Sunday, February 26, 2023

Hide (Harriet Foster #1) by Tracy Clark: Reading Room Review


In 2018 Broken Places by Tracy Clark was published.  It’s the first book in four books featuring PI Cassie Raines.  The buzz about this new author and book was loud and widespread.  Her next three books in this series continued to garner high praise and awards and nominations for awards.  I knew I wanted to read her, but I was having trouble fitting in a new author, even though I love adding new authors to my reading.  Finally, I have cleared my reading decks and read Ms. Clark’s first book in her new Detective Harriet Foster Thrillers, Hide.  Yeah, I’ll be going back and reading her first four, too. 

Harriet Foster is a homicide detective in Chicago with almost 20 years’ experience and a great skill set.  She is just starting with a new team of detectives in a new precinct after an eight-week leave due to the suicide of her long-time detective partner, Detective Glynnis Thompson, who was also her best friend.  Add to that the not-so-distant murder of Harriet’s son Regie and a divorce, and the job is all that Harriet has left.  Harriet’s skills will be put to the test in her first case on the new team, a serial killer targeting red-headed women with blue eyes. 

First paired with Jim Lonergan, a detective who is lacking in social graces and who seems incompatible with a female partner, and a new murder case straightaway, Harriet has a thoroughly rough first day back.  Trying to prevent Lonergan from railroading a young black teen found unconscious near the scene for the murder of Peggy Birch, Harriet must carefully use the rules of procedure to work in the young man’s favor.  With her also being black, she knows that she has to leave color out of the matter to ensure her co-workers see her as impartial and not out to free someone because of race.  It’s ironic that Harriet holds herself to being color blind, but her partner doesn’t seem to do that in the reverse.  But, she doesn’t have to use that discrimination factor here; she uses the evidence and lack of it in the way it should be used, showing just what an excellent detective she is.  It’s obvious from the start just how dedicated Harriet is to putting in the time past her regular hours to catch a killer, the real killer. 

The young woman who was murdered was found on Chicago’s Riverwalk and covered by leaves where there were no trees from which to gather them.  An arm sticking out from the pile catches the attention of an early morning jogger which brings the police, including Lonergan and Harriet.  It’s a brutal killing with the victim cut open in a style reminiscent of Jack the Ripper’s penchant for evisceration.  When another woman with red hair and blue eyes is found murdered near the scene of the first murder, it becomes a case of a serial killer, and pressure to find the killer increases incrementally.  The whole team is short on sleep and operating with frayed nerves. 

A psychiatrist shows up at the police station with a name of a recent patient who she thinks is a serious person of interest for the murders.  This psychiatrist also seems to have her own agenda though, and while investigating the ex-patient, Harriet doesn’t take anybody else’s word for what evidence needs to prove.  The young man, Bodie Morgan, is indeed an odd duck, who has a stalking record for red-headed women, and his twin sister Amelia is very protective of him. The pair has a dark family history they are desperately trying to keep secret.  Bodie does get added to the persons of interest list, but that list starts to get rather complicated. 

Hide is an engrossing police procedural combined with psychological thriller, showing both the meticulous investigating of Harriet’s team and the machinations of a serial killer.  From the initial examination of the murder scene to the autopsy to running down the clues and evidence to interrogation, this story should more than satisfy fans of police procedurals.  Harriet herself is determined to follow the evidence and not feelings. The insight into the criminal mind, or criminally insane mind, sends chills not explanations. The story is told from multiple POVs, those of the detectives and suspects, so readers gain information from both sides.  Of course, Harriet is the main character and gives readers the most direction.  

Nature vs. nurture, genetic coding vs. environment are issues the reader will be left to think about in this serial killer intrigue.  Racism and sexism are also issues that arise.  Harriet Foster is a character who has made her life and her world smaller on purpose.  She really has pared her life down to just her job; she is no longer interested in more.  She doesn’t give a lot up about herself in this first book of the series, but readers know there is much there waiting to come out.  I am already impressed with Harriet as a detective, and I look forward to seeing if she allows anyone to get to know her beyond that.  After all, characters evolving is what keeps a series strong.  There are twists on all fronts in this investigation, and this story has a high-octane, surprise ending that finishes with a bang.   

Saturday, February 18, 2023

A Killing of Innocents (Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid #19) by Deborah Crombie: Reading Room Review


Deborah Crombie’s Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid series is one of those treasures in the reading world that once you discover, you hold all other reading to its high standards.  It quite simply checks every box for what makes a mystery/crime book complete.  The mind of an author, especially a mystery/crime fiction author, is a place we readers long to visit, to see just how that character or plot or determination of who the murderer is comes to fruition.  With Deborah Crombie, we know that the authenticity of her setting is formed by her time spent in London, researching for each book.  The rest, the make-believe is a magic that, while I’d love to catch a glimpse of it as it is spinning in her brain, I’m just as happy to see it all come together in a book I both can’t put down and don’t want to end.  A Killing of Innocents follows suit of the previous stories, giving readers an exciting police procedural, an authentic setting that pulls you in, characters who are masterfully developed, pacing that builds suspense and reveals in perfect rhythm with the story, and, of course, a story that keeps you spellbound.


