Book Review: Riley by Paul Martin Midden

Riley
Paul Martin Midden
Whitmann Blair Publishing, February 2020
ISBN: 978-0-9859223-8-2
Trade Paperback

This is a novel about relationships, as are most novels. Riley follows that pattern, but at much more nuanced depth. It is a deep, carefully constructed story about the title character, Riley, a writer, and several of her relationships. What sets this novel apart is the circumstance of the story and the unusual dimensions. Here is a narrative that exists on more than one level.

Riley is a novelist, living in Washington, D.C. and separated from her husband whom she is about to divorce. As she adjusts to her single life and pursues the story line in writing her second novel, she discovers parallels to her own circumstances, some of which are supporting, others disturbing, in the life of her novel’s principal character. At times she seems unsure whether she is dealing with her own circumstances or those of Suzanne, her novel’s protagonist.

After a sudden, out-of-character erotic encounter, Riley feels perplexed and seeks counseling from friends and from professionals. Readers are thus positioned on multiple bluffs following many characters in often deep and penetrating development of character and relationships.

The web of this novel is multi-layered and rife with a complex blend of life and fantasy. Authors will recognize sometimes fraught circumstances as they struggle to sort out the fictional lives of their characters from the realities of life. The judicious progress of many relationships in the story are testimony to the care with which this narrative is constructed. In every chapter, step by inexorable step, readers will be drawn to follow, not just Riley’s journey, but those of other characters as well.

Nicely written, the multiple plots are all well dealt with and the several conclusions are satisfying. In sum, here is a well-designed complicated canvas of several problematic intersecting lives.

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

Book Review: Weycombe by G.M. Malliet @GMMalliet @midnightinkbook

Weycombe
A Novel of Suspense
G.M. Malliet
Midnight Ink, October 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5426-0
Hardcover

Weycombe is a novel of psychological suspense.  In it, Jillian, an American, who worked for the BBC in London until she was laid off (“made redundant” in British- speak) married a minor nobleman and moved to the tony gated village of Weycombe, is frustrated with her marriage, fearing that her husband no longer loves her.  When the village real estate agent, Jillian’s neighbor, is murdered Jillian decides to investigate in order to help the police who, by the way, are not especially interested in her help.  Then a shopkeeper is also murdered, and Jillian intensifies her efforts as do the police.  But clues are few and the police investigation is stalled.  Jillian, however, begins to suspect that her husband might be involved.

As Jillian talks to the various women in her neighborhood circle hoping something someone knows will help to discover the murderer, the police investigation seems to be going nowhere. Jillian reviews her list of suspects and the clues she has found but seems to be no further along than the police.

Weycombe is a fascinating novel of psychological suspense though some might be annoyed by long descriptions of events that deserve only a brief mention.  Readers with a great deal of experience with mystery novels will likely deduce the murderer’s identity; however, the author has planted clues throughout the book that will likely keep even the most skeptical reader at least interested in finishing it.  I enjoyed Weycombe very much and recommend it.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, December 2019.

Book Review: Girl Unknown by Karen Perry

Girl Unknown
Karen Perry
Henry Holt and Co., February 2018
ISBN 978-0-8050-9874-7
Hardcover

In this story of a girl who tears apart the lives of all the members of a family, author Karen Perry (actually two authors Paul Perry, Karen Gillece) shows how assumptions and lies affect the most basic relationships. David Connolly, a professor at an Irish university, his wife Caroline, and their two children, teenager Robbie and eleven year old Holly, are getting along as well as any family. There was a rough patch the previous year, when Caroline was on the verge of an affair, but she pulled back, and family life is getting back to normal.

After class one day David is approached by a freshman student, a frail and beautiful young woman by the name of Zoe. With her masses of white blonde curls, she seems otherworldly, and David can’t believe his ears when she tells him “I think you might be my father.”

David had an affair with Zoe’s mother Linda while he was in graduate school, before he married Caroline, and Linda never contacted him to say she was pregnant. Zoe offers to mail in a DNA test, and David meets with her at a local pub to talk it over. Zoe shows him the positive results, and after he tells Caroline about Zoe, the recriminations begin. Zoe claims Caroline insulted her, and physically assaulted her. Zoe says that her stepfather threw her out and she is destitute, but when David visits the stepfather, he discovers that Zoe had been given up for adoption, had only appeared in her birth mother’s life the year before she died, and had been left money for her studies. When confronted, Zoe claimed the check bounced.

