Book Review: Abandoned (Smoky Barrett #4) by Cody McFadyen

6413939Title: Abandoned (Smoky Barrett #4)
Author: Cody McFadyen
Genre: Thriller, Suspense
Publisher: Bantam
Publication Date: October 27th 2009
Author Website | Goodreads | Amazon | B&N

For FBI Special Agent Smoky Barrett, her colleague’s wedding is cause for celebration. Until a woman staggers down the aisle—incoherent, wearing only a white nightgown. A fingerprint check determines that she’s been missing for nearly eight years. Her coldly efficient captor toyed with her mind and body, imprisoning her, depriving her of any contact with the outside world. As Smoky fits together the pieces of what remains of the victim’s fractured life, a chilling picture emerges of a cerebral psychopath who doesn’t take murder personally, never makes a mistake, follows his own sinister logic, and has set the perfect trap.

I purchased Abandoned at a booksale last year for the very low price of $1. The best dollar ever spent, if you ask me. Sure, I wouldn’t rate this book a five star, but it was a decent, satisfactory read that kept me chilled the entire time. I had to keep on turning pages to find out what would happen next to the main characters, and if that happens, it’s always a great sign.

Abandoned is the fourth book in a series focusing on detective Smoky Barrett, but it’s not necesarry to read the previous parts to understand what’s going on here. At a colleague’s wedding, a strange woman staggers down the isle, wearing nothing but a white nightgown. It looks like the woman hasn’t been outside in ages. Who is she? Why is she here? It’s up to the detectives to find out. A fingerprint check results in them discovering the woman has been missing for eight years. Where has she been all this time? People don’t just vanish off the face of the earth…or do they?

When they begin to investigate more, in particular into the background of the missing woman’s husband, an array of secrets come to the surface, one darker than the other. Smoky and her team know that serial killers work in a particular way. They feel sexually aroused when they murder someone, they’re in it for the money, or they feel some other thrill. Not this one though. They’re not even sure if he’s a killer, considering the only victim they’ve found so far is still alive, albeit barely. To find out the reasons behind the abductions, the team will have to put aside all normal human logic and dive deep into the mind of a murderer, to the darkest pillars of their imagination…

What I found most intriguing about Abandoned is its premise. The murderer. Why the murderer does what he does, and that he has no obvious drives. As the novel progresses, he kills some victims by making a hole in their skull, lobotomizing them, like they used to do to patients in mental health hospitals two centuries ago. It both shows how distanced the murderer is from his actions, and how insane he truly is.

At some point, the stakes are even higher when the detective gets kidnapped herself. Now, that’s when things got really interesting for me. We see how the killer acts and what he does to the victims he keeps locked up for eight years, sometimes even a decade. We travel into the darkest corners of the human soul, and the journey itself is more than intriguing. Gruesome and cruel yes, but also fascinating, in a morbid kind of way.

I liked the characters, although this is a very plot-driven book, they’re all developed well. I had some trouble keeping track of who is who and what their role was in the team, but I blame that mostly on me not starting with book one, as usually.

I highly recommend this book to all fans of thriller novels. Abandoned offers an elusive killer, endaring detectives and some of the darkest and most delusional minds you’ll ever see. A great book, and ideal to read on a chilly and rainy afternoon.

Book Review: Snow Escape by Roberta Goodman

12795635Title: Snow Escape
Author: Roberta Goodman
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Drama
Publisher: White Words, Inc.
Publication Date: September 29th 2011
Rating: 3,5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon (Kindle) | Publisher’s Website | Author’s Website

Set against the backdrop of a historic snowstorm, Snow Escape is the story of one woman’s innocent foray into the world of online dating turned deadly.
Allegra Maxwell is a 30-year old, single school teacher looking for love. Having chosen to use the Internet to meet the opposite sex, she encounters an articulate, prospective beau on the night the biggest blizzard in history is blanketing the Big Apple. Their pleasant conversation soon turns sinister when she discovers that “Charles” has been stalking her for weeks and claims he lives in her building. With threats of destroying her little by little are made, Allegra must stay one step ahead of the mind games. Turning to neighbors for help, tragic consequences ensue.
When her sanity is questioned, because the online evidence her stalker exists disappears, Allegra must prove he does exist and she isn’t losing her mind. When a power outage thrusts her into darkness, will she be able to overcome the helplessness she feels? Placed in a situation that’s spiraling totally out of her control, while trapped in her apartment building with no escape, will she survive until the authorities can reach her?

