Book Review: Hangman by Stephan Talty

18050076Title: Hangman

Author: Stephan Talty

Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller

Age Group: Adult

Rating: 4 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

New York Times bestselling author Stephan Talty’s acclaimed fiction debut, Black Irish, won him comparisons to such thriller masters as Jo Nesbø, Karin Slaughter, and Tana French. Now, his chilling new novel brings back intrepid heroine Absalom Kearney, a driven police detective with a haunted past, trying to make a difference in a troubled town.
Hangman, Hangman, what do you see? Four little girls, as cute as can be. The eerie schoolyard chant still sends ripples of horror through North Buffalo. Not so long ago, serial killer Marcus Flynn preyed upon the community’s teenaged daughters—until he was cornered and shot in the head. But Flynn lived, carrying to prison the nickname “Hangman,” along with the secret of his last victim’s fate. Homicide cop Abbie Kearney wasn’t around during Hangman’s reign of terror. She hadn’t yet come home to wear her dad’s old badge in the tough Irish American stronghold known as “the County.” Abbie had never experienced firsthand the horror of Hangman. Until now.
Hangman, Hangman, where do they go? Down on the ground, where the daffodils grow. A corrections officer lies dead, a prison van stands empty . . . and somewhere out there, the monster who condemned innocents to death at the end of a rope watches and waits to strike again. Abbie leads a desperate manhunt through a city driven to its knees by fear, matching wits with a predator as brilliant as he is elusive. But as more victims are claimed, a rising tide of secrecy, paranoia, and politics forces her to realize that stepping beyond the law may be the only way to find justice. Because with each passing hour, the stakes grow higher—and Hangman’s noose gets tighter.

Hangman begins with the escape of a pscyhotic serial killer known as “The Hangman”. Abbie Kearney is a profiler with the Buffalo Police, and she’s set on the case to find this twisted serial murderer before he makes another victim. But as the clock starts ticking, and terror rises in the otherwise sleepy town, Abbie and her team realize they may have more than one killer on their hands. What if the Hangman has an accomplice? And how the heck can they find out who he is? Abbie tries to get to the bottom of the Hangman’s personality. She wants to find out who he is, why he kills people, and why he targets a specific group of girls, and hopefully before it’s too late.

Abbie is an intriguing main character. With a haunted past, a healthy dose of determination, and a knack for profiling, she’s an enjoyable protagonist to read about. The pacing is set on high from the first pace, and the writing was brutal, suitable for the genre, and for the characters passing the revue. It’s dark, gritty, nail-biting suspense, just the way I like it.

As a downside though, there could’ve been more character development. Even though Abbie goes through a great deal from start to finish, in this book, her personality never changes or grows because of it.

Apart from that, I loved the book, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good mystery/suspense novel.

Book Review: Think of a Number by John Verdon

7853137Title: Think of a Number

Author: John Verdon

Genre: Thriller, Mystery and Suspense

Age Group: Adult

Rating: 5 stars

Purchase: Amazon

An extraordinary fiction debut, Think of a Number is an exquisitely plotted novel of suspense that grows relentlessly darker and more frightening as its pace accelerates, forcing its deeply troubled characters to moments of startling self-revelation.

Arriving in the mail over a period of weeks are taunting letters that end with a simple declaration, “Think of any number…picture it…now see how well I know your secrets.”  Amazingly, those who comply find that the letter writer has predicted their random choice exactly.  For Dave Gurney, just retired as the NYPD’s top homicide investigator and forging a new life with his wife, Madeleine, in upstate New York, the letters are oddities that begin as a diverting puzzle but quickly ignite a massive serial murder investigation.

What police are confronted with is a completely baffling killer, one who is fond of rhymes filled with threats and warnings, whose attention to detail is unprecedented, and who has an uncanny knack for disappearing into thin air.  Even more disturbing, the scale of his ambition seems to widen as events unfold.

Brought in as an investigative consultant, Dave Gurney soon accomplishes deductive breakthroughs that leave local police in awe.  Yet, even as he matches wits with his seemingly clairvoyant opponent, Gurney’s tragedy-marred past rises up to haunt him, his marriage approaches a dangerous precipice, and finally, a dark, cold fear builds that he’s met an adversary who can’t be stopped.

In the end, fighting to keep his bearings amid a whirlwind of menace and destruction, Gurney sees the truth of what he’s become – what we all become when guilty memories fester – and how his wife Madeleine’s clear-eyed advice may be the only answer that makes sense.

