Day 1172: The Long Drop

Cover for The Long DropAlthough it too is set in Glasgow, The Long Drop is a departure from Denise Mina’s usual crime series. Instead, it is an account of the crimes and trial of Scotland’s first serial killer, Peter Manuel. In the 1950’s, Manuel was tried and found guilty of the murders of two families and a woman. Although he likely killed other women, a charge against him for the murder of another woman was found not proven.

The novel follows two paths—testimony about the events of a night following the murders in which Manuel met William Watt, a man whose family were Manuel’s victims and who almost certainly paid to have his wife killed, and the actual events. Pretty much everyone in the court is lying.

This novel is billed as a thriller, but it is more of a court procedural. Although it is interesting, it suffers from not having a single character you can feel sympathy for. The wild city of Glasgow in the 1950’s is very atmospheric, however.

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Day 1018: The Beautiful Dead

Cover for The Beautiful DeadEve Singer is a crime reporter. Although her boss is horrible, Eve is desperate to keep her job, because she is supporting her father, who is deep in the grip of dementia.

Eve is on the way home from reporting on a murder when she hears a man approaching her. Sure she is going to be attacked in the dark street, by instinct she turns to him and asks him to walk her home. What she doesn’t know is that the murder she has just reported on, of a woman just feet away from a busy street, is the latest in a string of serial killings. The man who walks her home is the murderer.

The trust Eve shows him hypnotizes the murderer, so he begins calling her to lure her into cooperating with him. At first, she doesn’t and turns to the police, agreeing to keep some clues secret. But later, a fear for her job makes her broadcast details about the crimes that she promised to hide.

link to NetgalleyAfter the killer lures her and another news team to the death of one of her rivals, Eve gets a police bodyguard. But when the killer kidnaps her father, she realizes she is going to have to think like a serial killer.

Although The Beautiful Dead belongs with the usual dark thrillers that Bauer usually writes, she is experimenting with throwing in the lightest touch of romance and more likable secondary characters. This is a good move for Bauer, as it lightens up what would be an extremely dark book and gives her more to work with. I think I enjoyed this novel more than the last few as a result.

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Day 1017: The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer

Cover for Midnight AssassinI lived in Austin, Texas, for more than 20 years (not anymore, yay!), so I already know that Austin had a serial killer before Jack the Ripper. That didn’t make this book any less interesting, though.

Journalist Skip Hollandsworth was very surprised when he learned about it. In fact, he says he didn’t at first believe that, starting in 1884, Austin suffered a series of brutal attacks on women that ultimately culminated in several murders.

At that time, serving women usually lived in little shacks at the backs of their employers’ homes. Most of the victims were dragged out of these homes—other occupants either hit over the head or merely threatened—and then brutally attacked somewhere nearby. Most of the first victims were black, so of course (it being Texas and the 19th century), the authorities looked to African-American men for the perpetrator. Then they decided it was a gang of them. The idea of a serial killer seemed inconceivable to them.

Hollandsworth’s strength in this book is in bringing 1880’s Austin to life. He does a great job of setting the stage. I also enjoyed all of the photos of Austin from that time. This is an interesting story, one that many Austinites are unaware of. Of course, it doesn’t have a solution as the killer was never caught. We may never know who this murderer was or why he stopped. Hollandsworth follows up some interesting leads, though.

If you are interested in this topic, Steven Saylor has written a fictional account of it, using O. Henry as a character. His solution is a bit far-fetched and easy to predict, though.

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Day 913: The Unforgotten

Cover for The UnforgottenA novel set in two time periods, The Unforgotten is a thriller and a mystery. But it is more than that—a story with deep-running themes offering its characters difficult choices.

In 1956 Cornwall, Betty Broadbent is an innocent, naive 15-year-old. She helps her unstable mother run a hotel and sometimes has to run it herself when her mother is in the throes of depression or alcoholism. The small fishing village has been invaded by reporters after the murders of several young women.