Snow Escape begins by introducing us to Allegra, a single woman in her thirties who works as a teacher and spends her spare time hanging out with friends or looking for possible dates on an online dating site. Ever since things didn’t work out with her ex-boyfriend Danny – he wanted to keep things simple, while she was convinced they had an actual relationship – things in the love department haven’t been working out for Allegra. She went on a couple of dates, but none of those guys sounded relationship material to her. Now, with a historical snow storm coming her way, Allegra finds herself stuck home on a friday evening with nothing better to do than grade homework and watch a movie, or reply to some of the mails she got from potential dates.

However, when Allegra gets a mail back from a man named ‘Charles’ and starts chatting with him online, the conversation grows eerier with the second. Not only is Charles supposedly living in her building, he also has some unsettling plans for her…Allegra’s panic increases with the minute as Charles not only is able to tell her exactly how many minutes she was asleep, indicating that watched her, but also threatens to harm her. Panicking, Allegra goes to her neighbours for help. However, not all of them believe her so willingly, and some might even be involved in the foul play…The clock is ticking mercilessly, and it’s up to Allegra to find out who she can trust and who she can’t, especially with the power falling out, clothing the building in unforgiving darkness. With a stalker and potential killer on the loose, who can Allegra turn to for help? And how well does she really know the people she’s called her neighbors for the last couple of years?

Snow Escape has an excellent premise, and it certainly delivers. The novel is captivating from the start, building tension slowly and gradually until you as a reader feel you might just be buried underneath the same amount of tension and despair as the main character.That being said, Allegra does make an interesting protagonist. The way she is being portrayed by people differs greatly. There seems to be a category of people who think she was obsessed with her ex-boyfriend and stalked him up to the point he was forced to leave town (Miguel, ex-boyfriend of one of her best friends, is one of those who seem to think that way) whereas others, including me, think that account is greatly exaggerated. From what I gathered from Allegra’s brief interactions with her friends, some of them really don’t threat her right, or have no insight in human psychology whatsoever. Allegra, honey, you definately need to find yourself a new set of friends. And stop dating on the internet.

Anyway, I found it intriguing to see how different some people can think about the same events, and how much opinions can vary. The residents in Allegra’s apartment building all hold secrets of their own as well, and it’s up to Allegra (and the reader) to find out what exactly they’re hiding and whether or not they’re the culprit. The first part of this novel is simply amazing. As I said, it’s a build-up of tension, anticipation and fear. But then the novel takes a different direction with the arrival of police officers and two detectives, and the constant feeling of dread vanishes. It’s as if this book miraculously transforms from an outstanding, nailbiting thriller into a mystery novel featuring two detectives who have to solve a crime.

I wasn’t too fond of this twist of events, but I did like how the officers had to put a timeline together and decipher who was telling the truth and who was lying in order to find out who really stalked Allegra, or if her supposed stalker was, as some of the tenants suggested, imaginative. I found this thought-process interesting to say the least, but it did drop the pace of the story significantly and all the tension that had been building up from page one simply dissapeared. The twist at the ending was unexpected and interesting, but it didn’t make up for the lack of tension in the previous chapters. Especially the fact that the detectives seemingly repeat everything that has just happened not once, but twice is a bit annoying. I would’ve preferred it if this novel had stayed with its original starting point, as a fast-paced, frightening thriller. The second part seems to belong to another book alltogether.

Solid characters with intriguing personalities offering a look at humanity in total, and on how perspectives can differ a lot from one individual to another. A nailbiting thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat for more than the first half of the story and then changes into a mystery novel with two detectives taking the front row. I enjoyed Snow Escape, and I read it in one sitting, desperate to know who was stalking Allegra this entire time, but it could’ve been better had the pace not dropped significantly in the second part, hence why only the 3,5 rating rather than a 4. But all in all, for a debut novel, Snow Escape has an intriguing premise, it’s well-executed, the characters are intriguing and Roberta Goodman’s fluent writing style makes up for a lot of the flaws in the second part. I would definately recommend it to people who are fans of thrillers like Night Stalker by Carol Davis Luce. The novel is intriguing and captivating, and I certainly enjoyed reading it. I’m looking forward to reading more works by this author.


In the spirit of Halloween, author Roberta Goodman wants to give away 3 eBook copies of Snow Escape to 3 lucky winners!

