Friday, November 30, 2018

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier: Reading Room Review

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Wow! This book will grab you and spin you round by its story and characters and make you think long and hard about the repercussions of a horrific crime. But, what gobsmacked me was how Jennifer Hillier forces the reader to acknowledge that murder is not always a black and white matter and ask the question, "Are there degrees of guilt?" and "Can there be redemption for a monstrous act?" This story lays bare what happens when the wrong path is chosen, when an otherwise sane and good person falls into the dark abyss of evil. And, it makes you ponder the "what if" questions of choices that lead to just another normal day or the worst day of your life and murder. The writing is simply superb and the timeline in which Hillier reveals the story and back story is brilliant. This author knows how to maximize the suspense and shock. Just when you think you know what the whole story is, you are given yet another piece of the puzzle that changes everything. 

The basic story is that Georgina Shaw at the tender age of sixteen falls in love with a bad boy, a very bad boy who is five years older than she. Events and choices lead to the death of Angela Wong, also sixteen and Georgina's best friend since fourth grade. It's no secret to readers that Georgina's, or Geo's, bad boyfriend Calvin James killed Angela, but Geo helps cover it up for fourteen years. After fourteen years of uncertainty for Angela's parents and other friends, her bones are found buried in the woods behind Geo's house where she grew up. Now thirty and in a successful career with a rich fiance, Geo is arrested for her part in the crime. She gets off with a five-year sentence for testifying against Calvin, whom she hasn't seen for all those years. Calvin is also charged with three subsequent murders, having acquired the name Sweetbay Strangler in his infamy, and the prosecution wants him put away. The most gruesome part of Angela's murder that the public learns is that Angela's body was cut up into pieces and buried in several different grave sites. Geo's life quickly changes, as she's sentenced to five years in prison. Her prestigious job is gone, her fiance is gone, and the community of Sweetbay in Seattle turns against her. She is resigned to her fate of prison and feels that it is where she belongs for covering up the murder of her friend whom she loved dearly. 

Jennifer Hillier doesn't sugar coat Geo's time in prison. It's prison and it's tough. Geo's time spent incarcerated is handled with an honesty of description that gets ugly at times, but there's nothing included that isn't authentic and relevant. The adjustment that Geo has to make to "normal" life after prison must be all to familiar to those who have served time and had their freedom of movement and choice curbed. It's another example, too, of how Hillier gives a complete picture of Geo and her emotions and character. I became wholly invested in Geo, caring about the outcome of her tragic story. Much of the story begins after Geo is released from prison and comes back to live with her father (mother died when she was five) in the same house in which she grew up, the same house by the woods where she and Calvin had buried Angela. Geo's homecoming is not a welcome one by the community, but she is a strong person who believes in putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. 

But moving forward will be interrupted by a new series of murders which started right before Geo gained her freedom again, murders with the bodies of the women victims dismembered, and the first one buried in the same locations as Angela was. Detective Kaiser Brody (Kai) is the policeman who breaks it to Geo about the new murders that he thinks are by Calvin James, too, which is possible because Calvin escaped from prison shortly after his conviction. Kaiser is also the cop who arrested Geo for her part in Angela's murder, and he happens to have been her other best friend before Angela died in high school, a part of the trio comprised of Geo, Angela, and Kaiser. And, he was in love with Geo when she chose Calvin as her first love. Lots of history, lots of emotion, lots of unfinished business. 

So, now Geo is living under the threat of Calvin returning to her life with murder on his mind and on his agenda. Kaiser is hellbent on catching Calvin again and returning him to prison to rot out his remaining days. But, there are many miles to go before they sleep and many secrets to unravel, secrets that the reader won't see coming, which, of course, makes them that much more chilling. The road to the truth is a long and twisted one, and revenge is still a dish best served cold.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths: Reading Room Review

With elements of the best Gothic classics set in the present-day world of conveniences and police work, The Stranger Diaries is an absolute thrill from start to finish. Elly Griffiths, known for her outstanding Ruth Galloway and Magic Men series, has taken her brilliant writing to the creation of a stand-alone that will take your breath away. Wilkie Collins and Dame Daphne du Maurier, you can rest easy. Elly Griffiths has this now, and atmospheric mystery never had a better guardian than she. The suspense is unrelenting, as it should be, and use of setting to drive it is inspiring. 

