Book Review: Keys to Nowhere by Dorothy H. Hayes

Keys to Nowhere
The Carol Rossi Mystery Series #3
Dorothy H. Hayes
CreateSpace, January 2017
ISBN 978-1541242876
Trade Paperback

From the author—

A Tucson vacation morphs into terror when two teenage girls and their aunt vanish. When the girls’ desperate parents beg their friend and Connecticut investigative journalist Carol Rossi for help, Rossi can’t refuse. She leaves her infant daughter, police detective husband, and treasured farm and animal sanctuary to lead the hunt through the desert. It’s 1985, and Rossi is chasing down a new kind of danger: the serial killer. When the Tucson police aren’t interested in her theories, Rossi acts alone before the killer can strike again.

I have a vague memory of the first time I heard of an abductor/killer posing as a police patrolman but what isn’t vague is how it sunk in that this is a trap all too easy for most people to fall into. Ever since, I’ve been prepared to do what the police themselves advise, to never stop at night or in a lonely area when a cop flashes the lights or taps the siren but go directly to a precinct if possible or at least a well-lit spot with people around. The first pages of Keys to Nowhere gave me the creeps as it became obvious how easy it is for a fake cop to overcome one’s natural concern and sense of self-preservation. By the end of the second chapter, I knew I was in for a heck of a story.

Carol Rossi is one smart cookie and has solved crimes before so it’s no surprise that her friend Vera begs her for help when she can’t reach her teenaged daughters and her sister who’ve been vacationing in Arizona. Helping Vera means Carol has to leave her infant daughter and her police detective husband behind in Connecticut so she’s understandably reluctant but a less than satisfactory call to the Tucson police convinces her she has to go.

Carol is an appealing protagonist, determined to find the three women despite a lack of interest from the police, but it’s the killer who really stands out in my mind because he’s so mesmerizing in his looks and smooth talk, very much like Ted Bundy. That’s the thing about really bad people—they frequently are impossible to spot until it’s too late and that’s one of the traits that’s so fascinating about them. The third character who really impressed me is 16-year-old Ginger, a girl in desperate trouble who isn’t the sort to just let things happen to her. I like this girl a lot and she’s the one who lends an atmosphere of hope to a tale of terror.

As for the story, there isn’t much that’s more intriguing than the battle between good and evil and that’s exactly what this is. It’s uncomfortable to be in the killer’s head but, at the same time, this is what makes his actions and behavior so compelling and, from page to page, I wanted, needed to know what would happen next with the tension building to almost unbearable levels.

Keys to Nowhere is one of those thrillers that blends plot and characterization on an equal basis and Ms. Hayes once again has crafted a tale that kept me enthralled from beginning to end. Anyone looking for an exciting, disturbing, highly satisfying read won’t go wrong with this one.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

Book Review: The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Cracks in the KingdomThe Cracks in the Kingdom
The Colors of Madeleine #2
Jaclyn Moriarty
Arthur A. Levine Books, March 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-39738-4
Hardcover

First an admission, I bought A Corner of White, book one  in this series when it came out in 2013, started reading it and lost interest about 50 pages in. As a result, I wondered how I’d find the middle book. I was surprised to discover it grabbed me pretty fast and I read straight through.

Imagine two worlds in parallel dimensions that once allowed travel between them via invisible cracks. Only the very adventurous took advantage of them and when the plague from our world seeped through to Cello, killing many, their monarchy established the WSU, a powerful agency charged with finding and sealing all the cracks and executing anyone trying to access them.

Princess Po is a teen and the only member of the royal family not captured by factions intent upon bringing down the monarchy. She’s pretty certain her parents, older sister and younger brother have been exiled to the World (our planet), but has no idea how to find or rescue them. She’s got her hands full just keeping up the illusion that all four family members are busy elsewhere while she keeps the daily affairs of state going. Po knows she’s in over her head, so she creates what she calls the Royal Youth Alliance as a cover for a small group of teens who might be able to figure out where her family members are and how to get them back.

Chief among the members is Elliot who discovered a crack in the first book (inside an ancient TV on a rock behind his school) that is connected to a parking meter in our world near the home of Madeleine Tully, another teen who is somewhat lost since her dad left. Her link to Elliot was forged when he was able to give her a string of beads that cured her mother’s near fatal illness in the first book. The fact that intense emotional energy allowed them to connect is literally all they have to work with as they try to figure out where the missing royals are and how to retrieve them.

