Randall novels, what appears to be two unrelated cases eventually intersect, muddling the picture even more.

Besides Spike, Payback features all the other usual series characters—Jesse Stone, a Massachusetts small-town police chief and Sunny’s love interest; Richie, her ex-husband; Susan Silverman, her psychiatrist, Sunny’s father, Phil, a retired Boston police detective; and more. For Robert B. Parker fans, Lupica delivers on what the series promises—easy, breezy whodunits that are easily read in one sitting. Fans of Sunny and the host of series characters will find Payback an enjoyable and exciting read. It may slightly disappoint those looking for a meatier mystery since much of the book reads like a romance novel. But there is plenty of the attitude and snappy tough-guy dialogue that make Robert B. Parker books so easy and enjoyable to read. Overall, Payback is a solid mystery with a serviceable plot and everything Sunny Randall fans could expect.

I received an advance copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley.

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Review: The Heathens by Ace Atkins

The Heathens by Ace Atkins—an entertaining deep-fried crime thriller.

The Heathens (A Quinn Colson Novel)

by Ace Atkins

Published by Penguin Group Putnam

ISBN: 978-0-593-32839-2

Publishing: July 13, 2021

Genre(s): Crime Mysteries / Suspense & Thrillers

Page Count: 464

Available in hardcover, paperback, electronic, and audiobook formats.

Sheriff Quinn Colson and his former deputy Lillie Virgil find themselves on opposite sides of a case for the first time after a woman is found dead and three delinquent teens go on the run.

Before he was an Army Ranger who came home to become Tibbehah County Sheriff and take down a corrupt system, Quinn Colson was a kid who got into trouble–a lot of it. So when juvenile delinquent TJ Byrd insists that she doesn’t know who killed her mother—an unreliable addict who has disappeared—Quinn’s inclined to believe her. But no one else does–not the town, not the sheriff in a neighboring county, not her mother’s older boyfriend, and certainly not Quinn’s friend and former deputy, U.S. Marshal Lillie Virgil.

The Byrd family has always been trouble, and sixteen-year-old TJ is known for petty theft, fighting, and general hellraising. She’s also no fool, and when she senses she’s about to take the fall for her mother’s murder, TJ, her boyfriend, her best friend, and her nine-year-old brother go on the run. As Lillie Virgil tracks the kids across a trail of burglaries, stolen cars and even a kidnapping, intent on bringing TJ to justice, Quinn sets out to find the truth back in Tibbehah. Someone has gone to a lot of violent trouble to make TJ and her friends the logical target of the investigation. It’s easy, and who cares about a bunch of lawless kids?

As the bloody evidence against TJ piles up, Quinn knows someone truly evil is at work here–and that puts TJ and her friends in more danger than they can imagine.

Review

Bad things are afoot in Tibbehah County, Mississippi, the territory of retired Army Ranger, Sheriff Quinn Colson. When a white trash methhead Gina Byrd turns up murdered and dismembered, the law and about everyone else in Tibbehah County assume her hell-raising sixteen-year-old daughter Tanya Jane “TJ” Byrd and her thieving boyfriend Ladarius McCade are the guilty parties. But despite some incriminating evidence found at the Byrd homestead, Sheriff Quinn Colson remains unconvinced the teenagers are guilty. Before Colson can get a handle on the investigation, TJ along with her little brother John Wesley, Ladarius, and her best friend Holly Harkins go on the run. After all, who will believe they are innocent? The “Byrd gang” meets up with another troubled teenager on the road, Chastity Bloodgood. She insists on joining them and comes up with a scheme to help TJ and Ladarius prove their innocence. But Chastity only leads them into deeper trouble than they are already in. Once Sheriff Colson figures out a local small-time crook, Chester Pratt, is somehow responsible for Gina Byrd’s murder, he must not only solve the crime but save a bunch of troubled teenagers before they get themselves killed. The Heathens has everything you could ask for in a crime thriller set in Dixieland—a bent lawman, rednecks, a passel of petty crooks, a couple of murdering backwoods characters almost straight out of Deliverance, and a rough-edged female U.S. Marshal who cusses like a sailor. There is even a side trip to the Big Easy during Mardi Gras. It’s an entertaining deep-fried thriller perfect for readers who enjoy crime tales set in the deep south.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley for the purposes of this review.

