REVIEW: THE NEXT TO DIE, BY SOPHIE HANNAH

 

What if having a best friend could put you in the crosshairs of a killer?

A psychopath the police have dubbed “Billy Dead Mates” is targeting pairs of best friends, and killing them one by one. Before they die, each victim is given a small white book.

For months, detectives have failed to catch Billy, or figure out what the white books symbolize and why the killer leaves them behind. The police are on edge; the public in a panic. Then a woman, scared by what she’s seen on the news, comes forward. What she reveals shocks the investigators and adds another troubling layer to an already complex case.

Stand-up comedian Kim Tribbeck has one of Billy’s peculiar little books. A stranger gave it to her at a gig she did last year. Was the stranger Billy, and is he targeting her—or is it something more nefarious? Kim has no friends and trusts no one, so how—and why—could Billy Dead Mates want to target her? If it’s not her, then who will be the next to die?

 

My Thoughts: The Next to Die opens with letters between Susan Nordlein and someone named Inessa Hughes, regarding a book entitled Origami, written by Kim Tribbeck. We are left pondering the content of such a book…and then, in subsequent chapters, we follow the mystery of a serial killer dubbed Billy Dead Mates.

We go back and forth between Kim’s first person narrative and the activities of the various detectives: DC Simon Waterhouse, DC James Wing, and DI Giles Proust. Sergeant Charlie Zailer has her own obsessive pursuit involving her sister Liv, and ropes Kim into her quest.

Charlie and Simon are married to each other, featured regularly in the Spilling CID series, but one often wonders how two such seemingly incompatible individuals could be a pair. They each have obsessive qualities, but are otherwise an unlikely couple, in my opinion.

Why has the killer chosen these victims? What are the connections between them? Each detective pursues various angles, meeting occasionally with the rest of the team, at which time they are subjected to the sarcastic comments of DI Proust, who is often described as The Snowman. Cold, bitter, and without any leadership skills.

Slowly we come to sort through the clues along with the detectives, also wondering what to make of the motives and choices of the killer. Just as the seemingly unrelated victim pool begins to make sense, we are sidetracked onto other quests, namely Charlie’s pursuit of her sister’s secrets.

Even as we knew the killer’s identity a while before the end, a stunning gathering of interested parties came together at the end to hear the reasons for it all. And those reasons were almost too “out there” for the audience of relatively sane individuals. This interesting take on bookish life in the modern age earned 4 stars.***

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REVIEW: UNDER A SILENT MOON, BY ELIZABETH HAYNES

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The first call they received was about a murder; the second one involved what might be suicide, but could be more. And both incidents were in Morden, where not many such events happen. Could the episodes be linked?

DI Louisa Smith (Lou), from the Briarstone station, is in charge of the team. The victims were Polly Leuchars and Barbara Fletcher-Norman, living on neighboring compounds.

Over the next few days, the team conducted interviews, gathered evidence, and just when they thought they had it figured out, a new discovery complicated it all. Would they now be back to Square One?

Immersed in the investigations and the detectives in charge, the reader soon learns that Lou and one of her team, Andy Hamilton, were once involved, and feelings between them now range from hostile to civil. Meanwhile, an analyst on the team, Jason Mercer, is now very much attracted to Lou, with the feelings being mutual. Will they act on their feelings? How will their relationship change the dynamics of the team?

But the most critical question is: who was Polly Leuchars, and how were her many casual relationships with both men and women connected to the murders? Polly worked as a groom at Hermitage Farm, owned by Nigel Maitland and his wife Felicity. The police have been watching Nigel for years for other crimes, none of which have led to charges. But they are alert.

Polly lived in a cottage on the farm, and seemed to be friends with Flora, the daughter of the Maitlands, who has her own flat…and a studio. She is an artist.

Meanwhile, at the Hayzelden Barn, where the Fletcher-Normans live in close proximity, Brian has been hospitalized for a heart attack he suffered on the crucial night. His daughter Taryn Lewis is estranged from him, but she could know many answers to the questions. Will she be cooperative? She is also friends with Flora…and knew Polly. Another critical question for the team: who is Suzanne Martin, and what, if anything, connects her to events? And how does she compromise one of the detectives on the team?

Such a complex mesh of relationships lead to numerous challenges in the investigations. More will be revealed as we move along, and the fun in Under a Silent Moon: A Novel (Detective Chief Inspector Louisa Smith Book 1) is trying to sort out the relationships while solving the crime(s).

