Review 1602: Friday on My Mind

Because I read the Frieda Klein mystery that comes after this one first, I was aware of a plot point in Friday on My Mind, but writing about it is not really a spoiler, because it happens in the first few pages. That point is that Sandy, Frieda’s ex-lover, is found dead in the Thames with his throat cut and Frieda’s hospital bracelet on his wrist.

Frieda had broken up with him several months ago, but recently he had been trying to contact her. Friends said he was in a state of agitation. He had come to her office with her belongings and shouted at her when he wasn’t allowed in. Frieda is the police’s suspect, and when they find Sandy’s wallet in her home, they plan to arrest her.

Frieda thinks her nemesis, Dean Reeve, has killed Sandy, as he’s killed other of her enemies, and is framing her. She feels that the police will not investigate further, so she flees, determined to find the murderer herself.

As usual, this is a complex mystery with interesting characters. It also has a gripping ending, and I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I liked Sandy, and I was bothered by how unlike himself he was behaving after the breakup, as well as by his murder.

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Review 1597: A Dying Fall

One day after forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway hears of the death in a fire of an old school friend, Dan Golding, she receives a letter from him asking her to come look at some bones he’s found. He also expresses fear but does not say what he’s afraid of.

Ruth asks DCI Harry Nelson if he would find out whether there was anything suspicious about Dan’s death. He finds that Dan was murdered, flammable material stuffed through his letterbox and his front door locked on the outside.

Ruth then receives a call from Dan’s department head, Clayton Henry, asking her to look at the bones. The university is near Blackpool, and Ruth is embarrassed to learn that Harry is going there for a vacation with his family, but she decides to go anyway. She immediately begins receiving threatening texts.

When Ruth arrives at the university with her daughter Kate and friend Cathbad, she soon learns that Dan thought he found the bones of King Arthur in the ruins of a Roman town. The tomb is certainly convincing, but when Ruth sees the bones, she realizes they’ve been switched. So, where are the original bones and what’s going on?

This jaunt out of Norfolk is atmospheric, and the idea for the mystery is clever and original. I guessed the identity of the murderer but only because the person seemed the least likely suspect. It looks like there will be some shifting around of recurring characters, too, which happens in real life but seldom in mystery series and should be refreshing. As usual, I enjoyed this mystery.

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Review 1579: A Room Full of Bones

Dr. Ruth Galloway is asked to attend the opening of a coffin that was found in the remains of a medieval church. It is marked as if it is the coffin of St. Augustine Smith, but the saint was supposedly buried in the cathedral. However, that coffin was found to be empty.

When Ruth shows up for the ceremony at the little museum belonging to Lord Smith, she at first thinks no one is there. Then she finds the body of the curator, Neil Topham, lying next to the coffin.

There are several plots in this novel, but Ruth isn’t as directly involved in them as in previous books. There is the mystery of who killed the curator. Then, an Australian indigenous man named Bob Woonunga rents the house next to Ruth’s while he attempts to get Lord Danford Smith to return some aboriginal skulls. Later, Lord Smith mysteriously dies after a short fever and hallucinations. While the police investigate these deaths, they are also trying to find the source of some high-quality drugs in the area.

Ruth herself has been keeping away from DCI Harry Nelson, the father of her daughter, since his wife Michelle figured out the situation. She runs into Max, an archaeologist who was interested in her when she was pregnant, and begins a tentative relationship.

This mystery was much more difficult to guess because of its many plot threads. Actually, it wasn’t so much a mystery as a thriller, with the police in danger instead of Ruth. Still, I remain interested in these characters and happy to read another in the series.

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Review 1570: The Body Lies

Here’s another book for RIPXV!

The Body Lies opens with the body of a woman lying in the cold. We don’t have any context for this scene for some time during the novel.

The unnamed narrator is pregnant when she is attacked by a complete stranger in the street. Three years later, when she is ready to return to work after a break for child care, she is still afraid, so she looks for a job outside the city. On the basis of her published novel, she is offered a job at a university in the north. Her husband Mark says he can’t leave his job immediately, so he comes to visit as often as he can.

The narrator’s inexperience results in her getting more and more work piled on her by her department head. But more worrisome is the contentious tone between some of the members of her MA creative writing class. In particular, Nicholas Palmer, who seems talented, takes an aggressive attitude toward Steven Haygarth, who opens his crime novel with a nude girl’s dead body.

The narrator finds herself unwittingly getting involved with Nicholas in a way she doesn’t want to be. Nicholas says he’s trying an experiment with fiction never tried before. She has no idea how it will affect her.

