Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Mystery

The Guest List
Foley, Lucy
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Those longing for an Agatha Christie-style yarn with red herrings that keep you guessing (incorrectly) will enjoy this mystery by Lucy Foley, author of The Hunting Party. This whodunit – by the end you may ask yourself who wouldn’t? – uses alternating points of views to reveal small, important details about each character. Those alternating chapters provide arguably understandable reasons to kill the eventual "victim," whose identity remains as murky until the end as the weather enveloping the isolated island off the Irish coast. Is the victim or murderer the Bridezilla? The reality TV star groom? The depressed bridesmaid? The jilted former lovers? Just how many of them are there? Or was it the jealous best friend? This modern tale evoking And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express, may make you wonder if Christie, if she were alive, would have considered revenge porn as a motive for murder.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Mexican Gothic
Moreno-Garcia, Silvia
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Noemí Taboada is a beautiful socialite who loves wearing opulent purple gowns, riding in a convertible and smoking French cigarettes. A woman of her station, as the novel relates, "was expected to devote her time to the twin pursuits of leisure and husband hunting." Instead, this strong-willed, intelligent and brave woman seizes an opportunity not realizing it could lead to her demise. Neomi’s father receives a disturbing letter from his niece and recent newlywed Catalina. The frenetic message suggests a mysterious doom awaits Catalina, who may need psychiatric help and a divorce, a scandal the businessman wants to avoid in 1950s Mexico City. So Neomi negotiates her way into a chance to attend graduate school – rare in a country when women could not vote – in exchange for heading to the isolated High Place, a distant Victorian mansion once funded by now-depleted silver mines. Once there, she must find out if the letter is nothing more than “female hysteria” as Neomi’s father assumes, or something more sinister.

Moreno-Garcia does a wonderful job sprinkling in the antiquated language of classic Gothic horror to pace this atmospheric creeper while Neomi’s dread about the Doyle family and its hideous patriarch mounts, as does her dueling desires to stay and garner graduate school or flee for her own sanity. The oppressive feel of dead, rotting High Place hints at a history of violence, madness and even darker secrets as the 320-page novel’s protagonist soon finds out. Once there, she meets the drugged Catalina’s menacing and alluring husband, who worms her way into her dreams, which are becoming an evermore disturbing mix of lust and horror. Her only ally is the family’s youngest son, who seems a decent fellow, but hides secrets of his own. Follow along as the amateur sleuth learns more about High Place, its exploitive colonial past and its unique power as the novel – equal parts Daphne du Maurier, Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft –speeds toward a satisfying, albeit gory conclusion.
Awards: 2020 Goodreads Choice Awards Best Horror

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. Book One
Ferris, Emil
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

A lot of people put down graphic novels as just comic books and many are little more than that. But there are a few that transcend this genre. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Vol. 1 is such an example. This debut novel by Emil Ferris tells the story of 10-year-old Karen Reyes, a girl growing up during the turbulent 1960s in Chicago. Reyes is an aspiring artist and her story is told in her perspective with detailed drawings filled with B-movie horror monsters from her beloved matinees, all sketched by a very talented schoolgirl with a Bic pen in her spiral notebook. Her neighborhood is a scary place and so is dealing with her mother's late-stage cancer and her older brother's drug-dealing and pimping. It's why Karen wishes she was a monster -- to be safe from those she sees in real life. As just a family drama, this novel delivers. Then this beautifully illustrated work of art reminiscent of Robert Crumb and Otto Dix, becomes so much more. The ever-curious Karen decides to solve the murder of her enigmatic upstairs neighbor, a Holocaust survivor. That sudden plot twist turns this work into an historical epic, a detective story and a psychological thriller that garnered numerous industry accolades and award nominations worldwide. Vol. 1 is currently available through PPLD while Vol. 2, the conclusion of the story, is scheduled to be published in September 2021.
AWARDS: 2018 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album-New, Best Writer/Artist and Best Coloring; 30th Annual Lambda Literary Award for Best LGBTQ Graphic Novel.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Awards:
The Lost Apothecary
Penner, Sarah
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Gorgeous read! The story is told from 3 viewpoints: Nella (the apothecary) and Eliza (a young girl who befriends her) both take place in the late 1700s. Then there is Caroline who is a present-day woman who is discovering their story. I've mentioned in another review how much I enjoy dual timeline stories where a physical object connects them, and this one is a superb example. Both timelines are compelling, and the author skillfully balances the stories, so that it is not quite as "jarring" when you jump from one timeline to another. Wonderful writing, wonderful story, I highly recommend to all historical fiction lovers out there. Oh, and mudlarking is now on my bucket list!!!