A work that defies easy labels — at once a propulsive masterpiece of suspense and an absorbing immersion in the lives of characters so real we seem to hear their heartbeats – Think of a Number is a novel you’ll not soon forget

Think of a Number is one of the most original mystery novels I’ve read all year. It goes above and beyond what most mystery novels offer, and gives us a true brain puzzle. Main character Dave Gurney is the NYPD’s top homicide investigator. He’s recently retired, and struggled to adapt to a calm, comfortable life. His mind yearns for another puzzle to solve, and when an old classmate contacts him about a troubling letter arrived in his mailbox, Dave is intrigued. He accepts the challenge, but is still convinced it’s either a prank, or that the number on the envelope holds special meaning to his friend. However, when his friend is found murdered, the mystery takes on a whole new level.

I loved the writing style, the complexity of the mystery at hand, the depth of researching Dave has to do before solving it. The mystery turns from a puzzle into a murder mystery, and when more people turn up murdered, the stakes rise, and it becomes personal for Dave. With the first victim murdered in the snow, and footsteps leading back to a particular area but then stopping all of the sudden, with the police finding a chair and some cigarettes, as if someone was waiting for him to come out, and with a broken glass bottle in the proximity, Dave falls upon the mystery of a lifetime.

What I enjoyed the most, besides trying to solve the mystery along with Dave – and failing until the end (which is rare for me, usually I figure this out way sooner), was how Dave is a retired detective. He’s technically not even meant to be involved in solving a murder anymore, but he wriggles his way in and, obsessed as he is with solving puzzles, is always one step ahead of everyone else. I also liked finding out about his history, about what shaped him into the man he is today, and was intrigued to find out what happened to sabotage his marriage.

A well-written, fast-paced, amazing puzzle of a book that will give you lots of joy trying to solve the mystery. Ideal for anyone who loves a good murder mystery with some subplots and intriguing characters. This is the author’s debut, but I’m confident he’ll write much more.

Book Review: City of The Dead by Herbert Lieberman

2172164Title: City of The Dead

Author: Herbert Lieberman

Genre: Thriller, Mystery and Suspense

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 4,5 stars

Purchase: B&N, Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Most cops question the living. But New York City’s Chief Medical Examiner Paul Konig finds his answers among the dead. Now, after a lifetime of strangled whores and mangled corpses, Konig thinks he has seen it all–until he comes up against a series of brutal sex crimes that are carving a bloody path across the battered city.

Piece by piece. he begins to put together a picture of the killer, vowing that this case would be his last. But fate has one final nightmare in store for Paul Konig…forcing him into a desperate race against time to save the beloved daughter he thought was lost forever…and who now may be terror’s next victim.

City of The Dead is one of the grittiest crime novels I’ve read in a while. Paul Konig is Chief Medical Examiner of New York City, which means he spends most of his time with the dead. His job has taken the best of him for many years – his marriage failed, his wife eventually passed away, his daughter won’t speak to him anymore, and overall, he’s lost most of the things he loves. But this new case is particularly gruesome, and Konig vows to solve it, catching the mad man who has committed a series of brutal crimes and carved a bloody path across the city.

But the clearer the picture Konig gets of the killer, the more the last thing he cares for becomes endangered. For his own daughter has been kidnapped, and with every second wasting away, so do his chances of seeing her alive. With political blackmail on the agenda, someone stealing unclaimed corpses, and a murderer to catch, Konig may be up for his toughest days yet.

This book was originally published in the 70’s, and it’s like an early example of Temperance Brennan. Konig is a medical examiner forever scarred by the long list of people he’s seen ending up on his tables. He’s grumpy, old and has a sarcastic sense of humor not everyone can appreciate. He’s a ruthless man as well, the kind of person whose job is everything for him, who will go to the end of the world and beyond to solve a crime. But at the same time, we see him as a man at the end of the line, who is constantly under stress, who hasn’t got a moment of peace, the kind of man urging toward an emotional breakdown. He is flawed, but his flaws make him come to life, turn him into one of the most endaring, intriguing protagonists I’ve seen for a while.

The unique thing about the story is that it isn’t just a murder to solve. There are several cases going on at once, which adds to the urgent feel of the book. When all the cases come together at the end, it feels like a nice closure, and actually made me think about the brilliance of the mind who could conjure so many storylines and then add them neatly together. There’s the kidnapping of Konig’s daughter, the gruesome murders, some other murders, and the cases of political blackmail going on at Konig’s office. We get glimpses of Konig’s past mixed in as well.

Another bonus is that the author doesn’t shy away from giving the readers heartbreak and doesn’t guarantee happy endings for everyone. Just like in the real world. There is also heaps of technical stuff about the world of forensics that I thought was very intriguing to read, and certainly shows the author did his homework.