Clare Cassidy teaches English at Talgarth High in West Sussex, where she moved to from London after her divorce five years ago with her now teen daughter Georgie. Clare is also writing a book about her classic author obsession, R.M. Holland, who happened to live in the house still used for some classes on the Talgarth campus. In fact, Holland’s third floor study is preserved as it was when he lived in the house, an unexpected bonus for Clare when she came to teach there. R.M. Holland’s most famous work was a short story entitled “The Stranger,” and Clare is currently teaching it in an adult education creative writing course during a Talgarth school break. 

Griffiths’ book begins with an excerpt from “The Stranger,” as Clare is reading it to her class. It is as Gothic and atmospheric a tale as one can imagine, and reading it on a late October afternoon, with the sky darkening, creates the perfect storm of a setting, an ominous setting that turns out to be a harbinger of what follows. During the class coffee break, Clare receives a call from the head English teacher that another Talgarth English teacher, a close friend of Clare’s, has been found murdered. What shakes up Clare even more is when the police later tell her that a note bearing the words “Hell is empty,” was found by her friend Ella’s body. Clare knows that quote. It’s from R.M. Holland’s ghost story “The Stranger.” Of further concern is that the stigmata symbol cut into Ella’s hands after her death is another item from Holland’s story.

Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur is the lead investigator into Ella Elphick’s death, and she doesn’t waste anytime zeroing in on Clare Cassidy’s connection to Ella, their friendship and the R.M. Holland tie-ins. Harbinder takes an instant dislike to Clare, who is tall and beautiful and polished, but Harbinder is a crack detective and doesn’t let personal feelings enter into her dogged pursuit of the truth. She is capable of letting the facts lead her to a fair opinion. When a second murder occurs, this time the head English teacher at Hagarth, Rick Lewis, DS Kaur probes further into the relationships between Ella, Rick, and Clare. Kaur is herself a former student of Talgarth and had a supernatural experience in the old Holland house she has never discussed with anyone. 

Clare in the meantime has made a chilling discovery of her own in her diary she regularly keeps. Looking back in her diary at the time she, Ella, and Rick attended a conference together, she is terrified to see that someone else has written in her diary at that time with “Hallo, Clare. You don’t know me.” It won’t be the last time she finds such an entry. Notifying DS Kaur of the unknown contributor to her diary, Clare ends up giving all her diaries she’s kept to Harbinder to review. 

And, daughter Georgie is keeping secrets from her mother as she writes in an online diary site for teens. Georgie’s writings and some of her friendships are something she wants to keep private from both her mother and her father Simon, who is in London. These friendships are a result of a creative writing course the students are taking together, and one of those students sent an inappropriate Valentine to Ella in the last year. What isn’t secret is Georgie’s 21-year-old boyfriend Ty, who is six years older than she is. Although Clare doesn’t approve of the age difference, she’s trying hard to be open-minded about it. And, Georgie does give comfort to Clare, along with their white-ball-of-fur dog named Herbert, yet another link to the R.M Holland story. 

The setting in this book is completely in tune with the plot, as all great Gothic style stories are. The house where H.M. Holland lived and wrote, where his wife mysteriously fell down stairs to her death, and where the legend persists that it is haunted—that part of the setting is the strongest presence of Gothic. The isolation of the school and where Clare lives, near an abandoned cement factory from which an occasional light is seen, lends added suspense and mystery. The time of year is the icing on the setting cake, with it being October when the winds are blustery, and the skies get dark by late afternoon. The chill in the air is a tangible, pervading element and contributes to the chilling effect of the story. 

