Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Evil Men Do

The Evil Men Do by John McMahon
Penguin Random House: 3/3/20
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780525535560
P.T. Marsh series #2

The Evil Men Do by John McMahon is a very highly recommended procedural. 

Homicide detective P.T. Marsh and his partner Remy Morgan are investigating a suspicious death in Mason Falls, Georgia. Ennis Fultz is a ruthless real estate magnate who has made more than one enemy in his career. It appears that Fultz's oxygen tank may have been tampered with, but the suspects are many, including business associates, rivals, neighbors, and an ex-wife. As Marsh and Morgan investigate the death, it begins to become clear to Marsh that Fultz's death appears to be a part of a much larger set of crimes.

At the same time he is investigating Fultz's death, Marsh is looking at clues that may point to something much more personal, especially after an accident that almost kills his father-in-law. His father-in-law's accident may be related to another accident, one that killed his wife and son. Marsh begins to expand his investigation beyond departmental approval.

The Evil Men Do is a great, skillfully written procedural. McMahon does an excellent job developing the plot in this gripping and atmospheric procedural. While following Marsh as he uncovers clues and follows lead, his character is also revealed. And Marsh is a well-developed character, an emotionally wounded man who is dealing with many personal demons that intrude into his thoughts and the investigation. The expanding investigation and Marsh's insight into what he discovers is riveting to read and I was totally engrossed in the whole narrative.

While this is the second book in the P.T. Marsh series I had no problem following along the continuing story from the first novel, The Good Detective. There was enough information provided in the plot to follow Marsh's thought process during the investigation and the ties to the current case. I haven't read the first book, but plan to because I enjoyed The Evil Men Do so much.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

The Sea of Lost Girls

The Sea of Lost Girls by Carol Goodman
HarperCollins: 3/3/20
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062852021

The Sea of Lost Girls by Carol Goodman is a highly recommended novel of suspense set at a boarding school on the Maine coast.

Tess and Harmon Henshaw both teach at Haywood, a boarding school on the Maine coast. Her seventeen-year-old son, Rudy, is a student at Haywood who lives on campus in a dorm. When Tess receives a text from Rudy at three in the morning asking her to come and get him, she knows something is terribly wrong. The opening night of the school play was that night and Rudy had a lead in the school play. When he should be celebrating with his classmates, he is instead wet and hiding in his safe place by the beach waiting for his mom to get him. He had a fight with his girlfriend Lila earlier in the week. Rudy has had problems with anger in the past and Tess is very concerned about him.

Four hours later, Tess gets a phone call from the Haywood school headmistress who tells her that Lila, Rudy’s girlfriend, was found dead on the beach, not far from Rudy's safe place. When the police show up at their front door, Tess is immediately protective of Rudy, concerned that they want to talk to him, but her husband, Harmon, is a person of interest too. What complicates the situation is that Tess is hiding things from her past and wants to keep them a secret. Soon it becomes clear that secrets are not going to stay hidden and more may be going on than Tess knows.

Tess is not only hiding secrets from her past, she is an over protective mother who is trying to control Rudy and how he is viewed, as well as her secrets. She doesn't even grasp as soon as she should that the police are interested in Harmon more than Rudy. Tess is an unreliable narrator, and, quite frankly, can begin to grate on your nerves after a while. It's not just Tess, though. There really isn't a likeable character that doesn't become annoying as the plot progresses. A whiny teen and husband doesn't help you feel support for anyone. Basically, don't expect to like anyone in this novel, but they are all well-developed characters.

Goodman does an excellent job in the presentation. The writing is skillful, with a plot that is entertaining, complex, and twisty enough to grab your attention. The revelation of secrets and lies that have been concealed, as will the eventual disclosure of Tess's backstory, is engrossing.  The secrets and reveals just keep coming, with twisty little revelations emerging one after another. While readers might guess the final culprit long before the denouement, it is an entertaining journey full of suspense getting to the end.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Splendid and the Vile

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson
Penguin Random House: 2/25/20
eBook review copy; 608 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385348713

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson is a very highly recommended portrait of Winston Churchill and London during the Blitz. This riveting nonfiction account reads like a novel.

