Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Doll's House: A Detective Helen Grace Thriller by J. Arlidge

The Doll’s House: A Detective Helen Grace Thriller.  M. J. Arlidge. Penguin Group (USA).  February 2016. 432 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451475510.

Helen Grace is well-known to mystery and crime novel fans as the author of Pop Goes the Weasel” and now returns in her third thriller story.  Her Southampton job is to find a psychopathic, serial killer who buries his victims on a nearby beach. 

Now Ruth Sprackler had spent the night drinking and never imagined why her captor would kidnap her and hide her in his basement.  She awakens, not knowing where she is or why she is there. The creepiness and pathologically sickening behavior of Ruth’s captor is so intense it elicits intense fear and horror at what is unfolding.  For those who love the thrill of stories such as this one, you will be more than satisfied and frightened.  Ruth believes she will be successful in finding this killer before he kills again, never imagining another victim is coming close to the end of her life.

Before the killer claims his victims in death, he sends cruel texts to family members of his victims.  The torturous nature of this act is almost beyond imagination but is clearly an edge that makes the killer feel powerful beyond words which he expresses as amusement.  Hallmarks of his identity appear and little by little Helen and her team will figure out the sick motivation behind this killer’s devastating acts.

While Ruth is attempting to solve this mystery before more victims are claimed, she has a problem at work.  A change in personnel leaves Detective Ceri Harwood in charge and pulling rank.  Her jealousy is revealed in the way she tries to block Ruth from pursuing this killer even to the point of bribery.

The Doll’s House… is the real deal in thriller fiction and sure to enthrall all lovers of the genre.  Stay tuned for more truly frightening, spine-tingling and adrenalin-pumping thrillers from this highly skilled author, M. J. Arlidge!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Casualties: A Novel by Elizabeth Marro

Casualties: A Novel.  Elizabeth Marro. Penguin Group (USA).  February 2016. 368 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425283462.

Ruth Nolan is an executive in a military defense contractor company.  She’s successful and her biggest worry is her son, Robbie, who is unsure about his future.  Ruth, although truly well-intentioned, is a super-nag!  She doesn’t mean to but can’t seem to control her need to control Robbie’s every step.  She tells him she loves him but Robbie can’t quite feel that through the incessant directions and plans she’s plotting for his life.  So Robbie makes a major decision and carries it out without letting his mother know.  He joins the Marines.  Ruth’s reaction is double-edged.  On the one hand she isn’t worried at all about him now that he’s made plans but the other truly caring side knows he will constantly be in grave danger!  It’s the nightmare military Moms live through on a daily basis.

Meanwhile trouble is brewing at work, big trouble! Without providing a spoiler, it turns out that promises made to military defenders and their families have been ignored to the point where it has become a public scandal.  When Robbie finally returns from serving two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’s a different person.  He reaches out first to other relatives, without telling his mother.  When he does appear, Ruth is caught up in a volatile situation at work and after several more attempts Robbie gives up and leaves with an apology note left behind.

This is the story of Ruth’s awakening.  The loss of her son traumatizes her into paying attention to war, the emotional and mental effect of military service on those who serve, the lack of financial, mental and emotional support of the government for those who fight in its name, her own company’s negligence that is far more devastating than just statistics and mistakes indicate. 

We are told, “War is hell.”  However, this is a tale that must be told as numerous men and women return from war broken, forgotten and unsupported.  The questions Ruth asks are so real that it’s painful to read them.  To move beyond reading and to actively make a difference are Ruth’s incentives to the public.  Quietly telling the truth and “being there” in whatever way one responds will make all the difference in the world.  “Thank you for your service” just isn’t enough!  Thanks to Elizabeth Marro for telling it like it is!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The God's Eye View by Barry Eisler

The God’s Eye View.  Barry Eisler. Thomas & Mercer.  February 2016. 374 pp. paperback and e-book. ISBN #: 9781503949614.

NSA Analyst Evelyn Gallagher is divorced and her life revolves around her deaf son, Dash.  She’s very, very good at her job at designing facial recognition and camera recognition programs, but she makes a big but accidental mistake.  She tells the Director of the NSA Program that she’s suspicious that there are others using a different program.  Director Theodore Anders hears her out and offhandedly calms her fears; but later he is determined to have her watched.  Add to that the fact that some investigators and now a journalist have coincidentally and accidentally died, all of them connected with the NSA Program.