If you’re a fan of gritty murder mysteries, check out “City of the Dead“. It has amazing writing, one of the best protagonists I’ve come across in a while, and a suspenseful storyline.

Book Review: The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

6688087Title: The Crossing Places

Author: Elly Griffiths

Genre: Thriller, Mystery and Suspense

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 5 stars

Purchase: Goodreads, Amazon, B&N

When she’s not digging up bones or other ancient objects, quirky, tart-tongued archaeologist Ruth Galloway lives happily alone in a remote area called Saltmarsh near Norfolk, land that was sacred to its Iron Age inhabitants – not quite earth, not quite sea.
When a child’s bones are found on a desolate beach nearby, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson calls Galloway for help. Nelson thinks he has found the remains of Lucy Downey, a little girl who went missing ten years ago. Since her disappearance he has been receiving bizarre letters about her, letters with references to ritual and sacrifice.
The bones actually turn out to be two thousand years old, but Ruth is soon drawn into the Lucy Downey case and into the mind of the letter writer, who seems to have both archaeological knowledge and eerie psychic powers.
Then another child goes missing and the hunt is on to find her.
As the letter writer moves closer and the windswept Norfolk landscape exerts its power, Ruth finds herself in completely new territory – and in serious danger.
THE CROSSING PLACES marks the beginning of a captivating new crime series featuring an irresistible heroine.

Goodreads reviews for The Crossing Places are mixed, but I have to say that I did enjoy this suspense novel that mixes archeology and crime in an enticing story. I didn’t expect much when I started reading, as I had never heard of the author nor the book before. The blurb drew me in. But as soon as I started the book, I was pleasantly surprised. I’ll talk about characters first, plot second, settings third and writing last.

Ruth Galloway, the main character, isn’t the typical heroine you’d expect in a crime story. She’s a forty-something, overweight academic who is genuinely convinced her weight makes her unattractive. She’s a loner surrounded more by cats than people, and lives close to the marshlands, the Saltmarsh, near Norfolk. As an archeologist, the discovery of a two thousand year old skeleton in the marshland behind her home makes her more than a little excited. I liked Ruth because she was different – it was like she’d walked straight out of an entirely different novel and sat down in the middle of this one. Lately it seems like I’ve been reading more and more books with academics playing a large role, and I’m kind of fond of these types of protagonists, the ones who think first and act later. The old cliché of an action-packed police force trying to reign in the killer is getting tiresome, and I much prefer the less straightforward protagonist. Ruth is a woman with a lot of self-doubt, and it made her all the more real for me. She depends too much on other people, like her mentor and the other academics at university, and spends too much time worrying what others might think of her. The discovery of the bones is a blessing in disguise for Ruth, because it allows her to venture outside of her known territory and maybe try something new and exciting.

Then there’s Harry Nelson, Chief Inspector of the police, and everything Ruth isn’t. Athletic, strong, powerful, dominant. His very presence in a room is overwhelming – the kind of person who dominates an entire crowd simply by making an appearance, a stark contrast to Ruth’s personality. Ruth is a scholar and Harry is a man of action. He’s tormented by the case of a girl who went missing ten years ago, Lucy, a case never solved. Harry is more of a stereotype, the one of the tormented detective, haunted by this one particular case that won’t leave him alone. Nevertheless, he too steps outside of the known character stereotypes, because he’s okay with thinking outside of the box and seeing the connection between the thousand-year-old corpse in the marsh and the disappearance of Lucy.

Plot-wise, the book was mediocre at best. A body is discovered in the marshland, and Chief Inspector Harry Nelson thinks it may be Lucy, the missing girl from ten years ago. Ruth and her team of archeologists go to investigate, but it turns out the body is over two thousand years old. Involuntarily, the discovery of the ancient bones draws Ruth into the investigation. Ever since Lucy went missing, Harry has received letters with bizarre references to sacrifices and rituals, and asks Ruth to help decipher those letters. The letters point toward a fellow archeologist Ruth used to know, and the longer Ruth decides to help the police, the more she becomes involved in the case, which is a lot closer to home than she realized…

I actually figured out who had taken Lucy from the first moment said person was introduced. I kind of predicted the end halfway through the book. But, it had enough twist and turns to keep me interest, and I was really impressed by the combination of law enforcement and crime solving and archeology. I’m a huge archeology freak, and I love crime novels, so for me this was the ultimate twist. The mystery with the rituals and sacrifice had me intrigued as well. While the plot bordered on predictable, I was still impressed by how intrigued I was by what was going on, and how much I enjoyed reading about it.

