Sara Paretsky — Fallout

Fallout is the third Paretsky novel I’ve read and the best of the three, even though published before the other two, Dead Land and Shell Game. The plotting is meticulous, and the characters are believable and likable, even V.I.’s dog, Peppy.

Private Detective V.I. Warshawski’s god-daughter, Bernie, and Bernie’s friend send her looking for August, who has disappeared along with an aging film star. August is a person of interest in the ransacking and drug theft from a gym where he works. But Warshawski finds his apartment has also been broken into and trashed.

The search sends V.I. to Lawrence, Kansas, where no one wants to answer an outsider’s questions. She continues digging, uncovering clues, secrets, lies, more missing people, plus injured and dead bodies, which all seem connected to events at a 1983 protest at a nuclear missile silo. At the center of all the mystery is Sonia Kiel, whose parents have labeled her crazy and ignore anything she says as hallucination and rambling. V.I. rescues her from an overdose, but she’s in a coma in the hospital, unable to answer questions.

A well-written story with step-by-step clues to the answers plus an engaging protagonist. I highly recommend this book to mystery lovers.

Ann Cleeves — The Darkest Evening

I’ve read a couple of Ann Cleeves’ books and enjoyed them, but this (#9 in the series) is my first DI Vera Stanhope novel. Cleeve always gives us a good feeling for the setting. This story centers around the estate of Vera’s family from which Vera’s father was disowned. The mystery plot is good and I was surprised when the killer was revealed.

This novel is a character-driven police procedural. I found the first murder victim, Lorna, to be the most interesting character in the story. The protagonist, DI Vera Stanhope, spent a bit too much time going over the same information in her head and getting nowhere. In my opinion, the author spends too much time covering many characters’ feelings of guilt, envy, or both. Joe, one of Vera’s team, seems to be the only one with his head on straight.

Overall a good read. It could have been shorter if it didn’t cover the same ground several times.

Elly Griffiths — Stranger Diaries

Much of the story takes place in a school building that was once the home of gothic author R. M. Holland. His ghost story is given to us piecemeal throughout the book. His wife died in the home and is said to haunt the building. An old mystery hangs over the school about how she died—accident, suicide, or homicide—and a mystery of his daughter if there was one. Two current murders of teachers from the school are the central plot.

Three main characters switch first-person points of view—Police Detective Harbinder, English teacher Clare, and Clare’s teenage daughter Georgia—all well-written with distinct and likable personalities. One small problem with the plot is that we know that two of Harbinder’s main suspects, Clare and Georgia, are not the villain because we follow them throughout the story. The author left no hints about the actual killer until close to the end (or did I miss them?).

I like reading mysteries and crime novels by British authors. There’s something about the style that’s different from American authors. Griffiths is new to me, and I’ll look for more books by her.

Alyssa Cole — When No One is Watching

*Spoiler Alert*
I rate this five stars for the first half or more and three stars for the last part. The first part feels almost like a romance novel with girl meets boy, conflict between girl and boy, etc. The last part is more like a thriller, with the two main characters chasing down the enemies who are trying to take over the neighborhood—lots of violence.

For me, the strongest part of the novel is the social theme of breaking up neighborhoods for profit. This story carries it to an extreme, with really evil people doing terrible things. I learned a lot of history about the ups and downs of Brooklyn.

The characters at the beginning of the story are so well written they pull me into their frustrations, especially Sidney. Divorced, she returns to Brooklyn, trying to hold onto her mother’s home in a neighborhood undergoing gentrification. Trendy upscale shops buy out familiar stores, new condo buildings crop up, a pharmaceutical company is moving into an old hospital, and Sydney’s friends are disappearing. She’s not only trying to save her mother’s home, she’s trying to save the neighborhood.

In contrast to black, angry, frustrated Sydney, her new neighbor Theo is clueless, white, out of work, and riding the coattails of his rich girlfriend, who has relegated him into the hot attic of their house while she redecorates. Theo is a puzzle to me. He admits to doing things, even in the present, that don’t seem to fit his likable, curious, helpful personality.

The end of the story left me hanging. It solved the neighborhood’s immediate problem but left the overall issue alive and well.

I enjoyed the read; it kept my interest from beginning to end.