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Review: The Darkness Knows by Arnaldur Indridason

The Darkness Knows by Arnaldur Indridason, a masterfully written story of resolution that operates on multiple levels.

The Darkness Knows

by Arnaldur Indridason

Translated by Bernard Scudder

Published by Minotaur Books an imprint of St. Martin’s Publishing Group

On Sale Aug. 17, 2021

ISBN 9781250765468 (hardcover)

ISBN 9781250765475 (eBook)

352 pages

Print, digital, audiobook

A frozen body is discovered in the icy depths of Langjökull glacier, apparently that of a businessman who disappeared thirty years before. At the time, an extensive search and police investigation yielded no results—one of the missing man’s business associates was briefly held in custody, but there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him.

Now the associate is arrested again and Konrad, the retired policeman who originally investigated the disappearance, is called back to reopen the case that has weighed on his mind for decades.
When a woman approaches him with new information that she obtained from her deceased brother, progress can finally be made in solving this long-cold case.

In The Darkness Knows, the master of Icelandic crime writing reunites readers with Konrad, the unforgettable retired detective from The Shadow District. This is a powerful and haunting story about the poisonous secrets and cruel truths that time eventually uncovers.

Review

When a melting glacier surrenders the body of a murder victim missing for over thirty years, a retired police officer who originally investigated the disappearance must decide whether to get involved again in the case he failed to solve that has haunted him for decades. There can be little doubt what his choice will be when a woman approaches him with additional information.

Arnaldur Indridason crafts a finely paced, superbly written, multi-tiered story which moves with ease between past and present. Older events that prompt current actions are uncovered and viscerally dramatized. This is a haunting, riveting crime-detective story. Indridason masters the art of delivering a compellingly dark thriller featuring a troubled detective that is defined by its emotional chilliness and overarching sense of despair against the backdrop of the cold and darkness of Iceland.

Rather than keeping the reader constantly on the edge of the seat, the author lulls you into a false sense of security with the minutiae of the intriguing, harrowing investigation and just when you grow comfortable, he blindsides you with the twist you never saw coming. It’s a masterfully written story of resolution that operates on multiple levels of time, mind, and spirit that’s perfect for the discerning reader of Nordic crime fiction.

I received an advance digital copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley for the purposes of this review.

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Review: Rigged by D P Lyle

Rigged by D. P. Lyle, private detective novel with a healthy serving of humor and Gulf Coast colloquialisms.

The plot is a bit on the predictable side, but an entertaining read.

Rigged

by D. P. Pyle

Published by Oceanview Publishing

on May 19, 2020

Genre: Mystery & Detective

ISBN-13: 978-1-60809-338-0

306 pages

Print, electronic, and audiobook versions available.

Love triangle—motive for double murder?

First loves are never forgotten. Ever. Certainly not for Tommy “Pancake” Jeffers. His first-kiss, sixth-grade love, Emily, who he has not seen since grammar school, is sliding toward divorce in the artsy Gulf Coast town of Fairhope, Alabama. Longly Investigations has been charged with looking into the finances involved. When Emily doesn’t appear for their nervously anticipated meeting, Pancake’s radar goes on high alert. Her body, along with that of Jason––one of two guys she has been dating––is found murdered, execution-style, Pancake calls in Jake, Nicole, and Ray.

Who would have done this? Could it be the soon-to-be ex, who has an ironclad alibi; the other guy Emily was seeing––jealousy being a motive for harm; or do the drugs found in Jason’s pocket indicate a drug-related hit? That world yields a host of suspects. As they peel back the layers of this idyllic community, dark secrets come to light and convoluted motives and methods of murder are revealed.