While I enjoyed this story and could not stop reading, there were so many characters and there was so much complexity that I found it hard to keep them all straight. However, I liked the twists and turns, and I had most of it sorted out by the end. 4.0 stars.

REVIEW: TRUST NO ONE, BY JAYNE ANN KRENTZ

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When Grace Elland discovers the body of her murdered boss, Sprague Witherspoon, in his bedroom, her life takes a dramatic turn backwards in time. The label on the vodka bottle found near him is a jolting reminder of her past and another murder she stumbled upon.

Sprague Witherspoon was a major leader in the motivational movement, and Grace was his chief marketing director. The one who created the cookbook, the blog, and the positive affirmations. The one who took his company over the top.

Grace and two co-workers, Millicent Chartwell and Kristy Forsyth, are now left with the challenge of finding new careers. But starting over will be difficult for Grace, as this new trauma forces her back into her traumatic past, where the nightmares began. And in the present, she is being stalked, apparently, beginning with a series of sinister e-mails coming from Sprague’s phone.

Could his daughter Nyla be responsible? Everyone knows she has a hateful attitude. Her fiancé is also someone Grace suspects. He clearly seems to be hanging around for Nyla’s inheritance.

Then Julius Arkwright, a very rich entrepreneur and connected to Grace’s friends Irene and Devlin Nakamura, comes into her orbit as a blind date. Will Julius step in and help Grace sort out the mystery? Will she be able to help him overcome his own dark past?

As everything escalates and the mystery thickens, Grace has to consider other possibilities, just when she and Julius might be taking their friendship to another level.

Trust No One was a riveting romantic suspense thriller that had me looking around every corner, and literally not trusting any of the characters. Even so, I was surprised by the ending. An enjoyable story that was slightly predictable, but definitely a read I recommend for fans of the author…and for romantic suspense stories. 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: JUSTICE FOR SARA, BY ERICA SPINDLER

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Ten years after she is acquitted for her sister’s murder, Katherine McCall returns home to Liberty, Louisiana, knowing full well that almost everyone there believes that she “got away with murder.”

Determined to prove them wrong, and to find justice for her sister, Kat is on the trail of some clues that she follows, along with Acting Police Chief, Luke Tanner, who does not believe she is guilty. His father, however, is equally determined to prove that he was not mistaken all those years ago. Will he finally acknowledge his mistakes?

And will Kat be able to uncover the truth? Will repeated vandalism of her property, a fire, and thwarted efforts to buy property for her business succeed in frightening her away from her quest? What character flaws will be revealed about some of the town’s leaders?

The story flashes back and forth between 2003–the year of the murder–and 2013, revealing bits and pieces of various individuals’ activities then and now. As we close in on finding the true killer, the pages turn more rapidly. Numerous possible suspects had me guessing and wondering, but the final reveal had more layers than I had expected, and the surprises were very satisfactory. Justice for Sara had a nice mix of mystery and romance. Five stars.

SERENDIPITOUS TUESDAYS: INTROS/TEASERS-MESSENGER OF TRUTH — MARCH 19

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Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by Should Be Reading.

Today I’m sharing from Messenger of Truth, by Jacqueline Winspear, my first foray into the Maisie Dobbs series.

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Intro:  Romney Marsh, Kent, Tuesday, December 30th, 1930

The taxi-cab slowed down alongside the gates of Camden Abbey, a red brick former mansion that seemed even more like  a refuge as a bitter sleet swept across the gray, forbidding landscape.

“Is this the place, madam?”

“Yes, thank you.”

The driver parked in front of the main entrance and, almost as an afterthought, the woman respectfully covered her head with a silk scarf before leaving the motor car.

“I shan’t be long.”

“Right you are, madam.”

He watched the woman enter by the main door, which slammed shut behind her.

“Rather you than me, love,” he said to himself as he picked up a newspaper to while away the minutes until the woman returned again.

Ooh….what do you think?  I’m feeling a chill here…..

***

Teaser:  Stratton allowed a few seconds to elapse, seconds in which Maisie was sure he was composing a response that would have been acceptable to his superiors, had he been called to account for his actions.

***

Amazon Description:  London, 1931. On the night before the opening of his new and much-anticipated exhibition at a famed Mayfair gallery, Nicholas Bassington-Hope falls to his death. The police declare it an accident, but the dead man’s twin sister, Georgina, isn’t convinced. When the authorities refuse to conduct further investigations, Georgina takes matters into her own hands, seeking out a fellow graduate from Girton College: Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and investigator.

