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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Category: Murder Mystery (page 1 of 6)

Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison

Perched atop a hill in the tiny town of Marchburg, Virginia, The Goode School is a prestigious prep school known as a Silent Ivy. The boarding school of choice for daughters of the rich and influential, it accepts only the best and the brightest. Its elite status, long-held traditions and honor code are ideal for preparing exceptional young women for brilliant futures at Ivy League universities and beyond. But a stranger has come to Goode, and this ivy has turned poisonous.

In a world where appearances are everything, as long as students pretend to follow the rules, no one questions the cruelties of the secret societies or the dubious behavior of the privileged young women who expect to get away with murder. But when a popular student is found dead, the truth cannot be ignored. Rumors suggest she was struggling with a secret that drove her to suicide.

But look closely…because there are truths and there are lies, and then there is everything that really happened.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This book was a conundrum. On one hand, the setting was full of promise: a Gothic prep school filled with overachieving rich girls. On the other hand, we have lots of internal dialogue and chapters that switch POV’s rapidly, causing confusion. There was also a slow start to the book, and it seemed to drag on towards the middle. This was almost a DNF for me, but I kept going.

The last 20% of the book is filled with rapid-fire twists and turns, and all the questions (and there are plenty!) are answered. There are some (more) deaths but I felt the conclusion was satisfactorily drawn. Ellison’s characters are typical boarding-school-with-money types, and there are a lot of familiar tropes (secret societies, girl drama, rich girls behaving badly) that will warm the heart of the reader that loves this type of thing.

I am unsure how to classify this book – is it YA or not? I feel it fits either category; the writing style is easy to read, if a little drawn out. I think each chapter would have benefitted from naming the narrator right at the beginning so the reader would immediately know who is speaking. However, this may have been done deliberately by the author to cause confusion and increase the intrigue.

My favorite character was Becca – she was an apt Head Girl, hiding her loneliness under a harsh and demanding exterior. I also felt sorry for the Dean, who was constantly under the thumb of the previous Dean (who just happened to be her manipulative mother).

All in all – an uneven but mildly pleasant read. Stick with it through the slow portions and you will be happy you did. You can pick up your copy here.

Bloody Genius by John Sandford (Virgil Flowers #12)

Virgil Flowers will have to watch his back–and his mouth–as he investigates a college culture war turned deadly in the latest thriller from #1 New York Times-bestseller John Sandford.

At the local state university, two feuding departments have faced off on the battleground of PC culture. Each carries their views to extremes that may seem absurd, but highly educated people of sound mind and good intentions can reasonably disagree, right?

Then someone winds up dead, and Virgil Flowers is brought in to investigate . . . and he soon comes to realize he’s dealing with people who, on this one particular issue, are functionally crazy. Among this group of wildly impassioned, diametrically opposed zealots lurks a killer, and it will be up to Virgil to sort the murderer from the mere maniacs.

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

No one is getting Virgil’s jokes. This is because he is knee-deep in academia land, investigating the murder of a well-respected but also generally disliked professor. Apparently those who work at the University of Minnesota do not have a well-rounded sense of humor.

Virgil teams up with Detective Trane from the Minnesota police department, a partnership that starts out shaky but solidifies when Virgil proves himself to be an affable companion. Trane is at a dead end until Virgil discovers some evidence that starts the ball rolling, leading to some of the strangest characters ever seen in a Flowers novel.

I felt that the book was slow going until the last third, when the action started to pick up a bit and the loose ends started to come together. There are a lot of characters and subplots, and unless you keep them straight it will end up being confusing.

The plot blurb notes there is an interdepartmental feud going on, but I found that portion of the story a bit underwhelming. There is less going on there than the publisher would have you believe. I feel it would have benefitted the book to have noted there was a murder on campus and Virgil had to deal with a lot of functionally crazy people; after all, the murder does take place in the beginning of the book and the rest is just smoke and mirrors until the end. At times I wanted to skip ahead, looking for more action and less talking, but I was afraid I would miss something.

