Review: The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan


Title: The Murder Rule

Author: Dervla McTiernan

Published: 4th May 2022, WilliamMorrow

Status: Read May 2022 courtesy HarperCollins/Edelweiss



My Thoughts:


Offering some startling twists and turns, The Murder Rule is a compelling stand alone legal thriller from best selling author, Dervla McTiernan.

When law student Hannah Rokeby learns that the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia is making progress overturning the sentence of convicted rapist and murderer, Michael Dandridge, she leaves her sick mother, Laura, in the care of a neighbour, and relocates to Charlottesville where she convinces Professor Robert Parekh she’d be an asset to the program. But Hannah doesn’t want to save Michael, she wants to ensure the man is never released.

I was immediately intrigued by the premise of The Murder Rule, and why, and how, a young woman might go about undermining a prisoner’s release. With the preliminary hearing for dismissal imminent, the Innocence team, and Hannah, are under pressure to complete their respective objectives, and that tension translates well to the story’s pacing.

Hannah certainly seems convinced that her mission is righteous, and though her ruthless moves to gain a place on the project are not flattering, once her motive is disclosed in the alternating chapters that provide entries from her mother’s diary written 24 years earlier, Hannah’s behaviour seems if not reasonable, then at least justifiable. I liked the ambiguity of Hannah’s character, I was never entirely sure what she’d do, particularly when faced with information that challenged her beliefs.

There are some quite spectacular surprises in the novel, one twist in particular made me gasp out loud as it was so unexpected. There are also a number of tense, and even violent, moments as Hannah, and her colleagues, step on toes during their investigation. As much as I enjoyed the story, I have to admit there are some distracting flaws related to the legal elements of the story, and these particularly detracted from the intensity of the climatic courtroom scene, even though the outcome was satisfying.

Though not as sophisticated as McTiernan’s award winning Cormac Reilly, I still found The Murder Rule to be a page-turning, entertaining thriller with a compelling concept.


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Review: Til Death, or a little light maiming, Do Us Part by Kathy Lette


Title: Till Death, or a little light maiming, Do Us Part

Author: Kathy Lette

Published: 29th March 2022, Vintage

Status: Read April 2022 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia


My Thoughts:


The reported death of Jason Riley triggers a madcap revenge caper in Till Death, or a little light maiming, Do Us Part by Kathy Lette.

As sixty year old schoolteacher Gwen Brookes stares grief-stricken at all that remains of her handsome, loving husband of two years, Jason Riley, – a swimming cap and a piece of torn, blood-stained wetsuit – after he was reportedly taken by a shark while training for an Ironman competition, a woman in a bejewelled bustier and leather jacket barrels through the crowd calling her husband’s name. To Gwen’s horror, jazz singer Tish also claims to be Jason’s wife, and though she is loathe to believe it, Tish has their wedding certificate issued a year earlier, as proof. More shocks are to come when the women sit across from Jason’s lawyer and learn that his entire estate, and much of theirs, had been transferred to a female business partner in Egypt just days before his death.

Despite the antipathy between the two Mrs Riley’s, and Gwen’s fear of flying, the women fly to Cairo in the hope of recovering their money only to discover Jason, alive and well, in the arms of a younger woman. As Jason flees through the streets of the city, Gwen learns that Skye, a geologist, is not just Jason’s business partner but also his wife of less than a year, and though Skye is sceptical of the women’s claims, when she logs on to her banking account she finds both their business, and her personal account have been emptied.

Now three very hurt, angry and near broke Mrs Riley’s are on the trail of the conman they had the misfortune to marry, and Jason may well wish he was dead if they manage to catch him.

Sure the plot is absurd, but it’s also fun as the reader is led all over the globe while the women give chase, from Cairo to the Maldives, from Tanzania and through Europe, with Jason just barely eluding their grasp several times. Though it’s a whirlwind world tour, geography teacher Gwen insists on visiting at least some cultural sites as the women pursue their quarry by plane, train, ship and even bicycle, uncovering more victims of Jason’s as they go.