The case soon takes Maisie to the desolate beaches of Dungeness in Kent, as well as the sinister underbelly of the city’s art world. She again uncovers the dark legacy of the Great War in a society struggling to recollect itself in difficult times. But to solve the mystery of the artist’s death, she will have to remain steady as the forces behind his death come out of the shadows to silence her.

***

Now I’m eager to make the rounds and see what the rest of you are sharing…come on by and chat!

HUMP DAY SERENDIPITY: WAITING ON “KINSEY & ME” — OCT. 31

 

Serendipity is all about finding the unexpected treasures in life.  Like upcoming book releases we sometimes just happen to discover.  Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by Jill, at Breaking the Spine, is our place to discover lots of bookish treasures.

Today’s serendipitous find for me is a book by a favorite author, whose series is one I’ve been following for years.  Kinsey & Me, by Sue Grafton, (author of the alphabet mysteries) will be released in January 2013.

 

Amazon Description:  In 1982, Sue Grafton introduced us to Kinsey Millhone. Thirty years later, Kinsey is an established international icon and Sue, a number-one bestselling author. To mark this anniversary year, Sue has given us stories that reveal Kinsey’s origins and Sue’s past.

“I’ve come to believe that Grafton is not only the most talented woman writing crime fiction today but also that, regardless of gender, her Millhone books are among the five or six best series any American has ever written.”—Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post

Kinsey and Me has two parts: The nine Kinsey stories (1986-93), each a gem of detection; and the And Me stories, written in the decade after Grafton’s mother died. Together, they show just how much of Kinsey is a distillation of her creator’s past even as they reveal a child who, free of parental interventions, read everything and roamed everywhere. But the dark side of such freedom was that very parental distance.

The same unique voice and witty insights readers fell in love with in A Is for Alibi permeate the Kinsey stories. Those in the And Me section trace a remarkable voyage, from anger to understanding, from pain to forgiveness. They take us into a troubled family, dysfunctional as most families are, each in their own way, but Grafton’s telling is sensitive, delicate, and ultimately, loving. Enriching the way we see Kinsey and know Sue, these stories are deeply affecting.

***

I can’t wait for this one, just as I’m eagerly awaiting the next “alphabet” book, which will be something beginning with “W.”

What are you waiting for?

THE BEST OF CRIMES, THE WORST OF CRIMES — A REVIEW

California’s Central Valley is most noted for extreme heat, its famous literary giant, Saroyan, and the feeling of a peaceful agricultural community that has morphed into a large city. Yet its long hot summers bring out the worst in people at times.

In Valley Fever: Where Murder Is Contagious: A Collection of Short Stories Set in the San Joaquin Valley, the authors explore the unique flavors that set the Valley apart from other parts of California, but also its dark underbelly.

The opening story, A Tale of Two Sittings, is set in the now defunct, yet iconic eatery, in Fresno’s Tower District: The Daily Planet. Just the mention conjures up all kinds of nostalgia for me, and I can almost literally see the scene unfolding. I’m hooked, as I read the story and see how a very clever murder unfolds. The opening line says a lot:

“It was the best of crimes, it was the worst of crimes.”

Each series of stories is captioned under Fine Dining, Valley Heat, Stormy Weather, Deadly Destinations, Culture & Consequences, and Holidays Can Be Murder.

Some stories were funny, all were quirky, and there was a tongue-in-cheek aspect that I relished.

An enjoyable read for anyone who has ever lived in or visited the Valley; for those who just enjoy good murder mysteries; and for others who are simply curious about this part of the world, you will not be disappointed. Five stars.


COMING FULL CIRCLE: A TALE OF TIME TRAVEL — A REVIEW

One October day in Salem, Massachusetts, a widow named Annie McBride finds a naked toddler in the cemetery. With no sign of anyone about, and intuiting that she is needed, Annie takes the child home.

The child whom she names Margaret (Maggie) becomes a comfort to Annie, but since she didn’t turn the child in to the officials, the two of them spend the next several years moving from place to place.

When Annie dies several years later, Maggie is an adult living in LA and working as a psychic to assist the police in profiling criminals.

Annie’s unique legacy of a home in Salem, Massachusetts, takes Maggie full circle, where her life begins anew in a place to which she feels strangely connected. Some of her new neighbors also seem like people she has “known” before–and some of the familiar people are not good ones.

