Category: Mystery & Thrillers

Ancient Nine
September 19th, 2018 by diane92345

A thrilling chase for a secret buried for decades enlivens the Ancient Nine.

The Ancient Nine is a rumored fraternity inside a fraternity inside Harvard. Legend states they protect a secret called Harvard’s Holy Grail. Investigating the Grail has already cost one student his life.

Spenser Collins receives a mysterious invitation to join the esteemed Delphic Club at Harvard. Spenser, a poor basketball scholarship recipient from the South side of Chicago, is stunned. He immediately calls his best friend, Dalton, a fifth generation Harvard scholar with an uncaring father but oodles of money, for help. Dalton has an Uncle who was a member decades ago before lung disease and forgetfulness struck. The two friends investigate the club and the Grail as Spenser moves closer and closer to becoming a Delphic member himself.

The Harvard history is fantastic. Each building is described in detail and sounds beautiful. There is also much detail about the history of fraternities on the Harvard campus. Combining a tale set in 1927 with one in 1989 is brilliant. Seeing research done with books and in person was refreshing.

The Grail mystery is good though the book’s pacing seemed a bit slower than most thrillers. It is hard not to compare the Ancient Nine with other “reveal the secret” books/movies like the DaVinci Code and National Treasure. This book is not quite as good as those. I’m sure a good script writer could tighten up the plot and make this a 5-star movie. The Ancient Nine as written is a solid 4 stars!

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for an advance copy.

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7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
September 17th, 2018 by diane92345

Innovative plotting and world building fill the 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.

What would make the replay of a day over and over immeasurably worse? How about also waking up as different people each time you fell asleep?

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a clever blend of fantasy and Agatha Christie. Not only does our first person narrator have to figure out how and why he keeps jumping from one person to another repeating the same day. He also must solve a murder that appears to be a suicide, while also racing against several other jumpers to win his freedom from the endless repetition. There are also mysterious players outside the action who may be friend or foe.

The mystery of Evelyn Hardcastle is relatively easy for armchair detectives to solve. However, the mystery of how and why the actions replay is more of a puzzler. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is recommended for amateur detective fans jaded by reading too many similar books. It is stunningly original though the middle dragged for me a bit. Still 4 1/2 stars!

Thanks to the publisher, Sourcebooks Landmark, and NetGalley for an advance copy.

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Lies
September 16th, 2018 by diane92345

Everyone Lies in this fast-paced rollercoaster ride of a thriller.

Joe and Mel have an ideal life. Happily married for almost ten years with a perfect young son, William. When Joe and William see Mel turn into a hotel garage, they follow. Joe sees her sitting in the hotel restaurant with her best friend’s upset husband, Ben.

Fearing the worst, Joe waits with William in their car for Mel to emerge. However, she drives away so quickly that Joe misses her. Instead he attempts to talk to Ben. Ben, still angry, pushes the larger Joe against the car. When Joe pushes Ben back, he stumbles and falls unconscious to the ground. Because William has come to see what is taking his Dad so long, he sees the blood seeping from Ben’s ear, which triggers an asthma attack. When Ben rushes back to the car, he can’t find an inhaler and so rushes home to get one.

Mel gives Joe an explanation of a freelance work project for Ben. Joe believes her. Joe decides to return to the hotel to ensure Ben is safe. Both Ben and his car are gone. However, Joe realizes so are his distinct leather bracelet and cell phone. When Joe’s Facebook is hacked, he suspects alpha male Ben. He changes his password, turns off the cell phone and assumes the problem is fixed.

The next day, Ben’s wife, Beth, comes to warn Mel and Joe that Ben came home late the previous night drunk, furious at Joe and vowing revenge. And he took one of the couple’s guns. So starts this mile-a-minute thrill ride.

I tore through Lies as fast as possible because I adored all the quick twists and turns. It’s a great read that is highly recommended to Gone Girl fans. 4 stars.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for an advanced copy.

