Category Archives: head

Dave Eggers — The Parade

The Parade is a psychological, political, literary novella about two anonymous contractors hired to pave a road in an unknown civil-war-torn country. Two opposite personalities travel from the poor south to the city in the north. The author tells the story from “Four’s” point of view. His goal is to follow the rules, don’t interact with the locals, get the job done on time for the parade, and go home. We only see “Nine” through “Four’s” perspective, as a happy-go-lucky rule-breaker who pays little attention to the job and spends his time mixing with the locals, partying, drinking, sleeping with the women, and giving away company property. “Nine” is interested in what’s happening to the country, its people, and what the road will mean to them.

I would give the book four stars, except that I guessed the twist at the end from the very beginning. Maybe I have a twisted mind.

Lisa Unger — The Stranger Inside

A character-driven psychological thriller, this novel grabs your attention and keeps it to the end.

Three children meet a monster in the woods—a huge, mean man with a huge, mean dog. Rain fights off man and dog, runs, and hides in the roots of a tree. Physically injured and traumatized, she stays hidden for hours, unable to move, call out, or go for help. Her two friends, Hank and Tess are dragged away by the monster. Hank is brutalized but survives. Tess doesn’t make it.

The story follows Rain and Hank as adults. Rain is a journalist who has quit her job to be a stay-at-home wife and mother, and Hank is a psychologist who treats traumatized children. Both lead fairly normal lives but carry scars from their childhood abduction and loss of their friend. Rain has a loving husband and a beautiful daughter that she adores. Hank is a kind and gentle doctor helping his patients. But Rain carries heavy guilt about not going for help to save her friends, and Hank has a second personality, cruel and vindictive. Both Hank and Rain become involved in the investigation of an apparent vigilante serial killer whose first victim may have been their abductor. Enough of the plot. Any more would be a spoiler.

Unger’s character development makes this book outstanding. She covers the two main characters in depth, good and bad. Unlike many books I’ve read recently, their personalities, although warped, are believable and held my interest from beginning to end.

Candice Fox — Eden

This mystery/thriller/crime novel takes place in the underbelly of Sydney, Australia. The author creates unique descriptions of places and characters, even the minor ones. A dark story filled with dark people—addicts, prostitutes, gangsters, killers, corrupt cops, and more. The second book in a series, I didn’t feel I missed anything by not reading the first, Hades.

Three girls have gone missing, and police detective Eden goes undercover to a farm where all three have lived at different times. Her partner Frank gets involved in a side job for Eden’s father, Hades, to identify a stalker and to solve an old cold case of a missing woman.

Although grim, the story kept my attention to the end. I was surprised by the ending.

Good writing.

Candice Fox — Redemption Point

Fox writes a dark, twisted murder mystery filled with convoluted characters.

Ex-police officer turned PI, Ted Conkaffey, has moved north from Sydney to a small town in the Australian rainforest trying to hide from his past. Although innocent and never prosecuted due to lack of evidence, accusations of child rape plastered his name and face all over the news and the internet and completely disrupted his life—lost job, broken marriage, strangers who react to his familiar face. He lives with a family of geese that he brought into his yard to rescue from the crocodiles.

Ted’s partner, Amanda Pharrell, has no emotions, but strangely possesses the ability to read other people. When she was a teenager, she accidentally killed a girl and spent time in prison, which she refers to as the best time of her life. She’s an upbeat, smiling personality who rides her bike everywhere, refusing to drive a car.

Pip Sweeney, on her first assignment as Detective Inspector, hooks up with Ted and Amanda to investigate the murder of two young people at a rundown bar. She’s fascinated by Amanda. Pip carries guilt from when, as a child, she sat and watched her father die of a heart attack and did nothing to save him. She’s young and naïve and relies heavily on Amanda’s quirky insights.

The author adds excerpts from the diary of the perpetrator of the crime of which Conkaffey was accused. Another weird character, sick and twisted.

