Category Archives: 1st novel

Elizabeth Haynes — Into the Darkest Corner

(spoilers included)

I almost abandoned this novel after the first few chapters because it bounced around too much in time and POV. First there was part of a trial (2005), then a murder scene (2001), a scene with Cathie, the protagonist, at work (2007), Catherine, an earlier version of Cathie, out drinking with friends (2003), and finally it gets into the rhythm of skipping back and forth between 2007 and 2003. At this point, I started to get hooked.

The personalities of Cathie and Catherine are entirely different. Catherine (2003) loves to party, drinks too much, sleeps around. Cathie (2007) suffers from severe OCD and PTSD. Catherine hooks up with sexy, mysterious Lee, who becomes more and more controlling and abusive. Cathie starts a cautious friendship with her neighbor Stuart, a psychologist who is unbelievably understanding of her weird behavior.

There is no mystery. The trial at the beginning tells us that Lee is the bad guy in the story. It’s obvious that Catherine and Cathie are the same person. It’s also fairly obvious that Lee probably murdered the woman at the beginning of the story (2001). At first, I thought the trial (2005) was for the murder.

But this is a well-written psychological suspense/thriller. It kept me reading throughout to find out what happens next. Haynes follows Catherine/Cathie’s personality changes in detail—Catherine’s downhill slide as her relationship with Lee becomes more controlling and abusive, and Cathie’s climb back to normality as she struggles to overcome her anxiety and OCD.

I would recommend the book to anyone who likes dark stories.

Chris Hammer — Scrublands

Excellent writing.

The author takes us into Riversend, a small dying settlement in Australia’s interior, in the middle of a summer drought. The river running through the town has dried into cracked earth. You can feel the heat and see it rising off the baked land.

A priest shot five men in front of the church and was killed by the local policeman. Martin Scarsden’s editor at the newspaper sends him to visit Riversend a year after the shooting to write a piece about how the locals are coping with the tragedy. At first, Martin is a typical newsman interviewing residents—outside looking in. The town is full of secrets and rumors, which cause Martin to write articles for his paper with incorrect facts, gaining enemies. As he gets to know them, people ask why a priest that many admired and loved did such a terrible act. Martin’s curiosity and desire to find the truth have him looking for the answer. This is the central question in the story.

Hammer’s characters are varied and complicated, not always who or what they appear to be at first meeting. He even gives us insight into the dead priest.

The plot is complicated, with many twists and turns. It kept my interest from beginning to end.

Haylen Beck — Here and Gone

Here and Gone kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the whole book. What would you do if a sheriff in the middle of nowhere pulled you over with a trumped-up charge and took your children away? Then he claims there were no children in your car. No one believes you—state police, FBI, media all think you have killed your children.

Unlike many of today’s thrillers that are filled with violence and farfetched scenarios, this is an intense, believable psychological thriller.

Gytha Lodge — She Lies in Wait

Seven teenagers go camping and only six return. A massive search doesn’t turn up Aurora, at fourteen, the youngest of the group. Thirty years later, her body is found in a hollow beneath a tree along with remnants of a stash of drugs.

The timeline alternates between current and the night of the murder. Point-of-view shifts between cops and campers, both present and thirty years prior. The author does a good job of switching time and POV, and I didn’t find it confusing.

Lodge paints good pictures of each of her many characters—four police and the six campers (seven with Aurora)—each character unique. She even adds a couple of extras into the mix. It may be a little overload on character development.

She keeps us guessing about the murderer, but I did have an idea of who it was early in the story. The plot could be a little slow for some readers, but I found the details of police procedural interesting.

A good first novel. I look forward to the next book in the series with DCI Jonah Sheens.

Dana Ridenour — Behind the Mask

The story follows a growing friendship between two women—Lexie, an FBI agent on her first undercover assignment, and Savannah, a young, naïve animal-rights activist. As the tagline on the back cover says, “You build relationships to betray relationships.” But is Lexie ready to betray her newfound friend to her bosses at the FBI?

Amazon lists this novel as a (Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Cozy > Animals), but there is no mystery to solve and it doesn’t even come close to what I consider a cozy. Thriller & suspense—maybe. More of a crime novel. It’s also listed a women’s fiction, which is probably closer. Not that it matters; it was a good read.

C.J. Tudor — The Chalk Man

This thriller/murder mystery jumps between 2016 and 1986. In 2016, Ed Adams is a small town school teacher haunted by events from 30 years past. In 1986, Eddie and his group of 12-year-old friends’ lives were interrupted by a terrible accident at the fair, two unsolved murders, a suicide, and a beating that left a man in an almost vegetative state.

