Book Review: Murder in Thistlecross by Amy M. Reade

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MURDER IN THISTLECROSS
by Amy M. Reade
Genre: Mystery/Thriller

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Murder in Thistlecross
A Malice Novel #3
Amy M. Reade
Lyrical Underground/Kensington, February 2018
ISBN 978-1-5161-0019-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

The emerald hills and violet valleys of Wales seem the ideal place to start over after murder—and divorce—shattered Eilidh’s life in the Scottish Highlands. But within the stone walls of an ancient castle, a family’s dark, violent past threatens much more than her newfound tranquility . . .

For the past two years, Eilidh has called the quaint Welsh village of Thistlecross home, embracing her new life as estate manager of a restored fifteenth-century castle. But the long-anticipated arrival of her employer’s three estranged sons and their wives transforms Gylfinog Castell from a welcoming haven to a place seething with dangerous secrets. When the escalating tensions culminate in murder, Eilidh must sift through a castle full of suspects both upstairs and downstairs. She can trust no one as she follows a twisting maze of greed and malice to ferret out a killer who’s breaching every defense, preparing to make Eilidh the next to die.

Amy Reade’s series has a touch of gothic suspense, always fun, and this particular entry has the extra added attraction of the old Clue board game (later a movie that was equally delightful) wherein the various suspects move around the castle and the sleuth has to figure out who killed who, how and where. Not quite that detailed, of course, but you get the picture.

Eilidh has enjoyed peace and tranquility, as well as much-needed emotional healing, for the past two years but when her employer, Annabel Baines, invites her family to the castle, no one could have predicted the hostility and anger that would erupt, not to mention a murder. Annabel and her sons have been at odds for years because of the brutality of the boys’ father in their childhood and Annabel has called them together to apologize for her inabilty to protect them. At first, the apology seems to have lessened the strain among them all but, shortly thereafter, one of the sons is dead and his death will not be the only one.

Murder in Thistlecross is a mildmannered mystery in some ways and it didn’t take me long to get a handle on what was going on but that’s OK. I enjoyed the setting, which reminded me of my own trips to Wales, and the story carried me along for a very pleasant read.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

About the Author

USA Today bestselling author Amy M. Reade is also the author of Secrets of Hallstead House and The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor. She grew up in northern New York, just south of the Canadian border, and spent her weekends and summers on the St. Lawrence River. Shegraduated from Cornell University and then went on to law school at Indiana University in Bloomington. She practiced law in New York City before moving to southern New Jersey, where, in addition to writing, she is a wife, a full-time mom and a volunteer in school, church and community groups. She lives just a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean with her husband and three children as well as a dog and two cats. She loves cooking and all things Hawaii and is currently at work on her next novel.
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Book Review: A Different Kind of Evil by Andrew Wilson

A Different Kind of Evil
Agatha Christie Series #2
Andrew Wilson
Atria, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-4509-4
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Two months after the events of A Talent for Murder, during which Agatha Christie “disappeared,” the famed mystery writer’s remarkable talent for detection has captured the attention of British Special Agent Davison.

Now, at his behest, she is traveling to the beautiful Canary Islands to investigate the strange and gruesome death of Douglas Greene, an agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service. As she embarks on a glamorous cruise ship to her destination, she suddenly hears a scream. Rushing over to the stern of the liner, she witnesses a woman fling herself over the side of the ship to her death.

After this shocking experience, she makes it to the Grand Hotel in a lush valley on the islands. There, she meets a diverse and fascinating cast of characters, including two men who are suspected to be involved in the murder of Douglas Greene: an occultist similar to Aleister Crowley; and the secretary to a prominent scholar, who may also be a Communist spy. But Agatha soon realizes that nothing is what it seems here and she is surprised to learn that the apparent suicide of the young woman on the ocean liner is related to the murder of Douglas Greene. Now she has to unmask a different kind of evil in this sinister and thrilling mystery.

In a combination of derring do, political shenanigans and possible espionage, Agatha Christie sets out to do the bidding of John Davison, British Secret Intelligence Service, who needs her help discovering who killed one of his agents in Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. With a plethora of suspects and motives, she has her work cut out for her but Agatha has the kind of puzzle-solving mind that’s well-suited for such a task.

The case begins before the cruise liner even gets to its destination when a woman throws herself overboard but, of course, Agatha has no way of knowing then that there might be a connection to the agent’s murder. On the island, she meets quite the diverse set of characters but is one of them her quarry? And why was the agent, Douglas Greene, murdered, not to mention a few other poor souls?

