Book Review: Last Seen Alone by Laura Griffin @Laura_Griff @BerkleyMystery

Last Seen Alone
Laura Griffin
Berkley, September 2021
ISBN ‎978-0-593-19736-3
Mass Market Paperback

In Last Seen Alone, we meet Leigh Larson, a hard-driving ambitious lawyer with a law practice specializing in helping women dealing with stalkers, harassers, and revenge porn, and Brandon Reynolds, an Austin, Texas homicide detective.  But the book begins with Vanessa Adams, a young woman meeting her contact in a wooded area to buy a gun from him.  After concluding the transaction, Vanessa drives off but then pulls over to examine her new gun.  As she does, she realizes there is a truck behind her slowing down and fearful she is being followed Vanessa takes off running into the woods and disappears.

When Brandon’s partner Antonio is called to the scene of the parked car, he finds a smear of blood on the open door.  He and Brandon then decide to investigate but find no clues to Vanessa’s apparent disappearance.  Nonetheless they ask their boss to classify the case as a homicide and let them continue investigating.  Meanwhile they have met Leigh Larson who, citing attorney-client confidentiality, refuses to  answer any questions about Vanessa or whether she is Leigh’s client.  In fact, Vanessa approached Leigh some weeks earlier with what Vanessa described as a problem with her landlord.  Leigh gave her some advice and when she heard nothing further assumed the matter was taken care of.  However, upon return to her office after being questioned by Brandon, Leigh finds a signed retainer agreement and a check from Vanessa, but Vanessa doesn’t respond to Leigh’s phone calls.

The rest of this story is about both Leigh and the detective trying to find out what happened to Vanessa, a break-in at Leigh’s office, and various people who know Vanessa giving them little information.  Along the way they discover a mutual passion for each other, although Reynolds is aware that Leigh is holding back but he doesn’t know why.

I have mixed feelings about this book.  I like the premise but found Leigh annoying in her constant attempts to investigate on her own, putting herself in danger, and generally bumbling around with no clear plan or path.  I also found the relationship between Leigh and Brandon annoying along with being somewhat hard to believe.  A blurb on the book cover by author Jayne Ann Krentz, herself a romance writer, referred to liking “smart, sophisticated, fast-moving romantic thrillers….”  I too like thrillers and find this book to have too much of the romance.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, January 2022.

Book Reviews: The Guilty Die Twice by Don Hartshorn and Hell for the Holidays by Chris Grabenstein @donhartshorn @TCKPublishing @CGrabenstein

The Guilty Die Twice
Don Hartshorn
TCK Publishing, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-63161-073-8
Trade Paperback

An emotional, intense, persistent battle between attorneys who are brothers. Jake Lynch is the fictional District Attorney in Austin, Texas. His younger brother, Travis, also an attorney, struggles to make ends meet as the novel opens. Texas is a capital punishment state and part of the novel deals forcefully and thoughtfully with that issue.

The story is not, however a sociological or psychological treatise on the rights and wrongs nor on the social implications of an existing approach to capital murder. This is a bare-knuckle, stirring confrontation between opposing points of view in the persons of Travis and Jake.

The well written narrative switches between a decades old execution of a truly evil and unrepentant character and the truly awful results of the penetration of the modern drug culture into every aspect of Austin’s society. And while the well-defined characters raise several important tragic issues in the investigations and trials of some of the characters, the pace of the novel drives the narrative in relentless fashion through personal, political and even racial aspects.

Readers can ignore the sociological aspects and read the novel as a fine fascinating adventure. Or one could use the story as the basis for thoughtful debate. Either way, I recommend the novel without reservation.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Hell for the Holidays
A Christopher Miller Holiday Thriller #2
Chris Grabenstein
Carroll & Graf, November 2007
ISBN 978-0-7867-2060-6
Hardcover

Snappy dialogue and spare, economical writing characterize this thriller. So why is it 400 pages long? The answer is that this is a marvelously complicated novel with many parts playing out simultaneously in various locations around the country. The essence of the story is the smuggling into the U.S. of a stinger missile with the aim of blowing up an airliner operated by an emerging African nation. The smugglers, naturally enough, are white bigots. The hard-to-read jacket copy invokes the Oklahoma bomber, Timothy McVeigh. I’d choose, instead, the young sniper who terrorized Washington D.C. environs recently.

FBI agent Christopher Miller, an engaging protagonist, chases the terrorists aided and hindered by friends and antagonists in various local and federal law enforcement agencies. We get a wide range of issues from career CIA bureaucrats to dedicated cops who’ll unhesitatingly put everything on the line to thwart the criminals. The action takes place in several high-interest locations from a championship mid-Atlantic college football game to port-side freight operations, to a major international airport.

Apart from the two principal groups of characters, there’s a host of bit players who are logical, real, and who function almost exactly as you expect they should, given the circumstances.

The development and resolution of the story depend, not only on the plotting, the moves and counter moves of police, but on small mistakes
by people on the periphery. And these seemingly insignificant details are, for me, the real strength of the novel. Whether you buy the basic
premise or not, once in the story, readers will be hard-pressed to find places where they’ll rear back in disgust and say, “give me a break!” Hell for the Holidays is a terrific read. An outstanding novel of its type.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.