When the book opens, we find Jake Longly, a retired baseball pitcher and bar/restaurant owner on trial over an incident which happened at his bar, Captain Rocky’s. Fortunately, his attorney, the same lawyer that helped Jake’s ex-wife take him to the cleaners when they divorced, gets him off. Jake’s father, Ray, owns a Gulf Coast private detective agency, Longly Investigations. As it sometimes happens, Jake and his girlfriend Nicole get pulled into one of his father’s investigations when a young couple in Fairhope, Alabama, go missing and later the police find them in a farmer’s field, shot dead execution-style. The pair work with Ray and his investigator, Tommy “Pancake” Jeffers, one of Jake’s childhood friends, to help the Fairhope police find the motive and the killers.

Rigged is a unique private investigator novel in many ways, not the least of which is the Gulf Coast setting which I haven’t often encountered. Lyle does a good job of incorporating a lot of local favor into the book. Another distinctive aspect of the book is that despite a plot that centers on a murder investigation, there is humor aplenty which makes the novel a fun read.

While Pancake is my favorite character in the book, all the major characters are fully developed and realistic, even Jake’s angst-ridden ex-wife, Tammy, who we never see but who still makes frequent appearances via near constant harassing phone calls to Jake.

Generally, the book is face-paced and keeps the reader turning the pages to see what happens next, but during the investigation there are some redundant scenes where Jake, Nicole, Pancake, or Ray interview a host of witnesses who all tell them basically the same thing, so much so that the scenes seem interchangeable. Little of what the witnesses tell the investigators serves to move the plot forward. The book does end, however, with a bang at the satisfying conclusion.

The plot, while a bit on the predictable side, is logical and realistic and in keeping with what I expected after reading the synopsis. At the beginning, Lyle begins the book in a conversational first person point of view style that much reminded me of another author I like, Robert W. Stephens, who also writes private detective novels. But then he flips back and forth between first person when giving us Jake’s perspective, to multiple third person points of view when dealing with the other characters, including the villains. I’m not a fan of multiple points of view, preferring that an author pick one and stick with it beyond the odd prologue. But Lyle does well enough with switching points of view that it isn’t as distracting to the reader as the practice often is.

Those who enjoy private detective novels with a healthy serving of humor and Gulf Coast colloquialisms should enjoy Rigged, which is the fourth installment of the Jake Longly series. It was my first book by D. P. Lyle. My enjoyment of it has sparked an interest in trying some of the previous titles in the series.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher via Edelweiss for the purposes of this review.

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Review: Fallen Angels by Gunnar Staalesen

Fallen Angels by Gunnar Staalesen, vintage Nordic noir with masterful storytelling and not a terrible place to start if you’re new to him.

Fallen Angels

by Gunnar Staalesen

Translated by Don Bartlett

Published by Orenda Books (Reprint Edition)

on March 1, 2021

ISBN-13: 978-1913193065

276 pages

Print, electronic, and audiobook versions available.

Tense, vivid and deeply unsettling, Fallen Angels is the spellbinding, award-winning thriller that secured Gunnar Staalesen’s reputation as one of the world’s foremost crime writers.

At the funeral of a former classmate, Bergen PI Varg Veum has an unexpected reunion with an old friend, Jakob Aasen, on a somber Norwegian December afternoon. After the funeral, they go club hopping together. Learning that Varg is a private investigator, Jakob confides in him about his estranged wife, Rebecca, and asks Varg to locate her as a favor. That complicates the rekindled friendship since Varg has not never truly gotten over Rebecca, his first love. But he agrees to look for her. When someone murders another mutual friend, Varg realizes something very odd is going on. He makes the connection between the victim, a former member of the same once-famous 1960s rock band which Jakob was a guitarist with and some other unnatural deaths. A quest to find a killer forces Veum to dig deep into his own past and darkest memories.

