Monday, February 22, 2021

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths: Reading Room Review


The popularity and appeal of the older, sagacious female sleuths or mystery solving figures has always been a much-loved part of the mystery/crime genre. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple was my first favorite amateur detective. Murder She Wrote continued giving credence to the reliability of the older woman sleuth in its lead role, Jessica Fletcher. Most recently, Richard Osman’s book The Thursday Murder Club centers around a group of septuagenarian sleuths, equal parts women and men, who are up to the task of resolving the question of whodunit. And, now one of my favorite contemporary authors Elly Griffiths in her novel The Postscript Murders gives us the character of Peggy Smith, who is known as the “murder consultant” by mystery authors who are having plot problems.

It’s a unique twist though, because the aged murder expert has herself been murdered, and the plot leading up to it must be discovered. It is up to Peggy’s Shoreham-by-Sea friends, who include 80 year old Edwin, Peggy’s care worker Natalka, and coffee shack owner Benedict to piece together what they realize is anything but a natural death. Finding a postcard in Peggy’s desk with the threatening message of “We are coming for you” seals the deal for the friends in determining that it’s murder that has brought about Peggy’s demise. 

The Postscript Murders opens to a still living Peggy writing in her observation journal with what she is seeing one day out of her seaside view window. There are two men she is watching who seem to be out of place in the neighborhood. Peggy lives in a retirement home, Seaview, but she’s still as sharp as ever, even at 90. However, she has reached the point in life where she must have a care worker come in and do certain basic services for her. When the care worker Natalka arrives for her afternoon duties on this particular day, she finds Peggy sitting in her chair by the window, dead. Nothing seems out of place, and Natalka calls her supervisor to report the death, thinking the death was just a case of Peggy’s advanced age. Then, Natalka begins to look around Peggy’s desk. Finding the postcard with the sinister message and encountering a masked gunman when she and Benedict are sorting through Peggy’s books puts a whole new spin on the murder consultant’s death. 

DS Harbinder Kaur, last seen in The Stranger Diaries, returns in The Postscript Murders to the delight of Elly Griffiths’ readers. Although in her thirties, Harbinder still lives with her parents, but readers get a closer look in this book at the dynamics of the Kaur family, showing how it’s possible for this arrangement to work well for everyone. Natalka takes her suspicions about Peggy’s death to the Detective Sergeant, and it isn’t long until Harbinder is investigating what really brought about the elderly woman’s death. When one of the authors Peggy helped is also found dead, of a gunshot, the group of friends is off running, as far as to Aberdeen to a Literary Festival, to find answers. Harbinder, while working with Peggy’s friends, is trying to keep police procedure at the forefront of her investigation. The friends, not so much.

The story is told from the multiple viewpoints of Harbinder, Natalka, Edwin, and Benedict. Elly Griffiths is brilliant at character development, and we come to know these characters through their separate narrations. It seems Natalka has the most secrets in the group, but she has some rather stiff (ouch) competition from the dead Peggy. And, although murder is a serious business, there is humor in the telling, too, especially in parts dealing with Harbinder’s family and her police partner Neil, whom Harbinder often compares to a squirrel. Readers can always count on Elly Griffiths to provide the most captivating characters, ones generating an emotionally vested interest with the reader. And while the characters do drive this story, the mystery itself is always at the center of the action. 

With this second book featuring Harbinder Kaur, we know have been gifted with three separate outstanding series from Elly Griffiths. Her first series, the Ruth Galloway series, has a special place in my reading heart, and her Stephens and Mephisto series never fails to intrigue me. Of course, this prolific author even has a children’s series, too. Justice Jones has two books so far, and I am absolutely charmed by it. The Postscript Murders has solidified the Harbinder Kaur series as another one to mark on your calendars for a yearly thrill.

Thanks to Quercus and Net Galley for an advanced copy of The Postscript Murders


Friday, February 19, 2021

A Girl Called Justice: The Smugglers' Secret by Elly Griffiths: Reading Room Review


Justice Jones: Secrets of Smuggler’s Inn is the second book in Elly GriffithsJustice Jones children’s mystery series. Yes, that Elly Griffiths, the brilliant author of the Ruth Galloway series, the Stephens and Mephisto (the Brighton) series, and the Harbinder Kaur series that have been on mystery/crime best selling and award lists for years. Now, with this children’s series, which is also a great read for adults, the author has given children and young adults a jump start on reading great mystery stories. 

I got the same sense of thrilling suspense from reading both Justice Jones books as I did reading The Westing Game, my favorite young adult mystery up until now. I can’t imagine any better books to instill the love of mysteries in a young reader than Griffiths’ new adventures. While set in England in 1937, they are completely relatable, as the only effect seems to be no cell phones, which would be all the rage for pre-teens and teens now. I find that a refreshing absence, and I think all readers of this series will, too. A dropped note is far more thrilling than a text message, any day or creepy night of the week. 

Justice Jones has returned for her second term at Highbury House Boarding School for the Daughters of Gentlefolk. Although Justice would rather stay with her barrister father in their London house, she has the advantage of entering the spring term with some established friends and an understanding of the rules, which of course doesn’t keep her from breaking them. Justice’s two best friends are Stella, who is a roommate in her pod of five girls, and Dorothy, who is a maid at the school. Dorothy is only three years older than Justice’s twelve years and is as big a fan of mysteries and investigating them as Justice is. Stella, although not as enthusiastic about sneaking around trying to solve a mystery when it occurs, does support Justice in her curiosity. And, of course, there are mysteries aplenty this term, starting with the new matron, Miss Robinson, who doesn’t seem to recognize a broken bone when she sees one. 

The headmistress, Miss de Verre, has decided the 2nd Levels class should volunteer in the village community this term, and Justice has been assigned to help an older gentleman named Mr. Arthur, who lives in Smugglers’ Lodge. Of course, Smugglers’ Lodge is rumored to be haunted. Mr. Arthur is blind and at first he just wants Justice to read the papers to him, but they develop a friendship and start using their one afternoon a week together to talk. He requests a favor of Justice, and it is one she jumps at the chance of undertaking, as it involves a mystery, and Justice is all about the mystery. Mr. Arthur is trying to connect with his adult daughter with whom he lost contact years ago, and he thinks she might be at Highbury. Justice is delighted to start investigating who it could be, and it coincides nicely with Justice’s puzzlement of why Miss Robinson is sneaking around at night and why the forbidden basement at Highbury seems to be attracting certain teachers’ interests.