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing
Owens, Delia
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I just loved this novel. I loved how it painted the marsh with words and conjured a believable main character that you want to root for. The story line was very interesting and kept me engaged. It's not a hard read and chapters are relatively bite sized, but don't let that fool you. This book packs a punch. 5 stars!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
How I Became a Spy
Hopkinson, Deborah
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

On his very first assignment as a civil defense messenger in World War II London, Bertie Bradshaw finds the diary of a spy lying in the street. He eagerly reads about the young spy’s training and how she parachuted into France to assume her new covert role. Things soon begin to sound dangerous as one by one her fellow agents are captured by the Nazis. Then the diary suddenly changes into code.

Bertie decides to trust a gutsy American girl, Eleanor, and his best friend David, who is Jewish, with the secrets in the diary. In a race against time, they must try to decode the final messages and then track down not only the spy who wrote them but also the traitor who is leaking information to the Nazis - information so vital that it will affect the success of the invasion of France and the lives of countless allied agents.

I immediately felt affinity for Bertie because he is a believable thirteen-year-old, forgetting his helmet and his training at first but then gaining courage and confidence as the story progresses. Bertie is also struggling with what seem to be panic attacks, stemming from the bombing of his house and the separation of his family, which makes his determination all the more admirable. I also enjoyed Little Roo, Bertie’s trained rescue dog, who has more to do with the success or failure of the venture than you might think.

Reviewer's Name: Cynde
The Bat
Nesbø, Jo
2 stars = Meh
Review:

While this is the first book (1997) in the wildly popular Harry Hole series, it was actually the fourth translated into English. After reading it, I had assumed it was the first book and the publisher had been cheap -- poor translation and editing --- but hoped to piggy back on Stieg Larsson's success in the U.S.. I began reading the series with Harry Hole No. 9, The Phantom (2011) as a Why Not? purchase during a lengthy flight delay. I am thankful I did not start with The Bat or I might have missed out on one of my favorite Nordic Noir authors and a compelling character in Hole (prononced HO-Lay in Norwegian). The Bat gets off to an uncharacteristically slow start but later delivers the gritty thriller action Nesbo fans enjoy in later works. In the novel, the troubled police detective travels to Australia to investigate the murder of a Norwegian, then discovers and solves a series of homicides while running amok of local authorities eager to send him back to Oslo. If you are a series reader who wants to start at the beginning, then read The Bat. But don't feel bad if you start with Cockroaches (1998) or even The Redbreast (2000), the third Hole book, which won The Glass Key award for best Nordic crime novel.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Awards:
Tangerine
Mangan, Christine
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Tangerine by Christine Mangan portrays a toxic friendship between two former Bennington College roommates who are reunited in Tangier in 1956. One friend, Alice Shipley has been psychologically fragile since the childhood deaths of her parents in a house fire. She is married to John who does something secretive for "the government" in newly-independent Morocco. Lucy Mason, who connected with Alice through their shared orphanhood, has ditched a disappointing job and suddenly shown up at Alice’s door. She hopes to pry Alice from her dissatisfying marriage for a series of globe-trotting adventures they imagined in college. Both characters serve as flawed narrators -- Alice has a loose grip on reality while Lucy actively denies it.
The novel is at its best when Lucy tries to force a wedge between Alice and John, who is having an affair but depends on Alice's family trust to live comfortably. The romantic triangle turns this 2018 novel into a melodrama set against the intrigue of 1950s's North Africa. It's reminiscent of a slightly-hokey Hollywood movie of the same era. The book cover even features a woman of the period who could pass for actress Ingrid Bergman. That's the novel's charm (nostalgia) and its undoing (little original) in this enjoyable read.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Awards:
Knife
Nesbø, Jo
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Waking up with a fierce hangover and blood (not his own) on his hands and clothes is a bad way to start the day, even for Harry Hole, Oslo's brilliant, flawed and self-destructive homicide detective. Bestselling author Jo Nesbo has penned his grittiest story yet in Knife (2019), the 12th Harry Hole (pronounced HO-Leh in Norwegian) novel in the international bestselling Scandinavian crime series. As always, there's a detailed plot, a grim atmosphere, quick pacing, convincing red herrings, and at the center of it all, the alcoholic Hole trying to hold his career, family and life together. Trying, not succeeding. Fans of this series will not be disappointed as Hole faces down his darkest personal challenge yet in this page-turner.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Cemetery Road
Iles, Greg
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Marshall McEwan, a successful Washington D.C. journalist, returns to his hometown of Bienville, Mississippi to take over his dying father's newspaper business. He encounters his childhood love, Jet Talal, who is married into a powerful family and whose husband rules the town through an exclusive poker club. The poker club has offered salvation to the town through the form of a billion-dollar Chinese paper mill. Along with that power, Marshall discovers, is corruption and how far reaching it is, going generations back. Ilse will keep you on the edge of your seat and you won't want to put this book down!!