Their mission is complicated by the fact that most who have moved to our world soon lose all memories of Cello, who they are, where they lived, what they did, who family members are. Add in that the four members of the royal family are widely dispersed and you have a giant puzzle for Po, Elliot, Madeleine and the other members of the Royal Youth Alliance to solve.

The challenge is further complicated by Elliot’s missing father, gone for more than a year, who has supposedly been located by two government agents, but said agents keep coming up with barely plausible reasons why Dad hasn’t been freed and returned home. Then, there’s the Monty Python-like weather in Cello, affected by unpredictable magic that can change summer into winter and back in a heartbeat, not to mention the wildly differing customs in various provinces that the teen rescue team must deal with as they travel around the kingdom, seeking clues to where the cracks are and how to open them enough so they can retrieve the missing family members. There are twists and surprises galore near the end of the story, setting up plenty of anticipation for the final installment.

I really like this book and don’t feel I lost much by not finishing book one. Princess Po isn’t particularly likable, but given her desperation, that’s almost forgivable. Elliot is a great guy who is conflicted about who he likes, Madeleine or one of the members of the Royal Youth Alliance. There’s plenty of action and mystery in this story and I’m eager to read the final installment.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, August 2016.

Book Review: American Nights by Gerrie Ferris Finger

American NightsAmerican Nights
A Moriah Dru / Richard Lake Mystery #6
Gerrie Ferris Finger
Five Star, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-4328-3221-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Saudi Arabian prince, Husam al Saliba, hires child-finder Moriah Dru to find his missing wife, Reeve and daughter, Shahrazad.

The inquiry begins with Husam tells Dru of falling in love with Reeve, of turning his back on his ascendancy to the Saudi power structure for the woman he loves. He talks of his king’s disapproval of him marrying and siring an infidel.

But there are cracks in his story. At times he seems to long to return to the good graces of the royal family and marry cousin Aya and be an heir to kingship. Sometimes Dru thinks she’s fallen into a fairy tale, since the prince is fond of telling tales from the Arabian Nights.

Her search for mother and child had just begun when Reeve’s parents, Lowell and Donna Cresley were killed. They hated their prince son-in-law for fear of losing their grandchild to the land of his ancestors and for a generally racist attitude. The prince is immediately suspected when the Atlanta police, in the person of Dru’s lover Lt. Richard Lake, come into the case.

It’s soon evident infidelity abounds and everyone has something dreadful to hide.

When a four-year-old child and her mother go missing and a Middle Eastern prince hires Moriah to find his wife and daughter, she’s initially perplexed. This clearly is not the kind of abduction she would have expected involving Saudi law and religion and, with a French-born child and American mother, Interpol and a US federal agency should be looking for the pair. What makes it even more puzzling is that the prince insists that the investigation remain private. Moriah agrees to look into the matter but with one caveat…she must be allowed to discuss the case with her other half, Atlanta police lieutenant Richard Lake, although the APD will not be involved.

Most surprising of all is that, upon first meeting Prince Husam, he doesn’t seem very concerned, just slightly impatient that Reeve and Shara have been gone longer than usual. Still, it’s apparent that their disappearance could be connected to the king’s disapproval of the marriage and the need for a successor, most likely Husam.

When Reeve’s parents are murdered, the case takes on an entirely new aspect with hints of bigotry and infidelity and their hatred of Husam, leading Moriah and Lake in several directions. Every theory and idea they have, though, goes right out the window when Moriah learns that Husam is not at all who he purports to be and that he has some very powerful secrets.

As always, I enjoyed spending time with Moriah and Lake and this case takes them far beyond the norm. This is a couple I really like, largely due to the respect they have for each other and the way they can share information openly because of the absolute…and warranted…trust. They’re a power couple in their own way and about as appealing as can be. Ms. Finger has given us another winner 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2016.

Book Review: Blue Moon by Wendy Corsi Staub

Blue MoonBlue Moon
Mundy’s Landing Book 2
Wendy Corsi Staub
William Morrow, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-06234975-0
Mass Market Paperback

Mundy’s Landing is famous for the murders that occurred years ago.  Three girls were found dead in three different houses and the murderer was never found.  The houses came to be known as the Murder Houses.

Even though they had second thoughts about purchasing a “Murder House”  they went ahead and bought the house.   Annabelle Bingham and her husband Trib were thrilled with all the room the house provided for the couple and their son Oliver.  The couple felt they could put the bad memories of the house behind them.