Soon a woman named Susannah Davies, who comes to Maggie’s home where she has created a shop to sell natural remedies, begins to teach her spinning lessons. She also seems like someone to whom Maggie can share her thoughts and feelings, especially when she is plagued by alarming dreams.

What odd dreams seemingly take Maggie back to a parallel universe 400 years earlier, and why do these dreams seem like memories? What, if any, connection exists between Maggie and Susannah, and why does an eerie woman living nearby set off alarms for Maggie? What does a child’s disappearance have to do with earlier events in Salem?

Weaving the tale between the past and the present, the author shows the reader how events unfolded. There is no big surprise that time travel and witch trials are a big piece of the puzzle. The tale is somewhat predictable, but I enjoyed seeing how Maggie came to realize how she is connected to those events. Witch Woman did hold my interest despite these issues, but I’m awarding a 3.5 rating. I would recommend it for those who enjoy a time travel story with interesting characters. Maggie in the present day was my favorite, but I also enjoyed Abigail’s struggles in Seventeenth Century Salem.


TWISTS, TURNS, & NAIL-BITING SUSPENSE — A REVIEW

Set against the backdrop of post-Katrina New Orleans, this page-turning psychological suspense novel had me biting my nails throughout.

Protagonist Mira Gallier, whose husband Jeff died during Katrina, restores stained glass windows—in churches and in homes—and had just finished restoring the windows at Sisters of Mercy. Now detectives Spencer Malone and Tony Sciame are at the scene of the brutal slaying of Father Girod, surrounded by the destruction of those stained glass windows—by Graffiti.

Next begins a horrific series of events, all seemingly connected in some way to Mira Gallier, and the killer seems hell-bent on squashing demons only he can see. As the body count increases, the methods used by the killer differ just enough to make it hard to zero in on the murderer.

Because of strange happenings at Mira’s home and art studio, the detectives even suspect her for awhile. The search broadens, but it will take many pages and many events before the reader will know who it is.

What, if anything, does Mira’s deceased husband Jeff have to do with any of these events? Is his friend Connor, who is in love with Mira, somehow connected? And what about Mira’s therapist, whose name she got from someone she now believes to be her enemy?

There are many characters that fall under suspicion, including one of the detectives on the case. We look here, and then there, misdirected by events as they unfold in a twisted and convoluted way. Will the killer be the last person one would expect?

I liked Mira and Detective Malone a lot…and really didn’t like one of the detectives. I had my suspicions about almost everyone at one point or another, which was a good device for the author to use. As the threads of the story come together, we see that parts of it had nothing to do with the murders, but more to do with the psychological after-effects of Katrina.

Five stars for Watch Me Die!

WHEN THE PAST MAKES AN UNEXPECTED APPEARANCE — A REVIEW

In this sequel to It’s Murder, My Son (A Mac Faraday Mystery), we meet ex-homicide detective Mac Faraday again as he is settling into his new life, after inheriting millions from his birth mother, Robin Spencer, a famous mystery writer. He had only discovered who his mother was in adulthood, and is still reeling from the changes wrought by his new-found wealth.

So when his ex-wife Christine shows up (inebriated) at his new home, Spencer Manor, he is totally unprepared for her desperate plea for him to take her back. Apparently the lover she left Mac for has dumped her cruelly, and now she realizes what she had…and lost.

Mac takes her over to the penthouse suite at The Spencer Inn, where he hopes she’ll sober up. He plans to meet her the next day for breakfast to talk.

But suddenly Mac’s life spirals out of control when, the next day, he discovers Christine and her estranged lover, Stephen Maguire, murdered in the suite.

Over the next scintillating pages, we discover several possible suspects, many of whom had some kind of political connections to one another, and the thrill ride begins. The fun in this kind of story is trying to figure out who did what to whom, and how they did it; and just when you think you have it sorted out, there is another possible scenario playing out. Mac and his half-brother David, the police chief, work together to solve the case, discovering all kinds of secrets as dead bodies show up right and left.

We learn a lot more about the deceased victims, too, as Old Loves Die Hard (The Mac Faraday Mysteries) winds down to its thrilling conclusion. Along the way, we get to enjoy the interactions between Mac and his new love, Archie, and the antics of Gnarly the dog, who is a bit of a kleptomaniac.

I thoroughly enjoyed this continuing romp with Mac Faraday and those who share his life. I can’t wait to see what author Lauren Carr will bring us next! Five stars.

(I read the ARC of this novel).