Review: Guidebook To Murder by Lyn Cahoon

 

Title: Guidebook To Murder {A Tourist Trap Mystery #1}

Author: Lynn Cahoon

Published: Kensington Books April 2014

Status: Read from April 16 to 17, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Set in the small coastal town of South Cove, California, Guidebook To Murder begins with the death of an elderly woman befriended by local bookstore/cafe owner, Jill Gardner. Detective Greg King, is of the opinion that Miss Emily’s passing was due to natural causes but Jill is suspicious and insists on an autopsy which reveals Miss Emily was murdered. Convinced that the sleazy developer that had been putting pressure on Miss Emily to sell her home could be responsible, when Jill discovers she has inherited Miss Emily’s house, she risks becoming his next victim.

The story of Guidebook To Murder is surprisingly busy despite only a single murder taking place. Jill finds herself juggling extensive home repairs in order to meet a council order with attempting to solve the murder of Miss Emily, locate some missing art and defend her reputation from Miss Emily’s scheming relatives, all while receiving regular death threats. And if that wasn’t enough, Jill is also trying to reign in her meddlesome, if well-meaning, aunt, search for her missing best friend, and fight her attraction to the handsome, but off-limits, Detective King. Though Cahoon manages to tie everything up neatly in the end, the story feels a little overcrowded and despite the plethora of suspects and motives, the plot of Guidebook to Murder is still fairly predictable.

I liked Jill well enough, once a city lawyer, Jill moved to South Cove on a whim after her divorce, investing her life savings into “Coffee, Books, and More”. We are told by Cahoon that Jill is a bit of pushover but I don’t really see evidence of that, she has no problem standing up to the developer, the council or even the detective when he writes off Miss Emily’s death as natural causes.
We don’t learn too much about the other characters, Amy, Jill’s best friend, is missing for much of the book, and her Aunt Jackie is busy running the store while the villains are little more than stereotypes. I never quite worked out the Mayor’s role in the story, nor why the developer was so desperate for Miss Emily’s land.

I did take issue with few small details within the story too, for example, probate usually takes two to three months (and generally longer) to complete, whereas Jill had control of her inheritance in days.

Guidebook To Murder is the first novel in Lynn Cahoon’s, ‘A Tourist Trap Mystery’ series. I found it to be a quick, and easy read but not a particularly exciting one.

 

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Review: The Dead Ground by Claire McGowan

 

Title: The Dead Ground {Paula Macguire #2}

Author: Claire McGowan

Published: Headline:  Hachette Australia April 2014

Status:  Read from April 07 to 09, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The second book from Irish crime fiction writer, Claire McGowan, The Dead Ground is part police procedural/part thriller as forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, and the Missing Persons Unit, searches for an abducted infant, a missing pro-choice doctor and a newborn, ripped from her mother’s womb.

The grisly opening scene, set during the height of ‘The Troubles’ sets the tone for the shocking crimes that follow in The Dead Ground. This isn’t a story for the faint of heart as the MPRU and Serious Crime team struggle to trace a child abductor and a killer who may be the one and the same.

Paula’s personal issues are entwined in the cases her unit are investigating. I could sympathise with Paula’s prevarication with regards to her personal life but I was irritated by her lack of assertiveness and clear thinking in her professional role. Distracted by her own problems, Paula makes poor choices, including withholding evidence, ultimately putting herself in the path of a killer. I wanted to like her more than I did, and perhaps if I had read the first book to feature Macquire, The Lost, I may have been more forgiving of her flaws in this one.

McGowan courts controversy with her exploration of the abortion debate. Vehement religious opposition means termination is still illegal in Ireland and the few, like Dr Alison Bates, who are willing to offer women options are subject to public vitriol. The irony of the doctor being brutally murdered, and the lack of sympathy for the woman from right to lifers, is inescapable.

Fast paced, provocative and intriguing, The Dead Ground is a story of murder, madness, and the missing.

 

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Review: Betrayed by Jacqui Rose

 

Title:  Betrayed

Author: Jacqui Rose

Published: HarperCollins UK: Avon March 2014

Status: Read from March 24 to 26, 2014 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publicist}

My Thoughts:

Betrayed is the fourth standalone novel by Jacqui Rose, who gained noticed as a self published author and then was picked up by Harper Colin’s Avon imprint.

