Sunday, December 8, 2019

If You Tell

If You Tell by Gregg Olsen
Thomas & Mercer: 12/1/19
eBook review copy; 428 pages
ISBN-13: 9781542005234

If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood by Gregg Olsen is a very highly recommended true crime story of an abusive, murderous dysfunctional family. This is a difficult novel to read as it depicts a tyrannical woman and the horrible control, abuse, and torture she inflicted on others.

In Raymond, Washington, Shelly Knotek ruled and controlled her third husband, Dave, and her three daughters through her words and abuse. Nikki, Sami, and Tori Knotek experienced, witnessed, and, ultimately, survived their mother's horrific control, degradation, torture, and physical and mental abuse of her whole family and two other adults. They endured belittling, verbal abuse, numerous beatings, control of bathroom usage, forced naked time, being hosed off outside, and bleach baths, to just name some of the torture. "Shelly was Cujo. Freddy Krueger. The freaky clown, Pennywise, from It."

In telling of their horrific abuse, Olsen talked to the three sisters, Dave Knotek, and their grandmother, Lara. The experiences of the girls are told in short chapters, covering Shelly's problems and indications of her mental illness from a child to adulthood. This is not an examination of Shelly's mental illness. It is a compelling account of the survivors. This is the story of the girls, what they endured, observed, and how they finally managed the fortitude to go to the authorities and tell them the horrors of their life with their mother.

Once I started reading this account, even though I knew the girls survived, I had to finish it. I had to see how the girls escaped. It is much to my chagrin that no one from the public schools noticed a problem until much later and then let it go when they talked to one of the girls and she denied it. What would they expect from an abused child? And when Nikki and Lara actually told the police, the first time, the investigation was not pursued. It wasn't until the older sisters discovered Tori was being abused that they tried to get the authorities involved again, with the backing of their grandmother, Lara.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Thomas & Mercer.

Shatter the Night

Shatter the Night by Emily Littlejohn
Macmillian: 12/10/19
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250178329
Detective Gemma Monroe Series #4

Shatter the Night by Emily Littlejohn is a highly recommended mystery/police procedural and the fourth book in the series featuring Gemma Monroe.

On Halloween night in Cedar Valley, CO, Detective Gemma Monroe, fiancé, Brody Sutherland, and their daughter, Grace, stop by the law office of an old family friend, retired Judge Caleb Montgomery. After admiring costumes, Caleb talks to Gemma privately and gives her a stack of threatening letters he's been receiving. Shortly after Gemma and her family leave, the judge's car explodes - with him inside. Gemma and her team immediately begin investigating suspects and motives, including the judge's past rulings from when he was on the bench. As the investigation continues, another man is murdered and the case becomes more complicated with perhaps decades old roots.

The plot flows smoothly as you follow the various threads of the investigation and the inquiries made as the team strives to find the killer in this adeptly written mystery. Part of the pleasure is in following working mom Gemma juggle the complex investigation and the needs of her family. All the characters, including the minor ones, are developed and come across as real people. Every little tidbit of information uncovered could be an important lead or a false trail as the tension slowly built through the novel. The culmination of the investigation was satisfying after plenty of suspects were considered and rejected.

Shatter the Night can certainly be read as a stand-alone novel. This is my first Gemma Monroe novel and I could very easily follow the plot and the backstory. I also liked the character of Gemma quite-a-bit and look forward to entering her world again someday.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Macmillian.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Dead Girls Club

The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters
Crooked Lane Books: 12/10/19
eBook review copy; 280 pages
ISBN-13: 9781643851631

