The Secret Place: A Novel by Tanya French

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An excellent read…..   ****

One of my favorite authors is John Connolly. Tanya French reminds me of his style, both are more literary than the likes of Child, Deaver, or Michael Connelly. Thus, this was an excellent read.

The story is intricate and moves back and forth in time in alternating chapters. A student was killed a year ago and as the detectives seek to solve this cold case, every other chapter tells the story of what actually happened as it was unfolding before the murder. Once into the rhythm of the back and forth, I settled into this page turner.

French does an excellent job of writing from the point of view of not only the detectives, but also from the minds of the young girls central to the story. While the reader knows from the beginning who was killed, the revelation of the murderer does come as a bit of a surprise.

My only negative comment is at times French over writes. There is a bit too much description in some parts. This was my first of her novels I have read, and will definitely be reading the rest.

This one gets four stars.

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Rather Be The Devil by Ian Rankin

ratherbethedevil  Rebus retired, maybe time for the series also…  ***

Being an Ian Rankin fan, I was excited to be in Australia and purchase this book before it was available in the States.  Unfortunately, it was somewhat of a disappointment.

Following John Rebus as he uncovers a mystery is usually worth the read. His conflict with superiors and his odd relationship with the gangster, Big  Ger Cafferty, normally make Rankin’s novels page turners. This one falls short on both counts.

The lack of conflict made the reading tedious and the unraveling of the story was not gripping. The ending seemed rushed after all the pages used to set it up, and I closed the book unsatisfied.

Maybe Rankin should retire this series and start a fresh one.  This one gets three stars.

 

The Alienist by Caleb Carr

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Classical detection at its best…..   ****

To my chagrin, I have to admit I had never heard of Caleb Carr until I read reviews of his Surrender, New York. Several compared his newest novel to The Alienist, which prompted me to want to read it first.

The Alienest is a very interesting read. Written in 1994, it is set in 1896. This is important because it was easy to forget that I was not reading a book written in the 1890’s. That is how well-written this book is. I was transported back in time, not only from the descriptions, but also by Carr’s writing style.  This book is like reading one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, the style and language are similar.

The story revolves around a team formed to discover who is killing young boys. In this sense, this is a classic detective story. The hook is that all the forensic science we are accustomed to in a novel, was just being discovered and was not as accepted as it is today.

The team assembled to solve the “whodunit”, consists of a psychiatrist, a journalist, two police detectives, and a female secretary from the police department. They’re all working off the books, reporting to the police commissioner, who happens to be Theodore Roosevelt.

Combining loosely historical facts, a Sherlock Holmes type of character, a little of Jeffrey Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme, a bit of Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware, some of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter, and shades of Carolyne Keene’s Nancy Drew, Caleb Carr has written a great read.

The book was a page turner, not because of mystery or suspense, but because I wanted to follow the logic and actions of the characters. The climax and discovery of the killer were anti-climatic. The end seemed rushed compared to the depth of detail in the rest of the book.

This one gets four stars, and I now can read Surrender, New York with a more critical eye..

 

 

A Time of Torment by John Connolly

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A Charlie Parker thriller, almost…..    ****

 

John Connolly writes novels that make me wish they would never end. His style is mesmerizing and can chill me to the bone. This one is no exception.

As with any good series, if you haven’t read the earlier books, you will not fully appreciate this one. As this is the fourteenth (fifteenth if you count his novella) Charlie Parker novel, Connolly does not spend time recapping, which is a good thing.

While this story includes Parker, and his sidekicks Angel and Louis, they are almost insignificant. The majority of the novel revolves around a group called the Cut, and Sheriff Henkel, who is determined to rid his county of this cult-like group..

This novel, more than some of Connolly’s others, has a significant amount of supernatural elements. The beauty of Connolly’s writing is that he makes these elements not only believable, but made me wish some of it were true.

Parker has two daughters. One who was killed, and one with special talents. So as not to give anything away, I will just say it is the sister’s interactions that make this novel unique.