Reviewer's Name: Susi W.
What You Left Behind
Hayes, Samantha
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

If you’re a fan of British detective novels, What You Left Behind is a great read. It follows Detective Inspector Lorraine Fisher, who can’t catch a break from fighting crime even when she’s on vacation. While visiting her sister, Lorraine finds herself investigating a cluster of teenage suicides, wondering if there’s more to their deaths than meets the eye. At the same time, Lorraine’s nephew Freddie sinks into a deep depression, and despite her efforts to reach him, his mother worries he’ll be the next victim.

Although this novel has elements of mystery, it’s more of a thriller than a traditional “whodunit.” But there are plenty of surprising reveals to keep you turning the pages, including a twist ending that you won’t see coming.

While the subject matter might be too dark for some, What You Left Behind provides an unflinching look at the damaging effects of bullying and the lengths we’ll go to keep secrets.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa
The Lost Man
Harper, Jane
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Fans of Jane Harper’s Aaron Falk series may be surprised to find that her latest outing is a standalone novel. But make no mistake: The Lost Man is every bit as riveting as The Dry and Force of Nature. It follows the Bright family as they’re forced to come to terms with a very personal loss. Before his death, Cameron was a charismatic and successful rancher and father of two, leading his family to wonder what could have possibly compelled him to venture into the unrelenting Outback alone.

Cameron’s younger brother Nathan is the main character and quite a sympathetic one at that. Divorced, disgraced, and utterly alone, Nathan stands in stark contrast to his older brother Cameron. His story will resonate with anyone who’s ever felt like they’ve hit rock bottom.

Though Harper is known for her mystery novels, the mystery surrounding Cameron’s death in some ways takes a backseat to the family dynamics at work before--and after--Cameron’s death. In other words, the characters, not the plot take center stage here.

Readers who enjoy expert characterization, vivid sensory descriptions, and realistic depictions of family drama will feel right at home with The Lost Man.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa
Gone by Midnight
Fox, Candice
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

You may recognize Candice Fox as the coauthor of James Patterson’s Harriet Blue series, which includes titles like Never Never, Fifty Fifty, and Liar Liar. But with Gone by Midnight, the third book in her critically acclaimed Crimson Lake series, Fox has shown that her work deserves a place on every mystery lover’s shelf.

Like the previous two entries (Crimson Lake and Redemption Point), Gone by Midnight follows the wrongfully accused former policeman Ted Conkaffey and convicted killer Amanda Pharrell. In this latest outing, Ted and Amanda are
tasked with investigating the disappearance of 8-year-old Richie Farrow, who seemingly vanished without a trace from his hotel room. Ted and Amanda are two of crime fiction's most original private detectives with Ted’s love for his pet geese and Amanda’s penchant for rhyming and sponge cake. The banter between them peppers the prose with some genuinely hilarious moments.

In addition, the plot moves along at a brisk pace, with plenty of subplots to keep readers’ interest, including Ted’s relationship with his 2-year-old daughter and Amanda’s dealings with a local biker gang.

Anyone looking for a locked room mystery with a bit of Aussie flare should look no further than this thoroughly entertaining romp.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa
Awards:
The Wrong Girl
Casey, Donis
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is a book well worth reading as it has all the mystery and glamor and humor a good mystery should have and it has people who help and show compassion for the girl in the story! It is also a story written with the correct facts of the era in which this story plays. I have read the other Donis Casey books and love how this one has come about. Its a follow up of Donis's other series. Can't wait to read the next one!!

