Book Review: The Murder List by Hank Phillippi Ryan @HankPRyan @ForgeReads

The Murder List
Hank Phillippi Ryan
Forge Books, August 2019
ISBN 978-1-250-19721-4
Hardcover

Launching on August 20th is Hank Phillippi Ryan’s latest novel, The Murder List.  It is exciting, well-plotted, character driven, and eminently readable.  I would have said it is a terrific beach read if CNN didn’t beat me to it, choosing it as an “Ultimate Beach Read”!  That said – and with due respect to CNN – The Murder List is so much more than that.  The story revolves around Rachel North, a law student who has scored a summer internship in the office of a well-known and powerful Assistant District Attorney (“ADA”).  One problem, though, Rachel’s husband, Jack Kirkland, a brilliant criminal defense attorney is opposed to her taking the job because he and the ADA have history and do not like each other.  However, Rachel and Jack have a plan to be partners defending people charged with murder after Rachel finishes law school and gains the qualifications she needs to be put on the murder list (that is, attorneys qualified to handle murder cases).  So, Rachel is unwilling to pass up the opportunity to see how murder cases are handled from the prosecution side.  Arriving on her first day, she meets her fellow interns and her boss, ADA Martha Gardiner.

In the first hour, Gardiner takes her to the scene of a murder where Rachel is left outside to babysit the suspect’s nephew, leaving her with the feeling that her boss doesn’t really think much of her.  But after a court appearance the next day Gardiner invites Rachel to lunch.  From then on, their working relationship grows to the point where the ADA invites Rachel to work on a murder case she is personally handling.  For Rachel, this is a great opportunity because if she and Jack follow their plan, Rachel will need to be on the murder list, as Jack already is.  And, of course, Rachel who is not even out of law school, is nowhere near qualified to get on that list.  But the experience she will gain assisting the ADA will give her budding career a big boost.

While Rachel works on the murder case, her fellow interns are working on other matters which, according to them, are not at all as interesting as her case.  But, as Rachel’s work progresses, the evidence in her murder case is mounting against someone close to her which is making her anxious and frightened.  Forbidden to talk with anyone but Gardiner about the case, Rachel is unsure what to do but, as ordered, keeps all case-related information to herself.

As mentioned above, The Murder List is an exciting read with its unexpected twists and turns.  My only complaint is that I lost sleep over it – I didn’t finish it until 3:00 a.m. but I just couldn’t put it down.  Don’t miss this!

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, August 2019.

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Book Review: Written in Blood by Layton Green—and a Giveaway!

Written in Blood
Layton Green
Seventh Street Books, November 2017
ISBN:978-1-63388-361-1
Trade Paperback

In Written in Blood, author Green introduces readers to Detective Joe “Preach” Everson. Following a common path, Green has given readers a flawed protagonist, though Preach’s baggage goes well beyond the ordinary. After suffering a tragedy as a young man, he had a sort of breakdown and fled his hometown of Creeksville, North Carolina. His life path from then until the book opens took him to Bible college, time as a church preacher, a prison chaplain and then as a police officer in Atlanta, where another incident led to another breakdown.

Here we reach the first thing about the novel that just doesn’t quite work. Preach has returned to his hometown and has been hired as a police detective even though he has not been cleared to work from his breakdown. He promises to see a therapist who happens to be a relative. One has to question what police force would hire an emotionally unstable person as a detective and what therapist would risk his or her reputation and licensing to sign off on a deeply troubled soul who has suffered at least two emotional breakdowns to serve as a detective. But let’s accept this as written for the sake of the story.

Preach is barely on the job when he and his partner Kirby are called out to a murder scene in a bookstore. Kirby notices some odd marks on the body which he correctly surmises may be a clue. With the help of Ari, a law student who works part time in the bookstore and is an avid reader, they determine that the crime has been staged to resemble the murder of the pawnbroker  in Crime and Punishment. As I’m sure you can guess, this is the first in a series of murders that happen around town, each with a literary connection. This theme is not new by any means to crime fiction, but for the most part Green does a good job of putting his own twist on the theme.

The two things I liked most about Written in Blood are the character development and the  literary tie-ins to the crimes.  I understand that some avid crime fiction fans do not care for wordy descriptions, but I found the detailed descriptions of the various people very helpful in visualizing them. The murders being staged like murders in well known works of literature was done well.  While I was familiar with all of the works used, I found that I had forgotten some of the details of the various crimes. I loved this part in a geeky sort of way, though I’m not sure a reader unfamiliar with the books would be quite so on board.

Besides the improbability of Preach actually being hired as mentioned before, the only thing that left me a bit cold is that while the focus never exactly was off the murders, the plot took some odd and meandering detours along the way through just about every depravity known to man. I think the book might have been a bit better had those parts been shorter.

Overall, Written in Blood is a good start in what could be an interesting series.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, February 2018.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Written in Blood by Layton Green,
just leave a comment below. The winning
names will be drawn on Friday night,
  April 6th, for one Advance Reading Copy
and one finished trade paperback copy. This
drawing is open to the US and Canada.