The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters is a so-so debut psychological thriller about secrets from the past.
In 1991 twelve-year-old Heather Cole and her best friend Becca Thomas formed a Dead Girls Club with two other girls. In the club Becca told the other's stories about serial killers and ghosts, but she especially focused on telling an elaborate ongoing ghost story about the Red Lady. Becca began to believe the Red Lady was real. The club ended when Becca died - by Heather's hands. A body was never found, but Becca's drunk, abusive mother went to prison for the murder.
Heather is now a child psychologist and has kept her secret for years, so she is shocked when someone sends her Becca's half of their "best friends" necklaces. No one knows what happened back in 1991, but now it seems that someone knows something, and they know Heather killed Becca. The anonymous "I know what you did" threats continue, and Heather panics and becomes obsessed with identifying who is trying to frighten her.
The narrative follows two different time lines: Heather's torment in the present day and the girls and ghost story in 1991. The 1991 flashbacks and the Red Lady story drags on and on far too long. We get it. We understand kids with secrets. I ended up skimming through much of the Red Lady stories because - whatever. The present day chapters, although more interesting to follow, basically just serve to highlight Heather's instability and obsession. While it is understandable for her to be shocked over receiving the necklace, that in and of itself proves nothing. Her immediate jump to assuming someone knows something rather than just throwing it away or, when another event occurs, contacting the police, makes absolutely no sense. Document and report the torment. Those friendship necklaces are nothing unique.
The character development is lacking. Heather's whole terror-filled inner torment over the fact that someone might know something almost thirty years later feels fabricated and falls short. We get no sense of her as an adult before we are subjected to her manic falling apart and making poor choices. I'm afraid I didn't feel any tension or terror building, rather I kept mumbling "call the police" while watching her mental breakdown. The ending... well, that clinched it for me and took the rating down. There are numerous better stories out there of childhood secrets coming out years after the fact.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Crooked Lane Books.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Lost Tomorrows

Lost Tomorrows by Matt Coyle
Oceanview Publishing: 12/3/19
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781608093632
Rick Cahill #6

Lost Tomorrows by Matt Coyle is a highly recommended noir whodunit featuring a troubled private investigator and the sixth book in the series.

San Diego P. I. Rick Cahill receives a phone call learning that his former partner on the Santa Barbara Police Department, Krista Landingham, is dead. When Rick goes to the funeral, his past is ever present and thrust into his face by the officers attending the funeral. His wife, Colleen, was murdered in the city and Rick was considered guilty by the police, but certain key people, like his former partner, knew he could not have been the guilty party. Now Leah, Krista's sister, wants Rick to assist another P.I. and look into her sister's death. She thinks Krista's death was murder, not an accident. Rick soon begins to wonder if Krista's death is somehow linked to Colleen's death because she had just reopened and started investigating the cold case.

This is my first Rick Cahill mystery and I could easily follow the backstory of the first person narrative without reading the other books in the series. What happened in his past is either explained if it is important to the plot and/or hinted at if it involves his character and background. The premise is set up immediately and the action escalates. The case is carefully presented and you can follow the twists and leads clearly as the investigation unfolds. The chapters are short and concise, helping move the plot along quickly.

Rick is a well-developed character and Coyle presents all his strengths and flaws. He is likely clinically depressed, but he is also an intelligent, attentive investigator who will follow any leads. Rick shows vulnerability and a hesitation to open himself up to any relationship as he doesn't think he deserves any happiness. This book could easily entice readers to read the previous books in the series to try an unlock more of what caused Rick's damaged psyche.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Oceanview Publishing.


Anyone by Charles Soule
HarperCollins: 12/3/19
eBook review copy; 432 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062890634

Anyone by Charles Soule is a highly recommended, fast-paced, technological/speculative fiction thriller.

In Michigan research scientist Gabrielle (Gabby) White inadvertently discovers a way for people to transfer their consciousness into another person's body. She wants to control how the technology is used, but that very likely will be taken out of her control. Twenty-five-years into the future this technology called "flash" has transformed society. The company advertises the flash as a way to "Be Anyone with Anyone" in the ultimate out-of-body experience. However, there is also an underground black market to the technology called "darkshare," where people rent out their bodies for paying customers to use for a variety of deviant purposes. In the future, Annami is renting out her body through a darkshare establishment in order to save enough money for a plan of her own.

Chapters in the action-packed, fast-paced plot alternate between Gabby's discovery and Annami's driven quest to earn money for her own purpose. Both story lines are compelling and both of the characters are well developed. You know something is going to go terribly wrong for Gabby, and Annami is keeping her ultimate scheme to herself. Naturally, you have to set disbelief aside as far as transferring one person's consciousness into another person's body, but once you do that both time periods keep ratcheting up the tension. Ultimately both narratives will connect in an unexpected but satisfying conclusion.

Soule does an excellent job presenting this frightening and fascinating cautionary vision of the future. It could be his work in comic books has translated well into keeping the action of the dual narratives intense and quickly moving, while wrapping both narratives in an irresistible plot. Ultimately, he takes the idea of new technology and forces us to look at the unintended consequences: the abuse of that technology, the morality of using it, and the question of identity and culpability when another body is used.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

How The Dead Speak

How The Dead Speak by Val McDermid
Grove/Atlantic: 12/3/19
eBook review copy; 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9780802147615
Tony Hill and Carol Jordan #11

How The Dead Speak by Val McDermid is a highly recommended eleventh procedural thriller featuring psychological profiler Tony Hill and ex-DCI Carol Jordan. This follows events from Insidious Intent (2017).