Flowers novels are like pizza – it may not always be the best tasting, but it’s pizza. Despite the flaws I noted above, it is always good to see what Virgil is doing. Hopefully the next outing will be more suspenseful and action packed.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Tracking Game by Margaret Mizushima (Timber Creek K-9 #5)

Two brutal murders, a menacing band of poachers, and a fearsome creature on the loose in the mountains plunge Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo into a sinister vortex.
An explosion outside a community dance sends Mattie Cobb and Cole Walker reeling into the night, where they discover a burning van and beside it the body of outfitter Nate Fletcher. But the explosion didn’t kill Nate–it was two gunshots to the heart.
The investigation leads them to the home of rancher Doyle Redman, whose daughter is Nate’s widow, and the object of one of their suspect’s affection. But before they can make an arrest, they receive an emergency call from a man who’s been shot in the mountains. Mattie and Robo rush to the scene, only to be confronted by the ominous growl of a wild predator.

As new players emerge on the scene, Mattie begins to understand the true danger that’s enveloping Timber Creek. They journey into the cold, misty mountains to track the animal–but discover something even more deadly in Tracking Game, the fifth installment in Margaret Mizushima’s Timber Creek K-9 mysteries.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This is another winner for the author! I’m a big fan of the series about troubled cop Mattie Cobb and her K9 partner, Robo. The love and respect Cobb has for her dog shines through in each book and this one was no exception.

A twisty murder mystery is the setting for this latest installment, with the backdrop of the Colorado mountains looming large as usual. Unique to this story was a subplot of big game hunting and a ferocious big cat on the loose. Mattie must depend on Robo to keep her safe from both human and animal as they track a killer.

We learn a bit more about Mattie’s past – the author loves to peel back the layers bit by bit in each book, which helps develop the character, as well as adding to the reader’s kinship with Mattie. She is a troubled soul, fiercely independent and devoted to her canine companion Robo. The ways in which Mizushima describes their interactions is both heartwarming and jaw-dropping – this German Shepherd is such a smart dog!

I was also happy to see Mattie’s romance with veterinarian Cole Walker developing some more – there is a lot of chemistry between them and he is so good for Mattie’s wounded soul. In fact, there are a few ways that Mattie overcomes some of her fears in TRACKING GAME – I was proud of her for getting out of her comfort zone.

If you love backcountry mysteries, you will love the Timber Creek series. There is just enough fast-paced intrigue plus a little romance to keep nearly every reader interested. This book could be read as a stand-alone, but some of the references will go over the heads of readers. This will not detract from the plot or outcome, but it is always recommended to start with the first book and go from there. I am anxiously awaiting the next mystery from Mizushima; she is one of my favorite authors and I’m always ready to dive into her next work. Grab your copy here!

One Night Gone by Tara Laskowski

One sultry summer in the 1980s, a teenage girl arrived in the wealthy vacation town of Opal Beach to start her life anew—to achieve her destiny. But before the summer was up, she vanished.
Decades later, when Allison Simpson is offered the opportunity to house-sit in Opal Beach, it seems like the perfect chance to regroup and start fresh after a messy divorce. It’s the off-season, after all, which means peace and quiet, and more importantly for Allison, safety.
But when Allison becomes drawn into the story of a girl who disappeared from town thirty years before, she begins to realize that Opal Beach isn’t as idyllic as it seems. Beyond the walls of the gorgeous homes hide dark secrets. And as Allison digs deeper into the mystery, she uncovers not only the shocking truth, but finds herself caught in the middle of a twisted plot.

Part electric coming-of-age story and part breathtaking mystery, One Night Gone is an atmospheric, suspenseful novel about power, privilege, and ultimately, sisterhood.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This dark story takes place in Opal Beach, a Jersey Shore-like town with authentic details such as the Boardwalk, carnivals, and winter residents (who hate the summer with a passion). These residents are insular and secretive with good reason – a girl went missing years ago and no one knows what happened to her.