Del Williams owns the streets of Soho, running drugs, prostitutes and protection rackets alongside his legitimate businesses. Rich, powerful and ruthless, few are willing to make an enemy of him but even hard men have their weaknesses. Del’s is his mistress, Bunny Barker, and their precious seven year old daughter, Star and when Del is betrayed by his allies it is they who will pay the price.

I found Betrayed interesting because I haven’t ever read anything quite like it before. It is set within London’s criminal underworld where everyone operates outside the normal rules of society. Betrayed is a gritty novel without the patina of glamour usually ascribed to the gangland lifestyle. Rose portrays a brutal underworld aided by corrupt cops, greedy lawyers, violent intimidation and well greased wheels.

Bunny didn’t quite play the leading role I expected and I thought Del was the stronger and better developed character of the two. There are no real hero’s, nor innocents in this novel. It is a little strange when you realise you are hoping the violent, drug dealing gangster will prevail, but in Betrayed the alternative is unimaginably worse.

The pace of the story is good, as is the writing. It is quite visual in style and could be described as Eastenders meets The Soprano’s. Some readers may struggle with the fairly graphic elements related to the victimisation of children, as well as the coarse language.

The gangland crime fiction sub genre doesn’t hold a lot of appeal for me in general but I liked Betrayal well enough. It was a fast read, and the plot and characters kept me interested for the length of the story.

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Review: Beams Falling by P.M. Newton

 

Title: Beams Falling

Author: P.M. Newton

Published: Penguin Au March 2014

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Status: Read from March 24 to 25, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Beams Falling by Pamela Newton follows her lauded 2010 debut, The Old School, featuring Detective Nhu ‘Ned’ Kelly.

Following the shooting that left Kelly wounded and a corrupt police officer dead (in The Old School ), she is shunted from her Bankstown unit to Taskforce Acorn in Cabramatta, the token Asian officer on a team investigating the area’s criminal activity. Though officially restricted to light duties, Ned is drawn into the investigation of a brazen shooting of a schoolboy, which leads the team into the world of the ‘ra choi’ – teen hitmen, drug mules, dealers and thieves, corrupted by easy money and the illusion of power.

The gritty plot reveals a confronting mire of crime, including murder, drugs and prostitution, tainting the Sydney suburb. Newton doesn’t pull any punches, twelve year old boys are assassinated in broad daylight and fourteen year old girls are raped in front of their fathers as object lessons. The violence is brutal and dispiriting and the solution an enigma.
The investigating police are hindered in their brief by language and cultural barriers, part of which Ned is supposed to address based on her half Vietnamese ethnicity. Frustration with their lack of progress pushes some to manipulate circumstances in the hope that the means will justify the end, despite the threat of ICAC.

Newton’s exploration of trauma is as compelling as the police investigation. Though her physical wounds are healing, Kelly is struggling with the psychological impact of being shot and Newton’s portrayal of Ned’s distress is raw and affecting. Kelly is hyper-alert, fearful and barraged by flashbacks of both past and recent trauma yet determined to deny her PTDS, until she is forced into group therapy after a humiliating incident.

Though this novel can be read as a stand-alone, I regret I didn’t have the opportunity to read The Old School before the release of Beams Falling. I found Beams Falling to be powerful, gripping and authentic crime fiction offering complex plot and characters. I really hope we won’t have to wait another four years for the next installment.

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Review: The Fourth Season by Dorothy Johnston

Title: The Fourth Season {Sandra Mahoney #4}

Author: Dorothy Johnston

Published: Wakefield Press November 2013

Status: Read from February 25 to 28, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

I was wary of accepting The Fourth Season for review as it is the final installment in a quartet of mysteries featuring Sandra Mahoney but I was assured it would work as a stand alone so I ignored my doubts, tempted by the setting and premise, and decided to go throw caution to the wind. In hindsight I should have trusted my intuition because though this novel is well written, I was frustrated by my lack of understanding of the lead protagonist, Sandra Mahoney.