The reader wonders why David and Caroline didn’t check out her story more, and when they did, they didn’t act on it. They allowed her to live with them even though she had been proved to be a liar. She manipulated them, and their friend Chris, an older man who was taken in by Zoe’s lies. The tragic and somewhat surprising conclusion could have been avoided had they been more vigilant. But they vetted Zoe less than they would a minimum wage worker. The story is told from the viewpoints of David and Caroline, in alternate chapters. Readers who enjoy psychological suspense, like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl or Jodi Picoult may enjoy the shifting realities of this book. Perry is the  author of The Innocent Sleep and other books.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, May 2018.

Book Review: Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent

Lying in Wait
Liz Nugent
Gallery/Scout Press, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-6777-5
Hardcover

A fast-paced, unsettling story of murder and psychosis in Dublin, Ireland. From the first sentence we know that the distinguished jurist Andrew Fitzsimmons killed Annie Doyle. Why we don’t find out for much of the book but we begin to see how the event affected the respective families right away. Andrew Fitzsimmons is overwhelmed with guilt and remorse, his wife Lydia around whom everyone else revolves blames Annie for the entire situation, and their coddled son Laurence just knows something is badly wrong with his parents. The Doyles are distraught with the disappearance of their problematic daughter and even more so when the police investigation uncovers drug use and prostitution in Annie’s recent past. Annie had already disappointed them by becoming pregnant out of wedlock a few years earlier, and her strict father committed her to one of the famous Irish baby homes. When Annie came home after two years, she was indelibly changed.

The book begins in 1980 with the murder and ends in 2016 with a stunning resolution. Each chapter is told from the perspective of Lydia, Laurence, or Karen, Annie’s sister. Karen in particular is a sympathetic character whose life is devastated by the disappearance of her sister. Lydia seems to be self-centered and possessive at the start, perhaps to be expected of an only child from a wealthy family, and then the gaps in her empathy with anyone she encounters including her husband begin to point to something much more serious. The person most affected is her son Laurence, upon whom she focuses all of attention.

The other characters – Judge Fitzsimmons, his mother and brother, the Doyle parents, the police, Laurence’s coworkers and girlfriends – are all filtered through the lens of Karen, Lydia, and Laurence but because the narrator is so clearly defined it is easy to sort through the narrator’s perceptions to understand what these other people are thinking and feeling. The girls attracted to Laurence, a sheltered, obese teen when the book opens, are an interesting reflection of his own internal state and his maturation process.

A fascinating and troubling book. Starred reviews from Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, May 2018.

Book Review: The Breakdown by B. A. Paris

The Breakdown
B. A. Paris
St. Martin’s Press, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-12246-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?

Cass is having a hard time since the night she saw the car in the woods, on the winding rural road, in the middle of a downpour, with the woman sitting inside―the woman who was killed. She’s been trying to put the crime out of her mind; what could she have done, really? It’s a dangerous road to be on in the middle of a storm. Her husband would be furious if he knew she’d broken her promise not to take that shortcut home. And she probably would only have been hurt herself if she’d stopped.

But since then, she’s been forgetting every little thing: where she left the car, if she took her pills, the alarm code, why she ordered a pram when she doesn’t have a baby.

The only thing she can’t forget is that woman, the woman she might have saved, and the terrible nagging guilt.

Or the silent calls she’s receiving, or the feeling that someone’s watching her…

It used to be that when a book was labeled as a thriller, I knew exactly what I was about to read, a pulse-pounding story full of action and with danger chomping at the heels of the good guys at every turn but without a lot of introspection. Short chapters and a frenetic pace would keep me flipping the pages as fast as I could. Nowadays, though, the term has become so loosey-goosey that it means almost nothing and I have to wonder what I’m going to get.

The Breakdown is not a thriller but it can fairly be called suspense. Yes, there is a sense of danger but we also spend a lot of time in the protagonist’s head (amplified by the first person present tense narration) trying to figure out what’s going on, stressing out over every little thing, suffering guilt over whether she might have been able to prevent the murder and obsessing over the possibility she has started early onset dementia. That last is frightening all by itself and made me feel very uneasy for Cass but it was hard to relate it to the core mystery of the story until certain things started to become pretty obvious.

