REVIEW: EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS, BY PETER SWANSON

Years ago, bookseller and mystery aficionado Malcolm Kershaw compiled a list of the genre’s most unsolvable murders, those that are almost impossible to crack—which he titled “Eight Perfect Murders”—chosen from among the best of the best including Agatha Christie’s A. B. C. Murders, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, Ira Levin’s Death Trap, A. A. Milne’s Red House Mystery, Anthony Berkeley Cox’s Malice Aforethought, James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, John D. Macdonald’s The Drowner, and Donna Tartt’s A Secret History.

But no one is more surprised than Mal, now the owner of the Old Devils Bookstore in Boston, when an FBI agent comes knocking on his door one snowy day in February. She’s looking for information about a series of unsolved murders that look eerily similar to the killings on Mal’s old list. And the FBI agent isn’t the only one interested in this bookseller who spends almost every night at home reading. The killer is out there, watching his every move—a diabolical threat who knows way too much about Mal’s personal history, especially the secrets he’s never told anyone, even his recently deceased wife.

To protect himself, Mal begins looking into possible suspects . . . and sees a killer in everyone around him. But Mal doesn’t count on the investigation leaving a trail of death in its wake. Suddenly, a series of shocking twists leaves more victims dead—and the noose around Mal’s neck grows so tight he might never escape.


Malcom Kershaw is the first person narrator of Eight Perfect Murders, and as we follow his thought processes and his internal monologue, we are part of his journey through the list he created. The one that seemingly inspires a killer.But as we go along for the ride, we learn a lot more just by the connections between the murders and the list: those connections that Mal draws for the FBI agent Gwen. We soon realize that Mal is not necessarily telling the whole truth, but we are too fascinated by it all to care about that.

By the end, Mal fills us in on some missing pieces to the stories…and we are left wondering if we have truly reached the end, or if there might be more to learn. A 5 star read for me.

***

 

REVIEW: PERFECT LITTLE CHILDREN, BY SOPHIE HANNAH

All Beth has to do is drive her son to his soccer game, watch him play, and then return home. Just because she knows her ex-best friend lives near the field, that doesn’t mean she has to drive past her house and try to catch a glimpse of her.

Why would Beth do that and risk dredging up painful memories? She hasn’t seen Flora for twelve years. She doesn’t want to see her today—or ever again. But she can’t resist. She parks outside the open gates of Newnham House, watches from across the road as Flora arrives and calls to her children Thomas and Emily to get out of the car.

Except . . . There’s something terribly wrong. Flora looks the same, only older. Twelve years ago, Thomas and Emily were five and three years old. Today, they look precisely as they did then. They are Thomas and Emily without a doubt, but they haven’t changed at all. They are no taller, no older. Why haven’t they grown? How is it possible that they haven’t grown up?

From the very first page of Perfect Little Children, I knew that I was in for a treat. A convoluted one, of course, the kind of story that the author does best. It didn’t take long for me to connect with our narrator, Beth, and to applaud her efforts to find answers. At every turn of the journey, she offered us glimpses of what might happen next and how she would keep pushing until the truth was exposed.

Her husband Dom was less intrigued by the confusing elements Beth found in the stories she was told by Flora, by characters who seemed to be stand-in parents for the younger versions of Thomas and Emily…and yes, there were many others who added pieces to the tale. So Beth would have to face the scrutiny of others who believed she was obsessive and had no business interrogating everyone she met. I admired how she would risk everything to make her discoveries. Lest I give away too many clues or spoilers, I will only say that the journey to the truth was worth every step we took. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN, BY DIANE CHAMBERLAIN

 

North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women’s Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold—until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.

North Carolina, 1940: Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and desperate for work, she accepts. But what she doesn’t expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder.

What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies?

 

My Thoughts: Alternating narratives reveal the dual timeline stories and keep the reader on the hook as more and more layers are peeled back.

We start with Anna Dale, in the 1940s, and her challenge to finish the mural to be displayed in the Edenton Post Office. Even though she has won the contest fair and square, she is bombarded with prejudice and challenges that soon seemingly overwhelm her…until one fateful night when violence strikes and changes her life forever. Racial prejudice walks hand in hand with the other difficulties she faces.

Flash forward to 2018, when Morgan Christopher is unexpectedly offered the opportunity to early parole from prison in order to take on the task of restoring Anna Dale’s piece, one that is buried beneath grime, not to mention some very strange images that seemingly tell a disturbing tale. Not only is she given an almost impossible task, the deadline must coincide with the gallery opening.

Will Morgan finish the task? What will she uncover beneath the layers of filth and secrets? What will she learn about Anna Dale and the original secrets and lies just waiting to be told?

I loved how Big Lies in a Small Town unfolded, and despite clues, I was blown away by all we learned about that small town and the people who would do anything to hide their secrets. 5 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: SOMEONE WE KNOW, BY SHARI LAPENA

 

“This is a very difficult letter to write. I hope you will not hate us too much. . . My son broke into your home recently while you were out.”