To reveal anymore of the story would rob readers of the same pleasures of discovery I had, and I never want to do that. I can add that there is a murder, which shouldn’t be too surprising. There’s a new Games Master, Miss Heron, and, Justice finds out she’s not hopeless at athletic activities, although she still and forever hates lacrosse, and Justice discovers other abilities she has, outside of being an ace detective. Justice shows lots of growth in this book, with a nod to the future of a well-balanced person and productive adult. She is a highly likeable character, and how she handles the challenges she faces endears her to the readers even more. 

So, if hidden tunnels and disorienting fog and secrets around every corner and people who go bump in the night catch your interests, this second Justice Jones book is right up your mystery alley. Did I mention towers with mysterious lights? As a delightful bonus to it all is an inclusion of the blueprint of the Highbury House and a list of the cast of characters. This bundle of thrilling mystery is bound together in a cover (both books) that can only be described as a work of art. Share this series with your children or grandchildren but be sure to buy a copy for yourself. I do.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Guest List by Lucy Foley: Reading Room Review

I am a big fan of the locked room mystery scenario, which extends itself to the isolated island mystery. Of course, the most well-known isolated island mystery is Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, a story that gets chilling fast. More recently, Rachel Howzell Hall’s gripping They All Fall Down presented an island of select invitees to a gathering of deadly consequences. And, now I have another favorite in this remote island setting where once again the secrets the guests carry lead to murder. The Guest List by Lucy Foley is an outstanding addition to the locked room/remote island collection. 

Will Slater and Julia/Jules Keegan are a golden couple, rising stars in their respective worlds of television and magazine publishing. So, Jules knows that the setting for their wedding must be special, unique and unforgettable. After an only-the-unique-apply search for a venue, she awards the prize wedding to a wedding planner who offers the distinctive location of a remote island off the Irish coast. The island contains a recently restored stone house with ten bedrooms, so the wedding party can all stay overnight after the rehearsal dinner and before the next day’s big wedding. Aoife, the wedding planner, and her husband Freddy, the chef, will need to make sure everything is perfect for Jules’ dream wedding, as she will accept nothing less. Jules is happy to have gotten a huge discount on the venue and services because it is the first wedding being held there, and Jules also agreed to feature it in her magazine. Will, who is the star of the "Survive the Night" television series, is pleased that the outdoor wedding at the ruins of the island’s small church will jive with his outdoors image he projects to the public. 

The wedding party contains the ushers, all in their thirties, who were at school with Will at Trevellyan’s, an all-boys school where Will’s father was headmaster. The wedding seems to take them back to their youth, which isn’t necessarily a good thing for the wedding. The best man, Johnno, is especially a reminder of something Will wants left in the past. Jules has a lone bridesmaid, her half-sister Olivia, who brings her problems of a bad breakup with her and causes Jules to be even more irritated with her sister than usual. The bright spot for Jules is her long-time friend Charlie, who is to be the master of ceremonies. His wife, Hannah, who is largely left on her own by Charlie, develops a friendship with Olivia, as Hannah understands what a bad ending to a relationship can do to someone. But, there is so much hidden and buried within the characters, secrets that need to be told, but secrets that can have dire consequences. It’s a weekend of Russian roulette in never knowing when or if a secret will explode. And, the biggest secret of all is who has been murdered, a clever departure from the normal order, and the reader doesn’t discover who the victim is until late into the story. Trying to guess the identities of both the murdered and the murderer is quite fun, as those secrets of so many make it challenging. 

Lucy Foley has created a character driven tale that has layer after layer peeled back to reveal the horrors of lives ruined and lives interrupted. The characters are so well fleshed out in the narrative due largely to the story being told by five of those characters—Aoife, Hannah, Olivia, Johnno, and Jules. Through their narrations, the reader gains not only a great insight to those characters, but also to the other supporting cast. The secrets run deep, and once they start unraveling, they are gasp worthy. The big twist that comes at the end is a shocker. Foley has paced this story well to accelerate the suspense at just the right moments. The revelations come forth with stunning impact, and the reader will be caught off guard more than once. I think this is Foley’s best book yet.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman: Reading Room Review


What a great adventure with the septuagenarians who call themselves The Thursday Murder Club at Coopers Chase Retirement Village. It’s an idyllic setting in Kent, England, with open space and country air. A luxury retirement home that has been built out from an original ancient building that used to be a nunnery. Throw in for atmosphere, and later more, the nun’s cemetery on the hill, and it is a lovely place indeed for a murder mystery or two.

The four quirky septuagenarians who gather every Thursday to discuss murder are sharper and more resourceful than anyone would initially give them credit for. It’s a closed group, meeting under the covert name of a Japanese Opera study group, which discourages any newcomers. Elizabeth informally heads the group, and her past life is anybody’s guess, but that guess would have to include travel to many parts of the world and a contact in every port. Joyce is a former nurse who is recruited to join the group after it’s been in operation for a bit, and who is the perfect hostess with plenty of hidden talent. Ibrahim is a retired psychiatrist who is methodical and thoughtful about his actions, a calming presence when needed. Ron is retired from his union job in which he fought hard for others, and who has a famous ex-boxer for a son. Ron’s plain-spoken manner gets to the heart of matters. The member of the group whom Joyce has replaced is Penny Gray, a retired Detective Inspector who now lies comatose in the wing of Cooper’s Chase where she can no longer participate in anything. It was Penny’s cold cases that were the basis for the Murder Club’s beginning. However, the group soon gets a fresh murder on their agenda, and they could not be more thrilled. 

By chance, the residents of the retirement home receive a visit from Donna DeFreitas, a local police constable, sent to deliver a talk on security. Elizabeth and her friends have ideas for a less boring talk, and Donna gets her first taste of just how unconventional “old” people can be. There’s life in those old bones yet. The Murder Club and PC DeFreitas quickly meet up again when one of the partners in developing Cooper’s Chase, Tony Curran, is found murdered. Three of the Murder Club had witnessed an argument between Tony and the other developer/owner, Ian Ventham. 

The members of the Murder Club know that they can’t miss out on solving this murder that’s happened practically under their noses. Of course, as Elizabeth knows from experience, you need a source on the inside of the action, and she cleverly is responsible for getting Donna assigned to the murder case. Donna’s boss, DCI Chris Hudson, is exactly the right person to run this murder investigation, as he isn’t invested in his ego and listens to Donna, and eventually the Murder Club gang. When there is a second murder, it takes all the heads together to dig down to the truth. 