That is hard to do in Mundy’s Landing particularly at the time of Mundy’s Landing Sestercentennial Vault to be opened in 2016.  People are gathering to see the town and stare at the Murder Houses which isn’t making Annabelle Bingham very comfortable but living where she does she is bound to have tourists coming around.

But girls are disappearing again in Mundy’s Landing.  No way could the killer of years ago return but it seems there is a pattern being followed and there will be murder before the festivities are over.

I am anxiously awaiting Book 3 Bone White.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, July 2016.

Book Review: The American Girl by Kate Horsley

The American GirlThe American Girl
Kate Horsley
William Morrow Paperbacks, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-243851-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

From a bright new talent comes a riveting psychological thriller about an American exchange student in France involved in a suspicious accident, and the journalist determined to break the story and uncover the dark secrets a small town is hiding.

On a quiet summer morning, seventeen-year-old American exchange student Quinn Perkins stumbles out of the woods near the small French town of St. Roch. Barefoot, bloodied, and unable to say what has happened to her, Quinn’s appearance creates quite a stir, especially since the Blavettes–the French family with whom she’s been staying–have mysteriously disappeared. Now the media, and everyone in the idyllic village, are wondering if the American girl had anything to do with her host family’s disappearance.

Though she is cynical about the media circus that suddenly forms around the girl, Boston journalist Molly Swift cannot deny she is also drawn to the mystery and travels to St. Roch. She is prepared to do anything to learn the truth, including lying so she can get close to Quinn. But when a shocking discovery turns the town against Quinn and she is arrested for the murders of the Blavette family, she finds an unlikely ally in Molly.

As a trial by media ensues, Molly must unravel the disturbing secrets of the town’s past in an effort to clear Quinn’s name, but even she is forced to admit that the American Girl makes a very compelling murder suspect. Is Quinn truly innocent and as much a victim as the Blavettes–or is she a cunning, diabolical killer intent on getting away with murder…?

Told from the alternating perspectives of Molly, as she’s drawn inexorably closer to the truth, and Quinn’s blog entries tracing the events that led to her accident, The American Girl is a deliciously creepy, contemporary, twisting mystery leading to a shocking conclusion.

My early reaction to The American Girl was that it reminded me of Amanda Knox, the American who was convicted (later overturned) of murdering her roommate in France, but I don’t mean that it was a rehash. There were just familiar elements—American girl in France accused of killing the French family she was staying with and the ensuing sensational trial—and, in fact, the author has said that this book was partially inspired by that true crime that took up an awful lot of news space.

Moving on from those similarities, I found the opening chapters filled with tension and a lot of questions and speculation on my part. Quinn doesn’t know what happened to her or to the family and her amnesia adds to the suspense.Then, once suspicion is focused on her, we begin to learn, in small doses, some very creepy goings-on and the dark tone and moodiness of the story drew me in.

I had some niggling doubts, though, particularly about the nearly incompetent police work that can only be explained somewhat by the small town locale but what really bothered me was that I just didn’t care for any of these people, including the missing family. Even the journalist, Molly, who ostensibly wants to get to the truth and help Quinn, clearly has her own agenda….but, then, so does Quinn and, as a result, neither are people I’d like to hang out with.

Bottomline, while I have reservations about the characters and some other aspects of the story, there’s no doubt it’s an intriguing if predictable tale and what really happened is very dark, creepy indeed. I never had the urge to quit reading so Ms. Horsley obviously did something right and that makes me think I’m going to want to see more from her.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2016.

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Purchase Links:

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About the Author

Kate HorsleyKate Horsley’s first novel, The Monster’s Wife, was shortlisted for the Scottish First Book of the Year Award. Her poems and short fiction have appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Best British Crime Stories. She coedits Crimeculture, a site dedicated to crime fiction and film offering articles, reviews, and interviews with writers.

Find out more about Kate at her website, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Google+.

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Book Review: Black Lies, Red Blood by Kjell Eriksson

Black Lies, Red BloodBlack Lies, Red Blood
Ann Lindell Mysteries #5
Kjell Eriksson
Minotaur Books, May 2015
ISBN : 978-1-250-04263-7
Trade Paperback

Ann Lindell has been portrayed in prior entries in this series as an unhappy person but an excellent detective.  In this novel she starts off on cloud nine, having hooked up with Anders Brant in a short but highly satisfactory love affair, only to be disappointed when he takes off on a trip.  And soon she learns that he might be involved in a murder inquiry; no one knows how to contact him and he doesn’t respond to e-mails.