In a quiet, leafy suburb in upstate New York, a teenager has been sneaking into houses—and into the owners’ computers as well—learning their secrets, and maybe sharing some of them, too.
Who is he, and what might he have uncovered? After two anonymous letters are received, whispers start to circulate, and suspicion mounts. And when a woman down the street is found murdered, the tension reaches the breaking point. Who killed her? Who knows more than they’re telling? And how far will all these very nice people go to protect their own secrets?

In this neighborhood, it’s not just the husbands and wives who play games. Here, everyone in the family has something to hide . . .

You never really know what people are capable of.

My Thoughts: When a woman is murdered in a quiet neighborhood in upstate New York, a chain of events is unleashed, moving across the streets and sweeping up the neighbors surrounding the crime victim, turning their lives on end.

A teenage boy and his strange nighttime activities are revealed, another teen turns to alcohol to deal with an unknown stress, and each of the wives look with suspicion at their husbands as they are all called in for questioning and are under scrutiny for a time.

How would the detectives sort out the truth from the lies? When everyone seems to have a motive, how will they finally catch the killer? The obvious perpetrator seems to be the husband, who is behaving very strangely. But then all of the other men have things to hide, too. A stunning reveal kept me intrigued with Someone We Know until the very end. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE MISSING YEARS, BY LEXIE ELLIOTT

 

Ailsa Calder has inherited half of a house. The other half belongs to a man who disappeared without a trace twenty-seven years ago—her father.

Leaving London behind to settle the inheritance from her mother’s estate, Ailsa returns to her childhood home, nestled amongst the craggy peaks of the Scottish Highlands, joined by the half-sister who’s almost a stranger to her.

Ailsa can’t escape the claustrophobic feeling that the house itself is watching her—as if her past hungers to consume her. She also can’t ignore how the neighborhood animals refuse to set one foot within the gates of the garden.

When the first nighttime intruder shows up, Ailsa fears that the manor’s careless rugged beauty could cost her everything.

 

My Thoughts: The Missing Years is told from the perspective of Ailsa Calder, who has returned to the mysterious Scottish home that is part of her inheritance. Her half-sister Carrie is acting in a play in Edinburgh, and the two are reconnecting after many years. They are hoping that their mother’s death has given them the opportunity to be true sisters.

But before the two of them have the chance, a series of disturbing events terrorize them until they are ready to run.

I held onto each page with intensity as more and more disturbing happenings brought them to a tragic conclusion. What townsfolk, if any, are responsible for what is happening? I thought I had it all figured out but then I was stunned by how it all unfolded.

Could the house itself be haunted and responsible? Or are some of the neighbors playing tricks on them? I enjoyed this book and gave it 4.5 stars.***

REVIEW: THE BETTER SISTER, BY ALAFAIR BURKE

 

Though Chloe was the younger of the two Taylor sisters, she always seemed to be the one in charge. She was the honor roll student with big dreams and an even bigger work ethic. Nicky—always restless and more than a little reckless—was the opposite of her ambitious little sister. She floated from job to job and man to man and stayed close to home in Cleveland.

For a while, it seemed that both sisters had found happiness. Chloe earned a scholarship to an Ivy League school and moved to New York City, where she landed a coveted publishing job. Nicky married promising young attorney Adam Macintosh and gave birth to a baby boy they named Ethan. The Taylor sisters became virtual strangers.

Now, more than fifteen years later, their lives are drastically different—and Chloe is married to Adam. When he’s murdered by an intruder at the couple’s East Hampton beach house, Chloe reluctantly allows her teenage stepson’s biological mother—her estranged sister, Nicky—back into her life. But when the police begin to treat Ethan as a suspect in his father’s death, the two sisters are forced to unite . . . and to confront the truth behind family secrets they have tried to bury in the past.

 

My Thoughts: I was caught up in the family story of The Better Sister, wondering what secrets would be unveiled after Adam’s murder. Was Ethan guilty, or was some other family member or friend responsible for the murder?
I liked how the author portrayed the court room scenes, and also how we slowly began to see the deceptions that kept the sisters apart, not trusting each other. When the sisters began to come together in their efforts to protect Ethan, we finally learned the hidden truths. A page turner that earned 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: STONE MOTHERS, BY ERIN KELLY

 

You can’t keep the secret.
You can’t tell the truth.
You can’t escape the past…Marianne was seventeen when she fled her home in Nusstead—leaving behind her family, her boyfriend, Jesse, and the body they buried. Now, thirty years later, forced to return to in order to help care for her sick mother, she can feel the past closing around her. And Jesse, who never for-gave her for leaving in the first place, is finally threatening to expose the truth.

Marianne will do anything to protect the life she’s built, the husband and daughter who must never know what happened all those years ago. Even if it means turning to her worst enemy for help… But Marianne may not know the whole story—and she isn’t the only one with secrets they’d kill to keep.

My Thoughts: Stone Mothers begins with present day Marianne, who is struggling to overcome her fears of past events, along with the dark secrets she has hidden for many years.

Her husband Sam has just bought a second home in the worst place possible. A place that has kept her nightmares alive over the years.

How will the people and places of that time stay hidden? What will she do to outrun the darkness?