Bits and pieces of this story remind me of one of Christie’s own novels, A Caribbean Mystery featuring Miss Marple, and that gave me quite a lot of pleasure as it’s one of my favorites of her work. Granted, it’s really far-fetched to think the Secret Service would send a mystery author to solve an agent’s murder but this is one of those stories that requires a healthy suspension of disbelief and the result is a good deal of fun.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2018.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Books-A-Million
iBooks // Google Play // Amazon // Indiebound

Agatha Christie makes a plausible amateur detective in Wilson’s
stellar sequel to 2017’s A Talent for Murder, a crafty whodunit
worthy of the queen of mystery herself…Wilson does a superior
job of balancing surprising plot developments with a sensitive
portrayal of his lead’s inner life.—Publishers Weekly

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About the Author

Andrew Wilson is the highly-acclaimed author of biographies of Patricia Highsmith, Sylvia Plath, Alexander McQueen, the novel A Talent for Murder, as well as Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived. His first novel, The Lying Tongue, was published by Atria in 2007. His journalism has appeared in The GuardianThe Daily TelegraphThe ObserverThe Sunday TimesThe Daily Mail and The Washington Post. 

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Book Review: Wishing Caswell Dead by Pat Stoltey

Wishing Caswell Dead
Pat Stoltey
FiveStar/Cengage, December 2017
ISBN 978-1-4328-3440-1
Hardcover

The story, set in the early 1800s, opens with the discovery of Caswell Proud’s body propped against a tree in the Illinois wilderness woods. Obviously murdered, his throat has been cut. Who has done it? Authorities, though lacking on the frontier, aren’t overly concerned because Caswell richly deserved to die. The suspects? Everyone in the small village of Sangamon, but especially his fourteen-year-old half-sister, Jo Mae. She is pregnant, Caswell having sold her body to nearly everyone in town from the time she was big enough to be used. Sadly, the young man’s mother had indulged his every whim and failed to protect her daughter.

But support for Jo Mae comes from unexpected sources. Has one of them carried the protective spirit all the way to murder? And how did anyone catch the wily Caswell off guard enough to get the drop on him, a man whom even a lightning strike couldn’t kill? Just know that with the universally hated Caswell dead, most everyone gives a sigh of relief, hoping now their worst secrets are safely hidden away. But are they?

The novel is filled with flawed characters, only a couple who have generosity of spirit and deserve sympathy. Caswell may not even be the worst of the lot. Readers will have to decide for themselves in this rock-solid, riveting tale.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: The Boat House by Jana D. Barrett

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Book Review: You’ll Never Know, Dear by Hallie Ephron

You’ll Never Know, Dear
Hallie Ephron
William Morrow, June 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-247361-5
Hardcover

You’ll Never Know, Dear by Hallie Ephron is a stand-alone contemporary suspense novel that could just as easily be labeled women’s fiction. This book explores the long shadows and altered relationships that follow a child kidnapping. Forty years ago 7-year-old Elisabeth (Lis) Woodham was supposed to be watching her 4-year-old sister Jane. She was distracted as children that age can be and when she returned, Jane was gone along with the handmade porcelain doll she was playing with. No trace was ever found of her. Their mother began offering a reward for the return of the doll annually on the anniversary of the disappearance, thinking that whoever had the doll would know where her daughter was. While inevitably dolls of all kinds were offered every year in hopes of obtaining the reward, none of them were credible until this year, when a young woman showed up with a tattered doll that might well be the right one.

Within hours of seeing the doll and meeting the young woman a chain reaction of events occurs. Both Lis and her mother are hospitalized with carbon monoxide poisoning and the kiln in her mother’s workshop that she used for years explodes and sets their house on fire, bringing Lis’s daughter Vanessa home from New England where she is doing post-doctoral sleep research and escaping from her mother’s overprotectiveness. Together Vanessa and Lis investigate this present-day puzzle that reaches far into the distant past for answers.

The mother and daughter relationship and its variations over time are a major theme in this book. How they annoy each other and misunderstand each other and protect each other and need each other is shown over and over.  Lis and her mother, Lis and her daughter, the young woman with the damaged doll and her mother, the familiar ideas take clear human form here.

I generally dislike thrillers and mysteries based on harm to children and avoid them. I can think of nothing worse for a parent than to lose a child through kidnapping. To use it as the plot of a story, even as realistically and tactfully as this one does, seems to trivialize a horrific occurrence. To minimize the tragedy Ephron, a skilled writer, focuses on the lost doll, not the lost child. In the back of the reader’s mind, the lost doll equals the lost child but the discussions among the characters concentrate directly on the doll, which I thought was an excellent way of downplaying the calamity. A smooth, fast-moving read.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, January 2018.