I will always read anything Erik Larsen writes and have done so since I first read Isaac's Storm. The Splendid and the Vile continues Larsen's excellence in nonfiction.
This is an excellent compelling portrait of Winston Churchill’s first year as British prime minister. From May 1940 to May 1941, the German air force launched an assault against the city of London. The relentless bombing campaign was to terrorize and demoralize the population in preparation for an invasion. It is before the USA was in the war. Churchill had to hold his country together while continually reaching out to President Franklin Roosevelt.

Larsen profiles Churchill, but also looks at those close to him including, in part: his wife Clementine; their 17-year-old daughter, Mary; their son, Randolph, and his wife, Pamela; his private secretary, John “Jock” Colville; Lord BeaverbrookFrederick Lindemann, and others. He also covers the actions of Nazi leaders during this time. Larsen uses diary and journal entries from the people involved, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports, as well as other documents from the time. The people come alive as real humans living through an extraordinary time while under tremendous stress.

The historical narrative is told through day by day events for the year. It is an eloquent, richly detailed and long account, but the historical facts are written in such a way that it reads like a novel. The history comes alive in this account. You know what is going to happen, but it is still a compelling, fascinating narrative that will grip your attention throughout.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

The Unexpected Spy

The Unexpected Spy by Tracy Walder, with Jessica Anya Blau
St. Martin's Publishing Group: 2/25/20
eBook review copy; 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250230980

The Unexpected Spy: From the CIA to the FBI, My Secret Life Taking Down Some of the World's Most Notorious Terrorists by Tracy Walder is a highly recommended memoir about the author's experiences in the CIA and FBI.

Tracy went from being a student at the University of Southern California and in a Delta Gamma sorority house in 2000 to a special agent in the CIA. She was in the CIA when 9/11 occurred and she soon found herself looking for WMD, tracking chemical terrorists, and identifying and watching al-Qaeda members with drones. She felt compelled to help stop further attacks and left the relative safety of a job at CIA headquarters to go undercover in the Middle East as a counterterrorism specialist tracking al-Qaeda.
Then, wanting to be closer to her family, she went into the FBI where she worked in counterintelligence. The FBI was very different that the CIA. There she encountered blatant sexism and bullying behavior from both trainers and recruits. Walder left the FBI to become a teacher at an all-girls school where she can encourage young women to find a place in the FBI, CIA, State Department or the Senate.

Walder has to describe her job at the CIA in general terms due to national security. During the vetting of the book, the CIA actually redacted many large blocks of her original text. She chose to leave these portions of the text as blacked-out lines rather than rewriting the accounts. While seeing the extent of the redacted blocks of text is mildly interesting, perhaps a better approach would have been to insert a [redacted text] and then continue the story or do a rewrite.

Walder has a lot to be proud of so why not tell her story with a look at being an inspiration to young women. While I do see that a case could be made that there is a hint of bragging look-at-me-and-what-I-did, I also felt like this is her story and it is amazing. She was a young woman working in the CIA during a trying time. If she also needs to talk about her blond hair, makeup, etc., it's okay with me because it is a part of her personality and shows that she can be a special agent at the CIA and care about little frivolous things too. I would encourage young women to read this, especially if they are interested in a career in the CIA or FBI.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of St. Martin's Publishing Group.

Watching from the Dark

Watching from the Dark by Gytha Lodge
Penguin Random House: 2/25/20
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9781984818072
DCI Jonah Sheens #2 

Watching from the Dark by Gytha Lodge is a highly recommended police procedural and the second in the DCI Jonah Sheens series.