Set so far in the past in the 1980s, reading Fallen Angels, the third installment in the Varg Veum series, reminded me a little of Raymond Chandler’s novels and Varg Veum seemed a bit like a Norwegian Philip Marlowe. The novel is a slow-burn out of the gate, but quickly develops into an absorbing read. Staalesen masterfully pulls you deeper and deeper into the story with each chapter. Peering into the darker side of human nature creates an underlying feeling of tension that leaves the reader feeling unsettling as the dark secrets of the characters’ pasts emerge. With its cold, dark setting, emotional chilliness, and an overarching sense of despair expressed via a brutal murder-mystery plot, the book meets and exceeds what we expect from a Nordic thriller.

This isn’t an easy read emotionally. It’s an uncompromising examination of how human beings sometimes do the most inhuman things to each other, and how such events shape people for a lifetime. There’s almost a poetic, lyrical quality to Staalesen’s writing. His descriptions of the landscapes, expert use of juxtapositions and similes, and his fully rendered believable characters combine to produce an evocative sense of place.

This was my first book by Gunnar Staalesen. Because of the slow start, after the first dozen chapters I felt like I wouldn’t like this novel particularly. But by the time I reached the shocking reveal at the end, I pondered where Gunnar Staalesen has been all my life. How could I have missed reading him until now?

I highly recommend this powerful novel to anyone who enjoys a suspenseful crime mystery. Gunnar Staalesen is another welcome addition to my list of favorite Scandinavian crime fiction writers. I’ll be adding the other books in the Varg Veum series to my to be read pile.

I purchased a copy of the book used for this review.

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Review: Cast Into Doubt by Patricia MacDonald

Cast Into Doubt by Patricia MacDonald is an absorbing suspense thriller featuring Shelby Sloan – chief buyer of women’s apparel at a Philadelphia department store who gets forced into service as a sleuth when a vacation goes horribly wrong.

Cast Into Doubt by Patricia MacDonald, first published by Severn House Publishers Ltd March 1, 2011 and republished by Joffe Books in April 2021. I based this review on the Joffe Books version.

Cast Into Doubt

by Patricia MacDonald

Published by Joffe Books

on April 7, 2021

Genre: Thrillers / Suspense

ISBN-13: 978-1-78931-712-1

253 pages

A gripping novel of domestic suspense – Shelby Sloan, a successful Philadelphia businesswoman in her early forties, has one child, a daughter whom she raised on her own. She gives her daughter, Chloe, and son-in-law, Rob, a Caribbean cruise as a gift, while she takes the opportunity to mind her four-year-old grandson. But life becomes a nightmare when Rob calls to tell her that Chloe has disappeared overboard. The police decide it was an accident, but Shelby refuses to accept the official verdict.

Shelby Sloan’s only daughter, Chloe, and her son-in-law Rob never had a honeymoon. A well-to-do Philadelphia buyer of women’s apparel at a Philadelphia department store, Shelby gifts the couple a Caribbean cruise to make up for it and to give them a break from work and parenting with some well-deserved romantic time alone together. It’s also a chance for Shelby to spend time with her young grandson, Jeremy, while they’re away on vacation. But things go horribly wrong. A few days into the cruise, Shelby receives a heart-breaking call from Rob, who tells her Chloe has fallen overboard and is missing off St. Thomas. Unable to sit home waiting for news with her only child lost at sea, Shelby scrambles to grab a flight to St. Thomas. When she arrives, it shocks Shelby to learn that the authorities have all but given up all hope of finding Chloe, dead or alive. They show her disturbing videos that appear to show Chloe severely intoxicated shortly before her disappearance. The St. Thomas police and the cruise line insist Chloe’s demise was likely an accident. But Shelby simply can’t accept it, even when her son-in-law reveals that her daughter was a closet alcoholic. When it seems no one else is mounting an adequate investigation, Shelby takes matters into her own hands.