When Allison, a disgraced meteorologist, scores a house-sitting job in Opal Beach she discovers just how insular the townfolk can be. The story is told from various points of view, with the main story being that of Allison and her demons. Maureen, the vanished girl, has demons of her own but has a youthful optimism that makes her more appealing than Allison. I was instantly on Maureen’s side and was hoping for a good outcome for her. Allison had her moments, but it seemed that she was slow to make a move due to past events. I understand how she was written, but I wanted her to have a little more backbone. Perhaps she was outshone by the brightness and promise of Maureen. I absolutely loved, loved, loved that Maureen considered herself a mermaid, with her tail flapping at times when she was most confident. It’s too bad that some of that confidence didn’t rub off on Allison.

Allison is befriended by a few friendly residents of Opal Beach and shunned by others. As the plotlines converge and we see characters commit actions in their youth, the reader will find out that what happens in the 80’s does not stay there. The author is skilled at creating the carefree attitude of summer down the shore, both in her character description and the environment. Laskowski is adept at setting a mood with weather; I wondered if that was a subtle nod to Allison. Maureen’s weather is mostly warm, sunny, and full of promise, while Allison’s is bleak and cold. There has been quite a lot of books written with converging multiple points of view, and I may be growing weary of that. However, the author managed to keep my interest going until the plot twists captured my attention – then I didn’t put the book down until it was finished.

The themes of sisterhood and betrayal illuminate just how brutal it can be when women turn on each other. Women grab onto their anger and never let go until the death, either literally or figuratively. ONE NIGHT GONE places the reader firmly in the middle of this anger and doesn’t let go.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Old Bones (Nora Kelly #1) by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

 

The first in the groundbreaking Nora Kelly series from #1 bestselling authors Preston & Child blends the legend of the Donner party with a riveting suspense tale, taking the dynamic duo’s work to new heights.

Nora Kelly, a young but successful curator with a series of important excavations already under her belt, is approached by the handsome historian, Guy Porter, to lead an expedition unlike any other. Guy tells his story–one involving the ill-fated Donner Party, who became permanently lodged in the American consciousness in the winter of 1847, when the first skeletonized survivors of the party stumbled out of the California mountains, replete with tales of courage, resourcefulness, bad luck, murder, barbarism–and, finally, starvation and cannibalism.

Captivated by the Donner Party, Nora agrees and they venture into the Sierra Nevada in search of the camp. Quickly, they learn that the discovery of the missing starvation camp is just the tip of the iceberg–and that the real truth behind those long-dead pioneers is not only far more complex and surprising than they could have imagined…but it is one that puts them both in mortal danger from a very real, present-day threat in which the search for the lost party, and its fabled fortune in gold, are merely means to a horrifying end.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

OLD BONES is the first of the Nora Kelly series. As you may recall, Nora was the intrepid curator/archaeologist in some of the early Pendergast novels. The authors have decided to give Nora her own series, minus the usual Pendergast characters save one. Newly minted FBI agent Corrie Swanson is here also, investigating a murder.

Nora is on site excavating remains found of the famous Donner Party of 1847. What begins as a typical excavation turns into terror when members of their dig turn up dead. Corrie and the FBI are investigating these murders because they took place on Federal land, plus they tie in with another investigation involving grave robbing. Apparently, the robbed graves were descendants of a member of the Donner Party – but why the interest in them all of a sudden?

The premise sounds thrilling, but the telling of the tale is middling. Much of the action takes place on the dig and seems repetitive. Nora and Corrie butt heads during the course of the investigation and Corrie has to deal with the “good old boys” of law enforcement who mock her lack of experience.

The winning points of OLD BONES are the strong female characters – Nora, Corrie, and Nora’s boss Dr Fugit. It seems as though their characters are drawn well with good backstory, while the men are secondary. You won’t hear a complaint from me; I appreciate the authors giving Nora and Corrie their feisty personalities and strong work ethic.

Most of the book reads like a weak version of a Pendergast novel. I did keep expecting him to pop up somewhere to save the day. Final verdict – not the worst thing by far I’ve read, but just sort of dull. The best parts were the history, albeit gory, of the Donner Party and how they managed to survive.

Nora is a great character and I am looking forward to seeing her handle her next adventure. Perhaps the authors will hit their stride in the next book. Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

Neon Prey by John Sandford (Davenport #29)

Lucas Davenport pursues a prolific serial killer who has gone undetected for years in the newest nail-biter by #1 NewYork Times bestselling author John Sandford.