This one gets four stars. I usually give five for Connolly’s novels but Parker’s small role caused me to drop one.  Hopefully, this is not a trend.

Crime On the Fens by Joy Ellis

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A good read, worthy of one’s time…..   ***

Every good detective story has the same key elements – a detective who is great at their job yet is often at odds with the higher ups, a personal life that is in disarray for whatever reason, a good team of co-workers who admire the detective and will do what is necessary to help, and sometimes a pairing with a partner that is either strained or was forced on them.

Joy Ellis has written a novel that includes all of the above with just enough differences to make Crime On the Fens a good read. The female detective, Nikki Galena, is a hard driving, focused DI bent on avenging her daughter who is lying in a hospital, and bringing those responsible to justice. She is being forced to work with DS Joseph Easter, whose reputation is as questionable as her own. The team she assembles to solve the disappearance of a young girl consists of misfits in their own right.

Ellis wove the threads of the story with just enough twists to keep me turning the page, not so much as to what was going to happen but in how she was going to bring things together. As with any good series the ending leaves a teaser that does make you want to read the next book. It also suffers from the series weakness of when the main character is in jeopardy you know she will somehow survive because there is a next book.

Ellis has been compared to writers Rachel Abbott, Mel Sherratt, and Ruth Rendell. This last one may be stretching it, but I would add Ian Rankin to the list. Her DI Galena could be the female version of John Rebus, even down to the suspicious relationship with an underworld figure. Rebus had “Big Ger” Cafferty and Galena has Archie Leonard.

This is a good book, maybe not outstanding, but an average read worthy of one’s time.

This one gets three stars.

Life or Death by Michael Robotham

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More like life, then dull…..   ***

 

Having read all of Robotham’s Joe O’Loughlin series, I was curious to read one of his stand alone novels.

Life or Death is a unique story that grips you from the beginning. Just the premise of a character breaking out of prison one day before his release is enough to make you want to read the book. Weaving the present with the past, Robotham reveals the motivation behind the escape, saving the twist to near the end. I do have to admit I had not figured things out until the author revealed the full story. Up to that point the novel is well written.

Robotham even manages to take what could have been a cliche –  prisoner on the run connects with down and out mother and child – and gives it a twist that was surprising.

It is not until the climax that this novel falls apart. The confrontation between the good guys and bad guys is so full of holes, I was expecting the pages to fall apart. The rest is tied into a neat little package and left me with a feeling of being let down.

This one gets three stars.  Actually it is a four star read up to chapter 64, then it becomes a three star read.

The Check by Clair Wm. Harmony

best    Great idea, devil in the details……  **

 

What a great idea!  Someone is putting money in Ronald Sizemore’s bank account and is then sending checks out to people in need. The money is being drained from every imaginable drug dealer, terrorist, or criminal’s account and is being used for good. This sounds reminiscent of a story one might have seen on Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.

The idea is good and the novel holds together for about the first third of the book.  Unfortunately, it then deteriorates from cliche to unbelievable.

Harmony does a good job of setting  up the plot and brings the reader in deep. I found myself turning pages anxious to see where this was going and who was causing the money transfers. The story begins to fall apart after Sizemore hires a security firm to protect him from threats on his life. Without giving anything away, the decisions made for his protection soon become unbelievable.

The novel could use a rewrite. Harmony mixes up the names of his characters. Sid Madras is the man Sizemore rescued as a marine but is called Sgt Pollock in a TV interview. There are inconsistencies that throw the reader out of the story. For example, when the head of the security team calls to set up a meeting, he says he will be bringing egg McMuffins and coffee in the morning. When he gets there he has egg McMuffins and says he didn’t have time to get anything better as if it was never said before. There are more plot holes here than potholes on a California highway.

This good idea just needed a good editor to flesh out the details that would have made this a thought provoking read, as opposed to a read that ended with me saying, “Really?”

This one gets two stars.