Tish’s bold personality and raunchy sense of humour contrasts sharply with Gwen’s sensible, timid manner, and Skye’s crystal loving spirituality. A descending decade or so apart in age (Gwen is the oldest) the women have almost nothing in common so there is plenty of conflict between them, but the bond that slowly develops between Gwen and Tish in particular is warming.

The dialogue consists mostly of wisecracks, innuendo and quips. Though Lette made me laugh more than once, the humour tends to be obvious and get a little one-note after a while.

For all its inanity however, the story does address issues such as the vulnerability of women of all ages and social groups to so called ‘love rats’, and explores the idea that women can choose to embrace the post menopausal period as an opportunity to redefine their lives.

Till Death, or a little light maiming, Do Us Part is a funny, raunchy, fast-paced adventure that you’ll likely either love or hate.


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Review: Everyone in My Family has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson


Title: Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone

Author: Benjamin Stevenson

Published: March 2002, Michael Joseph

Status: Read April 2022 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia


My Thoughts:

You cannot possibly read the brief prologue to Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson and not be immediately intrigued by the promise of this quirky murder mystery that breaks all the rules.

“Everyone in my family has killed someone. Some of us, the high achievers, have killed more than once.”

Though Ernest Cunningham self publishes ‘how-to’ books for crime fiction writers, he can offer no special insight when a stranger is found murdered during a high country snowstorm in the midst of the Cunningham family reunion. However when the sole police officer who responds to the report arrests Ernie’s brother, Michael, whose release from prison for killing a man is the celebratory reason for the gathering, his mother insists he clears Michael’s name. After all, Ernie is the reason Michael went to jail in the first place.

“Call me a reliable narrator. Everything I tell you will be the truth, or, at least, the truth as I knew it to be at the time that I thought I knew it. Hold me to that.”

Related by Ernest in the first person while writing a book in the aftermath of events, the storyline is roughly chronological, though with necessary digressions to explain the family dynamic, and with unnecessary, but often amusing appeals, directed towards the reader, and his editor. Ernie’s conversational tone is delightfully at odds with the escalating drama as death follows death, presumably at the hands of a serial killer with a distinct and unpleasant MO.

“Look, we’re not a family of psychopaths. Some of us are good, others are bad, and some are just unfortunate.”

Family reunions are rarely free of conflict but the Cunningham’s are besieged by it. Ernie is currently person non grata, having testified against his brother in the trial that jailed Michael for three years to the great disappointment of his mother. Ernie’s wife is attending the gathering as his brother’s girlfriend, while Michael’s wife is in attendance hoping to win her husband back. Ernie’s stepsister seems particularly annoyed with everyone, while his Aunt Katherine is demanding everyone sticks to her carefully planned colour coded schedule. And of course, people are dying.

“Ronald Knox’s ’10 Commandments of Detective Fiction’, 1929”

More akin to the classics, Stevenson cleverly subverts many of the expected conventions of mystery fiction, for example, though there is a locked room element to one of the deaths, the door is not actually locked, and he even foretells each murder, including page references in the prologue. Yet there are plenty of surprises, and importantly the pace never drags.

“Family is not whose blood runs in your veins, it’s who you’d spill it for.”

A creative and compelling whodunnit perfect for today’s jaded mystery readers, Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone is witty, entertaining and ingenious.


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Review: The Recovery Agent by Janet Evanovich


Title: The Recovery Agent {Gabriela Rose #1}

Author: Janet Evanovich

Published: 22nd March 2022, Atria Books

Status: Read March 2022, Atria/Edelweiss



My Thoughts:


As a long time fan of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to read The Recovery Agent, the first book in a new series featuring Insurance Fraud Investigator Gabriela Rose.

Gabriela Rose, who made her debut in Fortune and Glory (book #27 of the Stephanie Plum series) makes a living by recovering assets and items for individuals or companies, but her latest case is personal. With her hometown of Scoon on the verge of collapse after damage wreaked by Category 4 storm, Gabriela’s grandmother Fanny believes that all their problems can be solved if Gabriela finds the lost Treasure of Lima, or more specifically The Seal of Solomon.

I wanted to love The Recovery Agent, but unfortunately I didn’t. I’m not exactly sure where the failure lies though.