The characters are what drive this book, this adventure of murder solving. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron find friendship and purpose in their “golden” years by using their brains and individual skills to show just how valuable they are. We come to know this group as interesting, vital people, not ready to be put out to pasture or ignored. Of course, they must deal with the mortality of their friends, and they can’t help but think about their own at times. Yet, the reader will see far more optimism here than negativity. And, there are younger characters, too, who make this story sing. The give and take in the relationship between Donna and Chris is delivered brilliantly through their entertaining dialogue. Donna has arrived in her boss’ life at just the right time for him, and the Murder Club has made a timely arrival in Donna’s life as well.

One of the vehicles author Richard Osman uses in The Thursday Murder Club to move the action forward is Joyce’s journaling. Her journal entries fill in blanks for us and help to bring loose ends together in what the Murder Club is doing in their investigation. It also gives us a more personal and fleshed out view of Joyce, such as her relationship with her daughter. The journal serves as a smooth segue from one scene to another, while enhancing our emotional investment in the characters.

Charming, witty, thrilling, heartwarming, heartbreaking. The Thursday Murder Club encompasses all those qualities, giving readers a great story with unforgettable characters. Layers of intrigue to sort through as the murders are solved, and more than one suspenseful moment when you wonder if our aging sleuths will escape a dangerous situation. I can absolutely see this capable cast of characters in a TV series, which also means more books, please. Richard Osman’s debut novel is one that readers don’t want to miss.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Riviera Gold (Russell and Holmes #16) by Laurie R. King: Reading Room Review


A new Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes book from Laurie King is always a cause for celebration. For those of us who are rabid fans, or BEEKS, it is one of the reading events we live for. This series has inspired so many readers to expand their enjoyment of the Sherlock Holmes adventures. Laurie King has created an exciting extension of the Sherlock Holmes stories, giving him a young wife, who is equal to the challenge of solving mysteries and curbing the criminal element. The settings in the series have taken us from England to Jerusalem to Japan, and in Riviera Gold, we travel to the south of France and Monaco. 

Also included in the author’s extended world for Sherlock Holmes is the shaping of a life for the ubiquitous, but seemingly invisible, Mrs. Hudson. In the broadened world of Russell and Holmes, Mrs. Hudson is given an adventurous past with surprisingly unsavory elements. It is the fascinating past and present of Mrs. Hudson that this latest entry into the series goes, with the background being set up in the next-to-last book, The Murder of Mary Russell. I recommend that you read that book before this one.

Having finished their business in Venice (Island of the Mad), Sherlock takes off for Romania, but Mary joins in the sailing party with her good friend the Hon. Terry and his gang for the south of France. Mary has an ulterior motive for the trip, as she thinks it is to Monaco Mrs. Hudson traveled when she left Sussex and England forever. Mary arrives in the south of France and meets the Murphys, Gerald and Sara, who have a home in Antibes, where Mary and her friends are staying at a hotel. It is the Jazz Age (1920s) and the time of the Lost Generation, so it’s a time of great change and new direction. The gatherings at the Murphys are a who’s who in young artists and writers of that time—Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and more. Gerald and Sara Murphy have created an artistic haven for creative minds, which in itself is an amazing story.

And, the Murphys gathering on the beach with friends is where Mary, on her first full day on the French Riviera, runs into Mrs. Hudson. Mary shows great restraint when she’s surprised to find Mrs. Hudson so quickly, but she saves their reunion for when they’re alone. As it happens, Mrs. Hudson, who now appears as a woman of elegance and sophistication, will need Mary’s help and eventually Sherlock’s, too. Mrs. Hudson’s past is rearing its ugly head as well as its elegant one, and she finds herself suspected of a murder. Before answers can be found, there will be rumors of a lost fortune, the appearance of White Russians, and the delight of Lily Langtree. Add to that the arts community in neighboring Antibes, including a trip to a bronze pour, and the excitement is at an all-time high

One of the aspects of Riviera Gold I enjoyed the most was the independence that Mary shows in it. It is very much her book and her direction that guides the action of the story. Readers of the series are already cognizant of how valuable a team member Mary is in her and Sherlock’s sleuthing and missions, but this book shows Mary coming into her own, a freeing of the spirit in a sense. While Sherlock shows up and is a part of their investigation into the murder, it is Mary who shines. The evolution of the personal relationship between Russell and Holmes will be interesting to follow. 

Laurie King always gives readers a great story and great characters. She also does an enormous amount of research which flows smoothly through the historical details of her books. Riviera Gold was a goldmine of interesting historical connections that led me to do more reading myself. Gerald and Sara Murphy, who relocated from America to the French Riviera in the 1920s, were instrumental in furthering the careers of major writers and artists. I found myself fascinated by them and their Villa America and had to read more about them. The whole book is full of historical gems. 

I highly recommend this sixteenth addition to one of my favorite series. I’m looking forward to the continuing exploits of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

My Favorite Reads of 2020


 In a year of outstanding books to read, I suffered from the malady of so many of my fellow readers, the inability to focus and thus to read.  Oh, I did manage to read, but the number of books I read was down, and in a richness of reading year, that hurts.  Unfortunately, my reviewing and blogging was negatively affected, too, but I'm up and running with that again.  Let's face it.  2020 was not a normal year at all for readers and authors.  Virtual book promotion, learning to use Zoom (well, I'm still working on it), authors online book publishing birthdays.  But, the reading community, in particular the mystery crime community, is a resilient group who are passionate about their cause, so we have not only survived, we've thrived, gotten closer.  Even though my reading count was down, what I read was a  constant source of enjoyment.  It was hard to narrow down any favorites, because all the books I read were enjoyable.  So, my list is long, but it includes the ones I enjoyed the very most.  A couple of the books were published in 2019, but the rest are 2020 publications.  I will have quite a few more 2020 publications that I will feature in another list after I've read them.