Now that Tony is behind bars for manslaughter and Carol's no longer with the Bradfield Metropolitan Police, the regional major incident team is under the leadership of Detective Chief Inspector Rutherford, who is hostile to members who worked under Carol. Rutherford sends team members out to investigate when construction crews uncover children’s skeletons on the former grounds of the Order of the Blessed Pearl convent.  For DI Paula McIntyre the question of what happened becomes even more tangled when the bodies of young men are found buried in a different area of the convent grounds. At the same time, Tony is working on his book and trying to find a way to use his talents to help the prison population. Carol is finally dealing with her PTSD, when she is pulled into two different investigations.
The various plots and sub-plots are told through the points-of-view of several different characters and presented in short chapters. Basically, there are four different major plot-strands, with several sub-plot-threads in them. It is a complicated novel, but the sub-plots do begin to merge and coalesce into a conclusion. In spite of the twists and complexity of the story lines, the investigations are as compelling as the characters and will hold your attention. A nice touch is the headings on the chapters which feature a quote from the book Tony is currently writing in prison.
Once you reach the eleventh book in a series, the characters are developed and well-known to fans. The question is more how new comers to the series will relate to a novel so deep into character development over many years. There are moments where, if this was your first novel in the series, you will be confused and a bit lost among the characters, their abilities and flaws. Carefully reading will likely help you get the jest of it all, but not as if you were there from the beginning. I jumped into the series with just the previous book, Insidious Intent, so I had a few moments.

McDermid is an excellent writer and does write an adroitly plotted novel that will hold your attention throughout as each chapter switches to a new sub-plot and is told through a different point-of-view. It is a well-paced novel. There are enough twists and surprising revelations to keep you glued to the pages and the various lines of inquiry of each investigation. While everything isn't neatly wrapped up in the end, I felt that it concluded on a satisfactory note and left room for the next book in the series.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grove/Atlantic.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Testaments

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Penguin Random House: 9/10/19
hardcover; 432 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385543781

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is very highly recommended story of intrigue and suspense.

Over fifteen years have passed since the events of The Handmaid's Tale occurred. The misogynistic theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead still reigns, but the end may be in sight. This novel is presented as the alternating testimonies of three women: Aunt Lydia and Agnes Jemima in Gilead and Daisy/Nicole in Toronto. Aunt Lydia knows that knowledge is power and she has been secretly collecting and documenting Gilead's secrets and the crimes by the leadership. While acting as head Aunt of Ardua Hall and an ally of Commander Judd, she has simultaneously been planning the downfall of Gilead for years. Lydia's plan of revenge involves two teenage girls, Agnes Jemima and Daisy, known as "Witness Testimony 369A" and "Witness Testimony 369B" in the narrative. Agnes is a thirteen-year-old who is being raised in Gilead to be a commander's wife. Daisy is a sixteen-year-old being raised in Toronto, when her parents die and she learns some of her real background.

Confession time. While I would very highly recommend The Handmaid's Tale it is not among my favorite novels written by Atwood and not my favorite dystopian tale. I have never seen the Hulu series and don't plan to do so. The Testaments is described as the sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, but I found it best to approach the narrative as more historical documents and testimony pertaining to the Republic of Gilead and this approach served me well in my regard of the narrative. I could appreciate the cunning plan to take down Gilead - the long-con that Aunt Lydia shrewdly played out. It is an exemplification that women can certainly strategize, analyze, reason, and execute a plan as well as any man.

Atwood had to know that any novel portrayed as a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale would suffer in comparison. Unlike the MaddAddam series where the three novels followed one another quickly, the gap between these novels combined with a popular TV series would make any continuation of the original story or a revisit to the envisioned theocratic country of Gilead suffer in comparison. But, bear in mind that ultimately women are taking the power back here.

Upon reflection, Atwood might represent the older generation (Aunt Lydia) and is hopeful that the younger generation can continue to speak up for themselves and take back any ceded power. Or a case could also be made that this is a reminder that those who choose to forget history are doomed to repeat it. Or it could just be a well-written novel that visits the end of the regime of the original story after a clamor from fans to do so.