The setting was extraordinary, and very well-described. The bleak, unforgiving landscape of the marshland behind Ruth’s house provided a dreary, depressive and sometimes dark and haunting setting. At times, it seemed like the marsh itself had become a character in this book.

A lot of Goodreads reviewers complained about the use of present tense in this book, but it didn’t bother me. I actually like books written in present tense – it adds a sense of urgency. The sometimes excessive use of exclamation points didn’t bother me either, I guess I was too engrossed in the story to care. Nevertheless, I understand the point about complaining about the tense of this book, and if you think it might annoy you as well, then better stay away from this book.

If you’re a fan of archeology and crime however, and you don’t care about some writing choices, then The Crossing Places is an excellent choice.

Book Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

5886881Title: Dark Places

Author: Gillian Flynn

Genre: Thriller, Mystery and Suspense

Release Date: May 5th, 2009

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 3 stars

Purchase: Amazon, B&N, Goodreads

I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.

The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details—proof they hope may free Ben—Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club…and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.

As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members—including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.

Dark Places is, like the title leads to believe, a dark book. It’s also very unsettling, and halfway through reading, a frightening feeling had crawled up on me, most unexpected since I don’t usually get scared from these types of books. Gillian Flynn uses words like a poet, describing the story in great detail, sketching the scenes in a way that makes you feel inexplicably involved, and sometimes even responsible. The characters aren’t easy people to like, and normally unlikeable characters work on my nerves, but that wasn’t the case here. Libby Day, the main character, is very open and honest aout her dark side, about the parts of herself she hates. Like how she’s still stuck in that phase between being a child and an adult, both in terms of how she looks and personality. How she’s jealous of the latest girl who lived through a family tragedy, because now all the attention and charity money goes to her instead of Libby.

It’s obvious from the get-go with her somewhat detached, distant personality, that Libby Day would be a hard character to like. The author does little in terms of making us like her, and yet somehow, I couldn’t help but rooting for Libby. Even though I loathed her personality, her greediness, how she used the tragedy in her advantage, it was obvious that most of this could be brought back to what happened that faithful night of January 2nd, 1985, when Libby’s mother and two sisters Michelle and Debby were murdered. That night, Libby escaped, but she didn’t escape unharmed. There’s some physical damage, but the largest part of it is emotional damage. Even after so many years, Libby can’t stand to look at memorabilia of her mom and sisters.

Ben Day, the one charged with hte murders, Libby’s older brother who she pointed an accusing finger to after the murders happened, is even more unlikeable. Back in 1985, he was your typical teenager, rebelling against everyone, who hated his mom and her habits even though she did everything she could to help her family, who hated his little sisters – except Libby who he kind of liked for some reason – and who hung out with the drug-addict crowd interested in scary, strange stuff. Ben was even more unlikeable than Libby, mostly because his unlikeableness started way before the murders. He was an ignorant, idiotic teenager so far away from the right path that I doubt he could’ve been helped. On top of that, his behavior after the murders is stupid as well. I didn’t like the way he treated Libby when she came to visit him at all. I understand being angry because she gave a false testimony – but she was seven, and it wasn’t like he ever tried to clear his own name. No, Ben definitely didn’t make it on my like list.

But then again, neither did any of the secondary characters. This book left me feeling drained because it showed all the negativity in the world. Lyle, a guy who runs the “Killer Club” and helps Libby find out more about the murders, borders between despicable and meh. I wasn’t sure what his angle was, and never fully understood him either. Runner, Libby’s father, is flat out unlikeable. Patty is probably the most likeable of all the characters. The more I found out about her, the more I liked her and I started feeling really bad about how she died. Patty is Libby’s mom, by the way. She wasn’t very good at providing for her family, but at least she tried, giving it everything she could, and she kept going on no matter how tough life was on her. She loved her children, which is ovbious from all her actions. I liked her the most of all characters.

Then, halfway through the book, I realized I didn’t care that I disliked the main characters, and even most of the secondary ones. The novel gives a very nihilist experience in that way, almost like reading Les Misérables. There’s nothing fun or joyful about reading this book, instead it drains your emotions and leaves you feeling haggard, empty. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad reading experience – it’s rare that a novel succeeds in giving us barely any pleasure while reading, not from the plot, which grows more grim with every turned page, nor from the characters. I thought it was an interesting, thought-provoking, dark book to read, but also depressing, but in a somewhat-good way. It showed me a darker side of humanity, and kept me interested in the plot while providing unlikeable characters.

The plot itself was intriguing and from the moment I started reading, I wanted to find out what happened that night Libby’s family was murdered. The occassional flashbacks were good, even though I thought the ones from Ben’s POV seemed a bit exaggerated, like how he got accused of being a paedophile even though he kissed a girl only four years younger than him (Ben being 15, the girl 11). And how the accusations spread so quickly without any real evidence. The book tied up neatly at the end, revealing a shocking twist of events I had only somewhat-seen coming.