Late one night Aidan Poole is on Skype to his girlfriend Zoe Swardadine. He doesn't actually see Zoe, but he hears her moving around her apartment and starting a bath. Aidan hears her get into the tub, but then he also hears someone enter her apartment. He sees no one but he hears a struggle, someone leave, and then nothing from Zoe. Aidan listens to the silence for a couple hours. He is sure she has been killed, but he waits to contact the police. When he finally does contact them, it is an odd message and he doesn't leave his name.

Detective Chief Inspector Jonah Sheens and his team take the case after Aidan sends a second follow-up message later. They find her body. It looks like a suicide, but clues point to murder. As they look into Zoe's life, they see that Zoe was a beloved friend who had a whole host of friends who relied on her for emotional support. They also uncover Aidan's identity and the reason for his reluctance to contact the authorities immediately and leave his name. It seems during the investigation, everyone loved Zoe but they are all harboring secrets.

The writing is excellent and the plot is perfectly executed as the investigation uncovers secrets and motives. Chapters alternate between the present day investigation and recounting the final 20 months of Zoe's life. The alternating narratives work well in Watching from the Dark as they help establish Zoe as a real, complicated character. Zoe's backstory starts with her meeting Aidan and works up to the present. All the suspects are met, developed, and their actions followed in Zoe's story and the present day investigation.

The investigators are also established as well-developed characters. Following along with the investigation into Zoe's death is just as interesting as her backstory. This leaves readers with many suspects in this procedural that veers into psychological thriller territory. Astute readers will likely know whodunit early on, but the journey is compelling.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Do No Harm: The Opioid Epidemic

Do No Harm: The Opioid Epidemic by Harry Wiland
Turner Publishing: 2/25/20
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9781684423231

Do No Harm: The Opioid Epidemic by Harry Wiland, with Peter Segall, is a very highly recommended look at the opioid crisis, expanding on the information from the National Public Television series.

The three part mini-series Do No Harm: The Opioid Epidemic presented by author and director, Harry Wiland covered the history and the truth behind the opioid epidemic. "The goal of Do No Harm: The Opioid Epidemic media project is to save lives through prevention and greater education about the scourge of opioid addiction. This book includes longer passages from the many in-depth interviews in the series and digs deeper into the issues of addiction and its treatment. Over a hundred key individuals appeared in the series, so this book was always planned as part of the full media coverage along with the documentary to fully present all the information. 

America's opioid crisis is an on-going public epidemic brought on by Big Pharma’s advertising ploys and misinformation, the medical community's inattentiveness over prescribing opioid painkillers, and a lack of policies and oversight restricting the prescription of these highly addictive drugs. This is, as has been repeatedly said, "the worst man-made drug epidemic in the history of our nation." If you don't know several families affected by this epidemic, I would be , quite frankly shocked. It is prevalent across the country with some areas hit harder than others.

The information from this book and the documentary needs to be spread across the country.

"More people die each year from an opioid drug overdose than in automobile accidents. The statistics are staggering. Do No Harm spotlights experts, journalists, and public health crusaders who are combating the special interests of Big Pharma and informing the world on how an aggressive pharmaceutical mass marketing campaign for the new drug OxyContin misled doctors and the public into our current crisis of death and addiction."

"Wiland highlights the stories of those hit hardest by prescription opioid addiction and overdose death, and sheds light on how whole communities have been ravaged by the spread of addiction. Despite regional health experts, local government, law enforcement, journalists, and the DEA’s efforts to combat the epidemic, people continue to die at an alarming rate from prescription drug overdoses. The chapters of this book chronicle this opioid epidemic in all its complexity from many perspectives including the plight of the millions of Americans who suffer from opioid addiction. People, young and old on the rocky road to recovery, tell their harrowing stories, current victories, and on-going struggles with the disease."

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Turner Publishing.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Willa's Grove

Willa's Grove by Laura Munson
Blackstone Publishing: 3/3/20
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9781982605247

Willa's Grove by Laura Munson is a recommended feel-good women's novel featuring four very different women at a cross road in their lives.