 Leave No Trace by Sara Driscoll  Turn to Stone by James W. Ziskin  Mortmain Hall by Martin Edwards  Til Death by Annette Dashofy  And Now She's Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day   The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths  The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes  Nothing More Dangerous by Allen Eskens  Murder in Deep Regret by Anne Cleeland  Hid from Our Eyes by Julia Spencer-Fleming  Rules for Being Dead by Kim Powers    One by One by Ruth Ware  All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny  The Dutch House by Ann Patchett  Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen  The King's Justice by Susan Elia MacNeal  The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard  Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier  Death of a Mermaid by Lesley Thomson  Riviera Gold by Laurie R. King  The First to Lie by Hank Phillippi Ryan   Scot on the Rocks by Catriona McPherson

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Unspeakable Things by Jess Lourey: Reading Room Review


When I taught high school, particularly working with writing portfolios, I would occasionally come across a student's writing that spoke from the unimaginable situations they dealt with in their young adult lives, family and living situations that made me wonder how these students were able to function in any sense of normal at school, let alone do schoolwork and keep up. As Jess Lourey's book Unspeakable Things sets forth, there are those young people living so far outside "normal" that they must develop a defense system to survive it. If this book doesn't startle your awareness and break your heart, you need a checkup to make sure you have a heart. The time setting of this story is the 1980s, as it is based on true events that happened during the 80s in the Minnesota community of the author Jess Lourey, but it could have easily taken place today.

Cassie McDowell is a twelve-year-old girl struggling with an unconventional family life in which her unemployed sculptor father rules the family with his too often dark and unpredictable moods. On the outside, Cassie's presents a financially strapped existence, but a respectable one. Although her father doesn't bring in much money with his art, he is well-educated, and Cassie's mother is a high school English teacher, also highly educated. I pretty much spent the whole book despising both Cassie's parents. It would seem enviable to live on a farm with acres of wild to explore and fresh air to breathe in, but Cassie's parents use their distance from town and neighbors to an adult advantage, exposing Cassie and her older sister Sephie to adult situations way beyond their years. It's also easier for other people to pretend that the McDowell parents are just a bit free spirited, rather than unfit parents.

But, Cassie begins to have worries outside her home, beyond her fear of sleeping in her own bed. Boys her age, some younger and some older, are being taken. They are returned, but the boys are not the same as before. Something dark has crept into their lives and settled there. School is just letting out for the summer, and after the second boy is abducted, a curfew of 9 p.m. is set for the small town of Lilydale. Childhood is being interrupted by the sound of a siren every night, reminding everyone that boys are still being snatched. Some semblance of normalcy is sought, with birthday parties and swimming in the creek, and Cassie daydreams about the nice boy in her class who has actually spoken to her. But, when a boy is taken and not returned, the community of Lilydale must face the darkness of its own prejudices as it points fingers in predictable directions. 

This book is a dark tale indeed, but the character of Cassie McDowell makes enduring that darkness bearable and rewarding. Cassie is an unforgettable hero who has the courage and perseverance that those around her, especially her parents, lack. She sees more clearly than others, partly because she is in the realm of those boys being abducted and partly because she hasn't yet taken on the blinders of adulthood. Her world has sharp corners, but she finds some comfort in her own inventions, like kitty clinic and the sheet game and writing stories from what she reads. She is a survivor, and I am the richer for having read her story. 

Jess Lourey is an author who writes from the soul. Readers will feel the characters full force, embracing some and detesting others, but you will feel them. There is a preciseness in Lourey's description that seems to hit on just the right words, never superfluous, but always complete. The dialogue is a moving, flowing part of the narrative that shapes the characters into their parts and often is chillingly revealing. 

It's interesting, to me at least, that Unspeakable Things was the first book I bought this year, but it was the last book I read this year. I can be obtusely wrong sometimes. I have a category in my Goodreads book listings that is entitled "why haven't I read this book yet." Well, I can't think of a book that better fits that category than Unspeakable Things by Jess Lourey. I highly recommend that readers who have somehow missed reading this book thus far make it a priority to read it soon. You will be glad you did.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Leave No Trace by Sara Driscoll: Reading Room Review




The fifth book in the FBI K-9 series, Leave No Trace, by Sara Driscoll is so much in so many ways. It's hard to decide which aspect of the book to praise first. The story is an original, thrilling adventure through the outdoors fraught with river rapids, challenging forest and hill climbing, wild animals, and survival skills. One of the shining qualities I love about this series are the original story ideas, the situations that the FBI’s Human Scent Evidence Team, dogs and their trainers, encounter, and the skills they must hone to overcome killers who put them in dangerous spots. And, within these original stories are historical insights and learning that are such integral parts of the story, never just information, it is the backstory that is the backbone of current circumstances. The characters, both regulars and new draw the reader into their lives and create an investment from the reader. When an author creates characters who evoke emotions and understanding from the reader, well, the great idea of the story comes to life full force. While the FBI dog handlers and others are the characters who create the action, it is the dogs in this series that grab your heart and don’t let go. Setting is another area in which Driscoll excels, as the demanding surroundings with which the team must contend are so aptly described, it's easy to imagine oneself struggling with thick forest and churning rivers. Meg’s fear of heights aptly registered with me and had me gasping more than once. 

In Leave No Trace, handlers Meg Jennings and Brian Foster, with their dogs Hawk and Lacy, are called from Washington, D.C. to small town Blue Ridge in Georgia, where an expert bow hunter has killed multiple times, a single deadly arrow piercing each victim precisely on target. Special agent Sam Cruze, in charge of the investigation, welcomes the resources of the tracking dogs. Unfortunately, this killer seems to be particularly wily about covering tracks. As the victims are in some way associated with a new dam proposal for the area, the suspect list includes a large number of people who stand to lose their land and livelihoods to the construction of the dam. Also of interest are the Cherokee Indians in neighboring North Carolina who are trying to reclaim this land that was stolen from them in the early 1800s. Add to the suspect profile that bow hunting in the area is a competitive sport, and there are many who fit that descriptor. With connection to the three states of Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, narrowing down the suspect list is a daunting task. The shooter is, however, in an elite status of perfection shooting from difficult terrain and hitting the mark, so that factor can eliminate many. 

One of the aces in the hole that the FBI K-9 unit has is Clay McCord, a Washington Post reporter who is an outstanding researcher and has worked with the team before, with the promise of an exclusive on the story afterward. McCord also happens to date Meg's sister, Cara. So, when McCord arrives on site, he immediately goes into his whirling dervish mode to gather needed research on the bow hunters who have a stake in dissuading the building of a new dam. 

Before a solid suspect will be identified and apprehended, the action is intense. Readers say that a book is page-turning exciting, but Leave No Trace is as compelling a read as I have encountered. Meg and Brian and Hawk and Lacy must be at their most fit, physically and mentally, ever to overcome the obstacles of the Appalachian wilderness, man-made flumes, unfriendly wildlife, and a unerring killer. My heart was in my throat more than once while reading about characters and animals I've come to care about being in great peril. Pacing is yet another element that the author accomplishes effectively. 