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Malice Aforethought
September 15th, 2018 by diane92345

Malice Aforethought is a great British golden-age mystery with a killer twist.

Mrs. Julia Bickleigh was born into wealth and minor aristocracy. When her father blew the family fortunes before his death, Julia was forced to marry a common doctor. She never let her husband, Dr. Edmund Bickleigh, forget he was a worm well below her status.

“Dr. Bickleigh’s reactions to his wormhood were perfectly normal. He accepted it as one accepts a scar on the face. It was a pity, but there it was and it could not be helped.”

One day, the worm turned and the doctor began plotting his wife’s murder. He already had her replacement in mind, the extremely rich Miss Madeleine Cranmere. But first he must rid himself of his mistress.

Malice Aforethought was originally published in England in 1931. It had innovative plotting for its day with the whodunnit resolved on the first page leaving only the how to the rest of the book. After watching years of Columbo, the plot device seems rather creaky. However, the powerhouse ending makes up for it. If you like British golden-age mysteries, this is an excellent choice. It is also recommended to fans of Alfred Hitchcock films. 4 stars!

Thanks to Dover Publications and NetGalley for an advance copy.

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Read and Gone
September 14th, 2018 by diane92345

Where are the haunts in Read and Gone, the second book in the Haunted Library series?

Carrie has her life on track. She has a boyfriend, a job as a library events coordinator and a cute cottage where the rent is cheap. So she isn’t happy when her thieving ex-con father, John, reappears one night after breaking into her house.

Within 24 hours, John is a person of interest in both a murder and a million dollar jewel heist. When he gets left for dead in a parking lot, he is hospitalized with a concussion for a week. John asks Carrie to find both the murderer and the gems stolen by the victim.

Since this is the second in the Haunted Library series, I expected more interaction with the resident ghost. She has basically a walk-on part. Her frequent clothing and hair styles changes are discussed. She dispenses some obvious advice and vanishes. Not having read the first in this series made it difficult to understand the motivations of the multitude of characters. I would highly recommend reading this series in order.

The lack of a paranormal plotline and an overly familiar mystery plot made Read and Gone a miss for me. 2 stars.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for an advance copy.

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Guess Who
September 13th, 2018 by diane92345

Guess Who is a mash-up of Saw and The Game, where nothing is what it appears.

Sheppard, a famous true crime television detective, wakes up handcuffed to the bed in a hotel room. He remembers nothing of how he arrived there. With him are five strangers: Mandy, Alan, Ryan, Constance and a nameless teenage girl wearing headphones. Worse, there is a dead body in the bathroom.

A mysterious horse-masked man appears on the television. He gives Sheppard three hours to determine which of the room’s occupants is the murderer. If he fails, the hotel will be destroyed.

As Sheppard investigates he realizes the game master knows more about him than is publicly known. Due to his drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms, Sheppard struggles to solve the crime.

Guess Who reads like a movie script. It alternates between the present and the immediate past. The plot including the many twists and the ultimate reveal is good. However, the point of view changes abruptly toward the end from third person limited (Sheppard) to third person omniscient. Sometimes it was difficult to determine whose underlying motives were being revealed necessitating rereading. This threw me out of the story right before the climax. Also, some of the characters motivations were too over-the-top and unbelievable. For these reasons, 3 stars.

Thanks to the publisher, Hanover Square Press, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.

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#FashionVictim
September 12th, 2018 by diane92345

Hilarious serial killer thriller where no one wants to be the next #FashionVictim.

Everyone fantasizes about how to kill their office rivals (or maybe that’s just me). Few carry those fantasies out in real life. Anya is prepared to kill an intern for a pitying look. When the intern is found dead by shoe, Detective Hopper, who looks like a Calvin Klein model, investigates. In the meantime, La Vie (sounding suspiciously like Vogue) staffers are instagramming selfies with the corpse with #DeathbyAccessories, #KillerShoes and of course, #FashionVictim hashtags.