It all started with an invitation from one woman sent to three different women that invited them to the rest of their lives by visiting a lodge at a homestead in Montana for one week. Each of the four women have found themselves at a juncture in their lives where they are entering middle age with uncertain or unexpected futures. The invitations have been sent by Willa Silvester, a recent widow who must say goodbye to her home and town because she can no longer afford to stay there.
Willa's friend, Bliss, is facing her own world of hurt in Wisconsin. When the two talk they plan the weekend where a friend invites a friend who then invites a friend. Bliss invites Harriet, a former motivational speaker living in California. Harriet invites Jane, a highly guarded and proper socialite from the east coast. The three very different women are going to spend the week honestly examining their lives and their futures while helping Willa pack and say good-bye to her town.

The premise is that these extremely different friends of friends will be able to bond together and create a community of mutual support because they are all women. There are parts of this novel that are touching in the honest and open discussion the women have about their lives and what they wanted versus what they have. (Let's just fess up and say that nothing political or controversial, with one exception, was ever discussed between the women.) And while it is true that we all need friends we can be open and honest with, the expectation that you will find that connection because you are all women is unrealistic. There is also something to be said about connecting with people who you have a natural affinity toward and share similarities in beliefs and background.
In the end, Willa's Grove is a feel-good women's novel set in Montana. And it must be said that the setting is as important as the characters. This is a novel to read when you want to pass the time quietly. There is nothing shocking or surprising that happens. (There is one incident that simple could not happen as described, but I don't want to give a spoiler.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Blackstone Publishing.

The Dark Corners of the Night

The Dark Corners of the Night by Meg Gardiner
Blackstone Publishing: 2/18/20
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781982627515

The Dark Corners of the Night by Meg Gardiner is a very, very highly recommended thriller/procedural and the third book in the UNSUB series featuring FBI behavioral analyst Caitlin Hendrix.

There is a killer on the loose in Los Angeles who calls himself the Midnight Man, the legion of the night. He sneaks into homes of families in the middle of the night and kills the parents, first the man, then the woman, but he leaves the children alive, terrorized witnesses to his crimes. The attacks are escalating and the FBI has been called in to help track down the serial killer. Caitlin Hendrix is still reeling from the bombing at the hospital where her best friend was seriously injured six months earlier. Now Caitlyn is back in Los Angeles to assist in the hunt for the Midnight Man, but as she delves into the case she begins to notice some settling clues to the killer's identity.

Those of you who love your thrillers and procedurals will want to immediately get your hands on The Dark Corners of the Night. It is a tense, action packed, nail biting investigation into the identity of a killer and just as incredible as the first two books in the series, UNSUB and Into the Black Nowhere. While you can read The Dark Corners of the Night as a stand-alone, the first two books in the series are just as exceptional. This is a stay-up-all-night-reading thriller.

As expected, this is a superbly written novel with a solid plot where clues, revelations, and suppositions about the killer are shocking and lead to stunning conclusions. The search for the killer is riveting and will completely hold your attention. At this point, having read the previous two books in the series, I know these characters and their flaws, however Gardiner does have forward movement in the character development that make them even more human.

The heart stopping ending to the search is perfectly executed and Gardiner also ends the narrative on a positive note for Caitlyn. This is another stay-up-all-night-stuck-at-the-airport book... in a well lit area near security and lots of foot traffic.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Blackstone Publishing.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Ten Days Gone

Ten Days Gone by Beverly Long
MIRA Books: 2/18/20
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780778309581 

Ten Days Gone by Beverly Long is a highly recommended police procedural and the beginning of the A.L. McKittridge series.

In Baywood, Wisconsin, small town police detectives A.L. McKittridge and Rena Morgan are on the trail of a serial killer. Four women have been found dead in forty days, exactly 10 days apart. There seems to be nothing connecting the women to each other and the careful killer is not leaving any clues. A.L. and Rena need to find out what connects the victims to each other and the significance of the ten days apart. Hopefully they can discern who the next victim will be and stop the killer before there is another murder. Finding who the next victim will be may be just the beginning of their struggles.