The writing was beautiful, the descriptions spot-on, and the plot was intriguing. An excellent read, but a depressing one, and a book probably better not read if one is feeling down, or when the weather is gloomy.

Book Review: The Four Last Things by Andrew Taylor

1257531Title: The Four Last Things (The Roth Trilogy #1)
Author: Andrew Taylor
Genre: Thriller, Psychological Thriller
Age Group: Adult (18+)
Rating: 4,5 stars
Purchase: Amazon, B&N, Goodreads

Little Lucy Appleyard is snatched from her child minder’s on a cold winter afternoon, and the nightmare begins. When Eddie takes her home to beautiful, child-loving Angel, he knows he’s done the right thing. But Lucy’s not like their other visitors, and unwittingly she strikes through Angel’s defences to something both vulnerable and volatile at the core.

To the outside world Lucy has disappeared into a black hole with no clues to her whereabouts… until the first grisly discovery in a London graveyard. More such finds are to follow, all at religious sites, and, in a city haunted by religion, what do these offerings signify?

All that stands now between Lucy and the final sacrifice are a CID sergeant on the verge of disgrace and a woman cleric – Lucy’s parents – but how can they hope to halt the evil forces that are gathering around their innocent daughter?

Set in the late 1990s, THE FOUR LAST THINGS explores the terrible vulnerability of children.

I have contradictory feelings toward this book. On the one hand, I enjoyed it, especially the passages where we could get into Eddie’s mind. Eddie is a disturbed individual, but the woman he lives with, Angel, who manipulates him and everyone around her, is a lot worse. It’s basically like getting to choose between two evils. I liked the set-up of that, although some passages made me want to throw up. Either way, plot-wise, this book was great. Character-wise, not that much. I’ll get into further detail later on in the review, but I’ll start by quickly sketching the plot.

Lucy’s parents don’t really get along. They barely communicate, and all of that gets a lot worse when Lucy vanishes from her caretaker’s home and the police discovers a trail of body parts belonging to young children around Lucy’s age. Lucy’s mom, Revered Sally Applegate, is one of the main characters in this novel. Her husband wanted her to quit her job the moment Lucy was born – which made me instantly dislike him – and has never quite forgiven her that she didn’t do that (in which case, I’d tell him, quit your own job and stop nagging). Either way, Sally feels guilty about abandoning Lucy, especially after the kidnapping. When the body parts found are all linked to something religious, Sally’s guilt grows overwhelming. A lot of people are set against her, being a woman cleric, and she feels this may be an act of vengeance on her personally.

Then there’s Michael, Lucy’s dad, and well, I didn’t like him from the start. He keeps secrets from Sally, secrets that could very well destroy their relationship. He nags about everything under the sun, even though he has zero reason to do so. All in all, he’s plain annoying and I wanted to slap him across the head on more than one occassion.

A lot more interesting than Sally and Michael’s ordeal however was the relationship between Eddie and Angel, and the passages told from Eddie’s POV. More interesting because, at least to me, they came across as quite unique. I’ve read a bazillion novels about couples arguing after their children disappear, and trying to find their lost child. Nothing new there. But this is the first time I’ve read a book told half from the POV of the victims and half from the POV of the villains. It was interesting to see into Eddie’s mind, to find out how his attraction toward children grew, and how he met the woman who’d become his downfall.

The end of the book was a bit disappointing. Felt like deus ex machina to me. On top of that, there are a lot of things left unsolved that I’d like to get solved, especially about Angel. She was by far the most intriguing character, albeit in a disturbing way. I hope the next book in the trilogy focuses on her as well – and I hope I can find it somewhere soon. I want to read more and find out what happens next.

Book Review: Awakening by S.J. Bolton

6116750Title: Awakening
Author: S.J. Bolton
Genre: Thriller, Psychological Thriller, Mystery and Suspense
Age Group: Adult (18+)
Rating: 4 stars
Purchase: Amazon, Goodreads, B&N

Clara Benning, a veterinary surgeon in charge of a wildlife hospital in a small English village, is young and intelligent, but nearly a recluse. Disfigured by a childhood accident, she generally prefers the company of animals to people. But when a local man dies following a supposed snakebite, Clara’s expertise is needed. She’s chilled to learn that the victim’s postmortem shows a higher concentration of venom than could ever be found in a single snake—and that therefore the killer must be human.