OMG, #FashionVictim is hilarious! It is perfect for Devil Wears Prada fans jaded by social media. It is also similar to American Psycho as you are dropped into a psychopath’s thoughts by the use of first person narration. 5 stars!

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for an advance copy.

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Echo Room
September 12th, 2018 by diane92345

Rett and Bryn continually awaken in the apocalyptic future in the Echo Room.

Step 1: Rett wakes up in a locked metal room with no memory of how he got there. He has blood on his clothes and hands. Soon he sees Bryn, who is also locked in the room with no memory of how she got there. As they talk, they discover they are both from the government-run shelter for abandoned youth, Walling House. Rett tries to discover a way out of the room.  He finds a broken lock on one door.  He finds hidden doors to two other rooms.  However, there is no food or water immediately available—just a bin filled with empty water bottles and another with strangely glowing green tubes. The only clue is the phrase “SCATTER 3” on one of the walls.

Step 2: Explore. Get scared. Repeat Step 1. Rett and Bryn learn a bit more with each repetition.

The mystery is intriguing. The setting in a wrecked near future world is eerily unsettling. Even though it’s marketed as young adult science fiction, the Echo Room works well as an adult thriller too. While the pacing slowed a bit in the middle, the plot kept the reader engaged. The book will make a great movie someday. It is perfect for fans of puzzles and intriguing situations like in the Maze Runner.

A sequel is hinted at toward the end. I’m looking forward to that book. This one deserves 4 stars.

Thanks to the publisher, Tor Teen, and NetGalley for an advance copy.

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Forbidden Door
September 10th, 2018 by diane92345

The Jane Hawk series finally hits its stride with its fourth entry, The Forbidden Door.

The Techno Arcadians are upping their game by accusing Jane on a 60 Minutes-style show of murdering her beloved husband Matt and faking his suicide. The Arcadians set in motion a plan to kidnap or kill everyone dear to Jane. Ancel and Clare Hawk, Jane’s in-laws, must flee their farm. Jane and Matt’s five-year-old son, Travis, must flee across the desert. Even Jane is tracked by one of the Techno Arcadians as the net around Jane and all her loved ones is slowly tightened.

The villain this time is Egon Gottfrey. Egon believes in radical philosophical nihilism. Nothing is real. Only his mind exists guided by an Unknown Playwright. Why is he scarier than most villains? Because he has no fear of death. “Gottfrey has no objection to a shootout. His physical existence is an illusion; he can’t be killed.” Egon is also a vicious killer, who kills total strangers for fun. All without a nanobot implant. He is a world-class antagonist and the perfect foil to Jane’s over-the-top bada$$ery.

It is hard not to see the extremes of good and evil plus Jane’s incredible skills as a superhero tale. Finally, a Joker has been set against Jane’s Batman. This entry in the series is definitely the best so far. I would even recommend just reading this one rather than beginning with the first in the series. It is perfect for thriller fans. However, it would also work for superhero comic fans too. The Forbidden Door would make a great movie. Hopefully, it has already been optioned by someone. 5 stars!

Thanks to Bantam Books and NetGalley for an advance copy.

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Die Me a River
September 8th, 2018 by diane92345

In Die Me a River, the small rural town of Scumble River is still recovering from the tornado in the last book in this cozy mystery series.

The town is abuzz with complaints about the shady practices of Homestead Insurance. Claims are being reduced, denied and seldom paid timely. When their insurance inspector turns up dead in a bombing, Police Chief Wally must investigate a plethora of suspects. Wally would much rather be at home with his school psychologist wife, Skye, and their still unnamed newborn twins. Skye is on maternity leave. She is seemingly being stalked by a new town resident, Millicent Rose, who just wants to go the twins’ baptism. According to their priest, Millicent has gone to both of the other baptisms since she arrived in town and gave each baby some type of verbal gift.

Die Me a River is the second in the rebooted Scumble River series. However, there were nineteen books in the original series too. Despite never reading any of those books, I had no trouble catching up with the character’s backstories. This works well as a stand-alone.