There is plenty of entertaining adventure and action as Gabriela follows a trail into the South American jungle to the territory of the God of Death, guided by a drug dealer, and in the company of her ex-husband. Her search pits her against El Dragon,  a drug dealer and a fanatical disciple of Supay, the God of Death, who also wants the Seal of Solomon, which is purported to allow the bearer to raise and enslave the dead. There are stand-offs and gun battles, explosions and collisions. Gabriela is variously nearly drowned, tasered, shot and drugged but refuses to give up.

I’d describe Gabriela as a less sophisticated version of Lara Croft. She’s definitely tough, smart and resourceful, an expert in martial arts and weapons, I just can’t quite imagine how a girl from a fishing village who married her childhood sweetheart became such a bad-ass though. I wasn’t entirely convinced of the chemistry between Gabriela and her ex-husband, Rafer either. Lust, sure, there are regular references to how ‘hot’ Rafer is, and the pair have a long history, but i didn’t really feel the tension between them.

There is plenty of humour in The Recovery Agent. Gabriela and Rafer banter their entire way through the book, and Evanovich, as always, has a great sense of comic timing.

While all the elements of a story I enjoy seem to be there, I still feel there is something lacking overall, it’s like an itch I can’t quite reach. I’d be willing to give the sequel a shot though, in the hopes of recovery.


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Review: Daughters of Eve by Nina D Campbell


Title: Daughters of Eve

Author: Nina D. Campbell

Published: 1st March 2022, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read March 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin



My Thoughts:


Daughters of Eve is a spectacularly provocative thriller from debut author Nina D. Campbell.

When a high profile defence barrister is shot dead by a sniper on the courthouse steps in front of her, Detective Sergeant Emilia Hart is eager to take the lead on the investigation, but instead finds herself sidelined, and assigned a ‘floater’ discovered in the Sydney Harbour. It surprises everyone when an autopsy reveals the man in the water was shot by the same weapon that killed the barrister. There doesn’t seem to be any obvious connection between the two, but as a third, and then a fourth man are killed, each from a sniper shot with the same grouping, Emilia sees a pattern her colleagues prefer to ignore, until the Daughters of Eve, and their manifesto, makes it impossible.

A thrilling tale of revenge, I raced through Daughters of Eve. The mystery is intriguing as Emilia tries to piece together the motive and the identity of the vigilante sniper, chasing leads that seem to go nowhere. It’s Emilia who identifies the link between the victims, all too familiar with the violence men wreak on women and children, like that she, the two girls she claims as daughters, and the names listed on her refrigerator, have endured. Emilia is painfully aware as to how rarely these men are held accountable for their behaviour, but as a police officer she can’t condone vigilantism and commits herself to solving the case, no matter where it leads.

I can’t deny that it was somewhat satisfying to imagine the tables turned, for abusive men to be afraid as the Daughters of Eve reveal themselves, launching an app that invites women to name their unpunished tormentors, sparking a wave of copycat murders across the nation. Campbell imagines a response that seems infuriatingly plausible-of a government mobilising every resource available to put an end to the killings, despite its failures to provide even the bare minimum to ensure the protection women and children victimised by domestic abusers and rapists. Exploring themes such as justice vs vengeance, prevention vs protection, the plot is as thought-provoking as it is sensational.

I thought the author deftly balanced the professional and personal aspects of Emilia’s life, ensuring a well rounded character who engenders both affection and respect.  As rabidly anti-male as the story may seem to be, Campbell acknowledges good men too. Emilia’s investigative partner, Robbo, is, by and large, a decent guy. So too is Melbourne detective Matt Hayes with whom Emilia becomes involved despite her wariness.

Gripping, bold and sharp, I’ve rarely been so impressed by a debut novel, and recommend Daughters of Eve without hesitation.


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Review: Those Who Perish by Emma Viskic

Title: Those Who Perish {Caleb Zelic #4}

Author: Emma Viskic

Published: 1st March 2022, Echo Publishing

Status: Read March 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin


My Thoughts:

“He’d done the worst he could, the best he could, just had to find a way of living with it.”

Those Who Perish is the final Instalment in the outstanding crime series by Emma Viskic featuring deaf security consultant Caleb Zelic.

