Book Review: The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

The Wife Between Us
Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
St. Martin’s Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-13092-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous ex-wife.
You will assume she is obsessed with her replacement – a beautiful, younger woman who is about to marry the man they both love.
You will assume you know the anatomy of this tangled love triangle.
Assume nothing.

Twisted and deliciously chilling, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s The Wife Between Us exposes the secret complexities of an enviable marriage – and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love.

Read between the lies.

Take a good look at that cover. Don’t those two women look an awful lot alike? When I first saw it and read the description, I couldn’t help wondering if this was going to be like one of those serial killer things where the guy has an obsession for women who resemble each other and someone who was once very important to him (yes, I’m being sexist; it’s simpler and it’s almost always men killing women). So, was I right? I’m not telling because that would ruin the enormous surprise at the end 😉

Without a doubt, The Wife Between Us is one of the most intense and page-turning books I’ve read and it turned my expectations completely on end. Most of all, I was impressed by how often I was surprised, perhaps because I trusted too much, like at least one of the three people in this tale of treachery and love. Then again, are any of them really on the up-and-up? Vanessa, Richard, Nellie—are any of them real?

I’m in awe of any author who can create a story and characters as compelling as in this book but I’m purely amazed that two authors could collaborate so extremely well. I suspect their ability to do this has at least something to do with one being an already accomplished author and the other being her editor; they had a certain connection, if you will, and it really shows in the quality of their writing. I really hope this is the beginning of a long-running partnership that will bring us many more books to keep me up at night.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

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Book Review: The Trust by Ronald H. Balson—and a Giveaway!

The Trust
Liam Taggart and Catherine Lockhart #4

Ronald H. Balson
St. Martin’s Press, September 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-12744-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When his uncle dies, Liam Taggart reluctantly returns to his childhood home in Northern Ireland for the funeral―a home he left years ago after a bitter confrontation with his family, never to look back. But when he arrives, Liam learns that not only was his uncle shot to death, but that he’d anticipated his own murder: In an astonishing last will and testament, Uncle Fergus has left his entire estate to a secret trust, directing that no distributions be made to any person until the killer is found. Did Fergus know, but refuse to name, his killer? Was this a crime of revenge, a vendetta leftover from Northern Ireland’s bloody sectarian war? After all, the Taggarts were deeply involved in the IRA. Or is it possible that the killer is a family member seeking Fergus’s estate? Otherwise, why postpone distributions to the heirs? Most menacingly, does the killer now have his sights on other family members?

As his investigation draws Liam farther and farther into the past he has abandoned, he realizes he is forced to reopen doors long ago shut and locked. Now, accepting the appointment as sole trustee of the Fergus Taggart Trust, Liam realizes he has stepped into the center of a firestorm.

Every now and then, a novel (or a movie) comes out in which an inheritance is withheld until a certain monumental task is completed. In the case of The Trust, that task involves solving a crime, a murder, and our hero, private investigator Liam Taggart, is perforce right in the middle of everything and it’s a most uncomfortable place to be.

Years ago, Liam had been an agent for the CIA and spent some time in Northern Ireland watching some of his own family, eventually leading to a deep estrangement, including with his uncle, but his cousin, Janie, called to ask him to come to the funeral. As it turns out, Uncle Fergus apparently knew he was going to be murdered and who better to solve the case than Liam? As he soon discovers, fighting over potential inheritances is greatly exacerbated by longlasting resentments going back to his activities during the Troubles so his task is much more difficult.

The story is rife with red herrings and with a plethora of suspects among family and others, enough to set my head spinning as well as there’s this obligation Liam feels, a burning need to make things as right as he can with the late Uncle Fergus and the rest of his family. The core of the story lies in the events during the Troubles and how they still affect the family years later but there’s also a good deal of character development with all of these people, to the point where I could envision myself among them. Even the Belfast police, Sergeant Megan Dooley and Inspector McLaughlin, are well-rounded and important players in the tale and, in the end, Liam learns something that’s life-changing for himself.

Interestingly, Liam’s P.I. instincts don’t work well this time, perhaps because he’s too caught up in family dynamics, and readers may be a bit put off by his…and his wife, Catherine’s…seeming inability to develop and follow the clues but I found it made this couple and the case more intriguing. I wouldn’t want it to happen often or even occasionally but it worked in The Trust because of the family and national history. All in all, this was a very engaging read.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To enter the drawing for a hardcover
copy of The Trust by Ronald H. Balson,
leave
a comment below. One winning
name will
be drawn Sunday evening,
September 24th. This drawing is o
pen
to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Reviews: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker and The Eyes of Pharaoh by Chris Eboch

Emma in the Night
Wendy Walker
St. Martin’s Press, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-14143-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.