I have mixed feelings about this book because, while I found it too predictable and I really don’t like first person present tense in crime fiction, I still enjoyed it enough to keep reading. I was relatively sure early in the story what was happening but I wanted to see how Ms. Paris would get me there because she has such a command of words, a nice turn of phrase, if you will, that the simple act of reading her work is a pleasure.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2017.

Book Review: The Child by Fiona Barton

The Child
Fiona Barton
Berkley, June 2017
ISBN 978-1-101-99048-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

As an old house is demolished in a gentrifying section of London, a workman discovers a tiny skeleton, buried for years. For journalist Kate Waters, it’s a story that deserves attention. She cobbles together a piece for her newspaper, but at a loss for answers, she can only pose a question: Who is the Building Site Baby?

As Kate investigates, she unearths connections to a crime that rocked the city decades earlier: A newborn baby was stolen from the maternity ward in a local hospital and was never found. Her heartbroken parents were left devastated by the loss.

But there is more to the story, and Kate is drawn—house by house—into the pasts of the people who once lived in this neighborhood that has given up its greatest mystery. And she soon finds herself the keeper of unexpected secrets that erupt in the lives of three women—and torn between what she can and cannot tell…

Just mention a dead baby and the pathos sets in, doesn’t it? Regardless of what might have happened to that infant, you know it was sad in one way or another and, in this case, it’s really bad because this poor little child had lain in its small grave for so many years.

Many people from the past and present are affected by this discovery, as you might imagine, but there are four women in particular who get our attention. At times, the baby was front and center but, at other times, the story focused much more on the individual women and Kate, the journalist, is the catalyst that brings out more than one truth. What begins as a story that shocks the senses in the beginning soon proves itself to be full of innuendoes and accusations, heartbreak and, eventually, healing.

Ms. Barton has crafted a tale that has been told before in some ways, both fictionally and in real life, but it’s the twists and coincidences that grabbed my attention, even though I was pretty sure of the direction this was taking. At the end, I felt a sense of sorrow at what one human can do to another but also hope for mending and new beginnings.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2017.

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Purchase Links:

         

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About the Author

credit Jenny Lewis

It was the allure of a hidden story that propelled Fiona Barton to her long-time career in news. A journalist and British Press Awards “Reporter of the Year,” she has worked at the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, and brings that experience to bear in her novels.

In THE CHILD she details how Kate’s lengthy investigation into Building Site Baby’s death represents a perilous breach of the newsroom’s new culture of 24/7 online news. Says Barton: “The danger for Kate is that she risks becoming one of the dinosaurs—sidelined because she is unable and unwilling to be part of the revolution. And I feel for her.”

Though THE CHILD delivers an evocative look at the changing face of journalism, and a delicious plot twist, it is the characters’ haunting and rich emotional lives that set Barton apart and confirm her stature as a crime novelist of the first order.

              

 

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“Tense, tantalizing, and ultimately very satisfying …
definitely one of the year’s must-reads.”—
Lee Child, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“Fiona Barton has outdone herself with The Child. An engrossing,
irresistible story about the coming to light of a long-buried
secret and an absolutely fabulous read—I loved it!”—Shari Lapena,
New York Times bestselling author of The Couple Next Door

“Startling twists—and a stunning, emotionally satisfying
conclusion.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Book Review: All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker

all-is-not-forgottenAll Is Not Forgotten
Wendy Walker
St. Martin’s Press, July 2016
ISBN: 978-1-250-09791-0
Hardcover

From the first page, most readers are gripped by the relentless intense narrative voice. The brutal rape of a teen-aged girl is horrifying enough in its matter-of-fact almost toneless style. But it is that very style that almost immediately signals something else at work here. And then, a decision is made to subject the victim to memory regression through drug therapy. And the narrative style suddenly changes.

Author Walker is an excellent writer, fine plotter and she understands the subtleties of constructing a story like this one, which is anything but straight forward. Her in-depth knowledge of psychotherapy was undoubtedly of more than passing help.

The story is one of the rape and sadistic torture of a teen-aged young woman at the fringes of a party, the subsequent investigations and a long attempt to identify the perpetrator. Along the way society comes in for some serious cuffs, the drug culture is hung out to dry and family relations are in for an exceedingly rough go. When you see these pieces of the novel here on the screen, you might begin to wonder if it’s worth an effort. Trust me, it is. The novel, for all its darkness, is so beautifully structured and written, it is really, almost impossible to put down. A stunning, deeply introspective thoughtful work.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.