Not apart from creating a great story, characters, setting, and pace are two features of this book and this series that make it such a favorite of mine. At the heart of the series is the relationship and interactions between the handlers/trainers and their dogs. In particular, Meg and her black Labrador Hawk are in a symbiotic relationship of mutualism, both working as one and benefiting the other. Of course, it's the affection they show one another when not on point that warms my heart. With so many dogs being in the book, the FBI dogs, Cara's dogs, and McCord's dog, it's a most satisfying place for we dog lovers. But, it is representative of loving partnerships with all of our furry family members. 

The other feature of the series is what I learn from the stories. There's nothing didactic about these books, but there are always issues, more than one, which benefit the readers as they navigate their lives and worlds. In Leave No Trace, the land that the new dam will cover with water is land which was stripped from Native Americans two hundred years ago, with no reparation, and much heartache. The infamous Trail of Tears is part of this history. With the Cherokee having filed claim to the land, the history of it flows throughout the book in a natural inclusion. The epigraphs at the beginnings of each chapter contain quotes or information relating to the topic of the stolen land and the demise of those forced from it. Not all the epigraphs are Native American related. Some explain facts or aspects of dams, which figure so importantly in the book. None of this information gained through the epigraphs is overwhelming or moralizing. For me, it helps with the understanding of the characters and their actions. 

This series has been a favorite for me since its beginning. Each has its own story that is completed in the book. There are growing relationships with the characters, their personal dramas, but it is possible to pick up one of the five books and read alone, too. Leave No Trace especially lends itself to a stand-alone read. Of course, I would encourage readers to enjoy all five, but the starting point is up to you. As with most loved series, waiting for the next book is hard, but the good news is that #6, Under Pressure, has just been finished and will be out a year from now. 

I was given the opportunity by author Sara Driscoll and Net Galley to read Leave No Trace before publication, and I assure all that my remarks are all my own opinion.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard: Reading Room Review


This book should come with a warning: do not read while alone in your house. I love thrillers, but I’m rarely scared by them. The Nothing Man permeated my layer of fiction security and had me looking over my shoulder throughout its reading. It is a book that will shatter your sense of safety and have you sleeping with one eye open. Psychological thriller at its best. Catherine Ryan Howard has achieved a level of intensity usually reserved for the movies, where you can see the danger coming. Howard creates a picture out of her words that is more powerful than a screen image, because what you imagine is even terrifying in its possibilities. It is the story of a serial killer who attacks people in their homes, and the police (Gardai) have nothing left, no evidence, at the scenes to connect to a suspect. The Nothing Man leaves nothing incriminating behind. He appears out of the dark and slithers back into it after brutalizing his victims. 

Eve Black was twelve years old when the Nothing Man paid her family a visit in the middle of an October night in 2001. She was the lone survivor in the murdering rampage that killed her mother, her father, and her seven-year-old sister. With this tragedy being the defining moment of her life, Eve’s path just naturally takes her to writing a book about the Nothing Man. Say it’s a calling or an obsession or a need to understand, Eve knows that she can’t move on to anything else until she finds the man who so altered the lives of her family and others. After Eve’s family was killed, the Nothing Man went dormant, his terrorizing apparently abated or thrown off course by a stronger pull in his life. But, Eve at 30 isn’t satisfied that he doesn’t seem to be a threat anymore. She wants him identified and punished. 

A security guard at a large supermarket is shocked when he sees a book by Eve Black called The Nothing Man in a customer’s hands. Jim Doyle is all too familiar with the name he was given as he baffled the police in his evidence-free sprees of violence. Almost twenty years have passed, and he felt confident that his dark secret would never see the light of day. But, he’s curious what Eve Black, the girl he left alive in the home at Passage West in County Cork, Ireland has to say, if she gets it right about him and just how much she knows. He buys a copy of the book and starts reading about his interactions with his victims, reliving the moments when he held the fate of a person or couple or family in his hands. And, he realizes that Eve Black poses a real threat to his anonymity and a danger to his discovery. 

Catherine Ryan Howard gives readers this chilling story in a clever format. It’s a book within a book, with the chapters of Eve Black’s memoir and true crime book interrupted by the thoughts of the Nothing Man as he reads it and fills in some of the blanks not covered in Eve’s book. It’s a seamless transition from one to the other, with the commentary from Jim Doyle becoming an anticipated part of the story. Not only is Eve’s story told in her book, but the stories of the other victims are there, too, in all their catastrophic horror. Howard/Eve gives the background of these other attacks, presenting a well-fleshed out picture of the victims through what Eve presents and Jim adds. It’s the human, personal effects we get from Eve and the cold, unfeeling actions of sociopath from Jim. Catherine Ryan Howard does a brilliant job of giving enough information and description without any gratuitous detail of the violence. She shows great patience as a writer, not rushing the action or conclusions, a natural pace setter. There are plenty of surprises throughout the book, ones that will chill and ones that will make you play the if only game in your head. It is an un-put-downable read of intensity. The originality of this book and its palatable scare factor will make it a must-read for crime fiction fans everywhere. 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier: Reading Room Review

Impact.  That’s the word I would choose if I had to choose but one word to describe a Jennifer Hillier novel.  I just finished reading her latest book, Little Secrets, and once again I felt the impact.  It’s a realization that the world in which you think and live is smaller than you think, and here is a way you probably haven’t looked at things before.  A famous quote that covers Hillier’s writing is when Hamlet says to Horatio, “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  It’s good to have your horizons broadened and challenged, and reading is always a great way to do that.  But, some reading has that impact of challenging you and changing your perceptions with a gasp of realization.  Little Secrets digs deep inside the human psyche of its characters, which, in turn, causes the reader to dig deep into their own.

Marin Machado has it all.  Wealth, her own business of three high-end beauty salons, a successful and handsome husband, good friends, and a beautiful four-year-old son named Sebastian.  She isn’t impressed with her advantages or with her own good looks and style. She is generous and caring, a good person, someone who has worked hard to be where she is.  She and her husband Derek have the respect and admiration of their community in Seattle.  Then, the unthinkable happens to shatter their world.  Three days before Christmas, Marin and Sebastian are at the crowded local mall as she tries to finish up on the last gift she needs to buy while dealing with a tired little boy who just wants to go to the candy store.  Fielding a phone call from her best friend Sal and then a text from her husband, Marin lets go of Sebastian’s hand for just a few seconds.  And, he vanishes.  Cameras later reveal Sebastian exiting the mall toward the parking garage with someone dressed like Santa.  The trail ends there, and after a month of no new leads, the FBI takes the case off its priority list.

