Category Archives: mystery

Alex Kava — Hidden Creed

Kava gives us the three H’s—head, heart, and even a little humor. This is only my second read of an Alex Kava story and the first with dog handler Ryder Creed. She also includes FBI Agent Maggie O’Dell from another series. Kava gives us a picture of Florida’s Blackwater River State Forest for setting, a well-paced plot, and likable (and despicable) characters. My favorite characters are the dogs.

Ryder, his sister Brodie, and dog Alice uncover a body dump in the forest behind Ryder’s dog kennel. Some of the bodies aren’t even buried.

Even though the sixth book in the Creed series, I had no problem reading it as a stand-alone. I recommend for all murder mystery lovers.

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.

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.

Lawrence Wright — The End of October

A well-researched pandemic novel. Reading the book, I learned a lot—interesting facts and history about viruses and epidemics—more than I wanted in a thriller. It felt almost like nonfiction. There were side trips that didn’t add to the story, such as the chapter about Henry’s family camping trip. Maybe the author was trying to give us a break from the science and political unrest.

This was a timely release, during the COVID-19 epidemic. Written before this disease cropped up, it’s surprising how much prediction was correct, but thankfully, our current crisis isn’t nearly as bad as the one in this story, and the world hasn’t responded in quite such a negative way.

Kristen Lepionka — What You Want to See

I read books 1 and 2 of this series back to back. To me, the second is a bit better than the first. PI Roxane Weary is jumping to wrong conclusions less often and making fewer dumb decisions, probably because she’s drinking less and not running around in a drunken haze as she was in the first book. She still shuts herself off from friends and family but grows closer to them toward the end. I like the relationship she develops with Selby, taking her under her wing.

There are too many characters to follow. Marin, the woman who dies early in the story and leads Roxane down the path of solving her murder, is one of the worst of many bad guys. She’s into all sorts of thefts and scams.

The plot jumps around a lot, but overall I enjoyed the read.

Kristen Lepionka — Last Place You Look

Why is it that every book I read lately has an alcoholic protagonist? The characters in this book are defined well, but I was aggravated by PI Roxane Weary and her drinking, which led her into trouble. She jumped to conclusions, made stupid decisions, and treated everyone around her with anger and disdain—even friends and family. The story was good, but could have been written without an unlikable main character.

J.S. James — River Run

Oregon’s Willamette River is such a strong presence in this novel that it almost becomes the main character. Sheriff’s Deputy Delia Chavez is obsessed with fear of the river, which took her baby brother away from her when she was five years old. But murders are happening on the river, and she has to deal with it to solve them.

As a character, Delia is messed up and angry, but I liked her. The author does a good job of giving insights into both good and bad actors in the story. A good plot kept my attention through to the end.

Hank Green — An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

I read #2 in this series, A Beautiful Foolish Endeavor, before #1. That’s not usually a good idea, but in this case, it may have helped. On one side, I knew and appreciated the characters better. On the other side, I already knew how the story would end.

I probably didn’t judge April May as harshly as I might have if I read this book first. She’s quirky, self-centered, and addicted to fame. She’s young and foolish, makes stupid mistakes, and mistreats her friends. But overall, I found her amusing, believable, and somewhat likable. April May believes in humans, and she believes the alien Carl is good, not threatening. Her goal is to convince the world of both. But she gets sidetracked trying to please her huge social media following and stay in the spotlight.

I liked the book, but #2 was better. If I’d read #1 first, I would have been irritated by the ending, which leaves you hanging. The two books are obviously one story. The fact is, I enjoyed this book even knowing the plot in advance.

Candice Fox – Gone by Midnight

In addition to her great characterization, Fox gives us a crocodile-filled picture of the setting in Queensland, Australia, a complex and twisty plot (a locked room mystery), emotions (head, heart, and humor), plus coverage of some themes such as wrongful crime accusations, bad police behavior, parenting, truthfulness (or not), and more.

When I read several books in a series, sometimes the main characters begin to lose their attraction for me. Not so with Candice Fox’s Crystal Lake series. PI partners Ted Conkaffey and Amanda Pharrell, both with dark pasts and quirky personalities (especially Amanda), continue to fascinate. Fox’s coverage of all her characters—villains, suspects, police, extras, etc.—is thorough and entertaining.

Gone by Midnight is my favorite in the series. Looking for #4.