Meanwhile, Ann becomes obsessed with a different murder, that of a 16-year-old girl, while the rest of the department is involved with the slaying of a homeless man, which in turn is followed by additional killings.  And Brant, somehow, has some involvement with all three investigations.  Ann keeps mum about knowing Brant and the pressure mounts on her, not only to solve her own case, but somehow to get in contact with her sometime lover and discover the facts about him and his connection with the murders.

This is not an easy novel to read; it is slow reading, and one has to plod through it with all of its complications and permutations, much less the unsatisfactory descriptions of Ann’s assorted sex life and other sexual references, many of which appear to be gratuitous. Despite these comments, the author has once again written an excellent crime story, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2016.

Book Review: The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

The Weight of BloodThe Weight of Blood
Laura McHugh
Spiegel & Grau, March 2014
ISBN 978-0-8129-9520-6
Hardcover

Seventeen-year-old Lucy Dane lives in the tiny rural town of Henbane, in the Ozark Mountains. Lucy is an appealing narrator: smart, practical, empathetic, pretty, and resourceful, she is not judgmental and tends to take the side of the underdog. Lucy seems to have a lot going for her, as she looks forward to finishing up high school. Her father, Carl, is protective and loving, a hard worker who supports the goal of getting Lucy away to college. Her uncle, Crete, owns the restaurant and store in town, as well as much of the surrounding land, and his prosperity makes him an important figure in Henbane. Birdie, the savvy old woman who is Carl and Lucy’s closest neighbour, is like a grandmother to Lucy, teaching her important skills about cooking and gardening. All of these relatives and friends have done their best to support Lucy through a significant loss in her life:  Lucy’s mother, Lila, died when Lucy was just a year old, under mysterious circumstances. Lila’s body has never been found, and there are rumours that she committed suicide in one of the old mineshafts in the area.

Although Lila’s death has left a permanent mark on Lucy, and grief and loss are always with her, she still manages to be a typical teenager in many ways.  She enjoys giggling with her best friend, Bess, about Daniel, a boy Lucy likes who is also smart and college-bound. Even in the Ozark Mountains, Lucy has a cell phone, and she and Bess get up to no good at parties held by the riverbank.

Henbane may be beautiful in many ways, but it is seedy and dark in others. Drug dealing is prevalent, and just a few months before the story begins, the town has been shocked by the murder of a mentally challenged girl named Cherie, who had been particularly close to Lucy. It is Cherie’s brutal death that really galvanizes Lucy into action and forces her to begin looking more closely at the people around her, as she tries to discover who killed Cherie. Are the people Lucy has grown up with who she really thought they were? She begins to pay keener attention to the rumours about other girls who have gone missing, and of course she can’t help but connect this with Lila, her own young mother who disappeared so many years ago.

The Weight of Blood has a strong sense of immediacy. The novel begins with first-person alternating narratives between Lucy and Lila. While Lucy relates what is happening in the present, the reader is shown, in Lila’s words, what has happened in the past, so that the stories of mother and daughter unfold together. Then, as the book goes on, more characters begin to pick up the threads, and chapters are written from Carl’s point of view, from Crete’s, from Birdie’s, and from others who know Lucy and who had known Lila.

Unfortunately for Lucy, it begins to seem more and more obvious that it may be someone very close to Lucy who is responsible for the horrible crimes she learns about. Henbane seems to become creepier and more sordid, and Lucy faces danger both for herself and for those around her.

The Weight of Blood is a perfectly titled novel. While the plot revolves around Lucy gradually solving the questions she has about Cherie’s death and Lila’s disappearance, the book is also very much about what Lucy will do with this information once she has uncovered it. The Dane family has lived in the Ozark Mountains for generations; Lucy can’t divide herself from her own ancestors, no matter what they might have done. Lila was an outsider, so Lucy struggles with her sense of herself as someone who is, like her mother, quite different from many of the people around her. At the same time, Lucy is entrenched in the town’s ways, as her Dane grandparents were before her. McHugh has done a very successful job of writing a creepy, oppressive-feeling thriller, while at the same time exploring how someone can accept themselves when they discover harsh truths about the people they love the best.

Reviewed by Andrea Thompson, July 2016.