There are other off-beat minor characters—the father of the raped girl, who comes after Ted, then turns to looking for the real offender; the owner of the bar where the two bartenders were killed; a crime kingpin in Sydney; some of the neighbors around the bar; the girlfriend of the young man murdered in the bar. Almost every character is quirky, strange, or dark.

This second book in a series about Ted and Amanda covered the previous story thoroughly enough that I don’t feel I need to go back and read it. The plot kept my interest, there was even some humor here and there, and the setting in the rainforest felt real. But I didn’t connect at all with the scenes in Sydney; I couldn’t picture the city. The weird characters kept me reading. Definitely a character-driven book.

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.

Robert Dugoni — A Steep Price

A good police story. Seattle’s violent crimes unit has a lot going on. A missing East Indian woman may only be avoiding friends and family to dodge arranged marriage, but Tracy thinks it doesn’t feel right. Faz and Del investigate a shooting of a black woman activist in broad daylight, which they believe was ordered by the local drug kingpin. A suspect of the woman’s shooting is shot and killed by Gonzalez, a new detective in the department from LA. The suspect was unarmed.

All of the detectives have pressures on the personal side. Tracy is pregnant but hasn’t told her department. Faz’s wife Vera is diagnosed with breast cancer. Del throws his back out and isn’t always available. New detective Gonzalez acts suspiciously, snooping in other detective’s computers and lying about what happened with Faz when she shot the suspect.

The characters are interesting, and the plot kept me reading.

Ann Cleeves — Wild Fire

This novel is my introduction to a well-known mystery writer. Jumping into the last book of Ann Cleeves’ Shetland Island series with DI Jimmy Perez, I found the story easy to read as a stand-alone and will likely go back and read more of her work.

The author’s depiction of the setting makes me want to visit the small village on a remote island in the far north UK. The characters are equally well defined. A family has moved to the island from London, in part to provide a better life for their two children. Christopher, their autistic son who has a liking for fire, is one of the main characters in the story. He finds the body of a neighbor’s nanny hanging from the rafters of their shed, where the previous owner of their home committed suicide.

The mystery stays unsolved until the end. The suspects are many, beginning with the family and including a bitter town gossip who becomes the next murder victim.

I would recommend this well-written book to anyone who loves a good mystery.

Nell Freudenberger — Lost and Wanted

Helen Clapp (first-person POV) is a physics professor at MIT and a single mother with a seven-year-old son, Jack, by an anonymous donor. Her best friend, Charlotte (Charlie), has died, but Helen is receiving text messages from her phone. I believe this is the plotline, but the author touches on it only occasionally throughout the story.

Billed as a ghost story, it’s more about Helen’s disbelieve in the afterlife or ghosts. I would classify the novel as women’s fiction or literary. It’s mostly about friendship and relationships.

Charlie’s husband and daughter (Terrence and Simmi) come to Boston from California to be closer to Charlie’s parents after her death, and they move into an apartment in Helen’s house. Their children, Jack and Simmi, become friends. Neel, an old flame and research partner of Helen’s returns to MIT. Much of the book is Helen remembering times spent with Charlie or Neel.

Freudenberger covers a lot of science, which I found interesting but much too detailed, even though I enjoy physics. As a successful woman in the male-dominated world of science, Helen spends too much time worrying about what others think of her.

I enjoyed the book, although it didn’t have much of a plot. The characters were interesting, if not always likable.

Ben H. Winters — Golden State

In this dark, dystopian novel set in Golden State, a future California, lying is the worst of all crimes. Laszlo Ratesic, an officer in the Speculative Service, is trying to solve anomalies in a case where a roofer fell from the top of a house and died. He can sense lies. His partner, a recruit to the service, is even better at this skill than Laszlo. In following the details of the incident, they uncover a plot to undermine “the truth.”

The story is set in a world of complete surveillance where everyone is required to record all of their actions and add them to the official “Record” each day. The only books allowed are books of fact. Any history before the founding of the Golden State and anything outside its boundaries are “unknown and unknowable.”

Although brainwashed, the main character was interesting. The plot was good, and there were surprises at the end.

Not a bad read.