Long writes in an well-done easy-to-follow style. As the case unfolds, the clues are logically uncovered and followed. The narrative is told through alternating points-of-view and it ensures A.L. and Rena are viewed as distinct individuals as the story delves into their personal lives. The background provided in the narrative makes it easy to learn about the personal lives of A.L. and Rena while we follow their professional collaboration. Like most characters in a procedural, they have personal stuff going on while they are trying to stop a killer.

Ten Days Gone is a nice solid start to a new series and would be a nice choice when you want to simply read for relaxation and follow along as the clues as they come. There are no wildly twisty surprises or red herrings in this solid procedural. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA Books.

The Adventurer's Son

The Adventurer's Son by Roman Dial
HarperCollins: 2/18/20
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062876607

The Adventurer's Son by Roman Dial is a highly recommended memoir about the author's adventures and his son.

Roman Dial (Mathematics and Biology professor at Alaska Pacific University and National Geographic Explorer) embraced real life outdoor adventures, exploration, and risk taking as a young man and went on to impart his love for exploration, and endurance to his son, Cody Roman. Dial recounts his own adventures and goes on to describe the trips on which he later took Cody, who also went by Roman. Occasionally his wife, Peggy, and daughter Jazz accompanied them, but Cody Roman became his father's ongoing partner on adventures.

Later, when Cody Roman was 27, he went on a solo trek, hiking and exploring in Central America. On July 10, 2014 he walked alone into Corcovado National Park, an untracked rainforest along Costa Rica’s remote Pacific Coast, and disappeared. Once his father and mother realized he was missing, Dial went down to Costa Rica and began the search for his son. It took two years to find out what happened and the search for closure was plagued with government bureaucrats obstructing the search, false information, and rumors.
Losing a child is one of most difficult experiences a parent can have, so losing your son and not knowing what happened to him makes a heart-breaking experience even worse. Certainly Dial blames himself for encouraging his son to embrace going on adventures and exploring dangerous areas.  Having a reality-TV show spinning a murder theory about Cody Roman while they were still searching for what happened to their son took a toll. In the end they find the closure and some sense of the truth behind what happened.
Dial's love for exploration is evident in his writing, as his love for his wife and family. The one drawback of this tribute to Cody Roman is that it begins by telling Roman's own story rather than starting with Cody Roman's solo trek and disappearance. If this were a biography, this would make perfect sense to follow a chronological timeline. As a tribute to Cody Roman, however, it would have been stronger to start with the disappearance and then back-fill with the history of adventures and exploring that made Cody Roman confident in setting off by himself. 
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Lucky One

The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day
HarperCollins: 2/18/20
eBook review copy; 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062938077

The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day is a very highly recommended novel of suspense.

Alice Fine volunteers her spare time on The Doe Pages, a website that matches missing people with unidentified remains. Her preoccupation with helping search for clues to help reunite people with their missing loved ones is a result of her own experiences. When she was three-years-old Alice was kidnapped from her backyard, and, against all odds, found by her policeman father within twenty-four hours. Alice knows how lucky she was to survive this experience without any harm, unlike so many others. When she sees the picture of a missing person on the Doe site and realizes it is a picture of her kidnapper, she begins looking for him, with help from two other Doe Pages participants. Finding him could protect others and give Alice some closure.

Merrily Cruz is another woman searching for answers about the same man. She considers him, Uncle Rick, a stepfather. Although he didn't visit her, he has been a father figure to Merrily and sporadically texts her. In their search Alice and her Doe friends come across Merrily, and the women all undertake their search for this man, whose surname changes, while trying to uncover what are lies and what is the truth.