Eddie’s father always told him “Never assume, Eddie. Question everything. Always look beyond the obvious.” But the whole town has made assumptions about what happened in 1986. When bad things start happening again in 2016, people once more make assumptions.

The Chalk Man, Tudor’s first novel, has an intriguing plot, great characters (young, middle-aged, and old), a setting that makes you feel you are there, and twists and turns that keep you hooked.

Excellent writing!

Catherine Steadman — Something in the Water

This is a different book, but I like different. It starts at the end with protagonist Erin digging a grave to bury her husband. Then the story goes back to tell us how she got there. But the ending isn’t quite what it seems in that first chapter.

I enjoyed the progression of the events in Erin’s mind in this psychological thriller. She is a bright young upper middle class women getting married to the man she loves, creating a documentary, living what seems to be the almost perfect life. But she is also self-centered, naïve, greedy, and blind to the flaws of people she likes or loves. Although she worries too much at times and plans her steps to accomplish her goal, she doesn’t always look at the possibilities of what might happen as she proceeds.

To me the premise of this book is: “What would you do if you found an illegal treasure that appears to be untraceable?”

Erin irritated me at times, but I found her story intriguing. A good read, good first novel.

Anne Corlett — The Space Between the Stars

Humans have expanded throughout the galaxy before a virus wipes out nearly all the population on every planet. Jamie Allenby wakes up alone on a remote planet she escaped to when her marriage was failing and she wanted “some space.” Zero point zero zero zero one percent survival rate, she had heard before her planet fell to the virus. After three days alone she finds two other people. They are rescued by two others in a small spacecraft looking for fuel. Their little band of survivors gathers two more as they bounce from planet to planet toward Earth.

This is not hard science fiction. I would call it “literary” or maybe “psychological” — a study in human behavior. Jamie isn’t sure what she’s searching for, maybe home. The small group includes an ex-priest, a prostitute, an ex-scientist who believes God has caused the apocalypse in order to start over, a young man with autism, the spaceship captain, and his engineer.

Corlette, with her first novel, has written an intriguing story that covers many issues that are relevant today, in the past, or our future.

This one kept me awake until 3AM to finish it. I look forward to more from Anne Corlette.

Amy Gentry — Good as Gone

Thirteen-year-old Julie is abducted from her home in the middle of the night as her ten-year-old sister Jane looks on in fear from the closet. Eight years later, Julie shows up at her family’s door. That’s the beginning and the end of two stories. The current story moves forward through mother Anna’s eyes as she begins to doubt that the girl who appeared on her doorstep is her daughter. And the story of Julie moves backward through the eight years as Julie takes on one persona then another to the time when she left her home.

This thriller is about the two women and how they deal with tragedy. A mother who drinks and hides from life, ignoring the daughter and husband who are still with her, cannot except that the returning daughter is lying and might not be who she says. The daughter who does whatever it takes to survive—changing names and life stories as she moves from one situation to another— is always running, always lying to herself as well as others.

As a writer, I found the point of view (POV) in this novel interesting, The Prologue is the only place the author uses sister Jane’s POV—third person past. In Chapter 1 we jump to the mother Anna’s POV—first person present. When the story shifts to Julie and her various role’s POV it’s third person past, until the last part of the book where it’s Julie’s POV—first person past. It sounds confusing but it works.

The book grabbed my attention and held it to the end.

John Keyse-Walker — Sun, Sand, Murder

John Keyse-Walker was a speaker at the Gulf Coast Writers Association (of which I’m a member) in January. He talked about his route to publishing through winning the 2015 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America contest. Good speaker and contest winner—so I decided to read the book.

Aside from the Prologue, which was probably the suggestion of publisher or editor and almost kept me from continuing, the book was well written. The plot kept me guessing and the characters were delightful.

What captured my imagination was the setting and the people. I lived on a small cay in the Bahamas for a few years and have since visited several Caribbean islands. All have distinct personalities. But if you have ever spent time in the West Indies, you know there is a laid-back attitude—“island time.” It lingers in the air and the sunshine; it seeps into your bones and behavior. The author captured the atmosphere perfectly…I felt right at home in his story.

Teddy Creque is a special constable, a civilian position under the authority of the British Virgin Islands police, on the small, sparsely populated island of Amegada, where no crime has been committed in his twenty-plus years on the job. A research biologist who visited the island every winter is found murdered on the beach, and the BVI police commissioner assigns Teddy the job of notifying the family. But the murdered man was not who he appeared to be and Teddy becomes entangled in finding out who the biologist was and why he was killed.

I enjoyed every minute of this book, the story, the people, and most of all I loved the trip back into “island time.”