When two sisters vanish one night, Cass watches the aftermath on TV, the interviews with her mother who, somehow, makes it all about herself. It has always been about Judy Martin and her need to be the center of attention is at the core of the emotional distance between the sisters. Given that distance, why were they both gone?

FBI forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winters and Special Agent Leo Strauss worked the case when the girls disappeared three years ago and they’re drawn back in now that Cass has returned out of the blue. She has a strange tale to tell and there are inconsistencies but, of course, the big question is where is Emma? Were the two girls together all those years or not? The answers that begin to trickle in are increasingly disturbing and you can’t help wondering what has really brought Cass back to her family.

Creepy, that’s the paramount feeling I had while reading this and the author’s evocation of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder brought to mind such infamous people as Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who drowned her kids in the car so she’d be unencumbered in her pursuit of a man. This disorder doesn’t get a lot of serious attention but perhaps it should. Nicely done, Ms. Walker!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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The Eyes of Pharaoh
Chris Eboch
Spellbound River Press, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-945017-27-8
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

From the publisher—

The Eyes of Pharaoh, 1177 BC: During the reign of Pharaoh Ramses the Third, Seshta, a 13-year-old dancer in the Temple of Hathor, dreams of becoming a famous entertainer. Horus, the brother of her heart, is content as a toymaker’s apprentice. Reya, at 16, has joined Egypt’s army with hopes of becoming a hero. Despite their different paths, nothing can break the bonds of their friendship. Yet when Reya hints that Egypt is in danger from foreign nomads, Seshta and Horus don’t take him seriously. How could anyone challenge Egypt?

Then Reya disappears. Seshta and Horus set out to find him–and discover a darker plot than they ever imagined. To save their friend, Seshta and Horus spy on merchants, soldiers, and royalty, and start to suspect even The Eyes of Pharaoh, the powerful head of the secret police. Will Seshta and Horus escape the traps set for them, rescue Reya, and stop the plot against Egypt in time?

I’ve had a love affair with ancient Egypt for so long I can’t remember how or when it started. When I had a chance to spend a week there in 1989, I found the modern country just as fascinating and wonderful and I’m sorry I’ll probably never get back there, also sorry for the political troubles that plague those wonderful people. Anyway, I’m always delighted to read any fiction or nonfiction about Egypt, especially set in ancient times and The Eyes of Pharaoh hit just the right spot with me.

Most of the mysteries I’ve seen set in this civilization are adult, which is great, but it usually means the characters are officials or slaves or high society, not so much the general population. These teens are a good cross-section, if you will, with a temple dancer, a soldier and a servant’s son, and I think that really added to my enjoyment because they’re not yet mature enough to be leery of risk and adventure and they’re comfortable with day-to-day life among the common people. One of the trio has gone missing and the other two are determined to find him. ‘Nuff said.

Because I love Egypt and its history so much, I wholeheartedly approve of anything that might entice young readers to fall under its spell and this book would be an excellent introduction. And, for those of you who aren’t so young anymore, you should give this a shot for rousing exploits and a darned good mystery 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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 Reviews: It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell and The Devil’s Cold Dish by Eleanor Kuhns

It’s Always the Husband
Michele Campbell
St. Martin’s Press, May 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-08180-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Kate, Aubrey, and Jenny first met as college roommates and soon became inseparable, despite being as different as three women can be. Kate was beautiful, wild, wealthy, and damaged. Aubrey, on financial aid, came from a broken home, and wanted more than anything to distance herself from her past. And Jenny was a striver―brilliant, ambitious, and determined to succeed. As an unlikely friendship formed, the three of them swore they would always be there for each other.

But twenty years later, one of them is standing at the edge of a bridge, and someone is urging her to jump.

How did it come to this?

Kate married the gorgeous party boy, Aubrey married up, and Jenny married the boy next door. But how can these three women love and hate each other? Can feelings this strong lead to murder? When one of them dies under mysterious circumstances, will everyone assume, as is often the case, that it’s always the husband?