At first, I was a little impatient with the student compositions, especially Nicholas’s, even though I knew they would be important to the plot. However, this novel slowly becomes very suspenseful. I have liked all of Jo Baker’s books, and they’ve all been different from each other.

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Review 1555: The Voices Beyond

I have been reading Johan Theorin’s novels for years, ever since I picked up The Darkest Room. The Voices Beyond is one of his atmospheric thrillers set on the Swedish island of Öland in the Baltic Sea. In the case of The Darkest Room, at least, there was also an element of the supernatural. This makes an appropriate book as we’re leading up to Halloween and is also an entry for RIPXV.

The novel begins in 1930, when Gerlof (who appears in all these books) is a young man helping out as a gravedigger. The man being buried is Edvard Kloss, of a family of wealthy farmers, and the rumor is that his two brothers killed him by toppling a wall on him. Also helping the burial that day is a teenager named Aron Fredh, rumored to be a bastard son of Edvard. When the coffin is put in the ground and they begin to cover it, everyone at the graveside hears three distinct raps, apparently coming from the coffin. The men haul the coffin back up and open it, but Edvard is definitely dead. However, his brother Gilbert falls over dead from the shock.

Sixty years later, Gerlof is a retired sea captain staying for the summer in his cottage on the beach in Stevnik. One night when he is sleeping in the boathouse, he is awakened by a terrified boy, Jonas Kloss. Jonas tells him that he was floating on a rubber dinghy when a large ghost ship nearly ran him over. He saved himself by grabbing a dangling rope and was able to get aboard. There he saw dead sailors on the deck and a young man chasing another sailor with an ax. Up in the wheelhouse was an old man. Jonas thinks he has seen the young man before.

Gerlof helps Jonas figure out that the young man sold him movie tickets the year before, so they are able to identify him as Pecka. Although Gerlof asks the boy not to tell anyone this, Jonas confides in his Uncle Kent. Soon Pecka is dead.

Intermittently, we learn the story of Aron Fredh, whose stepfather Sven reportedly took him away to America in 1930, and they were never heard from again. But Sven, a dedicated socialist, actually took him to the Soviet Union, where they lived a brutal life and Aron managed to survive the Great Purge.

Eventually, Gerlof realizes that the old man is Aron Fredh, pursuing some kind of vendetta against the Klosses. But how to find him?

Theorin does something really interesting with these characters that I don’t want to reveal. Let me just say that everything is not what it seems.

Although none of Theorin’s books has been quite as memorable as The Darkest Room, they have all been good, and I think this one is more memorable than the last couple.

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Review 1541: The Sun Down Motel

Best of Ten!
In 1982, 20-year-old Viv has run away from her home in Illinois to go to New York City. Out of money, she stops in Fell, New York, and takes a job on the night shift of the Sun Down Motel. Very soon, two things become certain—the motel is haunted, and a lot of girls get murdered in Fell.

In 2017, Carly finds out after her mother’s death that her mother had a sister who disappeared in 1982. Carly decides to travel to Fell, New York, to try to find out what happened to her. When she makes a trip to the Sun Down Motel to ask about Viv, she ends up taking a job on the night shift. Soon, she is investigating a series of women’s deaths beginning in 1979 and ending in 1982.

I don’t very often give five-star ratings in Goodreads and especially not for genre fiction, but this one is terrific. It’s wildly atmospheric, with its haunted old motel, and it has an ending that puts it a step higher than most of the genre. It has a compelling mystery and two exciting endings, one in each time period. A touch of romance doesn’t hurt it, either. I had great fun reading this book.

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Review 1515: Conviction

Denise Mina’s novels are usually fairly gritty murder mysteries. Conviction, although harrowing in spots, reminded me much more of Catriona McPherson’s cozy thrillers.

When Anna’s husband Hamish dumps her for another woman and takes her children, she realizes there is nothing she can do, because she has been living a secret life. Nine years earlier, a series of horrendous events caused her to run away and assume a new identity. If she were to try to get custody of her girls, she could be found out, and she would be in danger.

While all this is going on, she views a podcast about the death of Leon Parker, who had been her friend years ago. He and his family were killed aboard his yacht. His cook was found guilty of the murders even though she was nowhere near the scene of the crime. Anna becomes determined to find out the truth about Leon, because he was married to Gretchen Teigler, who Anna believes sent killers after her years ago.

This is a fast-paced, well-written chase across Europe to find evidence. Anna is accompanied by Fin Cohen, a rock star and the husband of the woman who ran off with Hamish. Even though there are some tough situations in the novel, it reads more lightly than Mina’s previous work. I liked it a lot.