Assisted by a soft-spoken neighbor and an eccentric reptile expert, Clara unravels sinister links to an abandoned house, an ancient ritual, and a fifty-year-old tragedy that has left the survivors secretive. But for someone the truth must remain buried in the past—even if they have to kill to keep it there.

Awakening is a disturbing tale of dark secrets and insidious rituals that will have readers unable to stop for a breath until they’ve reach the stunning climax of this extraordinary read from the author of the acclaimed debut novel Sacrifice.

Awakening is a deeply disturbing story about a small town mysteriously infested by snakes – and not the garden variety, but dangerous killers brought here from Papoea New Guinea. When veterinary surgeon Clara, a recluse by her own making, gets summoned to help when a hysterical mother finds a snake in her baby’s crib, that’s only the beginning of the madness. Later on, a man dies from a seemingly innocent snake bite, and 39 snakes are found in one of the neighboring houses. Is it just a random occurence, or is someone behind it?

At first Clara wants to stay out of this as much as possible. She’s a recluse by choice, preferring to stay away from company ever since she was harmed when she was a baby, leaving her with terrible scars on her face. But she can’t help but get involved in this case, as every occurence requires the help and assistance of a veterinary. On top of that, old man Witcher, a man she somewhat got along with, has returned from the death and is now stalking her every move, even appearing in her home. So maybe Witcher isn’t dead at all, and he’s the culprit behind the snake attacks, or maybe someone who looks a lot like the old man she used to know has returned to town…

With Clara’s life and reputation at stake as more and more fingers begin to point in her direction, she must take matters into her own hands and find out what is going on. Her search leads her back to the town’s history, to a church that burned down decades ago, to the Witcher family…

I actually really liked Clara, which is strange because she avoids all human contact if possible and prefers to stay on her own. I liked that – it was new, it was fresh. We don’t offer get a protagonist who’s scarred for life and too afraid to talk to people, and it was an original asset to the story. The novel actually had a very gothic feel, both because of the descriptions of the town, and because of the protagonist, who acts like she just ran away from a gothic novel. I also liked the hint of romance in the book, and how Clara learns, along the way, that looks aren’t everything. People might start to care for her, even though she has a disfigured face. People might treat her like an ordinary human being and look past those scars if she gives them the opportunity. So in that sense, this novel is a bit like a coming-of-age story, although Clara is already in her thirties. The protagonist goes through an almost insane amount of character development here, which was great.

The story itself was intriguing as well, although it was also a bit awkward here and there. I liked the setting – the old town, the abandoned house, the snakes – but some things were a bit too random for me to ignore. Like when at some point Clara is chased by some other village people, I was continuously wondering “why”. I mean, these people are stupid and ignorant, sure. But is it just because she’s scarred that they’d chase her down and call her names? I doubt that, unless they were highly intoxicated or something. Either way,that was just one of the few things that didn’t make sense to me. I also thought the story of what happened in the past was a bit over the top.

All in all, the book was a great read, even if some parts of the story made me frown. It had intriguing characters, especially the protagonist, and a mysterious setting to match the extraordinary plot. I wouldn’t mind seeing more books by this author, especially if she brings me another one featuring the same protagonist.

Book Review: Eleven Days by Stav Sherez

17829284Title: Eleven Days
Author: Stav Sherez
Genre: Thriller, Mystery and Suspense
Age Group: Adult (18+)
Rating: 4,5 stars
Purchase: Amazon, Goodreads, B&N

A fire rages through a sleepy West London square, engulfing a small convent hidden away among the residential houses. When DI Jack Carrigan and DS Geneva Miller arrive at the scene they discover eleven bodies, yet there were only supposed to be ten nuns in residence.

It’s eleven days before Christmas, and despite their superiors wanting the case solved before the holidays, Carrigan and Miller start to suspect that the nuns were not who they were made out to be. Why did they make no move to escape the fire? Who is the eleventh victim, whose body was found separate to the others? And where is the convent’s priest, the one man who can answer their questions?

Fighting both internal politics and the church hierarchy, Carrigan and Miller unravel the threads of a case which reaches back to the early 1970s, and the upsurge of radical Liberation Theology in South America – with echoes of the Shining Path, and contemporary battles over oil, land and welfare. Meanwhile, closer to home, there’s a new threat in the air, one the police are entirely unprepared for…Spanning four decades and two continents, Eleven Days finds Carrigan and Miller up against time as they face a new kind of criminal future.

Eleven Days is the second book in the Carrigan and Miller series, but it can just as easily be read as a standalone. I hadn’t read the first book, and I got caught up with this story right away. Protagonist Carrigan has lost his wife a few years ago, and ever since he’s had a bitter, grim look on life. Christmas is the worst, so part of him is secretly relieved when he’s called to work on a case during the holiday season. Miller is his partner and fellow police officer, a rookie on the murder case team since she’s only worked there for about a year.