It was a relatively minor criminal matter, all things considered, but enough that the US Marshals obtained a warrant to enter the home. They didn’t expect to unearth trophies from a score of killings.

Now Davenport is on the trail of a serial murderer, one who was able to operate for years without notice or suspicion. But there’s even more to this killer than meets the eye…

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

It’s hard to believe that this is Davenport’s 29th adventure. He’s gotten shot, stabbed, punched numerous times, and suffered various other indignities. In NEON PREY he and his fellow Marshals Bob and Rae are hot on the heels of a cannibal. Multiple bodies have been found in the yard of Clayton Deese, and the Marshals want to ask him some questions. Deese, however, is not cooperating.

When Lucas and Co. discover that the livers from the bodies are missing, and the barbeque grill from Deese’s house has been used, they realize that they are not looking for a typical run-of-the-mill killer. Bob, Rae, and Lucas share the spotlight equally, which is different from previous books. It almost seems as though Lucas is part of the supporting cast rather than the main character. Even his “cop talk” is secondary to that of Bob and Rae.

Las Vegas is a quirky setting that provides both sparkle and squalor. There is a section of the book where Deese and his crew hang out at a friend’s ramshackle trailer. As I read on, I could hear the banjos from “Deliverance” in the background – it was that eerie!

My thoughts on this one is that it’s a firm middle-of-the-road Prey novel. What stood out for me was that Davenport seems to be feeling his age (both mentally and physically) here. No spoilers; but I was not ready for some of the plot twists. Kudos to the author for keeping his characters human with relevant emotions.

I’d love to know what you think of #29 – leave me a comment with your thoughts. You can pick up your copy here.

 

The Suspect by Fiona Barton

The new must-read standalone crime thriller from the author of Sunday Times bestseller, The Widow, and the Richard & Judy No. 1 bestseller, The Child – featuring unforgettable journalist, Kate Waters.
The police belonged to another world – the world they saw on the television or in the papers. Not theirs.
When two eighteen-year-old girls go missing on their gap year in Thailand, their families are thrust into the international spotlight: desperate, bereft and frantic with worry.
Journalist Kate Waters always does everything she can to be first to the story, first with the exclusive, first to discover the truth – and this time is no exception. But she can’t help but think of her own son, who she hasn’t seen in two years since he left home to go traveling. This time it’s personal.
And as the case of the missing girls unfolds, they will all find that even this far away, danger can lie closer to home than you might think . . .

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC!

Fiona Barton still has the touch in this latest Kate Waters mystery. We become a little more acquainted in Kate’s personal life while she is investigating a story of how two girls go missing during a trip to Thailand. During a series of plot twists, Kate becomes part of the journalist’s fodder and experiences what it is like from the other side – knocks on your door day and night, having to hide from the press, and looking over your shoulder all the time.

One of Barton’s hallmarks is that some of her characters are unreliable narrators. Sometimes you don’t find out who is unreliable until you have finished half the story, other times it is painfully obvious. THE SUSPECT is a tale that shifts your perspective on the reliability of a character multiple times. Are the good guys really good? Are you supposed to read between the lines of one girl’s email to her best friend, or is she just sharing her innermost thoughts?

Set in the UK with flashbacks of the girls’ trip to Bangkok, the story unfolds as Kate ingratiates herself with the girls’ parents and tries to uncover what happened to them. Once certain details come to light, Kate is removed from the case and becomes a pariah. The author leads you down a path that makes you certain you know the truth…then swiftly changes the course of your journey.

More sensual tension simmers between Kate and Detective Bob Sparkes, despite the fact that his wife is expected to die from cancer within a few months. His character is wonderfully written, full of conflict, regret and fatigue.

The parents of the missing girls are all rage and accusation, blaming each other even as they cling to the small hope that their daughters are still alive. They turn on each other like vipers, then close ranks against the journalists who seek to create a story out of their pain.

The seedy atmosphere of Bangkok’s underworld is a perfect setting. If I were a parent, I would never want my daughter taking a trip there, regardless of how many friends she had with her. Some other reviews note that there is really nothing good mentioned about Thailand; I feel that is to make the story a bit darker and have the actions of the characters appear insidious.