Following the tumultuous events of Resurrection Bay, And Fire Came Down, and Darkness for Light, Caleb seems to be in a better place. Business is steady, he’s reconciled with his wife, Kat, and with the birth of their first child imminent he is making plans for the future, but it all begins to come undone when Caleb receives a text warning him that his estranged brother, Anton, is in trouble. After rescuing an ungrateful Anton from the attentions of a sniper, Caleb vows to untangle his brother from whatever he’s gotten himself into, and is drawn into the strange goings on in the insular community of Muttonbird Island, a short ferry ride across Resurrection Bay.

Viskic develops a complex plot that has Caleb struggling to make sense of the links between a new rehabilitation facility on the island, a sniper with a growing body count, shipping invoices, blackmail, Neo-Nazi’s, and a cheese maker. Even with Anton’s grudging cooperation, Caleb doesn’t feel as if he is making much progress, but he must be stepping on someone’s toes because his family’s house is blown up, and very nearly Caleb too, more than once. There are plenty of red herrings, and personally I was as stumped as Caleb, not sure what was really going on or who was involved, until almost the same moment it all came together for him.

While there has been plenty of action over the course of the series, Viskic has never neglected Caleb’s character development, and I was cheered by his emotional growth in Darkness for Light, so it’s almost painful to witness Caleb backsliding in Those Who Perish. His concerns about impending fatherhood, Anton’s presence, and being back in Resurrection Bay reopens old wounds and insecurities, and overwhelmed, Caleb shuts down. By the time he is able to acknowledge that mistake his relationship with his brother, and Kat, may be past saving.

I’ve always appreciated the sharpness of Viskic’s succinct prose, reflecting in part, I think, Caleb’s own experience of understanding speech, and suited to the fast pace of the plot. Though descriptions are brief, they are enough to conjure images of the characters and landscape. Those Who Perish could be read as a stand alone but I recommend investing in the prior books for an enhanced experience.

I’m grateful for the epilogue that provides a semblance of closure, yet that still leaves the possibility of revival open. Those Who Perish is an exciting, tense and compelling finale to a stellar series.


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Available in the US July 2022 from Pushkin Vertigo

Review: When We Fall by Aoife Clifford


Title: When We Fall

Author: Aoife Clifford

Published: 2nd March 2022, Ultimo Press

Status: Read March 2022 courtesy Ultimo Press



My Thoughts:


When We Fall is an atmospheric suspense novel from Australian author Aoife Clifford.

When Alex Tillerson discovers the lower leg of a young women washed up on a beach in the small community of Merritt on Australia’s southern coast, she is both repulsed and intrigued. Identified as belonging to Maxine McFarlane, a local teacher and artist, the police chief seems too eager to declare her death a tragic accident, and Alex is perturbed by the irregularities in his investigation.

A barrister, who is visiting Merritt to convince her mother to move into an assisted living facility due to the onset of dementia, Alex feels compelled to do some investigating of her own, and learns of a connection between the dead woman and the unsolved murder of a teenage girl, Bella, a year earlier. The suggestion that a missing painting holds the answers seems credible when the woman organising a memorial art exhibition is beaten to death, but Alex refuses to be intimidated, determined to unmask a killer. Red herrings abound as Alex examines the actions of the Senior Sergeant ‘King’ Kelly, a handsome local doctor, Bella’s aggressive step-father, and the incongruous presence of a tech mogul. I was proved wrong in my early guess at the motivation and perpetrator, and clever plotting ensured I was surprised by some of the twists.

There are links to issues such as climate change, environmental activism, unemployment, addiction, forced adoption, and prejudice in When We Fell. The title of the novel relates to the story in several ways including a local museum exhibition, the experiences of Alex’s mother as a ‘fallen woman’, and Bella’s wings, a homemade affectation the girl wore everywhere which went missing on her death.

Clifford’s writing is articulate and expressive, with vivid description. The pace is taut, and the suspense is enhanced by the towns claustrophobic environs. A disused lighthouse undergoing rehabilitation looms ominously over the town symbolising the fallacy of safe harbour, and the secrets shrouded in darkness ashore.

Immersive with an intriguing, well-crafted mystery, I found When We Fall to be an engrossing read.