The case they’re working on is a strange one, and it was that synopsis that convinced me to read the book. Carrigan and Miller are called onto the scene of fire, and when they reach the scene they realize the house ablaze is not just a regular house but a convent. A fireman discovers the bodies of ten nuns upstairs. Instead of fleeing like anyone would do when panicking, the nuns’ bodies lie in peculiar positions, like they didn’t stir at all.

They discover an old chapel downstairs in which they find another body. The problem? There should only have been ten nuns in the house. So who is the eleventh victim? And why was she here? The more Carrigan and Miller get buried in the case, the more complicated it becomes. They figure out that the eleventh victim is Emily Maxted, a human rights activist of the extreme variety who had been charged with drugs possession several years ago. Now it’s up to the team of detectives to find the connection between pink-haired Emily and the nuns, and to solve the case, which will bring them from the Albanian mob to secret hideouts in the middle of Peru to miner strikers in the 1970s.

Carrigan and Miller are a strong team, and I love the dynamics between them. All too often when the two main characters are a man and a woman there’s mention of a romantic relationship, but that’s not the case here. Carrigan is still very much grieving over his wife who passed away and Miller is occupied with her impending divorce and ex-husband threatening to take away all her money. So their relationship is friendship based on a lot of trust, and I liked that. It put a great perspective on things, and they always had each other’s backs without being snarky about it. While they certainly played a large role in the book, the plot was the main focus point here. The book is very plot-driven and entertwines some intriguing, gruesome pieces of history in a contemporary story.

I liked how complicated everything was, and how the piece wouldn’t add up. Eleven Days is heavy on the suspense, but in a good way. I was literally biting my nails halfway through the book because I wanted to know what would come next. There are so many dead ends, so many clever plots combined that it left me going down a million different trails. I never guessed the real story behind what happened, and that’s always a bonus. The ending came as a big shock, but it explained things well and wrapped everything up nicely.

The author definitely knows what he’s talking about. He doesn’t just throw random made-up snippets our way. The story he’s build the book on is mostly true, as in, the history behind the drugs cartels, the torture described in some scenes, etcetera. It adds to the book’s credibility that even though it’s fiction, it’s well-researched. Stav Sherez also knows his way around words, and he has an easy writing style that gets straight to the point.

I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the Carrigan and Miller series, and I’ll keep an eye out for the first book so I can add it to my collection.

Book Review: The Prophet (Graveyard Queen #3) by Amanda Stevens

13024331Title: The Prophet (Graveyard Queen #3)
Author: Amanda Stevens
Genre: Paranormal Mystery, Mystery and Suspense, Thriller
Age Group: Adult (18+)
Rating: 4,5 stars
Purchase: Goodreads, Amazon

My name is Amelia Gray.

I am the Graveyard Queen, a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts. My father passed down four rules to keep me safe and I’ve broken every last one. A door has opened and evil wants me back.

In order to protect myself, I’ve vowed to return to those rules. But the ghost of a murdered cop needs my help to find his killer. The clues lead me to the dark side of Charleston—where witchcraft, root doctors and black magic still flourish—and back to John Devlin, a haunted police detective I should only love from afar.Now I’m faced with a terrible choice: follow the rules or follow my heart.

I liked The Prophet a little less than The Kingdom. True, it ties everything nicely together, but it leaves too much loose ends for me to rate it a five-stars. It’s like the author deliberately wanted to leave a gap open so another book could be written in the series if she wanted to. Or maybe she wanted to maintain a sense of mystery at the end. Either way, I like my trilogies more nicely tied up, so that brought down the rating for me. Apart from that, Amanda Stevens once again delivers a gripping, fascinating read with protagonist Amelia Gray starring in the main role as graveyard restorer who can see ghosts.

Amelia returns to Charleston, worn out after everything that happened in Asher Falls and the dreadful discovers she made about her own past. This time around she goes back to restore Oak Grove Cemetery, forcing herself to face her own fears after what happened there. But going back to Charleston also means going back to Devlin. The spirit of Devlin’s daughter comes to visit Amelia, luring her to a house where she finds Devlin and another woman. Trying to cope with her feelings of jealousy, Amelia grows fixated on Devlin’s daughter and why she keeps on haunting her, and more importantly, why she can’t let go. She also goes to see her Dad and talk about what happened in the past, and his aversion toward ghosts.