On a late, rainy November afternoon, Sasha Johnson, a doctor trainee, is pushing through the crowd of subway commuters in Russell Square when someone knocks up against her hard and she falls onto the grass, having been fatally stabbed.  DSI Duncan Kincaid is called to the scene with the only witness a young child who saw the woman fall but nothing else.  Surrounded by people, the victim was felled without anyone seeing anything unusual.  The young woman is a stranger to Duncan and Doug Cullen, his sergeant, but a stranger they had seen in a nearby pub where they’d stopped for a drink.  Young, beautiful, and a part of the medical profession, they are clueless as to why anyone would want to do her harm.  She had been alone at the pub, but had also seemed to be waiting for someone.  Since the crime is knife-related, Duncan calls in his wife, DI Gemma James, who is delighted to be called away from her new desk job as head of a knife crimes task force.  DS Melody Talbot, Gemma’s second-in-command, also becomes somewhat involved in the case.  The identity of the victim is no mystery, since her purse and wallet were not stolen and left with her.  But, who would want this young woman dead?  Was it a random killing or was she an intended victim?


Soon, Duncan and Gemma discover that Sasha Johnson has ties to a family they know, a friend of their teenage son Kit.  Wesley Howard’s sisters and Sasha grew up together as friends.  The young woman’s family is devastated, and there’s some question as to whether her brother is in with the wrong crowd and put Sasha in harm’s way.  While Duncan conducts the investigation and Gemma works at her new job, they have their three children and home life to juggle, too.  Kit’s school and his working at a friend’s cafe, seven-year-old Toby’s promising ballet advancements, and four-year-old Charlotte’s lingering fears from her biological parents’ deaths are all a lot.  Hints at some changes on the home front are set up for further exploration in the next book.  I trust the thoughtful parenting of this household to find solutions to balance between devotion to the job and devotion to the children. 


There is no shortage of suspects and theories in Sasha Johnson’s death, and this is where readers get to experience the police procedural at its best.  Lots of interviews and record checking and going over and over the same ground to get to the truth.  Family dynamics, roommates, and work relationships must be untangled.  Duncan’s team are all vital to the successful outcome of this case, each contributing information and leads.  One of my favorite parts of the investigation in this book is the brief undercover operation Gemma and DI Jasmine Sadina do together.  I was thrilled to see more of Jasmine in this book and be surprised by a few things.  Speaking of surprise, you won’t see the final twist coming that reveals the guilty, and you will enjoy every moment of being led astray by those pesky red herrings.  The investigation is complicated by another murder, and by determining whether it and Sasha’s are connected or if there are two separate cases.  Multiple characters tell this story, but there is never any confusion who is doing the telling, and the flow is a smooth, seamless continuation of plot.  Even the italicized flashbacks of an unknown female character don’t distract, and, as readers will discover, are an integral element.      


The characters just don’t get any better than the ones in this series.  Gemma and Duncan are both so level-headed.  It seems no matter what is thrown at them, they tackle it together in a calm, sensible way, and they always consider what is best for their whole blended family, not just themselves.  And, how Gemma and Duncan came together and how they came to be the family that they are is such a wonderful love story of unselfish bonding.  Fans of this series are rightly devoted to the success of this endearing family.  The secondary characters, who are connected to Gemma and Duncan through their work and their personal lives, are so much more than “secondary” characters with whom they have a casual relationship.  All these diverse characters who have come together through cases and personal means have become part of an extended family, too.  Deborah Crombie has developed all her characters with careful attention to these threads of connection.  I can never get enough of them, and when specific story additions occasionally become permanent characters, it’s because the author has carefully seen their purpose for the already established group.  Even the temporary characters for each story are revealed with deliberateness and mastery as the story unfolds.  Deborah Crombie simply can’t create a character who isn’t interesting.  I thought the interwoven connections of the new characters in A Killing of Innocents was particularly intriguing, and the revealing of the deadly connection was brilliant.   