As Griffiths does so many things well, in this book and all her others, it’s impossible to single out one aspect of her talent that is the most commanding, but one aspect of her stories that keeps readers returning for each book she writes is the undeniable genius of creating unforgettable characters. Ruth Galloway, Cathbad, DI Edgar Stephens are three of my favorites from her series. The Stranger Diaries too has an excellent cast of characters, with Clare and DS Harbinder Kaur being at the forefront. They are both independent women who have had to make their own way on their own terms. Clare has established herself as a serious academic despite her ex-husband’s lack of confidence in her and the responsibility of being a single mother. Harbinder is a smart, capable policewoman who has had all the challenges of advancing as a female, and then some. Although distrustful of one another at first, a respect for each other develops over the course of the investigation. And, there is the looming presence of the long-dead H.M. Holland and his tragic wife, characters still affecting the living. Minor characters are also a Griffiths’ forte, including Clare’s daughter Georgia and Byrony Hughes, as a practicing witch with a sinister sway over her writing group of teens, and Henry Hamilton, a Cambridge professor offering some interesting H.M. Holland materials to Clare.

The way in which Elly Griffiths chooses to tell this tale is perfection itself. Beginning with the brief reading of part of H.M. Holland’s “The Stranger,” the book is then divided into parts labeled Clare, Harbinder, Georgia, and further excerpts from “The Stranger.” This arrangement allows the reader to get different characters’ points of view and different clues to the who-done-it question. The Georgia parts are much shorter than the Clare and Harbinder ones, but they allow the reader to fill in some blanks that otherwise would make an incomplete story. As the killings mimic the ones in Holland’s story, its inclusion is both helpful and wonderfully atmospheric. The complete story at the end of the book is quite the satisfactory finishing touch.

I anticipated that The Stranger Diaries would be a great read, as Elly Griffiths is one of the best writers/storytellers writing today, but I was still blown away by its extraordinary accomplishment. Threading Gothic elements into a tale of police procedural and psychological thriller makes for some of the best reading I’ve had, ever. The stand-alone is yet another area in which this exceptional author excels.

I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy of this book from the author, and my review is an honest, unbiased one. 


Monday, November 26, 2018

Books for Christmas: Some Different Ideas

There is no end to the books mystery/crime fiction readers could choose to give or receive for Christmas.  The novels in this amazing genre give hours of reading enjoyment, and there's nothing better than hunkering down for a good read.  However, with the holidays being so busy, both before and after Christmas Day, there's another choice for some shorter spurts of reading time.  2018 has given us some excellent choices in non-fiction and shorter reading materials, too.  I've gained a new appreciation for short stories this past year, and I've bought some non-fiction books that go beautifully with my love for mystery/crime.  So, I'm going to share some items worth considering for your Christmas giving, both to others and yourself. 

And, don't forget the anthologies for the different mystery/crime conferences and festivals, such as:

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Three Beths by Jeff Abbott: Reading Room Review

Last year when I read Jeff Abbott's Blame, the first book I'd read by him, I thought I'd found a special new (for me) author. After just finishing The Three Beths, that thought had solidified into a concrete fact. No one tells a story steeped in secrets better than Abbott. His mastery of connecting the threads between characters and the timing of revealing their hidden deeds or thoughts is perfection. Secrets seldom hold their breaths forever, and the effects that delay of information and taking responsibility for actions result in can be deadly. And, with Jeff Abbott, there is always one more gobsmacking secret to learn. There are quite a few characters in The Three Beths, but I never once thought about that while reading the story. Only after did I realize that the author did quite the amazing job of avoiding confusion with the number of characters involved. I didn't spend any time looking back to see who someone was. That's smooth writing.

The story centers around two missing women, both named Beth, who vanished six months apart. It's mostly through the eyes of the second missing Beth's daughter, Mariah Dunning, that we experience the unfolding of events, although Mariah's father, Craig, contributes quite a lot of the drama, too. Beth Dunning has been missing for a year, and the blame from the police and the community is aimed squarely at Craig Dunning. Though not arrested or tried for anything to do with Beth's disappearance, opinion itself has been a harsh judge. Mariah believes in her father's innocence and has moved back into their house after college so that the two of them can find some semblance of existence in a world where they have no clue what happened to Beth. The police chief, an old friend of Beth's and somewhat resentful of Craig's marriage to her, hasn't given up on pinning something on Craig. There are others in their well-heeled community and neighborhood in Austin who want little or nothing to do with Craig and wish he'd just move. Of course, these opinions have fall-out for Mariah, who misses her mother and feels badly for her father living under suspicion. 