It takes quite a while to discover what the God’s Eye program is all about, but Anders is willing to do anything to make sure no one can connect the dots between the separate parts of the program.  Terrorism is widespread throughout the world and Anders believes that unless the American government knows everything that is possibly going on as well as what is really happening, we will be attacked for sure and be losers rather than victors.

Now the tension notches up many levels.  The investigator Manus who is assigned to watch Evelyn finds himself having feelings he hasn’t experienced for years upon years.  He also is deaf because of his father’s abusive, drunken behavior; he’s also a closed book normally to any kind of sentimental feelings. But Dash awakens something gentle and kind and Manus is one notch less of a faithful dog for Anders, something it doesn’t take Manus long to find out.

One investigator passes along the secret to a journalist and things rapidly jettison out of control, with Anders out of control and beginning to make things happen that go way beyond the behavior allowed to an American government worker.  To say more would spoil what is a vibrantly complex but satisfying plot. 

This is a story that could be real in our day as we discover terrorists are now communicating through encrypted messages that not even our government can break and terrorist acts occur that are either directed by ISIS or ISIS-like groups or individuals who are copy-cat terrorists but no less deadly.

Fans of spy or thriller novels will love this novel by a talented and knowledgeable writer, Barry Eisler – nicely done and highly recommended!

Written on My Heart: A Novel by Morgan Callan Rogers

Written on My Heart: A Novel.  Morgan Callan Rogers. Penguin Group (USA).  February 2016. 384 pp.  ISBN#: 9780147517043.

Florine Gilham and Bud Warner have married young and immediately are expecting a baby.  They are deeply in love and that love will be sorely tested through this story.  Two parts of this novel stand out vividly – the depth and richness of this couple’s love and Florine’s intense love for The Point, part of the Maine shoreline, in all of its beautiful, powerful and raging moods as the seasons regularly change. One fact in Florine’s past, however, destroys any peace she finds. 

Years ago Florine’s mother, Carlie, simply disappeared one day.  While Bud believes Florine should put away her worrying and endless preoccupation with the mystery of her mother’s leaving, the reader understands Florine’s obsession.  How could it be otherwise, to lose one’s mother so unexpectedly for no apparent reason? 

Add to the mystery that Florine begins to receive anonymous letters with one or two sentences.  At first Florine begins they are from Carlie but then more messages appear that are threatening.  At Bud’s insistence, Florine turns them over to the town sheriff. 

This young couple struggles with having two very young children and not enough time to love and dream of a better future.  At the same time, Bud begins to question what he’s doing as a car mechanic, seeing no viable future of doing better.  He begins to drink too much and he’s not a nice guy when sloshed. 

Meanwhile there are some odd neighbors who begin to factor into the mystery of Carlie’s absence and the evolution into the truth is intense and eventually quite shocking in its unexpected truth.

Morgan Callan Rogers has written a fine romantic, mystery novel that is earthy in its humor and intensity, while maintaining the puzzling and frightening ambience of emerging mental illness and betrayal.  Very nicely crafted, Ms. Rogers!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Goddess of Fire: A Historical Novel Set in 17th Century India by Bharti Kirchner

Goddess of Fire: A Historical Novel Set in 17th Century India.  Bharti Kirchner. Severn House Publishers. February 2016. 288 pp.  ISBN#: 9780727885502.

As Indian custom dictates, 17 year-old Moorti awaits being forced to join her husband’s funeral pyre in the practice commonly known as Sati.  There she will be burned.  If she were to refuse, she would literally be considered a “non-person,” dead to all.  Moorti’s young blood and intelligence know better but how does one breach the custom and tradition of thousands of years? In a vividly frightening scene, Moorti is placed on the pyre with her husband and the fire is added to her area.  Before she can realize what is happening, she sees a white man approaching.  Not only does he approach, but he actually forces his way toward her and rescues her from the funeral pyre.  Imagine her reaction.  Then imagine her fear when she realizes she has defied tradition and is truly a woman without a home or respect.

Job Charnock takes Moorti to safety, where she lives as a servant amid the English traders.  Although she’s certainly grateful, she is bored and develops an interest in learning English.  In the meantime, Job shows Moorti nothing but respect and affection, even at times stopping others from abusing her.  This then is the story of two momentous happenings, both very gradually evolving.  The first is that Job and Moorti fall in love with each other.  This at first must not be publically shown, for it would place Job’s job in jeopardy.  At the same time, he knows that Moorti is a useful peer in their job of obtaining trade deals in the middle of what is fierce competition. But how will she be accepted by the Indian trade leaders?