In 2006, Mary reads that the man who served time for the murders back in 1956 still insists he is innocent. Mary remembers him as the man her mother used to date and believes he is innocent. She thinks she knows who the actual killer is and is torn between telling what she knows and keeping a long-held secret. Although we don’t know why she is living under another name, we are soon sure that Mary is Betty.

This novel is about the painful choices two people must make under difficult circumstances. It is also about a sad and doomed love affair.

At first I thought that some of the dialogue and situations were unlikely, but I soon forgot those thoughts, driven forward by the sheer power of the story. It is one that has many more levels than first expected. This is a great first novel by Powell.

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Day 870: Jane Steele

Cover for Jane SteeleBest Book of the Week!
Fans of Lyndsay Faye’s Timothy Wilde trilogy (I am one) have undoubtedly been looking forward to Jane Steele, which she describes as a riff on Jane Eyre. In this novel, which Faye dedicates to “Miss Eyre and Mr. Nickleby,” Jane Steele describes her life as one very similar to Jane Eyre’s, only with an important difference—Jane Steele is a serial killer.

At the beginning of the novel, Jane is nine or ten years old, living in a cottage with her mother on the grounds of Highgate House. Although her mother has told her Highgate House belongs to her, it is occupied by her Aunt Patience Barbary and her cousin Edwin. Mrs. Barbary hates Jane and her mother, and after her mother’s death from an overdose of some opiate, Mrs. Barbary wastes no time in preparing to ship Jane off to Lowan Bridge School, run by Mr. Vesalius Munt. But before that can happen, Edwin tries to rape Jane, who pushes him off a cliff to his death. Terrified by the perspicacious Constable Quillfeather, Jane goes meekly to school.

It is difficult to know how much to reveal in this review, but suffice it to say that almost every action in Jane Eyre is echoed in some way in Jane Steele, but always with a twist. Mr. Munt is, if anything, a worse sadist and hypocrite than the headmaster of Lowood School. Jane Steele has a dear friend in the school, Rebecca Clarke, who comes close to dying, but when Mr. Munt offers Jane a choice between further starving Clarke or agreeing to be sent to an asylum, Jane instead chooses to stab him with a letter opener. Jane being sixteen by then, she and Clarke run off to London.

link to NetgalleyEventually, Jane meets her Mr. Rochester when she forges credentials as a governess to go work at Highgate House. There she hopes to search for proof of her mother’s claim that the house belongs to her. She finds herself in an unusual environment. The house belongs to Mr. Charles Thornfield, a nephew of Patience Barbary. Her charge is a little Sikh girl named Sahjara, and the entire household is Sikh. This household has its own secrets, to do with the betrayal of the Khaba, the Sikh military, by its own leaders.

This novel is a romping good read, full of adventure. It features a missing treasure, secret identities, several oily villains, and the resurrection of the heroine’s self-esteem. Yes, Jane kills five men. Do we still like her? Absolutely. I think you’re going to love this book.

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Day 768: The Asylum

Cover for The AsylumJohan Theorin takes a step away from the island of Öland, the setting of his previous novels, to present this even darker thriller. Its main character is Jan Hauger, a young man whose version of events isn’t always to be trusted.

Jan is  a child care worker who takes a job at a preschool attached to a mental asylum. The preschool is for the children of the inmates, to allow the children to see their parents regularly. Although Jon cares about the welfare of the children, it is clear early on that he has other reasons for being there.

One thing we soon find out about Jan is that as a young man he kept a little boy captive for several hours. We don’t learn why for some time.

Jan has an interest in getting into the asylum, for he believes a woman he once knew as a girl is inside. He has been captivated by thoughts of her for years. Soon, he finds there are ways into the asylum from the preschool.

The asylum has some famous inmates, the most renowned of whom is the serial killer Ivan Rössell. When Jan accepts an unauthorized but seemingly harmless task of secretly delivering mail into the asylum so that the guards can distribute it to the inmates, he finds that Rössell gets the bulk of this mail. But Jan also sees a way to get a message to his friend.

As Jan’s story emerges in three different time streams, we begin to feel his judgment may be impaired. There is something dangerous going on that he is unaware of. As usual, Theorin’s book is atmospheric and compelling.

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