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Review: Brunswick Street Blues by Sally Bothroyd


Title: Brunswick Street Blues

Author: Sally Bothroyd

Published: 2nd March 2022, HQ Fiction

Status: Read March 2022 courtesy Harlequin Australia



My Thoughts:


The winner of the inaugural ASA/HQ Commercial Fiction Prize, Brunswick Street Blues is an entertaining crime fiction debut from Sally Bothroyd.

Though she’d rather be behind the bar at the Phoenix, when the Brunswick Street pub owned for forty years by her adoptive father, Baz, is subject to a barrage of anonymous complaints, Brick Brown gets a job in the PR department of Melbourne’s Yarra City Council in hopes of identifying the complainant. Sneaking into the archive room after hours in search of paperwork that might give her answers, Brick is horrified to find the body of the Mayor, Dickie Ruffhead (which explains the bad smell that has permeated the council offices). She can’t admit to the break-in so Brick decides to leave an anonymous message on her boss’s voicemail, but when the Mayor’s death is announced, she’s puzzled by reports that Dickie was found at home, the victim of a heart attack.

Connecting the cover-up to rumours of corruption involving the Development Consent Committee, a theory that seems to be supported by the sudden interest of respected investigative journalist, Mitch Mitchell, in council business, Brick wonders if it may be related to the attacks on Baz’s bar. She’d discuss it with Baz except he’s closed the Phoenix and left behind only a brief voice message, claiming he is in need of a few days break. Digging around with some help from Sue, a writer for the neighbourhood paper, results in Brick repeatedly crossing paths with Mitch Mitchell, but it’s not until she stops him being bundled into the boot of a black Mercedes by a couple of thugs that he’s willing to share information.

Brick and Mitch quickly realise that the corruption isn’t confined to a deal between a property development company and select Yarra City councillors but extends into higher levels of government, and someone is willing to kill to protect their secrets. The action and suspense ramps up as the pair uncover missing documents, suspicious deaths, hidden tunnels, identity theft, long repressed memories all while enduring attempts on their lives. There’s quite a lot going on with the plot, perhaps a little too much, throwing off the pace at times, but I really enjoyed how it all came together at the end, and much of the humour too.

In her mid-to-late twenties (I think), Brick is a likeable character. Abandoned as a baby, she lived in several foster homes before being (not-quite-legally) adopted by Baz as a young child, with several secrets exposed over the course of the book that reveal more about her early childhood. Her unconventional background and skills come in handy, as does her eclectic group of friends and acquaintances that includes a paranoid record store owner, an IT specialist, a parking inspector, a former councillor, and Brick’s newly returned roommate, a doctor who has been working in Somalia. Inevitably there is the development of romance between Brick and Mitch, but it’s not intrusive.

While it has its flaws, I liked a lot of elements of the plot, many of the characters and the balance of humour, suspense and action. If Brunswick Street Blues is intended to introduce a series then Bothroyd has laid a decent foundation to build on.


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Review: The Mother by Jane Caro


Title: The Mother

Author: Jane Caro

Published: 1st March 2022, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read March 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin



My Thoughts:


The Mother is the first novel for adults from Jane Caro, a Walkley Award winning columnist, writer, broadcaster, documentary maker, feminist, activist, advocate and 2022 Australian Senate candidate.

Miriam Duffy has always regretted the emotional distance between herself and her sensitive youngest daughter, Ally, and worries that after the sudden death of her husband, Ally’s father, their relationship will deteriorate further without Pete as a buffer. With Ally having recently wed after a whirlwind courtship, and moved some hours away with her handsome husband, veterinarian Nick, Miriam hopes to forge a better relationship with her daughter, so Miriam is hurt when Ally discourages her from visiting them, especially after the couple announce an unplanned pregnancy.  Barely three months after Teddy’s birth Ally announces she is pregnant again, and Miriam is concerned when her son in law calls to tell her he’s worried about Ally’s state of mind. Miriam drops everything to rush to Ally’s aid and is surprised to find that her daughter is fine, just unsurprisingly tired and nauseous. The house is clean, Teddy is thriving, Nick seems solicitous, and the local mental health nurse seems satisfied Ally is well. So it comes as a shock when, three months after Isla is born, Miriam receives a call to alert her that Ally has left Nick, and she and the children are on their way to seek refuge with Miriam.