When a former high school classmate of Mariah's who has a crime blog writes a post about another Beth in the area vanishing six months before Beth Dunning, Mariah takes notice and feels that this blogger, who goes by the name of Reveal now, could be onto something in his linking the two disappearances by the names of the women. Mariah has not been able to make any sense out of her mother just leaving one day without any further communication to her, and Reveal's post stating that Bethany "Beth" Blevins Curtis, young wife of a newly millionaire tech genius, vanished without a trace, too, gives hope that there may be some answers in that connection. Knowing that Lakehaven's Police Chief Dennis Broussard has tunnel vision for only her father Craig's involvement, Mariah decides that she has to do her own investigating, starting with Bethany Curtis' family, her husband Jake and her mother Sharon, and then moving on to Bethany's friends, one of whom is named Lisbeth and hasn't been around since shortly after Bethany's departure. Digging hard for a connection between her mother and Bethany that would explain both of their disappearances, Mariah becomes entangled in the past of Bethany's family and friendships that have many dark corners. Harassment against Craig Dunning has begun in earnest again, and Mariah needs desperately to clear his name and find out where her mother went if they are ever to have a "normal" life. Her investigation does start bringing some answers to light, but the danger is building fast, as containment of secrets is paramount to those with the answers. And, of course, there is always the admonition of being careful what you wish for.

The twists the reader experiences throughout the journey of Mariah's quest for the truth are many, and Jeff Abbott controls these twists beautifully in their purpose to further suspense and create interest. There is a lot of damage that most of the characters have to deal with, damage to their perceived view of what their lives would be, and there's loss of one sort or another, too. Their stories are woven into the main story, as the major reveals are formed from the earlier actions and inactions in their lives. The Three Beths will grab you and surprise you and make you want to read more Jeff Abbott.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Storm Rising (An F.B.I. K-9 Novel) by Sara Driscoll: Reading Room Review

Having just adopted a rescue dog, I have a special affinity for a story in which a rescue dog is a main character. Storm Rising is the third book in the F.B.I. K-9 series by Sara Driscoll, and it takes us on another harrowing adventure where humans and animals rely on one another to safely navigate disasters, man-made and natural. Meg Jennings and her dog partner Hawk are part of the FBI’s Human Scent Evidence Team, performing search and rescue of people wherever a disaster strikes and they are called. The call this time is to the Virginia Beach area after a hurricane has smashed through with winds and storm surge strong enough to wipe houses off their foundations. It will be the job of FBI K-9 team to find survivors who failed to heed the evacuation warning. It’s a stressful job, with the highs of finding a live target and the lows of being too late to help. 

Accompanying Meg on the drive from D.C. to Virginia Beach is her boyfriend Todd Webb, who is a firefighter/paramedic assigned to his D.C. team also called in to help the hurricane victims. While Meg joins her fellow handlers and their dogs, including her best friend Brian and his dog Lacey, to search houses still standing and in water for life, Todd goes to a hospital to evacuate aging patients not moved ahead of the storm. The painstaking process of going from house to house and checking for survivors is a dangerous one, and Driscoll takes readers into the heart of it by describing the steps taken before, during, and after a rescue. The trust of authenticity is established, which is so important to a reading experience. 

When the job shifts to Norfolk, Meg and Todd once again share a ride to the area. On their way, Todd catches sight of an overturned van in the flooded marshlands of the Elizabeth River, just off the highway, and they stop to investigate, checking for anyone who might be left in the van needing rescue. What they find is a horror story. The driver is long gone, but two young girls dressed in sexually suggestive outfits are dead, left dangling from restraints in the van. However, there are signs of at least one more girl who escaped. It doesn’t take much time for Meg and Todd to realize they have stumbled onto a sex trade operation, and authorities are called in.