This was the first book I’ve read from Patricia MacDonald, whose writing style reminds me a little of that of Mary Higgins Clark. I saw the book mentioned in an Amazon promotional email, and the synopsis caught my interest. The story grabbed my attention quickly and held my interest throughout. At first I wasn’t sure if it would turn out to be a murder mystery or the story of a grieving parent unable to come to grips with the loss of her only daughter. But soon, like Shelby, I was convinced that Chloe’s disappearance and presumed death wasn’t an accident.

There was a lot of conflict in the book that kept ratcheting up the suspense and that propelled the plot forward. Shelby faced an uphill battle in convincing anyone else, including her son-in-law, that Chloe was a victim of anything more than an accident. She also had to deal with her unsympathetic older sister and a boss who seemed more interested in when Shelby would return to work than about her devastating loss.

The thing I liked most about the book was the unusual circumstances. Arriving in St. Thomas after her daughter had fallen overboard from a cruise ship, Shelby had little in the way of clues to work with while trying to determine what happened. Once it seemed someone murdered Chloe, MacDonald provided lots of suspects and inventive ways for Shelby to find the clues that helped her work through the suspect pool. Even once it was clear someone had murdered Chloe, MacDonald kept me guessing about who the killer was until the big reveal near the end. And that came with a welcome twist.

While the pace was uneven in spots, overall Cast Into Doubt moved along quickly in the way you expect from a thriller. The characters were realistic and believable. Sometimes the story required more suspension of belief than I usually like, but generally it was a story I could imagine playing out in actual life. MacDonald’s writing engaged me emotionally. More than once I felt exasperated with Shelby at points in the story where she attempted to do things she wasn’t well-suited to perform. But that only added to the realism, since it was the things you’d expect a grieving mother to do while trying desperately to find out what happened to her daughter when no one else would help her.

I found Cast Into Doubt an enjoyable read suitable for readers who enjoy suspenseful mysteries featuring an amateur sleuth. I liked the book well enough that I’m keen to read more from Patricia MacDonald.

I purchased the copy of the book used for this review.

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Review: The Corpse Flower by Anne Mette Hancock

The Corpse Flower by Anne Mette Hancock—Immersive, with more than enough action, mystery, and pulse-pounding suspense to satisfy any thriller fan.

First U.S. publication of a suspense novel that debuted at #1 on the Danish bestseller charts and  earned the author the Danish Crime Academy’s debutant award.

The Corpse Flower

by Anne Mette Hancock

Published in the United States by Crooked Lane, and imprint of The Quick Brown Fox & Company LLC

on Oct 12, 2021

Genre: Mystery & Detective / Crime Thrillers

ISBN-13 (hardcover): 978-1-64385-828-9

Pages: 336

Print and electronic book versions.

It’s early September in Copenhagen, the rain has been coming down for weeks, and 36-year-old journalist Heloise Kaldan is in the middle of a nightmare. One of her sources has been caught lying, and she could lose her job over it. And then she receives the first in a series of cryptic and ominous letters from an alleged killer.

Wanted in connection with the fatal stabbing of a young lawyer three years earlier, Anna Kiel hasn’t been seen by anyone since she left the crime scene covered in blood. The police think she’s fled the country and have zero clues as to her motive. But homicide detective Erik Scháfer comes up with the first lead when the reporter who first wrote about the case is found murdered in his apartment. Has Anna Kiel struck again, or is there more than one killer at large? And why does every clue point directly to Heloise Kaldan?

Meanwhile, the letters keep coming, and they hint at a connection between Anna and Heloise. As Heloise starts digging deeper, she realizes that, to tell Anna’s story, she will have to revisit the darkest parts of her own past–confronting someone she swore she’d never see again.