Set in Australia’s capital, Canberra, the mystery central to the novel involves a murdered young woman, environmental activist and science student, Laila Fanshaw, her body found floating in Lake Burley Griffin. Private Investigator Sandra Mahoney is shocked to learn her husband, Ivan, is one of several suspects with no alibi for the time of Laila’s death. It seems he had imagined himself in love with the girl, but he refuses to discuss the situation with Sandra so when she is approached by another suspect desperate to clear his name she takes the case, hoping to prove both her client’s and her partner’s innocence.

Sandra isn’t sure what to make of the information she finds as she slowly uncovers a complex web of lies, betrayal and dark secrets. Initially she suspects environmental politics may have played a part in the murder but a second death twists the investigation in a whole new direction, one that leads back to her client.

The first person, present tense perspective has a noir-ish feel as Johnston combines Sandra’s methodical investigation with ruminations on life and her relationships but I struggled with the introspective nature of the narrative in part, I assume, because of my lack of familiarity with the protagonist. There was a lot I felt I didn’t understand about Sandra, from her relationship with Ivan and her children, to her professional status. What is obvious is that Sandra’s personal interest in the case bleeds into her professional obligations as she struggles with her clients secrets, her husband’s indifference and her children’s fears.

This is a literary mystery, lacking the pace, though not the intrigue of its more commercial counterparts. I can’t fault the writing but the style didn’t quite work for me and I don’t think it was right for me to start at the end, rather than the beginning.

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Review & Giveaway: The Lost Girls by Wendy James

 

Title: The Lost Girls

Author: Wendy James

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin February 2014

Status: Read from February 23 to 24, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

Read an Extract

My Thoughts:

Wendy James has been described as “A master of suburban suspense” {The Age} after the publication of Where Have You Been? and The Mistake. The Lost Girls, the author’s fifth novel cements this reputation with a compelling story of loss, grief and family secrets.

Fourteen year old Angie’s body was discovered a few days after she went missing in the January 1978, she had been strangled with her own scarf and dumped in the national park. Her unsolved murder, eventually blamed on an unidentified serial killer dubbed The Sydney Strangler, devastated her adoring cousins, Jane and Mick, with whom she was spending the summer, and the loss has haunted them ever since. Thirty years later, a journalist approaches Jane requesting an interview, claiming to be developing a radio documentary about the impact of murder on the loved ones of the victim. After so many years of silence, Jane finds relief in talking about the beautiful teenager idolised by her twelve year old self, but it isn’t just her talking, Jane’s brother Mick, her mother, and Jane’s husband, Rob, all have stories, and secrets, to share about Angie – about the way she lived… and about the way she died.

The Lost Girls is told through memories, interview transcripts, newspaper articles and the story of the present day, revealing the events that led up to, and followed, the death of Angie. As the novel unfolds, moving between time, place and perspective, the reader begins to piece together a wider view of the tragedy, and those affected, than any one character has.

While Jane remembers the cousin she adored with childlike innocence, her mother recalls a manipulative girl who, “…wasn’t really all that nice a child. She was always looking out for herself.” p158. Mick’s teenage crush on Angie colours all of his memories of the girl Angie was, while Rob has held one of her secrets for thirty years. Somewhere amongst their memories is the truth about who Angie was and how that may have contributed to her death.

It soon becomes obvious that the ‘journalist’, Erin Fury, is not motivated by professional curiosity but by a personal connection to the case. Her motivations are obscured for much of the story, helping to raise the tension as Erin digs for the answers to questions she is not even sure how to ask. Her ‘reward’ is learning a truth she wishes she never knew.

With a well crafted, multi-layered plot exploring the ways in which the past shapes us, and the difficulty in leaving it behind, The Lost Girls is an engrossing story of domestic drama and suspense. I’m happy to recommend this slow-burning but gripping suburban thriller.

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Review: The Train Rider by Tony Cavanaugh

Title: The Train Rider {Darien Richards Crime Files #3}

Author: Tony Cavanaugh

Published: Hachette Australia February 2014

Status: Read from February 17 to 18, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

In preparation for the release of The Train Rider, I finally had the excuse I needed to read Promise and Dead Girl Sing. I devoured both crime thrillers in a single day and eagerly began the third installment from Tony Cavanaugh featuring ex homicide detective Darian Richards.