Though she wonders if Ally is perhaps overreacting to the normal stresses of marriage and parenting, Miriam listens in growing horror as it’s revealed that Ally has been subjected to an escalating campaign of manipulation, criticism, intimidation and control since the early days of their marriage, culminating in a terrifying assault. What the social worker describes is a pattern of behaviour labeled coercive control, a method of domestic violence, which is the core theme of The Mother. Caro exposes the insidious nature of the abuse that is wielded in relationships by an abuser to control their partner, slowly stripping them of their agency, without leaving the obvious marks of physical violence that might alert others. Ally’s experience is harrowing, and demonstrates how easily an abuser is able to exploit every vulnerability in their victim.

Almost worse perhaps is Ally’s journey to extricate herself from her relationship with him. Nick is furious she has left and immediately begins a campaign of harassment, supported by his parents. In NSW, where The Mother is set, coercive control as a method of domestic violence is yet to be recognised by the courts (though the government has committed to doing so), and Miriam is astonished by how little protection is available for Ally, with existing laws, including AVO’s, proving woefully inadequate.

While the divorce eventually goes through, four years later Nick still continues to intimidate Ally in ways that the law seems helpless to stop. When his threats escalate, and the law still refuses to intervene, Miriam makes a momentous choice. It took me a fair while to warm to Miriam, she’s pretty self involved, even with the excuse of grief. As to the decision she makes, I don’t see it as an admirable act, but in theory, I do see it as courageous, and regrettably necessary.

I admit to having to put the book down at certain points, upset and infuriated, particularly by the inaction of the law, because Ally’s experience all too accurately reflects real life. The author boldly points out the flaws in the justice system and in particular its repeated failures to protect women and children from violent men, with references to recent appalling crimes in Australia.

While I thought the story was well written, at times I thought a fraction more subtlety could have been effective. I did think the pacing was a little off too, the first half weighed down with detail that wasn’t really necessary to the story.

Nevertheless, The Mother is a powerful and thought-provoking read, providing insight into the issue of coercive control, and shining a light on the inadequacy of our current protections for the victims.


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Review: Nine Lives by Peter Swanson


Title: Nine Lives

Author: Peter Swanson

Published: 3rd March 2022, Faber UK

Status: Read March 2022 courtesy Faber & Faber/NetgalleyUK



My Thoughts:


“Inside was a single piece of paper, computer printed, the font Courier, like the mailing label.

Matthew Beaumont

Jay Coates

Ethan Dart

Caroline Geddes

Frank Hopkins

Alison Horne

Arthur Kruse

Jack Radebaugh

Jessica Winslow”

Drawing inspiration from the Agatha Christie classic, ‘And Then There Were None’ aka ‘The ABC Murders, in Nine Lives, Peter Swanson’s eighth novel, nine individuals each receive a list of nine names that includes their own.

Most dismiss the odd letter, but FBI agent Jessica Winslow submits the list she received for analysis. She’s surprised when the next day she’s alerted to the murder of a Frank Hopkins. Discovered on a Maine beach below his resort hotel, clutching a torn envelope containing the same list of names, seventy two year old Frank had been forcibly drowned in a tidal pool. Reaching out to the other names listed, spread across the United States, with seemingly nothing in common and no obvious connections, Jessica wonders if Frank’s murder is simply a coincidence, until Matthew Beaumont is shot dead while jogging.

Unusually there is no real central character in Nine Lives, the story unfolds from multiple perspectives, some of whom only have a brief role. I thought this narrative frame worked well, and Swanson ably established distinct characters within these limitations. Those named on the list react with varying levels of concern to the assumed threat on their lives, but whether they underestimate the threat or not, it seems the killer is not to be dissuaded from his mission. The suspense builds as each body drops and I found the loss of some characters more affecting than others.

I deduced some elements of the mystery fairly early on, but overall I thought the plot was well crafted, with the requisite scattered clues and misdirects. There’s some information given near the end of the story that seems to have been overlooked by some readers, but which I think helps what appears to be a somewhat weak motive make more sense.

I enjoyed Nine Lives, finding it to be a clever and tense tale of revenge.


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