Fifteen months since the worst day of her life, Marin has finally returned to work part-time, but it’s a flexible schedule due to her reliable, capable manager Stacy.  Still unable to sleep without pills and trying to just get through the day, Marin is a shell of the vibrant woman she was before Sebastian was taken.  She does go to therapy, although she’s not a fan of it.  Her support group for parents with missing children, with only a few other members, is more helpful to her than anything else.  Derek doesn’t attend the support group.  In fact, she and Derek barely speak, each living their own diminished lives in the wake of their tragedy.  She speaks more to her friend Sal, who checks on her every day, than she does Derek.

Marin does maintain some flickering hope that she will discover what has happened to her son.  When the FBI had to move on from Sebastian’s case, Marin hired a private investigator, Vanessa Castro, an ex-police officer who has dogged determination in her work.  Marin has not confided in Derek that she hired Castro.  Little secret, but understandable, right?  While working Sebastian’s case, Castro uncovers that Derek is having an affair with a twenty-four year old barista named Kenzie Li, and has been for six months.  Bigger secret.  When Marin receives this news, she is furious, and her anger starts to guide her decisions and actions.  She knows, but Derek doesn’t know she knows.  More and more secrets, and ones you never see coming.  Marin is determined to not lose any more than she has already.  Now, the reader gets a close look at not only the thought processes of grief, but of revenge.

The story is told from the perspectives of the two women, Marin and Kenzie, with Marin having more stage time.  While readers will be fascinated by the psychology of Marin’s despair, it’s also intriguing to look inside the mind of Kenzie and see where she’s coming from, her survival mindset.  And, if you think those are the only two minds and actions examined, you’ll be astounded by more.  It‘s a psychological thriller at its best and most complete.  Marin is always the main character, but she doesn’t exist in a vacuum and neither does the story.

When I read Jennifer Hillier’s Jar of Hearts last year, I said a most satisfactory “Wow” after I finished it.  Seldom had I been as challenged to see an event from the mind of a participant in a crime and understand it.  Now, I’ve finished Jennifer Hillier’s Little Secrets, and I find my understanding once again stretched. And, it’s not just with the major characters. This author brilliantly lets the light shine in the tiny cracks as well as the wide, gaping holes. You will feel like you’ve examined yourself, in a good way, from reading Hillier’s writing.  It’s quite possible you will be a more empathetic person.  I am, of course, highly recommending Little Secrets to others.  Readers don’t want to miss this powerful story.  

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Key Lime Crime by Lucy Burdette: Reading Room Review

For readers, when people talk about a staycation, a vacation where you take off from work and responsibilities and stay home relaxing instead of traveling to a vacation spot (something so many of us have had to do in 2020), it is a chance to kick back and read to your heart’s contentment. What if you could have a staycation but feel like you’ve traveled to one of the best vacation spots there is? Well, reading Lucy Burdette’s latest Key West Food Critic book, The Key Lime Crime, is a sweet walk down the streets and sights and foods of Key West, Florida. I can feel the rhythm of the island throughout every page of this book and all the others in this enchanting series. Key West time will draw you into the story and keep you swaying to the beat as Lucy Burdette brilliantly mixes murder into Paradise. Of course, Hayley Snow always lands right in the middle of it, along with her amazing octogenarian friend Miss Gloria. Now being married to Nathan Bransford, Hayley has the added challenge of flying under her husband’s radar to investigate a case which seems to be connected to her personally. 

Hayley and Nathan are still staying with Miss Gloria on her houseboat as they wait for their adjacent boat to be remodeled. With Nathan’s dog and Hayley’s cat and Miss Gloria’s cat, it’s a full house. When Nathan’s mother sends word she’s coming for a visit, there’s not a bed to be had on the houseboat or at any guest housing in Key West. Hayley’s mother and her stepfather come to the rescue and offer to put Mrs. Bransford up at their condo. Nathan’s mother was a no-show at the wedding, so Hayley is nervous about meeting her mother-in-law for the first time, and Hayley only has a day‘s notice. To add to the pressure, it’s the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and Key West is hopping at its busiest. Hayley has articles due for Key Zest, the online zine where she is food critic, and part of what she’s working on involves a contest for the best Key Lime pie in Key West. Nathan is overseeing security on the island for the week, a week that sees an influx of thousands of visitors, so his time with his mother or anyone else will be limited. And, Hayley’s mother and step-father have events employing their catering business all week. This holiday week is Key West on steroids. 

Nathan has bought tickets for his mother, Hayley, and Miss Gloria to take a ride on the Conch Train tour of holiday lights, and Mrs. Bransford/Helen no sooner arrives than it’s time to hurry over to the tourist train and claim the last three seats. Hayley is certain that this form of entertainment isn’t to Helen’s liking, but Hayley doesn’t think Helen will much like anything on the island, as rigidity seems to be her mother-in-law’s style. To make matters worse, Helen doesn’t enjoy eating, and with Hayley being a foodie, it’s another barrier to a close relationship. But, things heat up after the Conch Train ride, when Miss Gloria wants to drive back over to the last holiday location the train passed. As they approach the house on foot, the blown-up drunken Santa looks a little off, and it doesn‘t take long before the women realize it‘s a dead body. After the police arrive, including Nathan, and bystanders gather, the corpse is identified as Claudette Parker, the bakery chef at the new bakery, Au Citron Vert. Hayley had just seen Claudette the day before at the opening ceremony for the Key Lime Pie competition. Claudette was smearing another contestant’s pie into the face of David Sloan, Key Lime Pie expert and contest director, for disqualifying Claudette’s Key Lime Parfait because it didn’t fit the definition of a pie. And, now here Claudette lay dead. However, David Sloan isn’t the only one who had hard feelings toward the new bakery chef, especially one who had bragged that her Key Lime Parfait would make Key Lime Pie passé in its home base of Key West. It can be dangerous to attack an institution , and that pie had many people invested in its continued success. 

As with any body Hayley finds, and she’s found a few, Hayley becomes entangled in unraveling the who and the why of the murder. She does try to respect her husband’s admonitions to steer clear of the investigation, but a completely unexpected source of encouragement to prod and pry comes her way, Hayley’s mother-in-law Helen. Nathan’s mother is relentless in pushing Hayley to dig deeper and deeper, and Helen even insists on being right there with Hayley for the action. There are layers and twists to this murder that take the characters and readers from one suspect to another. It’s a dangerous undertaking for Hayley, and she worries that those she loves may become collateral damage. 