Darian Richards was once Melbourne’s top homicide cop but he walked away at the pinnacle of his career, retiring to the Queensland coast. It wasn’t the bullet to the head that broke him, but his inability to capture the man dubbed The Train Rider.

The first eight cases attributed the monster involved teenage girls abducted just after alighting a train, found days, sometimes weeks, later wandering the streets, dressed in the tattered clothes of the victim before them. They had been raped and tortured, but they were alive. But the ninth victim was never found, neither was the tenth, or the eleventh, or the twelfth…

In Promise and Dead Girl Sing, Darian reluctantly chose to come out of retirement, on his own terms, in order to stop a serial killer and a human trafficker respectively. In The Train Rider, young girls begin disappearing from the rail system. Richard’s nemesis is in town and he wants to resume the cat and mouse game the pair began in Melbourne.

Darian is a paragon of machismo – brave, strong, smart and desirable with just enough pathos to invoke admiring, rather than pitying, sympathy. He is the man you would want on the case if your daughter went missing, cruising around town in his bright red 1964 Studebaker Champion Coupe with his rare Beretta 92 tucked into his belt, ably assisted by computer genius Isosceles. I probably shouldn’t find him as appealing as I do, as in essence he is a vigilante, and yet I couldn’t help but like him.

Cavanaugh presents a cynical view of policing where ego and politics makes a mockery of service. Corruption is rife, misogyny is rampant and law and justice rarely coincide. I know I should condemn Darian’s penchant for operating well outside the law but frankly, sometimes the end justifies the means.

This series is characterised by chilling villains who prey on teenage girls. As a mother of two beautiful daughters I sometimes found it difficult to read the explicit torture visited on the victims. The ease with which the Train Rider is able to operate and elude police is terrifying and his end game is horrifying. I desperately wanted him, and those that enabled him, erased.

One flaw with the series is the depiction of the female characters, uniformly beautiful, bright and sensual. Rose, Darian’s regular ‘escort’ turned girlfriend, is at least a decade younger than him, and looks even younger, ‘Glamourcop’ Maria uses her cleavage to dazzle Isosceles and the victims are all lithe and lissom young girls. In The Train Rider even the aged wife/lover/partner complicit in the killer’s crimes is named Eve and insists she was once ‘hot’.

By The Train Rider I was finding Maria a somewhat irritating character. Not only because of the repeated references to her looks but also because of her self righteousness. I do understand her moral and ethical struggle between Richard’s particular brand of justice and her policing ideals, I just found I didn’t much care after a while. The potential is there though to develop Maria into a strong and interesting character and I hope the author does.

The Train Rider is a gritty, dark and engrossing thriller. I had thought perhaps that this may have been the conclusion to Cavanaugh’s series but it seems likely, given the ending, that we can expect more from books featuring Darian Richards. I hope so.

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Review: Everyone Lies by A.D. Garrett

Title: Everyone Lies

Author: A.D. Garrett

Published: Constable & Robinson Crime February 2014

Status: Read from February 14 to 16, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy Allen & Unwin}

My Thoughts:

The first in a series introducing DI Kate Simms and forensic lecturer, Professor Nick Fennimore, Everyone Lies is a collaboration between award winning author Margaret Murphy and renowned forensics expert Professor Dave Barclay.

After a professional misstep, Kate has worked hard to regain her footing in the force but when she is allocated to investigate a cluster of drug deaths in Manchester, she suspects it indicates a larger problem. Stonewalled by her colleagues, Kate turns to Nick Fennimore, once a respected crime analyst, for help, risking her career to expose a conspiracy of drug trafficking, corruption and murder.

There is a history between Kate and Nick that is slowly divulged over the course of the novel. Their relationship is a muddle of professional respect and mutual attraction complicated by guilt, resentment and shame, creating an interesting, layered dynamic. Nick is reluctant to become involved in Kate’s case, but unable to resist her plea for help, as he feels responsible for her demotion. Kate doesn’t want to put Nick in a difficult position but her passion for justice demands she does whatever is necessary.

In essence the plot doesn’t offer anything new within the genre but it held my interest without effort. I particularly enjoyed the forensic focus of the investigation, which should appeal to CSI fans. I liked that Simms and Fennimore have to work hard for every lead, constrained by uncooperative criminals and colleagues, police budgets and politics.