Most readers, and I include myself, read cozies more for the ambience and characters than for the puzzle. This book does a great job pulling the reader into small town Illinois life. While there are a lot of characters here, each has such a diverse personality it is is easy to keep them separated.

The two mysteries are well-presented. I actually liked the fairy godmother sub-plot better than the insurance main plot but that was just personal preference. I enjoyed the minor mystery around the naming of the babies too.

Die Me a River is a great, relaxing cozy mystery. It is recommended for anyone wanting to immerse themselves in someone else’s life for a day. 4 stars!

Thanks to the publisher, Sourcebooks Landmark, and NetGalley for an advance copy.

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Boy at the Keyhole
September 7th, 2018 by diane92345

Boy at the Keyhole is a suspenseful psychological thriller by a debut author.

In 1961, nine-year-old Samuel is at home in England with his housekeeper, Ruth. His father is dead and his mother is searching for business investors in America. Samuel is concerned because his mother has been gone four months. Her only contact are bi-monthly postcards from America. Ruth tries to cut expenses as much as possible but the home’s artwork is being sold to pay the bills. Where is Samuel’s mother and why isn’t she sending money home? Why does Samuel suspect foul play and especially that Ruth is the killer?

Boy at the Keyhole slowly builds suspense and dread about what happened to Samuel’s mother. The atmosphere is really the star here. A paranoid nine-year-old is an unexpected choice as an unreliable narrator. Are the clues he sees as facts really just his childish imagination? The penultimate twist is a true surprise. However, I hated the inconclusive finale. 3 stars but I am looking forward to the next book by this debut author.

Thanks to Hanover Square Press and NetGalley for an advance copy.

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Depth of Winter
September 4th, 2018 by diane92345

This time it’s personal in Depth of Winter, the 14th entry in the Longmire series.

Sheriff Longmire is a long way from his Wyoming home in Mexico. He is looking for his daughter Cady who was kidnapped by the head of a Mexican drug cartel, Tomas Bidarte. His only help is the infamous US Border Patrolman Buck Guzman, a blind Seer, driver Alonzo and tattoo artist Bianca. Posing as a famous football player and being chauffered around in a bright pink Caddy doesn’t seem the best way to sneak up on Bidarte but Longmire somehow makes it work.

The change of setting to the heat of the Mexican desert contrasts nicely with usual coldness of Wyoming. There is an introduction to Mexican culture and Mexico’s current crime issues. A (wo)manhunt for an ethical cause always makes a compelling read. However, some of the plot seems rather unlikely considering the ruthlessness of Mexican drug cartels.

Depth of Winter is recommended for long time Longmire fans. I think it would be difficult for new readers of the series to begin here because of the emphasis on prior book’s plots especially the immediately preceding entry, The Western Star. Unfortunately, though it resolves the cliffhanger from the previous book, it is not one of the better books in the series. 3 stars.

Thanks to Viking Books and Edelweiss+ for an advance copy.

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Murder of my Aunt
September 3rd, 2018 by diane92345

In an unpronouncable town living with a devilishly clever aunt, Edward Powell is convinced his life would improve immeasurably after the “Murder of my Aunt”.

Edward decides to play a battle of wits to the death with his Aunt Mildred. However, Edward is playing with only half a deck, if you know what I mean.

Edward hates Wales, hates the countryside but hates his aunt most of all. His dream is to write light poetry, which he expects no one will read, while living in Paris or Rome. To reach his goal, Edward only has to murder Aunt Mildred and not get caught. Easy, right? He daydreams constantly about how to do it: leave an obstacle in the road for his aunt to crash into, set her car on fire while she is already dead within it, or use an electrical device to set her car’s fuel tank aflame. He settles on tampering with the car’s steering and brakes in the hope that Aunt Mildred will careen off the mountainous road near their home. To ensure the accident occurs on the steepest part of the road, Edward plots how to have his beloved dog, So-so, cross the road in front of his aunt at the highest point. Of course, his plan goes hilariously awry.