The Prophet from book one makes a re-appearance. He needs to know who killed him if he ever wants to rest, so Amelia, amidst all the other commotion, goes out to search for his killer. Meanwhile a man named Darius, who’s related to Devlin’s deceased wife, shows up and threatens not only Devlin but Amelia as well. The plot thickens, and Amelia will have to come to terms with who she is if she wants to survive. She realizes there’s more to the spirit world than she ever thought possible.

I liked Amelia here. Strong and capable, intelligent. Even when she sees Devlin with another woman, she doesn’t completely freak out, and she handles it as maturely as can be expected. I doubt anyone would be thrilled to see the object of their desire with someone else, but Amelia has other stuff to worry about. She’s really grown throughout this series. She’s much more confident in her abilities, less afraid of ghosts somehow. I also liked Devlin here. He was the mysterious ‘bad boy’ cop persona in book one, but he’s a real person now. I finally understand his attraction toward Amelia, and they truly had chemistry here.

The plot was a bit of a let-down. It was like it picked up from The Restorer, tying up the loose ends from that book but without the urgency The Restorer and The Kingdom had. I wouldn’t have minded another visit to Asher Falls. The plot was less intense somehow, even though a lot was going on, and it was like the other wrapped up too much and didn’t explain enough. The vibe was the same though: haunting and mysterious, and the writing was solid.

But because of the ending, which disappointed me because so much was left unresolved, I really want another book to wrap things up nicely. What happens to the Ashers and what the old Asher patriarch predicted or wished? Why is The Prophet so much more powerful and different than other ghosts? What will Amelia do about her heritage?

Book Review: The Kingdom (Graveyard Queen #2) by Amanda Stevens

11162228Title: The Kingdom (Graveyard Queen #2)
Author: Amanda Stevens
Genre: Paranormal Mystery, Thriller, Mystery and Suspense
Age Group: Adult (18+)
Rating: 5 stars
Purchase: Goodreads, Amazon

Deep in the shadowy foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains lies a dying town…My name is Amelia Gray. They call me The Graveyard Queen. I’ve been commissioned to restore an old cemetery in Asher Falls, South Carolina, but I’m coming to think I have another purpose here.

Why is there a cemetery at the bottom of Bell Lake? Why am I drawn time and again to a hidden grave I’ve discovered in the woods? Something is eating away at the soul of this town—this withering kingdom—and it will only be restored if I can uncover the truth.

Of all three books, The Kingdom is my favorite. It starts out with Amelia visiting Asher Falls, a small community in the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For Amelia it’s the perfect opportunity to get away from Charleston for a while, a welcome escape after the events that transpired in the previous book. She’s also eager to get away from Devlin, who is haunted by his own ghosts, something Amelia can’t have in her life right now. She goes to Asher Falls to restore a cemetary, but the moment she arrives in the small town, she notices things aren’t what they seem around here. The lake at the edge of Asher Falls harbors an ancient cemetery and the old town, which flooded ages ago. There’s a grave hidden in the forest nearby the cemetery Amelia came to restore, a well-kept grave nobody seems to know about. Strange creatures follow Amelia around, and the dead are more active here than ever before. Whatever secret Asher Falls harbors, Amelia is stuck right in the middle of it.

Amelia shines here more than in the previous book. She’s become this interesting person who is so real and solid I can almost imagine her as a real person as opposed to a book character. Her emotions are more streamlined than they were before, and at the same time more conflicted. She’s unsure with the whole Devlin situation, and although she’s glad to get away from him and his ghosts for a while, she also misses him. When she meets Thane, the grandson of the famous Asher family patriarch, the most influential family of Asher Falls, she’s unsure about him at first. He seems like your regular “got it all, thinks he can get anything” type, but the more she gets to know him, the more she realizes he’s much more than that. Thane too has secrets, most of them going back way into his past. And when Amelia starts digging for answers, she comes across some of Thane’s secrets, which put him in another perspective. I have to be honest here and say that I actually liked Thane more than Devlin. He seemed more dependable. With Devlin there’s always the issue of his wife and daughter, who passed away, and Thane was free of any such burdens.

The Kingdom takes it up a notch from The Restorer – it goes beyond everything The Restorer is. Asher Falls has a Silent Hill vibe going on. The town is nearly deserted, there’s a sunken graveyard which I have to say is pretty darn awesome, and there are secrets piled up everywhere in town. Add the creepy monsters that followed Amelia to the cemetery, the appearance of a girl ghost who killed herself years ago but can’t seem to find peace, and the Asher’s secrets, and you’re in for one hell of a ride. This book is sinister and dark, and it mixes everything from romance to thriller to a paranormal mystery. Only a handful of authors really manage to impress me with their writing, and Amanda Stevens firmly earned her place amongst them with this book.