Goddess of Fire is based on real characters, especially Job Charnock.  The novel reflects the prejudices and fierce conflicts between Indians and white traders, while at the same time profiting from each other.  It is only the latter bond that keeps the white traders alive but treachery and extinction are also possible from their own people. The beginning of one transaction that could change everything for Job is smoothed into reality by the bargaining and language skills that have made Moorti into the respected and equal partner in the trading world.  Money and trade do rule the day!  The romance side of this story is compelling reading as well!
Nicely told historical fiction, Bharti Kirchner!

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin

The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel.  Melanie Benjamin. Random House Publishing Group. January 2016. 368 pp.  ISBN#: 9780345528698.

1975 is the final year when Truman Capote is at the height of his success, having published the well-known nonfiction books, In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, as well as numerous stories, plays and other articles.  In the 50’s and 60’s he has gathered around him a coterie of socially powerful, famous but challenged woman.  Beloved by these women, whose fragile natures he has emotionally healed and strengthened, Truman at first is bolstered by their admiration, indeed adoration.  Their fragility, however, simply mirrors Truman’s own inner turmoil.  This is their volatile story!

First we meet Barbara (“Babe”) Cushing Mortimer Paley, a stylish trend setter who is married to a top executive of CBS, William S. Paley, devourer of women and autocratic businessman feared by all.  Even he is enamored of Truman but the anomaly here is that Babe really doesn’t care about his opinion of “True Heart” Truman because for the first time in her life she knows what it’s like to love and be loved.  This will prove to be a catastrophic surrender on her part.

We next meet Marella Agnelli, C. Z. Guest, Gloria Guiness, Pamela Churchill Harriman and Slim Keith, who have all told Truman their deepest, darkest secrets. They represent the trendsetters of the period and those who love the world of fashion, beauty, style will love the numerous descriptions of these ladies’ dress, makeup and food preferences.  What begins as meeting for champagne and hors oeuvres will degenerate over time into drinking and pills.  Unity and love o so slowly evolves into whispered, malign comments arising from unacknowledged jealousy.  Money and power, however, rule the day and their secrets are secure until one momentous day of betrayal by their best friend, Truman!

What begins as a delicious and amusing bonding of these friends, whose daily concerns are about perfect appearances, rapidly becomes a cruel expose that breaks all concerned but especially one declining character!  Truman himself is transformed in ways that startle readers, a picture so far from one would have imagined when starting this story.

This novel is supposedly based on reality and as such stands as the iconic tale, a period piece of literary, historical fiction.  The Swans of Fifth Avenue depicts the fashionistas of the mid-20th Century! Remarkable fiction!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig

The Forgotten Room. Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig. Penguin Publishing Group (USA). Copyright 2016. 384 pp.; ISBN: 9780451474629.

Dr. Kate Schuyler is treating very wounded soldiers in a New York Hospital in 1945.  She has to deal with a huge amount of resentment and anger from her male colleagues.  One of the wounded soldiers, Captain Ravenel, insists she looks familiar to the woman in the miniature portrait he wears around his neck.  Add to that she’s wearing a ruby pendant that was passed down to her from her mother but one that Ravenel recognizes immediately later on in the story.

Then there’s Olive Van Allen, a maid in the home of the man who once refused to pay the architect bill and therefore ruined Olive’s father together.  Olive’s persistent desire for revenge is palpable; but instead she’s serving as a drudge maid who is exhausted from the pace of cleaning, etc. that this job entails.  Then she meets one of the Pratt sons, and her life begins to dramatically change.  She wonders if her motives will eventually be exposed at the same time she is becoming romantically attached to Harry’s romantic and artistic skills.

Finally, there is Lucy Young, who has come to work in New York but really is seeking out the identity and presence of her father.  She is actually coerced into serving as a companion to someone who just might know about the secret solution Lucy is seeking. 

The three women in this novel live in different times but their stories begin to coalesce.  The discoveries gradually and sensitively revealed are shocking to each of the three women.  Their quests will and will not be fulfilled, but the roller coaster ride is sure to satisfy every lover of adventure and mystery fiction.

These three notable authors have managed to create a smoothly plotted but solvable mystery with a life-threatening, hostile ending sure to send shivers down every reader’s spine.

Very nicely done!