Book Review: The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

10209997Title: The Night Strangers
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Genre: Horror, Psychological Thriller, Witches, Ghosts
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication Date: October 4th 2011
Rating: 4,5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon (Hardcover) | Amazon (Kindle) | B&N | Book Depository | Author Website

In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts.
The home’s new owners are Chip and Emily Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to rebuild their lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, has to ditch his 70-seat regional jet in Lake Champlain after double engine failure. Unlike the Miracle on the Hudson, however, most of the passengers aboard Flight 1611 die on impact or drown. The body count? Thirty-nine – a coincidence not lost on Chip when he discovers the number of bolts in that basement door. Meanwhile, Emily finds herself wondering about the women in this sparsely populated White Mountain village – self-proclaimed herbalists – and their interest in her fifth-grade daughters. Are the women mad? Or is it her husband, in the wake of the tragedy, whose grip on sanity has become desperately tenuous?
The result is a poignant and powerful ghost story with all the hallmarks readers have come to expect from bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian: a palpable sense of place, an unerring sense of the demons that drive us, and characters we care about deeply.
The difference this time? Some of those characters are dead.

Although The Night Strangers is the first book by Chris Bohjalian I’ve ever read, I did hear a lot about this author earlier on. Even after the first few chapters of this book, I understand why that’s no surprise. From all the authors I’ve read for the very first time this year, Chris Bohjalian is without a shadow of a doubt the most talented one. He has a writing style that is both gripping and enthralling, both mesmerizing and mysterious, and draws you in from page one. It’s a writing style I connect to the horror genre almost instantly, and which reminds me of certain masters in the genre like Poe, Faulkner and Stephen King. Chris Bohjalian fits right up that alley. I wonder if his writing style is similar in his other works, which aren’t situated in the horror genre, but in any case, it fits this genre perfectly. The narrative voice is both distant and eerily familiar, both disfigured and logical, and that all adds up to the twisted, demented feeling you get while reading The Night Strangers.

The most intriguing part about this novel is that it’s based partially on reality. Well of course the horror parts are imaginary, but some parts of this novel are actually based on things that really happened to the author. As he admits in this article on CNN, Chris Bohjalian got his inspiration from two random occurences. For starters, when he purchased a Victorian townhouse, he found a sealed door in his basement. Nailed shut, actually. Curiosity killed the cat, and it forced Chris Bohjalian to open up that door and enter what can only be described as a crypt or closet of some kind. Secondly, a plane crashed in The Hudson River nearby, adding him the second part of inspiration he needed to create this book. Eerie, especially that door. I wonder what it was really used for…well, in any case, Bohjalian offers a plausible although creepy solution in his book.

The Night Strangers tells the story of Chip and Emily Linton and their twin daughters Hallie and Garnet. By moving to the small town of Brethel, they hope to escape the trauma that has ruled their lives after Chip was forced to land his airplane – he is an airplane pilot, or well, he was one – in Lake Champlain on August, 11. Thirty-nine passengers died that day, and although it isn’t Chip’s fault per sé, he does suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and a severe case of survivor’s guilt. Convinced that they have to start over somewhere new, the family moves into a Victorian townhouse with quite the chilling history. As legend has it, a young boy killed himself in that very house when he was twelve years old. His mother went crazy afterwards and was convinced that someone – or something – was after her and her family. The depths of her madness are only discovered by the Lintons when they find three curious objects hidden in places all around the house: a crowbar, a knife and an ax. Why would someone hide these objects in their own house? And what are they so afraid of?

Like it’s not worse enough that the previous owner of their house was a raving lunatic, Chip also discovers a small door in their basement. This door is conveniently nailed shut with thirty-nine long nails. Thirty-nine. The exact same number as the passengers who died during the planecrash. In an attempt to discover what is hidden behind that door, Chip destroys it with the ax and discover a small cabinet of sorts. The room is so small that an adult probably couldn’t stand up straight in it. And it’s definately not a coal chute, like everyone wants to believe.

Moreover, the longer Chip spends in his new house, the stronger and more frequent his visions and hallucations become. At first, he only dreamt about the people who died in the planecrash and occassionally suffered from flashbacks. However, the longer he spends in Brethel, the more vivid these hallucations, until he can actually see three of the people who died in the crash: a young girl named Ashley, her father Ethan and a young woman named Sandra. It soon becomes clear to Chip – with a little help and encouragement from Ethan – that Ashley really deserves some friends in the afterlife. These thoughts only add to Chip’s insanity, as he spirals down into madness.