Lucy Burdette always has a great blend of fascinating characters, charming setting, and Key West flavored stories, and you can’t get any more Key West flavored than a mystery with Key Lime Pie at its center. What makes this series so appealing to me is its authenticity. The characters are a mixture of make-believe and real. Of course, the created characters seem real to us as we follow them from book to book.  Who hasn't fallen in love with Miss Gloria and delighted in her presence?  The setting is taken from the author’s own experience there. Cuban Coffee Queen, Key Lime Pie Factory, Duvall Street, Green Parrot Bar, and so many more unique and wonderfully quirky places come alive under this author’s imaging. For those of us who have visited this southern most point of the United States, it is a trip down a beautiful memory lane as we read the thrilling tales taking place there. For those who haven’t had the opportunity to take in this one of a kind atmosphere, Lucy Burdette’s Key West Food Critic series makes you feel as if you have. The Key Lime Crime is #10 in the series, and it’s an absolute treat.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Last Mrs. Summers by Rhys Bowen: Reading Room Review

Before I started reading The Last Mrs. Summers, I had heard the author Rhys Bowen talk about being inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca for its creation. Knowing going into this book that there would be shades of one of my all-time favorite books in its storyline was Pavlov ringing the bell. And, knowing that one of my favorite contemporary authors had created this new story was a guarantee that I had a memorable reading experience in store for me. But, could that all-consuming atmosphere that permeated every page of Rebecca and every pore of your skin be recreated? The answer is a resounding yes. Rhys Bowen did a brilliant job of ensuring that the crucial element of atmosphere never lagged. So many of my favorite trope boxes were checked in The Last Mrs. Summers. English countryside, large estate, cottage, romantic attraction of seemingly opposites, a scary housekeeper, a laid-out breakfast (yes, that’s important), sea cliffs, the sea, secret caves, and the delicious revenge served up cold. Well, to say I was in my reader’s paradise would come close to capturing the sustainable thrill I enjoyed throughout every page. 

It is fall 1935 and Lady Georgiana, now Mrs./Lady Georgiana O'Mara, is back from her Kenya honeymoon with Darcy and ensconced in their home sweet home of Eynsleigh, a generous gift from Georgie’s former step-father. The biggest problem Georgie has is wondering who she is going to hire as a cook to replace Queenie, who is a deft hand at baking, but not so much main meal fare. Georgie and Darcy have barely unpacked their suitcases when Darcy gets called up on one of his mysterious missions for the Crown, with Georgie not knowing where he's off to. Left by herself with a few staff, including the ever-exasperating Queenie, Georgie goes searching for company in London, first to her friend Zou Zou and then to Georgie’s grandfather. Neither of those work out, and she thinks her best friend Belinda is still in France, so it’s back to Eynsleigh for Georgie. To Georgie’s delight, she finds Belinda there wanting a travel companion. 

Belinda, who has had financial uncertainty in common with Georgie in the past, is now a rich woman due to the settlement of her grandmother’s estate, and one of the less impressive inherited properties include a cottage in Cornwall. Belinda is off to check out the cottage, and, with little urging, Georgie agrees to join her on the trip. After a wild ride in Belinda’s new sports car, the friends arrive after dark at the seaside cottage called White Sails. Its state of disrepair is anything but inviting, but being a remote area, Georgie and Belinda must spend the night in its chilly structure. After a night of discomfort and a surprise visitor, the friends decide they must find another place to reside while assessing the cottage’s needed repairs. Belinda, who used to spend summers with her grandmother in a lovely large house in the area, knows that it won’t be easy to find a place. But, as has often happened with Georgie and Belinda, a chance encounter, this time with an old childhood acquaintance of Belinda’s, produces an invitation from the acquaintance, Rose, to stay with her and her husband at their grand home called Trewoma. Although Belinda has some good reasons to refuse the offer, the overriding need for shelter yields to acceptance. 

And, so we come to Manderly, I mean Trewoma, where it is one delightful trope after another that mirrors the novel Rebecca. Rich widowed man (Tony Summers) marries mousey woman (Rose) who is undermined by the creepy housekeeper, who seems to appear out of thin air at times. The death of the man’s first wife haunts the home and is a constant reminder to Rose, the second wife, just how much she falls short of her role as mistress of the house. Georgie is already having uneasy feelings about the inhabitants of Trewoma when one of the household is found murdered. To extricate Belinda and herself from a murder investigation, Georgie will have to dig deep and determine what part the past has played in the present circumstances. Lots of surprises and twists ensue. 

What a gift this book was to this reader, who was swept away into the perfect reading adventure. One of my favorite books in one of my favorite series! I adored the similarities to Rebecca, but there is no mistaking that this is a Royal Spyness book. Lady Georgie is clearly at the helm of the action and proving her mettle quite impressively. Georgie has come a long way from the directionless, wandering Royal extra she began the series as. While she remains our loveable, trouble magnet, Georgie has come into her own as a strong, reliable partner, friend, and descendant of Queen Victoria. Rhys Bowen is a master at creating characters whom readers can’t get enough of and stories in which they persevere, while including a good dose of humor and optimism. Readers of this series have a treat in store for them with The Last Mrs. Summers.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Scot on the Rocks by Catriona McPherson: Reading Room Review

                                                Scot on the Rocks (A Last Ditch mystery Book 3) - Kindle edition ...                     
Catriona McPherson is wily, as well as witty. You may think that the Last Ditch series is funny and a hoot to read, and you would be right. But, it has a depth that exceeds its humor. By this third book in the series, Scot on the Rocks, readers are hooked on the extended family of the Last Ditch Motel, a group of what may at first appear to be misfits, but who are joined at the heart and compliment one another’s quirkiness. Lexy Campbell, the Scottish transplant who lives on a boat in the slough beside the motel is the focus of the action, but her cohorts in chaos are never far behind. Family redefined for the residents of this less than stellar motel is family redefined by all who read the series’ books. See how wily Catriona makes that happen. Impressive. 