In trying to read all the new books coming out and always being behind in that, I don’t have time to re-read series.  In fact, I’m still trying to find time to fit in series I’ve not started yet that are on my must-read list.  However, lately, I’ve been thinking how very much I’d love to re-read the Gemma and Duncan books from start to current.  I do know for certain that if I were faced with that often-posed question for avid readers of what books would you want with you if stranded on a deserted island, I would choose this series without hesitation.  A reader might feel it a daunting task to start a series that already has nineteen books in it, but I guarantee you that it will be one of the best reading decisions of your life to start this series at the beginning.  Of course, for those of us who have been enthusiastic fans and readers of the series for years, each new book is reading bliss that we cherish.  And, I will admit that you could read A Killing of Innocents without having read anything else in the series and thoroughly enjoy it.  Of course, if you do that, you’ll be hooked anyway and will read the previous books.  A Killing of Innocents now takes its place in the long line of outstanding crime fiction from Deborah Crombie, and I can hardly wait until the next installment. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

The House Guest by Hank Phillippi Ryan: Reading Room Review


You may want to up your anxiety meds before you read The House Guest by Hank Phillippi Ryan.  Books are sometimes described as keeping you on the edge of your seat.  It may be a cliché, but The House Guest does keep you perched precariously in just that position.  I love the unreliable narrator in a book, but it wasn’t so much the narrator here but all the other characters I never could quite trust.  I expected betrayal and deceit around every corner.  If that’s not suspenseful, well, nothing is. 

Alyssa Maccallan is a young, thirtyish woman whose husband of eight years has just left her.  She doesn’t have a clue as to why he’s left, and he’s only talking to her through their lawyers.  Alyssa was a first-year law student when she met Bill Maccallan, and she fully intended to finish law school and pursue a rewarding law career, alongside her friend Mickey.  But, Bill was a hugely successful fund raiser for charities, someone who came from riches and seemed to be paying it forward, so to speak.  He was able to convince Alyssa, who was Alice before Bill changed her name, that she could do more with charity work than a law degree, and they married and moved into a house of everyone’s dreams.  With this house in Boston, a house on Nantucket Sound, and a house in St. Bart’s, Alyssa was living a life she could have never imagined living.  She planned and arranged events where other rich people would gladly give to a cause.  Then, everything came to a sudden stop when Bill announced he was leaving.  No more handsome husband, financial security, or friends.  The “friends” all stayed with Bill, along with the social life. 

Alyssa is despondent and not crazy about rattling around in a huge house by herself, and the feeling that Bill has been slipping in and out of the house when she’s gone is weighing on her.  She finds a bar at a hotel where her old “friends” wouldn’t be seen and gives herself a few moments of being surrounded by people.  She meets another woman, Bree Lorrance, who is so down on her luck that Alyssa, in commiseration, wants to help her.  Alyssa ends up inviting Bree to live in the guest house while Bree gets back on her feet. 

Being a friend to Bree brings even more new people into Alyssa’s life. Alyssa gets involved in Bree trying to find a relative, and in connection to that Dez Russo becomes a fixture in Alyssa’s house and life.  Of course, at this point in the book, I’m having trouble reading for all the red flags I’m seeing.  Or am I just being paranoid?  Maybe going from alone and lonely to having people who seem interested in her, even concerned about her is a good thing.  However, when the FBI takes an interest in Alyssa, who’s interested in her welfare and who’s planning her downfall is anyone’s guess.  This cat and mouse game needs a score card. 

I had a bad feeling all the way through this book, just waiting for the bogey-man to jump out of the closet.  I can’t remember ever reading a book where I distrusted so many characters.  Even Alyssa is suspect at times, and there were plenty of times when I wanted to shout at her to do something different or not do something.  I found myself wishing the story was one of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books where I could choose what I thought was a better path for Alyssa.  Of course, the fun, or excitement, of a book is those wrong choices that build the suspense and make us cringe.  Hank Phillippi Ryan has been called a master of suspense by many, including Publisher’s Weekly, and it’s a well-earned title.  The pace at which she discloses information and suspicions about the different characters through a glance or dialogue or odd action keeps the reader on the fence of hope that the particular character isn’t going to stab anyone in the back, literally or figuratively.  The cat and mouse game between characters is a thing of beauty, an art that Ms. Ryan is particularly adept at.  I’ve been unusually reticent in this review to describe the characters much, as their well-paced reveal, or should I say reveals, belong to the reader to discover.  Besides, how does one describe shape shifting as it changes from one form to another. 

The House Guest is a story of misdirection and deception that bring the twists to the reader with a jolt.  Some readers will be familiar with The Twister, an amusement park ride popular in days past.  You would be riding around in the ride’s car and suddenly be jerked or twisted to one side.  Well, this is the image you might want to keep in mind reading The House Guest.  You will not expect it, but just know that the twists will come and you will be surprised, often.  You will not guess the ending, with the final delicious twist awaiting.  A perfect thriller. 

I’m grateful to NetGalley and Tor Publishing for an early copy of The House Guest.  I still will have my own hardback from a favorite bookseller because it’s too amazing of a read not to have one.