Time is of the essence, and Meg jumps right into an area called The Great Dismal Swamp to search for the girl who is probably injured and needs their help. Two girls are eventually found, one injured and one in fear for her life. The first one is taken to the hospital, and the second one, Emma, to a safe place where she bonds with Meg as a person she can trust and Hawk as a measure of comfort. With Emma’s reliance on Meg, it’s a natural step for Meg to join SAC Walter Van Cleeve in the ensuing investigation of the seedy business that has ripped Emma and many other young girls from a normal life into one of darkness and abuse. Also joining in the fight to bring justice to these girls is Clay McCord, a Washington Post reporter, who is a friend of Meg’s and Meg’s sister’s boyfriend. With his contacts, inroads can be easier made into the seedy places they must go. The crime network that they must crack is full of well-kept secrets, so it will be a challenge to find and punish those at the top of this evil business.

This book covers so much, but it is at its core a story of rescue. The part that trained dogs play in disaster rescue is fascinating, and the loyalty between handler and dog is felt keenly in Sara Driscoll’s descriptions of their interactions and care for one another. The issue that captivates our attention in this particular story, that of the sex slave trade, is handled without any graphic description of any sort. It is the emotional toll of the victims we are made aware of, that pulls at our hearts, and makes the issue appear as the urgent problem that it is. Rescuing innocents from this dire fate is a compelling incentive to bring down those who profit from it. Storm Rising is not only a great piece of storytelling; it is an important read for awareness. 

I was fortunate to receive an ARC of Storm Rising from the author, and I have given a fair and honest review of the book.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena: Reading Room Review


Shari Lapena's latest mystery thriller An Unwanted Guest was a perfect read for me. Locked room set-up in an isolated, atmospheric hotel, snowed-in, cast of characters with secrets to hide, lights out, and no way to call for help, with no cell-phone service. A murderer or a reader couldn't ask for more. With a tip of the hat to Agatha Christie for the gathering of suspects all under one inescapable roof and another tip to Stephen King's the Shining for a snow and ice storm that shuts everything down. It's test of nerves and survival, with an hysterical edge.

The Catskills in the winter can be a both a great place for a getaway and a dangerous place to navigate in bad weather. Mitchell's Inn is a secluded hotel with luxury accommodations, fireplaces in the large rooms, a lobby with a roaring fire, a library, meals that promise to be first rate, and plenty of outdoor activities in the snow. The group of guests that arrive before a snow storm makes the roads impassable are there for a relaxing, private time, so the snow at first seems cozy. There are couples and singles, and they all have their own reasons for wanting to get away from their daily routines. One couple is engaged and needing some down time before wedding plans kick into high gear. Another couple is suffering from a tired marriage, and the wife booked a weekend to try and resuscitate it. The third couple has found themselves getting closer and look forward to time alone. Two friends are there, one friend trying to help her friend who is suffering from PTSD find some peace. A lawyer is hoping to put New York City and his cases behind him for a few days. And, a writer has planned a solitary working weekend to finish her break-through book.

The blizzard turns into an ice storm, and the only staff that are on site are the owner, who is also the chef, and his son, who does a bit of everything, mainly taking care of the guests and seeing that they have whatever they need or want. It's all manageable and initially pleasant until the ice storm causes the electricity to go out and results in treacherous conditions beyond the door of the hotel. The fireplaces help some with the warmth, but the weekend quickly becomes chilly, and then chilling when one of the women is discovered at the bottom of the grand staircase dead. It could be an accident, but when another death occurs that is clearly not an accident, fear and suspicion grab hold of the remaining guests. There are some disturbing secrets harbored by these guests, and some of them start seeping out as attempts are made to unmask the evil amongst them. Or, could it be an outsider who is somehow gaining access to the hotel? Who will survive until the police can be called? Anyone?