I’d be interested to see if Barton includes some of the characters from this book in a future one. This was definitely an enjoyable read.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Past Tense by Lee Child (Jack Reacher #23)

 

 

Family secrets come back to haunt Jack Reacher in this electrifying thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author Lee Child, “a superb craftsman of suspense” (Entertainment Weekly). Reacher, the eternal drifter, happens by chance on the small New Hampshire town he remembers his father was supposed to have come from. But when he starts looking for his dad’s old home, he finds there’s no record of anyone named Reacher ever having lived there.

 

 

Thanks to Goodreads for the ARC! This latest outing for Reacher is unputdownable.

This is the first Jack Reacher book in a while that I literally could not stop reading. Our hero is caught up in a small town in New Hampshire attempting to find out information about his father and family tree, and as usual, trouble follows him. There is also a converging plotline about two travelers with a mysterious suitcase. Their car dies and they check into a motel of dubious origin. The author doles out tidbits of information on these people in a way that kept me hooked. Consider eating a single M&M or potato chip….then having to wait for another one. This is exactly how I felt – I was so eager to find out what happened to the couple, what was really going on in that motel, and WHAT THE HELL was in that suitcase!!

In the meantime, Reacher is doing his thing, making friends and enemies along the way. There are some wonderful punch-ups and delicious retribution that will gladden the heart of every Reacher fan. We learn more about Reacher’s family (his father in particular) and the town he grew up in. The description of the town was amazing, as I enjoy urban exploring and wanted to go there right away to walk around this abandoned place. However, the information about Reacher’s dad was probably the weakest part of the plot for me. I may have been expecting more detail or a plot twist, but was satisfied enough with what I got. Minor complaints about a nearly perfect book. It was also refreshing to not have Jack caught up in a passionate but short hookup with one of the available women in town. Sometimes that detracts from the action.

As I said before, this is a nearly perfect book and would work well as a stand-alone for those who have not read this series before. I’m very grateful to the publisher for offering this as a giveaway.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Burning Ridge by Margaret Mizushima

Featuring Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo, Burning Ridge by critically acclaimed author Margaret Mizushima is just the treat for fans of Alex Kava.

On a rugged Colorado mountain ridge, Mattie Cobb and her police dog partner Robo make a grisly discovery—and become the targets of a ruthless killer.
Colorado’s Redstone Ridge is a place of extraordinary beauty, but this rugged mountain wilderness harbors a horrifying secret. When a charred body is discovered in a shallow grave on the ridge, officer Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo are called in to spearhead the investigation. But this is no ordinary crime—and it soon becomes clear that Mattie has a close personal connection to the dead man.
Joined by local veterinarian Cole Walker, the pair scours the mountaintop for evidence and makes another gruesome discovery: the skeletonized remains of two adults and a child. And then, the unthinkable happens. Could Mattie become the next victim in the murderer’s deadly game?
A deranged killer torments Mattie with a litany of dark secrets that call into question her very identity. As a towering blaze races across the ridge, Cole and Robo search desperately for her—but time is running out in Margaret Mizushima’s fourth spine-tingling Timber Creek K-9 mystery, Burning Ridge.

 

Thanks to Netgalley for this advance reviewer’s copy! This is Margaret Mizushima’s fourth book in this series, and I’m happy to say that it’s holding my interest just as much as the first one did.

Mattie and loyal K9 partner Robo are handling a crime that hits too close to home. Mattie is slowly coming out of her emotional shell, but still has a long way to go when it comes to opening her heart to veterinarian Cole Walker. As she is preparing to reconnect with her brother, whom she has not seen in many years, she becomes involved with a body that is found deep inside the forest. Is she really surrounded by people that she can’t trust – or does she need to let her guard down and see what happens?

Mizushima’s characters are true to life and nuanced. Mattie is definitely more emotionally grounded, but still views her German Shepherd, Robo, as her closest ally. Robo is superb as the K9 officer, who can alternatively tug at your heartstrings when he plays with Mattie or make you cheer as he takes down the bad guy. We should all have a dog as loyal and supportive as he is.