I’m kind of conflicted about this book because, while I think the story of these women’s friendship is interesting, I can’t say I actually liked them or the police chief very much. As college students, they seemed like an oddly matched trio and they aren’t really any more compatible as they get older. It’s all just a little sad in a way and, although it’s true I didn’t connect emotionally with any of the three, I was still compelled to keep reading.

The first section drags a bit or perhaps it would be fairer to say that the pacing is on the slow side, deliberately so, and that makes the contrast with the second section even more noticeable. That second section is when I began to pay attention and wanted to know what would eventually happen but I still couldn’t find much in any of these women to care about. Kate in particular is an enigma or, rather, everyone’s near adoration of her is the enigma as she is one of the most unpleasant, better-than-thou people you can imagine.

An awful event in their younger years cements their connection to each other and that secret from the past has deadly implications in the present. This is the interesting part, getting bits and pieces from earlier years that begin to come together now, but it doesn’t quite make up for my dislike of these people. All in all, this is not a book I was crazy about.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

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The Devil’s Cold Dish
Will Rees Mysteries #5
Eleanor Kuhns
Minotaur Books, June 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-09335-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Will Rees is back home on his farm in 1796 Maine with his teenage son, his pregnant wife, their five adopted children, and endless farm work under the blistering summer sun. But for all that, Rees is happy to have returned to Dugard, Maine, the town where he was born and raised, and where he’s always felt at home. Until now. When a man is found dead – murdered – after getting into a public dispute with Rees, Rees starts to realize someone is intentionally trying to pin the murder on him. Then, his farm is attacked, his wife is accused of witchcraft, and a second body is found that points to the Rees family. Rees can feel the town of Dugard turning against him, and he knows that he and his family won’t be safe there unless he can find the murderer and reveal the truth…before the murderer gets to him first.

There’s a special place in my reading heart for historical mysteries and I especially like the 17th and 18th centuries in America so this book was sort of calling my name. Happily, I was not the least bit disappointed.

Rees and his family don’t have an easy life on the farm and relations with his sister and his son are very strained but they’re basically content and Will is happy to be back home in Dugard. The politics of the time cause arguments among the townspeople and Will is frequently right in the midst of the fracas but he’s not really prepared for the physical fight he has with an old friend, Mac McIntyre. When another man, Zadoc Ward, is murdered, Constable Caldwell invites Will to come along to see the body.  It’s during his investigation with Caldwell that Will becomes aware of a certain animosity in the community towards him, much stronger than he had thought, but this murder is only the beginning of the attacks on the Rees family.

Ms. Kuhns has a real grasp on this time period and the nuances of the lives of people who experienced the Revolution and its aftermath. Her research is obviously extensive but it doesn’t stilt her writing at all and I could really envision the setting, the times and the people. Not everyone can write historical fiction well but this author certainly does and now I need to reward myself with the previous books in this series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

Book Review: Adnan’s Story by Rabia Chaudry

Adnan’s Story
The Search for Truth and Justice After “Serial”
Rabia Chaudry
St. Martin’s Press, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-08710-2
Hardcover

I am so glad that I read this book, but at the same time, I almost long for my ignorance.  It is easier to be unaware of how disturbingly incompetent and unconcerned the very people paid to “serve and protect” behaved.  The outrage really sets in when it becomes glaringly obvious that the plethora of mistakes made was not unique in the police work, but poured into the trial.

To me, this kid never had a chance.  There is not one moment where I thought that someone in the judicial and/or legal system truly considered Adnan–the person.  Not one time was he treated as “innocent until proven guilty”.  To say that the circus that replaced his trial was riddled with errors, illegal manipulation along with flat-out suppression of pertinent information, would be remarkably generous.

If, like me, you know Adnan’s story from the “Serial” (and/or subsequent) podcast(s), you know this.  And maybe, like me, you are still consumed with a sickening, gut-wrenching wonder as to how so much could go so horribly wrong—unquestionably, indisputably wrong—without any repercussions or efforts to acknowledge, own and correct the mistakes, then perhaps you already have this in your To-Read stack.  Basically—if you’ve been at all touched by this tragic but all too true tale—I whole-heartedly believe you will be grateful for Ms. Chaudry’s work.  The author says it best: the story “Serial told” “…was true, but it wasn’t the whole truth, or the whole story” and if ever there was a whole story—with its entire truth—that begged to be told, it is Adnan’s.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2016.

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.