With twelve characters front and center, Shari Lapena does a superb job of keeping the reader on track with all of them. I didn't get confused who was who or who they were with or why they were there. That takes some skillful writing. The suspense is as thick as the snow and ice that sealed the guests inside the hotel. I felt the darkness of unlit corners and halls, and I cringed with concern when a guest was willfully not careful. It was a great scare fest with enough atmosphere to please the most demanding reader. I flew through the pages, because who doesn't want to see who survives and who is guilty. I was surprised, and that's just the way I like it.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Reason to Doubt by Nancy Cole Silverman: Reading Room Review

The Carol Childs Mystery series written by Nancy Cole Silverman features Carol, who is a forty-year-old investigative reporter for a talk radio station in Los Angles. The radio part is what first drew me to this series, as I'm a fan of radio programs, including news programs and dramas. Carol takes her job seriously as a narrator of events in the fast-moving world of LA. Her determination to be thorough and fair wins her admiration, but in Reason to Doubt, it causes her daughter to accuse her mother of choosing her job over her.

For the past seven months, Carol has been involved in the investigation and reporting of the murders of three young models in the LA area. Carol discovered the body of the first victim and was on the scene of the second victim before any other reporters, so she has had an edge over other reporters on this case. She knew that the police were dealing with a serial murderer after the second murder, and the murderer has come to be known as the Model Slayer. The theory is that the Model Slayer is using a photographic session as a lure to get the girls alone and kill them, as photos of them were left scattered at the girls' feet. 

As fate would have it, Carol's daughter Cate is dating a photographer who happens to have photographed a couple of the girls for their portfolios. The police think he did a final session where he killed the models, and arrest Pete Pompidou on suspicion of murder. Carol's boss, Tyler Hunt, presses her to get the story and bring it to KTLK ahead of the pack. This places Carol in a precarious position with her daughter, but Carol doesn't waiver in her duty to report the news without prejudice. Of course, Cate sees it differently and thinks her mother cares more about her job than her daughter's heartache. Carol can't tell Cate that a confidential source has contacted her, which has led to Carol doubting Pete's guilt, and with Carol's strong instinct for justice and truth, she is pursuing leads that will hopefully exonerate Pete.

Carol's source goes by the stage name, her pole-dancing name, of Xstacy, and claims that the Model Slayer is dead, since she ran over him with her van, on purpose. Xstacy swears Carol to silence on the confession that it was an intentional act. The police think it was an accident and haven't connected the dead man with the killings, as Xstacy killed him before they had any reason to suspect him. She, however, heard him talk about the killings and leaving the photographs at the scene, something the police hadn't let out to the public yet. Also in the loop about the demise of the man is a college girl with the stage name of Jewels who is a friend of Xstacy and helped set up the "accident." Carol certainly has her work cut out for her to prove that the dead man, Ely Wade, was the killer and not Pete, while keeping the identities of her sources secret and safe. 

Pete is released, but the police still consider him their number one suspect, and when another murder like the Model Slayer's occurs almost right outside his door, the police are sure they have their man, although they think he had an accomplice. Carol is desperate to protect her daughter from the publicity surrounding Pete's re-arrest, and to convince the police they have the wrong man. However, the police are demanding that Carol turn over her confidential informants and all the information given to her. The ability of the press to keep their sources confidential when requested or when revelation might endanger them is crucial to a reporter's job, and Carol is adamant about keeping her word. Again, her resolve causes friction with Cate, but a life definitely depends on Carol's silence. Before the truth is complete, more than one life will depend on Carol putting the right pieces together.

Along with Cate, several other people are involved in this complex race to ensure the guilty are caught and the innocent are freed. A recent and brief romantic connection of Carol's, Chase, or Gerhardt Chasen, is called in by Carol's boss, as Chase is a private investigator and could be helpful to Carol's investigations. Carol is aware just how helpful Chase can be, but involved he does become, which proves to be useful. On the opposite side of Carol's pursuits is ex-boyfriend Eric, FBI agent on the case, working for the prosecution and against Pete. Then, there is the delightful Misty Dawn, Carol's psychic housekeeper, who has some reliable insights and is protective of Carol when she senses her friend is in danger. And, of course, there is Carol's best friend Sheri, who has the outfit for any and every occasion, even a trip to the Skylight Bar, where pole-dancing is the preferred choice of entertainment. Nancy Cole Silverman has created an engaging and individually interesting cast of characters in this series, and Reason to Doubt showcases all their carefully developed, engaging personalities. 