Our story flashes back to the beginning and reveals how it all unfolded. We learn what happened between Jesse, Marianne, and Helen…and then we are offered a peek into Helen’s history, which changes how we see her.

Issues of mental health treatment and how the antiquated systems derailed the lives of many kept me glued to the pages. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: I KNOW WHO YOU ARE, BY ALICE FEENEY

 

Meet Aimee Sinclair: the actress everyone thinks they know but can’t remember where from.
Except one person.

Someone knows Aimee very well.

They know who she is and they know what she did.

When Aimee comes home and discovers her husband is missing, she doesn’t seem to know what to do or how to act. The police think she’s hiding something and they’re right, she is—but perhaps not what they thought. Aimee has a secret she’s never shared, and yet, she suspects that someone knows. As she struggles to keep her career and sanity intact, her past comes back to haunt her in ways more dangerous than she could have ever imagined.

My Thoughts: From the beginning moments of I Know Who You Are, we follow Aimee Sinclair’s journey, wondering what secrets she is hiding…and what really happened to Ben.

Our narrative takes us back and forth in time, with Aimee as a kidnapped child whose caretaker is both cruel and kind, a crazy-making pattern of behavior that sets up a lifetime of anxieties.

I liked the pace that kept me turning pages and wondering what would happen next. For example, who is Maggie O’Neil really? What brought her into Aimee’s orbit, and why is she working so hard to ruin her? Does she have an accomplice? What do events in the past have to do with the terror in Aimee’s life now? A creepy, yet engaging read that earned 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: SUNSET BEACH, BY MARY KAY ANDREWS

 

Drue Campbell’s life is adrift. Out of a job and down on her luck, life doesn’t seem to be getting any better when her estranged father, Brice Campbell, a flamboyant personal injury attorney, shows up at her mother’s funeral after a twenty-year absence. Worse, he’s remarried—to Drue’s eighth grade frenemy, Wendy, now his office manager. And they’re offering her a job.

It seems like the job from hell, but the offer is sweetened by the news of her inheritance—her grandparents’ beach bungalow in the sleepy town of Sunset Beach, a charming but storm-damaged eyesore now surrounded by waterfront McMansions.

With no other prospects, Drue begrudgingly joins the firm, spending her days screening out the grifters whose phone calls flood the law office. Working with Wendy is no picnic either. But when a suspicious death at an exclusive beach resort nearby exposes possible corruption at her father’s firm, she goes from unwilling cubicle rat to unwitting investigator, and is drawn into a case that may—or may not—involve her father. With an office romance building, a decades-old missing persons case re-opened, and a cottage in rehab, one thing is for sure at Sunset Beach: there’s a storm on the horizon.

 

My Thoughts: Sunset Beach takes the reader right into the setting, amongst a cast of interesting characters. Drue was my favorite, and her father’s wife Wendy was someone I loved to hate. The two had been friends as children, and then were not. Now, as her father’s newest wife, she is also the office manager, in a position to order Drue around with big yellow “SEE ME” post-it notes showing up frequently.

Coworkers Jonah and Ben brought unexpected flavor, especially as the twists in the story took us behind the scenes in some legal cases, with Drue following the clues to solving a murder.

An alternating timeline from the 70s revealed secrets from the past, and how the present day characters were connected to a mysterious disappearance.

I also loved seeing Drue’s joy at fixing up her grandparents’ old cottage, which she had inherited. Lovely memories brought out the sense of family and sentimental moments.

I liked how the story swept back and forth in time, culminating in some unexpected answers to some piercing questions. I couldn’t wait to keep turning the pages of this great 5 star read full of family, friends, loss, and mysteries.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: FORGET YOU KNOW ME, BY JESSICA STRAWSER

 

Molly and Liza have always been enviably close. Even after Molly married Daniel, the couple considered Liza an honorary family member. But after Liza moved away, things grew more strained than anyone wanted to admit―in the friendship and the marriage.

When Daniel goes away on business, Molly and Liza plan to reconnect with a nice long video chat after the kids are in bed. But then Molly leaves the room to check on a crying child.

What Liza sees next will change everything.

Only one thing is certain: Molly needs her. Liza drives all night to be at Molly’s side―but when she arrives, the reception is icy, leaving Liza baffled and hurt. She knows there’s no denying what she saw.

Or is there?

In disbelief that their friendship could really be over, Liza is unaware she’s about to have a near miss of her own.

And Molly, refusing to deal with what’s happened, won’t turn to Daniel, either.

But none of them can go on pretending. Not after this.

My Thoughts: The twists and turns of Forget You Know Me kept me fully engaged throughout, although it would take a while to sort out events. To figure out what, if anything, was left of the relationships between friends and between husband and wife.

Alternating narratives take us through the story, and I couldn’t help but be more drawn to Liza and her situation. Her friend Molly, who had done something truly confusing on the strange night of the video chat, seemed flaky and a little unreliable. What was really going on with her, and would she confess to her old friend, or even her husband, about what was happening?

Many events felt a little too unbelievable, but I did keep reading, because I was curious and wanted to know the meaning of it all. There were explanations by the characters at the end, leaving me with some hope for them all. 4 stars.


***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.