In Scot on the Rocks, Lexy and her crew/family become entangled in her ex-husband's case of his missing wife, Brandee, who was the #1 wife and now the #3 wife. Lexy only held the wife #2 position for 7 months. Since Todd, the insectophobiac anesthetist who lives at the motel with his pediatrician husband Roger, and germophobic Kathi, who is married to the motel’s live-in manager Noleen, have inserted themselves into Lexy’s counseling business, they are involved in any business that comes Lexy’s way. So, when Lexy’s ex-husband Bran shows up begging Lexy to help find his missing wife, the three of them start investigating to see if Brandee was kidnapped, or if she took off on her own. Did I mention that Lexy’s counseling business also does investigations, which usually end up putting her at odds with the police, especially a female cop named Mike? 

In concurrence with Brandee’s disappearance is the baffling abduction of one of the town’s beloved statues, Mama Cuento. In an even more wacky turn of events, one of Mama Cuento‘s bronze toes has been broken off and left behind with a sinister note. When Bran shows Lexy and crew a similar kidnapping note he receives with an acrylic nail enclosed, it’s anybody’s guess as to what is going on, what’s connected and what’s not. Of course, as fans of this series know, the entire motel family will become participants in this wild and wooly chase for answers, although being the standing members of Trinity services, it will be Lexy and Todd and Kathi who take the most dangerous risks and find themselves on a road trip to Patriarchyville. There are lots of surprises in this tale of who or what went where and why. Readers will be entertained without pause. 

There is no doubt in any reader’s mind that Catriona McPherson knows how to tell a tale, and in this series, readers also can depend on McPherson to make them laugh. But who says you can’t broaden your horizons while you’re laughing? Scot on the Rocks and the previous two books in this series are invitations to explore, to color outside the lines and think outside the box. The Last Ditch Motel is a living, breathing example of diversity and how much better it makes one’s life. Catriona McPherson has created a magnificent cast of characters to lead us all into a better place.

A note here that Scot on the Rocks is only available on e-book presently. It will be out in print in February or 2021.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The First to Lie by Hank Phillippi Ryan: Reading Room Review

Whenever I review a book by Hank Phillippi Ryan, I know I will be dipping deep into the well of superlative language to describe it. It is always a challenge to find words that fully express just how great a read it is. Ryan’s newest standalone book, The First to Lie, may be the one that exceeds my abilities to adequately praise. This book is so well written and tightly plotted, you must wonder what the author can ever do to top it. Of course, those of us who have read Hank Phillippi Ryan for years know that she is well known for setting the bar high and achieving it every time. The many awards that set on her shelf reflect the consistency of her excellence, awards that include five Agatha Awards, three Anthony Awards, the Daphne Award, and the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Then, there are the 37 EMMYs for her television investigative reporting. With this remarkable talent in writing and investigative reporting, Hank Phillippi Ryan was born to write The First to Lie

There are certain favorite elements I love about my crime/mystery novel reading: a compelling story, a layered storyline, intriguing characters (with secrets), suspense that keeps me squirming in my seat, and twists I don’t see coming. The First to Lie is, as they say, all that. In addition, something that greatly appeals to me in all of Ryan’s books, and certainly in this one, is her clever weaving of the title into the story on more than one level. Who is the first to lie? What constitutes a lie? What are the unforeseen consequences of a lie? And, who is lying and who is telling the truth. You won’t know until the very end who are the liars and, indeed, if anyone is telling the whole truth. The truth is a slippery commodity in this story, but then the reader might have to decide if lies are acceptable to achieve a greater good. Ryan always gives us food for thought in her spellbinding stories, reaching beyond the pages of the book into our real lives. 

With some of her best characters to date, Hank Phillippi Ryan unfolds the contemporary version of the epic tale David and Goliath. The giant in The First to Lie takes the form of the Pharminex Company, a major player in the pill pushing industry. The characters created by Ryan to combat the evils of this company’s use of a specific drug are exquisitely complex and often duplicitous. But, then you go back to that question that the author sows throughout, using somewhat devious means to achieve a good end. I’m only going to discuss the three main characters, as I don’t want to give too much away, but readers already know that it takes a village to make a great story work, and this author is a master at minor characters as well as major ones. 

Ellie Berensen is an investigative reporter who has just signed on with a new Boston news television station. She has three weeks before they hit the air, and Ellie is working on a story that will create shockwaves in the pharmaceutical world. She intends to bring down Pharminex, a company who claims it has the health and care of women at its heart. Ellie knows that one of the drugs being pushed hard by the company for infertility can have irreversible ill effects for women, and that Pharminex is hiding that knowledge from patients until it's too late. Meg Weest comes on board as just an assistant for Ellie, but Meg quickly inserts herself directly into the investigative research and Ellie’s personal life. While Ellie is trying to adhere to an ethical investigation, Meg seems willing to resort to subterfuge without any qualms. Nora Quinn is a new pharmaceutical sales representative for Pharminex and has her own agenda for working at the company. She suspects that the drug being pushed off-label as a miracle to treat infertility can leave some women barren without their knowledge of the danger. In her visits to doctors’ offices as a sales rep, Nora feels like she’s in the perfect position to find women who have suffered the devastating result from Monifan and who are willing to talk to her. But, Nora finds out that big pharma has long reaching arms to prevent security breeches, and Ellie discovers that even the women harmed are reluctant to speak out. When a patient dies, the stakes rise alarmingly.

The story is told mainly from the perspectives of Ellie and Nora, but in typical broad, inclusive strokes for Ryan, readers also gain insight into the family behind Pharminex through the “Before” chapters. These “Before” chapters from the past feature Brooke, the Vanderwald daughter, and Lacy, the Vanderwald daughter-in-law. Running through all the chapters are deceit, betrayal, and hidden agendas. The characters are seeking justice, but at least one is seeking revenge, too. Whose lies will take them to the finish line first. The chapter structure enhances the suspense, moving from character to character, creating a pace that suggests urgency. The absolutely brilliant aspect to the chapters for me is the many cliffhangers that left me breathless when the next chapter switched to another character and sometimes another time setting. If I didn’t know what a genuinely lovely person Hank Ryan is, I would call these chapter cliff hangers a sadistic author style, but while you're waiting for the cliff hanger to be resolved, you're reading more riveting story. 

The First to Lie is a dream come true for crime/mystery fans.  It's a page turner that keeps the reader guessing until the end, with all the suspense of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  Don't plan anything else once you start reading this book because this story is the very definition of riveting.  Hank Phillippi Ryan should make some room on her shelf for the awards that are sure to be bestowed on her for this thrilling new book. 

I received an advance copy of this book from the author/publisher, and I will verify that the opinions expressed in my review are all my own.