Besides great characters, the author keeps the story moving along through clever dialogue, including Carol's silent dialogue that she must keep to herself. The writing never becomes bogged down in unnecessary detail, and yet the reader will feel as if the scenery is familiar and the characters are old acquaintances. It's quite a coup that Silverman pulls off in relaying how gruesome the murders are without being graphic. She knows how to use her words to convey the message without being messy. The suspense will keep readers on point until the final reveal, which will be surprising but not deceiving. Reason to Doubt is the complete package and will entertain and thrill readers to the end. 

In full disclosure, I received a copy of this book from the author. I guarantee that my review is an honest and complete one.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton: Reading Room Review

With The Craftsman, we see Sharon Bolton returning to her early stand-alones, where elements of the supernatural and Gothic are superbly woven into the story. Since I first fell in love with Bolton’s writing with those first books—Sacrifice, The Awakening, and Blood Harvest—I’m happy to once again experience the unconventional thrill of the mystical. The Craftsman is a book that Bolton says has been a part of her for a long time, as its setting in Lancashire, with Pendle Hill looming over both geographically and symbolically is the place of her birth and her formative years. She, in her words, is “a woman of Pendle,” and the women of Pendle are inextricably tied to the Pendle Witch Trials of the 1600s where nine women were executed as witches. It is this background of witches and rites that colors the story of The Craftsman and guides its course. It is also a story of counter forces that are interested in the darkness of the craft. So, while this book is about putting to rest a case of murdered teens, it is also a book about the strength of women and their ability to overcome suspicion and prejudice. The main character of Florence Lovelady embodies that strength and determination to survive. 

It’s August 1999, and Assistant Commissioner Florence Lovelady, the highest-ranking female in the Met, is attending the funeral of a man whom she helped convict of the murders of three teenagers thirty years ago. Hoping for closure to this horrific case where the children were buried alive, Florence revisits the small town in Lancashire, England where she came face to face with an evil that still haunts her. But, closure is a slippery slope when secrets still beg to be opened. After the funeral, Florence visits the dilapidated house of the convicted child killer, and she discovers the past is not letting go so easily. Each child had been buried with a small clay likeness of themselves, and Florence finds such a likeness of herself on the property, something more recently placed there. It’s especially disturbing as it indicates that there is someone connected to the killings still at large.

Part two of the book goes back thirty years in time to August 1969, the story taking us through the events as experienced by WPC Florence Lovelady, when she was just beginning her time in police work and had joined the Sabden department in Lancashire. She has three big strikes against her. She’s not from the area, is better educated than the men with whom she works, and she’s a woman. Her co-workers resent her, but she’s also smart and will prove her worth. A third child in her early teens has gone missing in Sabden, and tensions are running high between citizens and the police, with no progress having been made on finding the children. When Florence is paired with Detective Constable Tom Devine on the case, after fourteen-year-old Patsy Wood vanishes, she gains his support for an idea to flush out some answers. Creating a reenactment on a local television program in which Superintendent Stanley Rushton is appearing results in information leading to the discovery of Patsy buried in a recently interred plot. Now, Florence is in the center of the case, more than holding her own with seasoned policemen. The search for the remaining two missing teenagers and trying to prevent additional abductions will lead Florence into dark, dangerous places before the confession from someone close to her daily zone of living occurs. Solving this case costs Florence and will keep costing her beyond her days as an investigating officer.

