The Suspect

The Suspect

The Suspect by Fiona Barton (Psychological Thriller)

Fiona Barton (The Child) has written another intriguing psychological thriller that’s hard to put down.

Two teen-aged British girls disappear while on a post-graduation trip to Thailand. Newspaper reporter Kate Waters takes an interest in learning more after meeting the girls’ parents. Kate’s own son is on a gap-year trip, and she can relate to a mother’s worry, especially when the travelers do a poor job of keeping in touch. Little does she realize how personal her interest will become once she travels to Thailand to flesh out her story.

Three characters narrate the novel in alternating chapters — one of the missing girls, Kate, and Detective Inspector Bob Sparke of the London police. Through their eyes we experience the seedy side of Bangkok, the angst of parents waiting for news they may not want to hear, and the damage that dogged commitment to career can wreak on families. Interesting twists keep the ending from being predictable even though one must wonder at the coincidence that brings all of the characters together in the first place. Barton’s enjoyable writing style keeps it all moving along, creating a book that’s likely to keep you reading later into the night than you may have intended.

Four and a half stars.

This reviewer received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

The Suspect will be released on January 24, 2019, and is available for pre-order.

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Manuscript for Murder

Manuscript for Murder

Manuscript for Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land (Murder, She Wrote series)

Thriller author Jon Land was chosen by Donald Bain to take over the latter’s super-popular cozy mystery series, “Murder, She Wrote.” Manuscript for Murder is the second book penned by Land, and it is a fun romp.

Not that there aren’t plenty of bodies. They’re showing up in locales other than Cabot Cove, the bucolic Maine hometown of mystery author and amateur sleuth, Jessica Fletcher, but they all have a link to the feisty widow. Her publisher of thirty years, Lane Barfield, has given her a manuscript to read, one that has him convinced he’s found the next big blockbuster of a thriller. It doesn’t take long to learn that association with that manuscript can be bad for one’s health, including hers. Who is the unknown author of the deadly manuscript, and what makes knowledge of its contents potentially lethal?

Land has done a fine job of channeling the indomitable Mrs. Fletcher and her usual band of supporting characters. Witty repartee abounds, showcasing the mutual affection between Mrs. Fletcher and the assorted investigators who grudgingly tolerate her involvement in their crime scenes but ultimately benefit from her wisdom and sharp eye.

Land’s penchant for writing thrillers comes through, as well. Tension mounts along with the body count, and the stakes reach well beyond Mrs. Fletcher‘s literary circles and  hometown friends to the heights of power in Washington, D.C. His signature cliffhangers make this cozy mystery a page-turner you’ll have a hard time putting down.

FIVE STARS 5 stars

This reviewer received an ARC from the author via TopShelf Magazine for the purpose of an honest review.

Manuscript for Murder will be released on November 6, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

The Springthorpe Agenda

Springthorpe Agenda

The Springthorpe Agenda by Dale Ripley (Thriller)

Creepy stories, to me, are ones that could actually happen and are, therefore, frightening to contemplate. They employ scary situations that just might be possible if one is unfortunate enough to encounter them. If they’re too far out, it can be hard to feel that necessary sense of dread.

The opening chapter of The Springthorpe Agenda makes it clear that something awful is going on in an old age home. In a hidden room below the facility, writhing bodies and crying forms in crumpled heaps huddle inside steel cages, begging to “go back.” A gray-haired woman is strapped to an exam table surrounded by “sharp instruments, needles and serums.” Meanwhile, upstairs, beaming elderly patients with glazed eyes and big, toothless smiles crowd around the nurse, eager to get their pills. Hmmm…

When Mark Hogarth gets a text from his sister that their dad has died unexpectedly, he’s surprised and filled with guilt. Dad was a patient at Springthorpe Manor, the same nursing home where their mother died of Alzheimer’s disease not that long ago. Dad seemed healthy, and Mark didn’t visit often enough. Now, when he calls the facility, a nurse tells him they’ve already cremated his dad’s body, and he needs to come pick up the ashes. Odd, but then, Springthorpe Manor also has its own sprawling cemetery right next door, so it’s apparently some sort of a full-service facility.

It doesn’t take long for Mark to suspect that not all is well at Springthorpe, which sets him on a quest to find out what really happened to his parents. Things move along quickly, there are some suitably sinister characters, an amazing coincidence involving a child, and a weird twist that creates a surprise ending – not quite a deus ex machina, but close. Whether you find any of it creepy — or just unusual — is up to you.

Mechanically speaking, Ripley is a good writer with an interesting style and a flair for descriptive phrasing. The line editing is flawless, but the book has some distractions common to first novels that have not had strong content editing. Head-hopping occurs often enough to be noticeable – the character whose head you’re in can’t know what someone else is remembering at that moment. It’s also disconcerting when a character is acutely aware of her own eye or hair color, so that she watches someone through her own emerald green eyes or flips her own blond hair over her shoulder. It’s not like she has more than one option. Still, the how-will-this-all-end question is strong enough to keep one reading.

Grandma gives The Springthorpe Agenda three and a half stars. 3.5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of the book from the author with a request for an honest review.

Jar of Hearts

Jar of Hearts

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier (Thriller)

Thirty-year-old corporate executive Georgina Shaw is going to prison. Fourteen years ago, her best friend, Angela Wong, disappeared. But Angela’s remains have been found in a shallow grave, and while Georgina didn’t kill Angela, she knew what happened to her high school friend and never told anyone. Now she has plea-bargained a five year sentence in return for testifying against the killer.