Watching hapless Edward try and kill his much smarter aunt is laugh-out-loud funny. Any fans of Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder gang will certainly see parallels between Murder of My Aunt and the Hot Rock. Literally everything that could go wrong does.

Watching pretentious Edward make mistake after mistake is fun. Murder of My Aunt was originally published in 1934. It is a great choice for British golden age mystery fans who want a lighter look at murder. It would also be a good choice for Stephanie Plum devotees because it has the same madcap seat-of-your-pants feeling. 4 stars!

Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for an advanced copy.

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Kindred Spirits
September 1st, 2018 by diane92345

Kindred Spirits is a mystery.

Gabriel Ash is opening a bookstore.  His partner, Hazel Best, is helping him put the final books on the shelves before the mayor arrives to begin the Grand Opening.  Hazel goes to pick up Gabriel’s two children from their elementary school. While there, she foils a plot to kidnap the two sons and their nanny, Frankie. Gabriel immediately suspects his estranged wife, Cathy.  Cathy had kidnapped the boys before, keeping them from their father for four years. During police questioning, the boys insist that Frankie was really the intended target.

Much of this book doesn’t follow a logical thought process, which drives me crazy.  Going way back to the kidnapping, why, if their nanny was already at the school, did Hazel go to pick up the boys? Hazel seems like an ineffectual loose cannon. Why would you become a policewoman if you hate and refuse to follow rules.  This is marketed as a police procedural but it really wasn’t one since no procedures were followed. You know it is bad when you only relate to one character, Patience, who is a telepathic dog. I read the entire book since I agreed to review it.  Luckily, you do not have to do the same. 1 star.

Thanks to the publisher, Severn House, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.

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Tear Me Apart
August 31st, 2018 by diane92345

Tear Me Apart is a well-plotted character-driven family drama filled with secrets and lies. It also deals compassionately with mental health issues, DNA, depression, adoption, cancer, suicide and cutting.

Mindy, a 17-year-old downhill skier, is on the fast track to the Olympics when a sudden snow flurry makes her clip a flag and break her leg horrendously. While in surgery to fix her leg, it is discovered that she has the most virulent form of leukemia. DNA is taken from her mother, father and aunt. Mindy is not a blood relation to any of them. The story of Mindy’s birth is slowly revealed, along with exposing many family secrets and lies.

I liked this twisty family drama even though I guessed the ending early. Tear Me Apart is recommended to both thriller and psychological suspense fans. 4 stars!

Thanks to the publisher, Mira, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.

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Little Comfort
August 30th, 2018 by diane92345

It is amazing such an accomplished thriller with multiple plot lines was written by a debut author. Kudos to Edwin Hill for the marvelous PI/thriller/family drama, Little Comfort!

Hester lives in a separate apartment in the same building as her boyfriend Morgan. Morgan’s twin sister, Daphne, and her three-year-old Kate live in the third apartment. Daphne leaves Kate alone in Morgan’s apartment with a note stating she would return in an hour. Three months later, Daphne is still missing. Hester has taken on primary caregiving activities for Kate forcing her to take a leave of absence from her job as a librarian at Harvard. When she gets a new client in her private missing person service, she begins investigating her client’s missing brother, Sam.

Sam disappeared 12 years ago when only 15 with his best friend, foster child Gabe. The only clue are bi-monthly homemade postcards of locations around the US. All include cryptic movie quotes.

What begins as a simple missing person case quickly escalates into a deadly cat and mouse hunt. Little Comfort ratchets up the reader’s dread with parallel storylines from five points of view.

This book approaches a familiar plot from a different perspective. As the characters’ motivations are reluctantly drawn out even originally unsympathetic characters make the reader empathize with the choices they made. Little Comfort is highly recommended as an emotion-riddled original reworking of the thriller genre. 5 stars!

Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an advance copy.

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