Part three of the book has the convicted killer’s last words to Florence haunting her. “I’ve kept them safe for thirty years. Now it’s your turn.” As Florence’s fears grow about the possibility that the wrong man might have paid for the children’s deaths, she once again puts herself in danger, as there are powerful people that want the case forgotten with the burial of Larry Grassbrook. But, Florence can’t ignore the nagging voice that calls for justice. She had planned on spending a night or two in the town that helped shape her career, with her fifteen-year-old son accompanying her, but loose ends aren’t Florence’s style. As more and more bizarre information comes to lights, it suddenly gets too personal to walk away from. Turning first to her former partner Tom and then to a particular group of friends in Sabden who had such meaningful and lasting influence on her life, Florence has no choice but to see it through to the end. Hold on though, you will not see the twist that’s coming.

The atmosphere of this book is expertly set, with nighttime visits to cemeteries and a local witch coven that meets on Pendle Hill and a method of death especially gruesome. It’s why there used to be bells on a grave that were rigged to a casket underground. The very saying “saved by the bell” may have originated in the bell connected caskets called safety coffins. Bolton’s use of “buried alive” as a murder method bumps this story up to hit you where your phobia dwells. The “supernatural” elements of the story are an integral part, flowing into the natural fabric of the place where the story was born. Bolton also gives us a police procedural that will satisfy those interested in the crime solving techniques of earlier times and present. The Craftsman is one of Sharon Bolton’s best works and is sure to garner much praise and awards in its wake.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

November Books to Warm up the Cold

November is here and so is the cold.  Not bitter cold, but jackets and coats now required.  It always seems there is far too little fall weather that is between hot and cold, just pleasantly warm.  But, the good news is that November also brings lots of great reading our way in new book publications, so it's not quite so hard to stay indoors. Below is a list of new fiction, mostly mystery and crime, that has gotten my attention and hopefully will make it to your TBR lists.  I'm including Elly Griffiths' new stand-alone book and Catriona McPherson's new Dandy Gilver book even though they're not out in the states.  Those of us who can't wait for our favorite British authors' books know how to get them when they come out in the UK first.  And, if you don't know how, I suggest you start with Book Depository, with its timely and free shipping.  I've also included Ovidia Yu's The Frangipani Tree Mystery, even though it's already out on Kindle, as the print copy won't be out until this month.

November Releases:

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths (Nov. 1st in the UK)

Day of the Dead (A Gia Santella Crime Thriller) by Kristi Belcamino (Nov. 2nd) 

Past Tense: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child (Nov. 5th)

You Don't Own Me by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke (Nov. 6th)

Reason to Doubt (Carol Childs #5) by Nancy Cole Silverman (Nov. 6th)

The Skeleton Makes a Friend (A Family Skeleton Mystery #5) by Leigh Perry (Nov. 6th)

Nighttown (A Junior Bender Mystery #7) by Timothy Hallinan (Nov. 6th)

A Christmas Revelation: A Novel by Anne Perry (Nov. 6th) 

The Best Bad Thing: A Novel by Katrina Carrasco  (Nov. 6th) 

The Shadows We Hide by Allen Eskens (Nov. 13th)

A Scandal in Scarlett (Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery #4) by Vicki Delany (Nov. 13th)

Blood is Blood: A Barker and Llewelyn Novel #10 by Will Thomas (Nov. 13th)

City of Secrets (A Counterfeit Lady Novel, #2) by Victoria Thompson (Nov. 13th)

Long Road to Mercy (Altee Pine #1) by David Baldacci (Nov. 13th)

Naughty on Ice: A Mystery (A Discreet Retrieval Agency Mystery) by Maia Chance (Nov. 13th)

A Step So Grave (Dandy Gilver #13)  by Catriona McPherson (Nov. 15th in the UK)

The Frangipani Tree Mystery (Crown Colony #2) by Ovidia Yu

Kingdom of the Blind (Inspector Gamache #14) by Louise Penny (Nov. 27th)

Storm Rising  (An F.B.I. Canine Novel #3) by Sara Driscoll (Nov. 27th)

The Other Wife by Michael Robotham (Nov. 27th)  

Let the Dead Keep Their Secrets (Gilded Age Mystery #3) by Rosemary Simpson (Nov. 27th)

The Whispered Word (Secret, Book & Scone Society #2) by Ellery Adams (Nov. 27th)