But there are additional, gruesome details that Georgina continues to hide, and when she’s about to be released from prison, copy-cat murders — albeit with a twist — begin to occur. Somebody knows Georgina’s secrets, and that person is coming for her.

I read this book in a single day. Everything about it held my interest — the characters, the fast-paced storytelling, the suspense, the writing style. The arresting officer’s unrequited high school crush on Georgina and his current involvement in investigating the new homicides add depth and intrigue to the story, while the author deftly reveals just enough clues to let the reader have the satisfaction of starting to figure it all out.

Grandma gives Jar of Hearts five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

 

 

Brewing Up Murder

Brewing Up Murder

Brewing Up Murder by Neila Young (Cozy Mystery)

If you like cozy mysteries that are fast-paced with twists and turns and red herrings, this is not the book for you. Although it has the requisite murder or two, a heroine who owns a cute little business in a small town, and the family cop who talks too much, the story is short on real excitement.

Instead of getting down to her amateur sleuthing, the heroine spends an awful lot of time panting after two men she has just met— one who is “gorgeous” with “sculpted cheekbones” and the other a “Norse god” with “a sculpted physique.” She claims looks aren’t everything, then refers to a previous blind date as Dr. Pillsbury Doughboy, making it hard not to consider her rather shallow for a thirty-two-year-old. Of course, when two men with smoldering/velvety voices, flaring nostrils, full lips, and stormy eyes enter one’s life, who wouldn’t be distracted from the deaths of her friends?

I enjoy cozies (see Smugglers and Scones, The Book Club Murders, The Antique House Murders). I can overlook the unlikelihood of a police officer consistently disclosing crime investigation details to her sister, and I can even tolerate superfluous characters who do nothing to move the story along, including a gaggle of nosy book club women and the token gay guy. But the story details need to make sense. (**SPOILER ALERT**) As one whose family owns a small restaurant, I can say that the author and her editors need to know more about the likely distribution pattern of packaged goods like roasted coffee beans and what the actual possibility is of a half-strangled woman raising a commercial mixer’s stainless steel bowl high enough to hit someone in the head. They also need to watch for mistakes like giving the heroine two different middle names.

Bella gives Brewing Up Murder three stars. Although it’s not her cup of coffee, she believes some readers may want to fantasize about kissing away the lingering caramel macchiato foam on a handsome stranger’s full lower lip. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the author with a request for an honest review.

 

The Last Train

The Last Train

The Last Train by Michael Pronko (Thriller/Mystery)

Michael Pronko writes mysteries set in Tokyo, making this book not only a fast-paced thriller but a close look at a city where holy temples rub shoulders with hostess clubs and high-speed trains provide a means for homicide.

Hiroshi Shimitzu is a Tokyo police detective who normally deals with white collar crime, but because he speaks English well, he is pulled into the investigation of an American businessman’s death by train. Insider trading, high-stakes real estate deals, and a mysterious ex-hostess give Hiroshi and his fellow detectives plenty to contemplate as they race against time to capture the murderer. In a unique twist for the average mystery, we already know who the killer is. What remains to be learned is why she did it and will she get away with it?

Novels with a strong, well-drawn sense of place rate highly with me, especially when they provide insights into an unfamiliar culture (Dew Angels, Hillstation, The Brazilian Husband, Savaged Lands). This book is no exception. Pronko takes us deep into Tokyo nightlife as well as giving us glimpses of the holy shrines, religious practices, and food traditions that are an integral part of daily life. We meet everyday people, teen-aged call girls, hard-boiled corporate executives, and ex-sumo wrestlers. At the same time, he creates well-developed characters who keep the reader’s interest.

Grandma gives The Last Train four and a half stars. 4.5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the author with a request for an honest review.

Abuse of Discretion

Abuse of Discretion

Abuse of Discretion by Pamela Samuels Young (Suspense)

Sexting is the topic of this excellent courtroom drama. Fourteen-year-old Graylin has a nude photo of a classmate on his cell phone, and someone has tipped off the police. Graylin didn’t take the photo; someone Snapchatted him anonymously, but he took a screenshot and now faces charges of possession of child pornography. He hasn’t distributed it or even shown it to his best friend, but if he is found guilty as charged, this straight-A student and all-around good kid will go on record as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Compounding the odds against him is the fact that he is a black kid with an ex-con for a dad and a drug-addicted mother who has disappeared from his life. His school friends and family and his attorney, Angela Evans, are all black, as is the author, which gives this novel a welcome freshness in point of view and experience. And, it is a fast-paced, all-absorbing story that was hard to put down.

The story is told through the eyes of several individuals, including Graylin, his friends and family, Angela, and also The Shepherd, a sex trafficker who specializes in kidnapping children. As book three in the Dre Thomas Series, it continues the story of Angela’s boyfriend, Dre Thomas, whose niece was taken by The Shepherd. His testimony has put The Shepherd in prison, and The Shepherd is out for revenge.

Author Pamela Samuels Young is an attorney with experience in the juvenile justice system, and online safety is one of her areas of interest. Sex trafficking in the United States is another topic she covers in an effort to raise awareness about dangers facing young people today. Abuse of Discretion makes a thought-provoking statement about current-day sexual permissiveness in advertising, movies, and television: How can we blame today’s children for accepting as normal what we have allowed to become ubiquitous in their environment?

Grandma gives Abuse of Discretion five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.