Everyone Lies is a gritty police procedural and a promising start to an interesting new series.

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Review: The Girl with a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson

Title: The Girl with a Clock for a Heart

Author: Peter Swanson

Published: Faber and Faber February 2014

Status: Read from February 05 to 07, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy Allen & Unwin}

My Thoughts:

It has been twenty years since George Foss last saw the first girl who broke his heart. He and Audrey were inseparable for the first semester of college but over the Christmas break he was devastated to discover he never really knew her at all, not even her real name. In the intervening years he has both dreamed of, and dreaded the idea of, seeing her again and now she sits across from him, Liana Dector, begging for his help. George knows he should turn Liana away, she is a con woman, a fugitive, suspected of murder, but he finds he can’t resist and is soon ensnared in her web of lies, theft, violence and betrayal.

Swanson justifies George’s willingness to become involved with Liana’s manipulations in the present by illustrating the fervour of their short-lived college romance. Despite time and truth, George’s youthful obsession with the enigmatic Liana has barely faded and given the opportunity to be her hero, to save her, and perhaps win her back, he disregards the danger to himself. In part his involvement is also a manifestation of a mid life crisis, George’s life has been ordinary, and he has never recaptured the intensity of his time with Audrey/Liana. I believed in George’s motivation to help Liana but I can’t say I understand his compulsion, as such I didn’t really engage fully with him.

Liana is a classic femme fatale, a manipulative, intelligent, seductress who uses men to get what she wants. As the narrative shifts between George and Liana’s past and their reunion, the author slowly exposes her history, though never really confirming what George, or the reader, suspects, and makes it clear that she can’t be trusted.

As such the twist to the tale is not entirely unexpected but it does have impact. There is no tidy resolution to The Girl With a Clock For a Heart, leaving Swanson the opportunity to revive the characters at a later date. I don’t mind an open ending, and think in this case it is appropriate, but it may irritate some readers.

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart has a noir-ish feel which is evident in his characterisation and Peter Swanson’s admiration for Hitchcock shows in his storytelling. It didn’t grip me but the novel is an easy read and a solid debut thriller.

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Review: Killer by Jonathon Kellerman

Title: Killer {Alex Delaware #29}

Author: Jonathon Kellerman

Published: Ballantine Books February 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from February 04 to 05, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy Netgalley/publisher}

My Thoughts:

Killer is Jonathan Kellerman’s 29th novel featuring the child psychologist/law enforcement consultant Alex Delaware, partnered with LAPD detective Milo Sturgis. It begins with Alex being asked to assess the maternal fitness of two sisters involved in a custody dispute. It seems a simple case and his report a mere formality, but denied guardianship of her niece, Constance Sykes blames Alex, and contracts a killer.

It may seem odd to nominate the Alex Delaware series as a ‘comfort read’ but my familiarity with it makes it so for me. I find I easily slip into the rhythm of the narrative, lulled by the soporific voice of the Doctor. I can rely on the personalities, and circumstances, of the main characters remaining largely unchanged and the plots, though somewhat predictable, are always satisfyingly resolved. I have to admit my attachment to the series make it difficult to be objective but honestly even at its worst, you can expect a solidly crafted, readable novel.

Is this Kellerman’s best? No, though perhaps the better of the last half a dozen or so novels. With the fate of a missing toddler in question, Milo and Alex disagree about the identity of the suspect assumed not only responsible for the child’s disappearance, but also a string of related murders. And in the face of mounting evidence, and recent events, Delaware succumbs to a rare display of self doubt.

The last few books have been dominated by Delaware’s role as a law enforcement consultant and I like that in Killer, Delaware returns to his ‘roots’ so to speak, as a child psychologist. A subplot involves the reappearance of a former patient, once a truculent teen struggling with Diabetes, now a gang leader in an unique position to repay Alex for his help. Wile I love Milo, I hope that this is an indication Kellerman will be shifting the focus back to Delaware’s practice.

If you aren’t familiar with the series, I think you could pick this up to read as a stand alone but you’d be missing out. As a long time fan,  I enjoyed Killer, zipping through it in a couple of hours, happy to catch up with old friends and lose myself in a new case.

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