Book Review: Quantum State by M. Black

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Book Review: The Quiet Child by John Burley and The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

The Quiet Child
John Burley
William Morrow Paperbacks, August 2017
ISBN 978-0-0624-3185-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  It’s the summer of 1954, and the residents of Cottonwood, California, are dying.  At the center of it all is six-year-old Danny McCray, a strange and silent child the townspeople regard with superstition, who appears to bring illness and ruin to those around him.  Even his own mother is plagued by a disease that is slowly consuming her.  Sheriff Jim Kent, increasingly aware of the whispers and rumors surrounding the boy, has watched the people of his town suffer, and he worries someone might take drastic action to protect their loved ones.  Then a stranger arrives, and Danny and his ten-year-old brother, Sean, go missing.  In the search that follows, everyone is a suspect, and the consequences of finding the two brothers may be worse than not finding them at all.

This is a tale of what appears to be a kidnapping gone horribly wrong.  But put aside any preconceptions you may have with regard to kidnappings – this is not like any conjecture you can imagine.

This is a difficult time for the residents of Cottonwood, where “it seemed everyone had something wrong.”  The protagonists are Michael McCray, a science teacher at Anderson Union High School, and his wife of 12 years, Kate.  Days go by, and no headway is made in finding their two kidnapped sons, despite the best efforts of Michael and Jim Kent, 65 and “the town’s only plumber and part-time sheriff,” who thinks “there was something out here, some trace of them.  There had to be.  People do not just disappear.  There was a concerted law enforcement effort under way.  They would find them – – soon, he thought.  He only hoped it would be soon enough.”  The boys are 6 and 10 years old, of whom Michael thinks “one a constant source of chatter and energy and the other an enigma, silent and indecipherable,” the eponymous brother.

The reader is introduced to Richard Banes, who is at the crux of most of what takes place in this novel, and who “had harbored the suspicion that he might be going insane. True, it was not a condition that had plagued him in the past.  But the recent events had been wild and unpredictable – – and beyond his ability to control.  If he had heard the story from someone else and not experienced it for himself, he would have scoffed at it and questioned their mental stability.    But here he was: incapacitated by a small child . . . ”

This is a psychological thriller of the highest order, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2017.

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The Last Mrs. Parrish
Liv Constantine
Harper, October 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-266757-1
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Amber Patterson is fed up.  She’s tired of being a nobody:  a plain, invisible woman who blends into the background.  She deserves more – – a life of money and power, like the one blond-haired, blue-eyed goddess Daphne Parrish takes for granted.  To everyone in the exclusive town of Bishops Harbor, Connecticut, Daphne – – a socialite and philanthropist – – and her real-estate mogul husband, Jackson, a man of apparently limitless wealth, are a couple straight out of a fairy tale.  Amber’s envy could eat her alive . . . if she didn’t have a plan.  Amber uses Daphne’s compassion to insinuate herself into the family’s life – – the first step in a meticulous scheme to undermine her.  Before long, Amber is Daphne’s closest confidante, traveling to Europe with the Parrishes and their lovely young daughters, and growing closer to Jackson.  But a skeleton from her past may destroy everything that Amber has worked toward, and if it is discovered, her well-laid plan may fall to pieces.

Part I of the novel is told from Amber’s perspective, Part II, roughly half-way through the book, from Daphne’s.  The two women meet at a gym they both attend, and are drawn together by a shared interest:  It appears that Daphne, through an organization called the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, puts out a magazine dealing with that disease.  Daphne tells Amber, when questioned, that she had lost her younger sister to that disease, 20 years earlier at the age of 16.  When Daphne asks, Amber reveals that her own younger sister had died of the disease at the age of 14.  That is the beginning of a friendship that becomes much more than just that, with Amber becoming almost of the Parrish family

The reader discovers late in the novel that Amber’s name isn’t even Amber – it was Laura Crump.  She had made everything up, including the ostensible existence of a sick sister, an abusive father, when in actuality she was a criminal, a fugitive.   But we are told very early on that the only sisters she does [or ever did] have are all alive and well.  She apparently makes monthly pilgrimages to the main library in Manhattan and to museums, the better to display her apparent knowledge and acumen to others, most importantly to Jackson Parrish.  She inveigles her way into the family dynamic and, in doing so, into the “world of the rich and mighty, mingling and toasting each other, smug and confident in their little one percent corner of the world,” and ultimately landing a job as Jackson’s new office assistant.  I have to admit I found myself at one point I could not help but admire Amber’s success in achieving her aim of worming herself into the Parrish world in many aspects, although that didn’t last too long.  The Parrish marriage of 12 years soon is threatened.   I also have to admit that once the 2nd half of the book is under way–from Daphne’s p.o.v.–that admiration quickly ended.

This novel received starred reviews from each of the most highly respected review sites in the industry, each comparing it favorably with “Gone Girl,” one of the mostly highly lauded novels of its kind in the last couple of years [and one I must admit I have never read, unlike, I suspect, most of the readers of this review, I humbly realize].  That said, “Mrs. Parrish” kept me turning the pages as quickly as I could until the very end.

Liv Constantine is the pen name of sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine., a remarkable job, considering they live several states apart!  They have created a book that captivates the reader, and one I highly recommend.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2017.