As someone who can never get enough of Scandinavian crime fiction, I was beyond excited to get my hands on a copy of The Corpse Flower by up-and-coming Danish crime fiction writer Anne Mette Hancock. Given its arresting cover and very intriguing synopsis, I felt confident Hancock’s debut novel would be a fantastic read and right up my alley. I first learned about Anne Mette Hancock when I saw the book mentioned on social media and noticed all the buzz surrounding The Corpse Flower, which was awarded the Danish Crime Academy’s debutant prize in 2017. Today, after devouring the book in one sitting, I’m thrilled to offer my review.

It’s early September in Copenhagen, and 36-year-old investigative journalist, Heloise Kaldan, finds herself surrounded by a firestorm of controversy when one of her sources for an expose about a fashion mogul is caught lying. Having trusted her source, Heloise hadn’t done her due diligence before writing the article, embarrassing the newspaper that employs her. She’s looking at a suspension or might even lose her job over it. Just as that crisis resolves itself, Heloise receives a series of cryptic messages from Anna Kiel, a woman accused of the grisly murder of a prominent Copenhagen criminal attorney who has been a fugitive for the past three years. The bizarre messages hint that Heloise and Anna share some connection and seem to call on Heloise to write Anna’s story. Heloise embarks on an investigation of the three-year-old murder which brings her into contact with Detective Sergeant Erik Schäfer, the lead police investigator handling the murder case. While Schäfer plans to use Kiel’s contact with Heloise to find and arrest the suspected murderer, Heloise conceals critical information from him, determined to get Anna’s story first. When Heloise learns what connects her and Anna, she realizes getting the story means she will have to revisit a very painful episode from her own past.

Thematically, The Corpse Flower is novel about revenge, justice, and forgiveness.

In this story, we’re introduced to investigative journalist Heloise Kaldan, who works for a prominent Copenhagen newspaper. One thing I like most about this believable, down-to-earth character is her name, which suits her perfectly. While I was aware of the name Heloise before reading this novel, I must admit I didn’t know how to pronounce it properly until reading the book. I also especially enjoyed the literary clues associated with Heloise’s name. Detective Sergeant Erik Schäfer is another well-rounded, interesting character who is easy to identify with. While initially a villain-type, Anna Kiel gains the reader’s sympathy once her story is revealed. There is also a host of other secondary characters that seem like actual people.

The Corpse Flower is a tightly plotted thriller where the suspense feels so palatable that it packs an almost physical punch. Anne Mette Hancock keeps the plates spinning throughout until the very end when she lets them fall in the satisfying conclusion.

Only by nitpicking can I find anything at all to criticize about this novel. Regarding Detective Sergeant Erik Schäfer, in spots in the dialogue, his use of colloquialisms sometimes makes him sound more like an American police detective than what I’d expect a Danish detective to speak like. That felt a bit jarring, since otherwise the character’s manner of speech fits the image of him so well that the author paints for us. But it’s a small, unimportant fault.

The story mentions sexual assault, a subject upsetting for some readers. I can’t say more about that without interjecting a spoiler, which I’m unwilling to do. Just be forewarned you will encounter it.

I highly recommend this book to fans of Scandinavian crime fiction, especially for those who enjoy reading the likes of Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell.

Immersive, with more than enough action, mystery, and pulse-pounding suspense to satisfy any thriller fan.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley for the purposes of this review.

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Book Review: Rupture by Ragnar Jónasson

Rupture by Ragnar Jónasson is a solid, engrossing mystery & detective read from the reigning master of Scandinavian crime fiction.

Rupture is the third book in Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series. Because the series has been translated into English years after the novels were published in Icelandic, there is some confusion about the proper reading order for these books. Adding to the confusion is the fact that two different publishers, Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press and Orenda Books published English translations.

Like many series, evolution of the major characters and past events dictate the reader read the Dark Iceland series in a specific order to avoid confusion. Don’t go by the book series orders given by book retailers like Amazon, which are incorrect. At the end of this post I have provided the proper reading order that will save readers much confusion.