The characters are all wonderfully flawed and believable characters that you will feel empathy for immediately. It is understood that they are all unreliable narrators. They don't know the true backstory of the man they are all looking for. We are following along in their search as they look into the past, uncovering information and clues. While following new leads they are piecing together what they learn with what they think they know. 

The writing is outstanding in this well-paced novel. I was entrenched in the story and totally engrossed in the twisty plot from start to finish. The investigation the women undertake unfolds naturally as new information and clues are uncovered. Alice has other clues she is looking at related to her present life while looking into her kidnapping as a child, which adds an additional depth to the narrative. All the threads in the plot are wrapped up, although not in any way you would expect. This is an excellent novel of suspense. The final twisty denouement is what rocketed The Lucky One to my highest rating.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Ghosts of the Missing

Ghosts of the Missing by Kathleen Donohoe
HMH Books: 2/11/20
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780544557178 

Ghosts of the Missing by Kathleen Donohoe is a so-so tale of loss, memory, and traditions.

Adair McCrohan has long been haunted by the unsolved mystery of the disappearance at age twelve of her best friend girl, Rowan Kinnane, on October 28, 1995, in Culleton, New York. She returns to her family home, the Moye House, an old mansion that is currently a writer's retreat to stay with her poet uncle, Michan McCrohan. A writer currently living there, Ciaran Riordan, has a personal connection to Rowan and hopes to solve what happened to his sister. Adair joins forces with Ciaran to try and discover what happened to Rowan. In the process of investigating they uncover some hidden secrets and ghosts of the past.

In this very slow moving novel the chapters alternate between Adair in the present and in 1995, as well as various other people who have lived in Cullenton since the 1800s. Mixed into the melancholy, atmospheric tale is Irish folklore, legends, conspiracies, mysticism, rumors, murder, and science. While the plot is supposedly focused on solving what happened to Rowan, it really isn't at all. This may be as problematic for many other readers as it was for me. There is no closure in solving a mystery. This is more of a character driven family saga that jumps around in time between decades and characters.

The quality of the actual writing is quite alluring. It is beautifully rendered and poetic. The problem is twofold. The jumping around between time periods and characters detracts from the novel rather than creating interest and becomes distracting. The second is the premise that a mystery is to be solved. It isn't a true focus of the plot at all. This really wasn't a good choice for me, but may be a better fit for others.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HMH Books.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Eden Mine

Eden Mine by S. M. Hulse
Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 2/11/20
eBook review copy; 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9780374146474

Eden Mine by S. M. Hulse is a very highly recommended novel that examines the aftershocks of an act of domestic terrorism in a small Montana town. This eloquently written, artistic novel is one of the best novels I've read so far this year.

It is a Sunday morning and Josephine (Jo) Faber is packing up the home that she and her brother Samuel inherited near Eden Mine in Montana. Their home has been seized by the state through eminent domain. While packing she learns about the bombing of the district courthouse at Elk Fork on the radio, but it is not until friend and unofficial guardian Sheriff Hawkins shows up at her front door that she realizes something is wrong. Hawkins wants to know where her brother, Samuel, is. As far as she knows, he left that morning to go find work.

When Jo is told that Samuel was caught on a security camera near the court house, she knows he is likely responsible. The tragedy is that a church was meeting in a nearby store front and the bomb blast blew out the window. Now a nine-year-old girl, the daughter of the pastor, is in critical condition. Jo knows that Samuel would never have meant for anyone to be placed in harm's way because of their family history. He has been taking care of Jo since he was 17 and she was 10.

Eden Mine is a finely crafted, nuanced, and beautifully written heart-breaking novel about family bonds, loyalty, love, individual freedom, injustice, the testing of faith, and redemption. It also touches on the anger, injustice, and disaffection tearing apart many communities. The novel is told mainly through Jo's point-of-view, with short chapters from Asa Truth, the pastor whose daughter is hospitalized, and Samuel, who is in hiding and writing to Jo on a map he has with him. The complete backstory slowly unfolds over the course of the novel, making what happened more nuanced and complicated that it would appear to be at first.