But wait, you thought that was it? The combination of survivor’s guilt, PTSD and some ghostly visions? Wrong. Chris Bohjalian clearly isn’t done yet. Because in the town of Brethel, not everything is at it seems. The local women, who are all conveniently called like herbs – Anise, Reseda, Sage, etc. – have a dark secret of their own. They call themselves herbalists, and each of them has a greenhouse much like the one standing in the Linton’s backyard, but somehow they don’t seem as harmless as they would like others to believe. When they develop an uncanny interest in Chip and Emily’s twin daughters for the sole reason that they’re twins, Emily is the only one who can still save them. And is there a connection between the town’s herbalists, the suicide of that twelve-year-old boy, her husband’s increasingly strange behavior and that door nailed shut with exactly thirty-nine nails?

As you can gather from this synopsis, The Night Strangers is a lot more than just a ghost story. Although that was definately my favorite part of the book, it focuses on a lot of other things too. It focuses a lot on how Chip deals with his PTSD and his increasing hallucinations, and how he slowly but definately descends into madness. It’s a psychological journey that is both mesmerizing and terrifying, and Chris Bohjalian’s excellent and engaging writing style makes it all the more real. The real question at the end of this book, is what’s more terrifying. A town where half of the population is driven by egoistic, animalistic reasoning? One man’s increasing insanity because he cannot deal with the guilt of what he did? Ghosts who are stuck in a world inbetween? It’s up to the reader to decide and I for one, have a hard time deciding what exactly scared me the most. Perhaps a combination of everything, because the way the author combines these different parts and turns them into one fluent, enthralling story is flawless.

The narrative switches between a third-person narrative from either Emily’s, Hallie’s or Garnet’s viewpoint, and a second-person narrative from Chip’s viewpoint. Let me say a thing or two about this second-person narrative. That’s the ‘you’ form, and it’s rarely used in literature, although it’s one of the easiest ways to compell a reader into a story, because as an author you’re continuously talking to the reader himself basically. It goes like this: “When your airplane hits the flock of birds, the passengers in the cabin behind you feel the jolting bangs and the aircraft rolls fifteen degrees to its starboard side.” (taken from page 3). Notice how that you-form simply draws you in, as if you’re really an aircraft pilot and your plane really is going to crash soon? Well, at least it did that for me. I enjoyed the you-form especially as it made it a lot easier for me as a reader to relate to Chip, and to follow him as he slowly descended into madness. I think it’s something psychological, because that ‘you’ points to the reader directly and immediately makes them part of the story, makes them become the character. Eerie, to say the least, but so is the rest of this book.

To classify The Night Strangers as a horror novel, seems a bit one-sided. This book just offers so much of everything. It’s a drama, in which the main characters need to deal with their traumas, it’s a story of coming-to-age for the two young twins Hallie and Garnet as they each develop from children into puberescent teenagers, it’s a ghost story, a psychological thriller when we view Chip’s side of things and there’s event hints of a mystery: what’s going on, and who is the real bad guy here? I personally think it’s nothing short but a masterpiece. I can already see this book being compared to other classics in the genre and not coming short at all. Bohjalian’s characters are rich and compelling and I especially liked Garnet. She just had this vibe around her that told me there was more to her than meets the eye. And guess what…I wasn’t mistaken. Another bonus is that from point one, you’re continuously wondering what’s going on, what’s the explanation for this and that, but you have to wait till the very last chapters to hear the entire story, which means you’re literally sitting on the edge of your seat for over three hours. As a bonus, scary things can happen all the time, and you have to be prepared for it from start to end, meaning that those shivers running down your spine never cease until you’ve turned the last page.

Additionally, it’s clear that Chris Bohjalian put a lot of time and effort in writing this book and investigating things like aircraft, botanica and New Age rituals. I always love it when an author takes the time to put genuinely interesting information in his books, and once again, Bohjalian doesn’t dissapoint. This author has got me completely hooked. This is the kind of horror movie that would make excellent film material, although the film would probably be well over two hours. The madness, the weird and distant but compelling writing style, the interesting characters, the countless secrets and the ghostly apparitions make The Night Strangers into the perfect Halloween novel. I, for one, am absolutely hooked.


One lucky winner will receive a paperback copy of The Night Strangers, sponsored by yours truly. Please fill in the contest form below and leave a comment to participate.