Rupture (The Dark Iceland Series Book 3)

by Ragnar Jónasson

Publisher: Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press (English Translation)

on January 22, 2019

Translated by Quentin Bates

Genres: Mystery & Detective / Crime Thrillers

ISBN-13: 9781250193346 (hardcover)

Pages: 272

Print, electronic book, and audiobook versions available

When new evidence for a fifty-year-old murder surfaces, young policeman Ari Thór reopens the case and begins his investigation. Piecing together what happened that fateful night proves difficult in a town where no one wants to know the truth, where secrets are a way of life. He’s assisted by Ísrún, a news reporter in Reykjavik who is investigating an increasingly chilling case of her own. Things take a sinister turn when a child goes missing in broad daylight. With a stalker on the loose, and the town in quarantine, the past might just come back to haunt them.

Rupture takes place in winter, following the events of Blackout, the second book in the Dark Iceland series. When the story opens, authorities have locked down the town of Siglufjörður because a virulent virus is on the loose. While that sounds very familiar to contemporary readers, the virus isn’t COVID-19, but haemorrhagic fever.

A wealthy adventurer from France who had flown from Africa to Iceland unknowingly brought the virus with him. Once his condition worsened and the man died, a specialist in infectious diseases confirms he died from the highly contagious disease. With no other practical way of dealing with the disease, the National Defence Authority placed the town under quarantine. Gripped by panic, stoked by the extensive media coverage, the townspeople feel understandably terrified and everyone remains in their homes waiting for the threat to pass.

To pass the time while little else is going on in Siglufjörður, Ari Thór Arason, the protagonist, entertains the request of a local man named Hédinn who asks Ari Thór to look into the fifty-year-old death of an aunt when she was only a young woman living in a nearby abandoned settlement called Hédinsfjörður. Hédinn was a small child at the time. Now sixty, the man requests Ari Thór to review the case because he feels uncertain the woman’s untimely death was an accident or a suicide as officials ruled it was at the time it happened.

While Ari Thór pieces together what facts he can dig up on the case, Ísrún, the Reykjavik journo who first appeared in Blackout, makes an encore appearance. Ari Thór gets her to help with his suspicious death investigation, but Ísrún is also pursuing a disturbing case of her own in Reykjavik that involves murder.

None of the structural problems you might expect from putting two unrelated cases together in the same novel, like tying up increasingly low-impact loose ends, occurs in Rupture. That’s primarily the case because Ari Thór and Ísrún work their investigations independently of each other. Jónasson switches back and forth between the perspectives of the two characters and their investigations.

I enjoyed the growth of Ari Thór, that’s clear since first meeting him in the first novel of the series. No longer a rookie police officer unsure of himself, Ari Thór has developed into a capable investigator. Also, I was pleased with the return of Ísrún, my favorite character from the previous novel. We get to know her even better in this one. Another thing I liked about this book was that Ari Thór makes progress with restoring his relationship with his former partner Kristin when it had seemed the relationship had all but ended forever.

While the sense of foreboding and suspense I expect from Jónasson is mostly absent in Ari Thór’s investigation this time around since it’s an ancient cold case with no real high stakes, there is plenty of that to go around in Ísrún’s case. It’s more than enough to carry the novel and keep the reader engaged. And despite what Ari Thór’s investigation lacks in tension and danger, it’s still interesting to see how he puts together the facts to work out the truth of a secret buried for half a century.

While unspectacular, Rupture is still a solid, engrossing read from the reigning master of Scandinavian crime fiction. Dedicated Nordic noir fans will enjoy it, and there are plenty of clues in both investigations to please armchair sleuths who love to match wits with the detectives.

I purchased the hardcover copy of the book used for this review.

Proper Reading Order of The Dark Iceland Series

For the benefit of those who might be interested in reading this series, ignore the book series order given on Amazon and the sites of other book retailers. Here is the proper reading order of the English translations of these novels.

Snowblind (2010)

Blackout (2011)

Rupture (2012)

Whiteout (2013)

Nightblind (2014)

Winterkill (2020)

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