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Review 1487: Strangers at the Gate

It seems too good to be true when Paddy Lamb returns from a job interview to report that he’s been offered a partnership at a firm in Simmerton. When his wife, Finnie, raises questions about where she is going to work and how far the commute is, he comes back with an offer of a lease on a cottage belonging to the firm’s owner and the promise of a job for her as a deacon at Simmerton Parish Church.

As soon as they arrive, things begin falling apart. Finnie can see that her help isn’t really needed at the parish church. Then, Finnie and Paddy are invited by Tuft Dudgeon, the wife of Paddy’s new boss, for dinner on the night they move in. They have a pleasant evening, and the two are walking home when Finnie realizes she left her bag. Something has been spooking her all day, so when she returns to the house and can’t raise the Dudgeons, she goes back to the kitchen. There she finds Lovatt and Tuft Dudgeon in a pool of blood, apparent suicides.

She is about to call the police when Paddy stops her, because in his past he was involved in minor criminal activity. The couple decides to wait and let someone discover the bodies, thinking that will happen shortly. But when Paddy arrives at work, he finds that someone has sent a fax saying they have left on vacation to Brazil. The only problem is that the fax was sent after Finnie saw the bodies. As Finnie and Paddy try to get someone to discover the bodies, the lies begin to pile up.

My first impression of this situation was that it was a silly one for McPherson, who usually writes good modern-day cozy thrillers. It was hard for me to believe that Finnie would agree to lie. She is a deacon, albeit an unconventional one, and she seems to take this seriously although with a light touch. However, if you can buy into the situation, it’s a fairly wild ride to the conclusion.

I really love McPherson’s thrillers, because they combine a creepy plot with a community of likable characters often featuring life in a small Scottish village. This one follows that pattern while providing loads of atmosphere in this isolated, dark village.

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Review 1475: Dark Saturday

When I went looking in the library for something suitable for the end of October, I found one of Nicci French’s dark and disturbing mysteries featuring psychotherapist Frieda Klein. I have read all but the book before this one in this series. I missed the last book but did not feel that it threw me off in reading this one.

The Frieda Klein series began with a dangerous psychopath escaping justice by killing his twin brother. Only Frieda believes he is alive, and she knows this because he has been both harassing and protecting her. So, this ongoing plot is always mixed with one that is solved in each book.

Frieda is hired by a mysterious man named Levin, whose role I don’t quite understand, to look into the case of Hannah Docherty. Fifteen years ago, she was permanently hospitalized after being found guilty of the murders of her entire family.

In Frieda’s initial examination of the case files, she finds some discrepancies that are not explained by the theory of the case. After she goes to visit Hannah in the mental hospital, she begins to entertain the possibility that Hannah did not commit the crime.

During the course of the investigation, she finds an eccentric crime blogger who stole all of the Docherty’s possessions after they were thrown out. Frieda takes these possessions from her and shortly thereafter the woman is killed in a fire that burns down her house. Now, Frieda is sure that Hannah is not the murderer.

Frieda is an enigmatic character whom I find fascinating, and the other characters in the book are convincing. Although some of the books in this series are not really thrillers (some are), they never fail to send a chill down my spine.

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Review 1400: The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye

Here’s another review for Readers Imbibing Peril!

* * *

Like many others, I devoured Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy. I didn’t seriously consider reading David Lagercrantz’s continuation to the series until I picked up this novel on impulse. I have skipped one book in the series, but this one didn’t seem difficult to understand even though I hadn’t read the last.

Lisbeth Salander is in prison on charges related to events in the last book. There she has observed an inmate, Faria Kazia, subjected to routine abuse by another inmate, Benito, a gang member, with no intervention by authorities. In fact, although Warden Olsen came in with good intentions, he’s been held in check by Benito’s threats against his daughter.

Faria is in prison for shoving her brother out the window. She has said nothing in her defense, but Lisbeth is inclined to believe the death is related to an honor killing.

Lisbeth is also engaged in research into her own past. She asks the journalist Mikael Blomkvist and her elderly guardian Holger Palmgren to find some information for her. Soon, Palmgren is found dead under suspicious circumstances.

I know that Stieg Larsson wrote outlines of several more Salander novels before his death. What I don’t know is whether Lagercrantz is working from Larsson’s outlines or not. Lagercrantz is no Stieg Larsson, however. I don’t think Larsson was a great writer—he was too inclined to go into extensive detail on political issues—but he was a master of the gripping tale. The bones of one of his complex stories is here, but Lagercrantz fails to construct the fully realized world of Larsson’s novels. Further, he writes choppy subject/verb/object sentences that don’t flow well, and he gives away most of his plot points fairly early on.

So, no more Lisbeth Salander for me, which is a shame.

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