Reviewer's Name: Sandra
Book Cover
Lindsay, Jeff
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Riley Wolfe is the best thief alive. You want it stolen? He can do it. And when the Ocean of Light, an Iranian Crown Jewel, is put on display at a NYC art museum, Riley knows he has his next, best challenge. Because this challenge may be the one that does him in.

I requested this as I loved some of Dexter (the tv show), and have been wanting to read a Jeff Lindsay book for a while. I wasn't really sure what to expect, and I got something a bit unexpected. The plot is that of a pretty standard heist novel. There are a bunch of twists, but never fear, you'll see them coming. The main character, though, is where the real interest lies. He's a horrible person, and Lindsay never tries to make him likable. I mean, did I like him? I did not. But he was sort of interesting when he wasn't doing something very predictable and his actions were occasionally thought provoking. Even writing this review, I'm not sure how I feel about him.

TLDR: This book, while sometimes entertaining, was ultimately just ok. If you can't get enough of heists, you may enjoy this one. Otherwise, check out Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows as it features a twistier heist, deeply flawed but likable characters and will also provide plenty of food for thought. 2 stars. Meh.

Thanks to Penguin Dutton Group and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Just Watch Me will be released on 03 December and you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: The Silent Patient book jacket
Michaelides, Alex
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Alicia Barenson is a famous painter who shoots her husband in the face five time then stops speaking. A psychotherapist works with her to get her to speak again and becomes obsessed with her.

Maybe mystery/thrillers aren't my cup of tea? It started out very good, pulling in the reader with a fascinating story about Alicia. However, the way it played out in the end was convoluted and disappointing. I wasn't like "Oh wow! What an ending!" Instead, I was like "Huh? What the...?" If you can get over the ending, the book is a good read.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Big Little Lies
Moriarty, Liane
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

When a bullying issue arises in Kindergarten, several mothers duke it out on the elementary schoolyard. As we glimpse into the world of the three main mothers we see heart-wrenching elements unfold.

I didn't expect to get much out of this book. In fact, I thought it would be snarky and contrived. After all, the title smacks of drama. But I enjoyed it thoroughly, drama and all. I hadn't read the summary and didn't have any idea as to what would happen next. It was fun and powerful at the same time.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Cover
Lutz, Lisa
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Alexandra Witt doesn’t take a position as an English teacher at the not-that-illustrious- boarding school Stonebridge with the aim to turn the institution on its head, but that’s exactly what she does. After witnessing some distressing interactions between the boys and the girls at school, Witt encourages the women to stand up for themselves. The boys, of course, aren’t having that, and before they all know it,an all-out gender war is taking place at Stonebridge and all involved are hurtling toward an unhappy ending.

This was so much fun! First, the gender politics were spot on. This is definitely a book for the “Me Too” era. I went to a public school, but I can totally see a scaled down version of this sort of thing happening there, or, unfortunately, anywhere. Lutz handles some very sensitive topics pretty deftly, and creates engaging and authentic characters. Foreshadowing early in the book makes it pretty clear that things will end badly, and I found myself racing through the book to find out what happened. The end was pretty weak: the story, while not exactly grounded, felt believable until suddenly it felt like an episode of Riverdale or Gossip Girl or…pick any teen show on the CW, I guess.

TLDR: If you are looking for a suspenseful read with some feminist flavorings, you won’t go wrong here. Older teens will find a lot to like here as well. 4 stars – I really enjoyed it.

Thanks to Ballantine Books and Netgalley for the eARC which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Swallows will be released on 13 August, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Who in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?
Tinker, Rebecca
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

You may be familiar with the series and game, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, but do you understand who she is? This book will give you the background on her. She is always one step ahead of her pursuers. How did she learn her awesome skills? Read this backstory and figure out how she came to
be this infamous and elusive criminal.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Something in the Water
Steadman, Catherine
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Great book! I really enjoyed the entire story line. It had me guessing until the big reveal. At times I wanted to yell at Erin "Girl! just walk away from it all and stop being so nosy!" I think Catherine Steadman created well developed characters. I wanted to know more about each of them. Maybe she will borrow from Tana French and some of the characters will get their own books. (Seriously, I am dying to know what the next favor is!). If you like page turners combined with mystery, this one is for you!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa M.

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