Twists and turns kept me reading for hours – I didn’t want to put it down! This police procedural is just the right mix of action, dialogue, canine antics, and suspense. Most of the suspense comes in the last 20% of the book, but it’s worth waiting for. Robo’s skills are put to the test as he handles his most daunting task so far, and I held my breath to see what would be happening next. Mizushima’s writing is easy on the brain, despite some plot nuances and characters that appear in the beginning, only to disappear, then pop up again. The love the author has for the Colorado mountains and forests is evident in her thorough description of Mattie’s surroundings. I felt as if I were right alongside the characters, fully immersed.

The only concern I have is early on, when veterinarian Cole shows up at his clinic early in the morning. Some patients stayed overnight, and they are described as just waking up from anesthesia. It’s not proper medical practice to leave a patient unattended immediately after anesthesia, much less overnight without care. Yes, the procedure was a “routine” spay – but there is no mention of any veterinary nurses other than Cole’s coworker. This was jarring to me and it took me a while to get past that. Every other instance of veterinary work was perfect, and an excellent layer to the book. Note to the author: add more veterinary scenes to your book! It’s always a good thing to have the public see how hard vets and nurses work to care for pets and livestock.

If you have not read any Timber Creek mysteries yet – pick this up! To better gain an understanding of Mattie and what makes her tick, start with the first book. This one could stand alone, but the backstory will help some of the details make more sense.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Twisted Prey by John Sandford

Lucas Davenport confronts an old nemesis, now more powerful than ever as a U.S. senator, in the thrilling new novel in the #1 New York Times-bestselling Prey series
Lucas Davenport had crossed paths with her before. A rich psychopath, Taryn Grant had run successfully for the U.S. Senate, where Lucas had predicted she’d fit right in. He was also convinced that she’d been responsible for three murders, though he’d never been able to prove it. Once a psychopath had gotten that kind of rush, though, he or she often needed another fix, so he figured he might be seeing her again.
He was right. A federal marshal now, with a very wide scope of investigation, he’s heard rumors that Grant has found her seat on the Senate intelligence committee, and the contacts she’s made from it, to be very…useful. Pinning those rumors down was likely to be just as difficult as before, and considerably more dangerous.
But they had unfinished business, he and Grant. One way or the other, he was going to see it through to the end.

Thanks to Netgalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Twisted Prey is the 28th book in the bestselling series by John Sandford. The teaser here is that Federal Marshal Lucas Davenport may finally be able to put paid to the evil Taryn Grant, who got away a few books back (see Silken Prey). An “accident” involving a US Senator is brought to Davenport’s attention, and soon enough, all the wonderful characters of Sandford’s imagination come out to play. I especially enjoyed reading the pithy cop talk between officers Bob and Rae; the scene with the donuts was spot-on!

Taryn Grant is quite the narcissist in this book, as she manipulates others to do her bidding. Despite Davenport’s more-than-a-hunch feelings that she is the bad guy, there is no clear evidence linking her to the accident in the beginning of the book. She’s got plenty to hide, though, and does it well. Shame that such a smart female character has to be so evil. She is not my favorite bad character – despite her ambition she seems too flat for my liking.

There was a bit too much politics in this installment to be perfect; all the discussion of defense contracts and the like bogged the story down a bit. This was a middle-of-the-road book; familiar characters doing familiar things, yet it took just a touch too long to wrap up. This may be due to the setting being Washington, DC – when the stories take place in Minnesota there is something oddly comforting about the location. I wonder how much of the story was written out of inspiration vs having to wrap up the Taryn Grant situation?

However, no Prey book is truly heinous. We also find that Davenport isn’t untouchable, as an encounter with some bad guys leaves him screaming like a little girl (one of the funniest vignettes in the book). He is getting older and feeling it, which is a refreshing touch.

Twisted Prey is an enjoyable way to spend a few hours of your time, however, long time Sandford fans may feel a little let down with the heavy concentration on the politics. Let’s see what happens in the next installment – maybe Lucas will be back on his home turf again.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up on Amazon.

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