All of the characters are well-developed, complicated individuals. Hulse captures these damaged people and their thoughts, feelings, and struggles with an acumen and sensitivity that makes the story richer. The inner thoughts of the characters will resonate with readers. Some of the questions that Eden Mine raises are those that are struggled with almost universally. A case could be made that the novel is allegorical and reflects human struggles Biblically. In the end this is an eloquently written, touching novel that will stay with me for years.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The Last Day

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray
Penguin Random House: 2/4/20
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781524745813

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray is a recommended dystopian thriller set in 2059.

The earth has stopped rotating, leaving half the world in perpetual light and the other in darkness. Great Britain is lucky enough to be in a narrow habitable region and is now a totalitarian nation with closed borders. A small section of land has been given to the United States for colonization.  Ellen Hopper is a scientist living on a rig in the Atlantic, studying ocean currents. When two government officials come to the rig via helicopter she is basically forced to go back to London to visit the bedside of her dying former Oxford mentor, Edward Thorne. He has a secret he has been keeping and government officials are sure he will tell her where to find the information they seek.

Ellen knows a secret about Thorne's past, which she keeps to herself, but she doesn't know the secret information the government seeks. They hope Thorne will tell her. What happens is that she secretly sends herself on the mission to try and figure out the truth, his secret, on her own, following clues and leads as she uncovers them. She is being watched and followed, beaten up and interrogated, yet still managing to stay one step ahead of the officials who want to destroy the information Thorne has hidden away.

The writing is good and the short chapters keep the plot moving along swiftly in this very changed world. The characters are compelling and interesting. The dystopian world will interest science fiction fans, but the plot requires setting disbelief aside in order to enjoy the mystery of Ellen's search. Her search makes this more of an espionage thriller, where the setting makes the search more interesting, but you have to believe she could find what others could not find. The ending leaves room open for a sequel.

One niggling concern in involving the reader's investment in the plot is that the science behind the slow down and stop wasn't presented until a bit later in the story when it should have been explained earlier. I found myself wanting the explanation behind it long before it was given. The second is the search by Ellen herself, which requires you to believe that the nefarious government officials wouldn't have thought of what she does and couldn't find out the information without her help.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay by Douglas Skelton
Simon & Schuster: 2/11/20
eBook review copy; 312 pages
ISBN-13: 9781950691340

Thunder Bay by Douglas Skelton is a very highly recommended atmospheric mystery/thriller.

Scottish reporter Rebecca Connolly learns that suspected murderer Roddie Drummond will be returning to the Hebridean island of Stoirm to attend his mother's funeral. Fifteen years earlier his girlfriend Mhairi was murdered, and, even though he was not convicted, Roddie is guilty in the eyes of many islanders. He left the island immediately after the trial and hasn't been back since. His return will certainly stir up resentments and trouble. Rebecca has other, personal, reasons for wanting to visit the island so she goes ahead and travels there in defiance of her editor. She is looking into both the story of Mhairi's murder and her own family history.

Thunder Bay is a beautifully written mystery/thriller. Skelton introduces the large cast of characters via their interactions in the local social structure as Rebecca begins her investigation. All the characters are complex and well-developed, and the island, "it's an island thing," is as much a character as the people in this atmospheric mystery.  Secrets abound on the island. Rebecca's interactions and the answers she receives to the questions she is asking perfectly captures the social culture and setting.

As the plot advances, the information Rebecca is uncovering begins to create a tension. This tension increases and builds incrementally until it is palpable. The hostility and unease she experiences is from both her investigation of the murder, as well as questions about her family's history on the island. As in any closed, tightly knit community, there are secrets and resentments that people have kept hidden. Skelton uses flashbacks to enhance the plot and tell some of the backstory. I enjoyed this novel immensely, but have to admit that I was disappointed with the reveal of the secret that made Rebecca's father leave the island forever.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.