Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Mystery

How I Became a Spy
Hopkinson, Deborah
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewer's Name: Melissa M.
Four Dead Queens
Scholte, Astrid
2 stars = Meh
Review:

This book was not for me, but I think a lot of young adults will really love it. The following is essentially a laundry list of my issues. First, the worldbuilding was pretty weak. The fours quadrants are fairly reminiscent of those in Divergent, but they rarely interact and the farming sector basically works on Amish rules while the technological sector has holographs and advanced biosuits and all sorts of stuff. It does not make a ton of sense. And neither does the “queenly law” or really anything to do with the rules the palace or kingdom operates under – it all seemed pretty transparently created to serve the story that was written. Moving along. The characters really left something to be desired. Most were one-dimensional. The main character, Keralie, couldn’t make a good decision if her life depended on it and falls squarely into the snarky and ostensibly clever thief trope. We do get to hear from the queens a bit, but as I knew they’d end up dead and we only spent a little time with each of them, I didn’t find that it added to the story. And, of course, there is instalove between Keralie and our extremely boring male lead, Varin.

Some components of the book are pretty enjoyable. I think the premise is really cool (if executed poorly). The first queen’s murder took me a bit by surprise, and was deliciously gruesome. There were a few twists that I didn’t see coming. I quite liked the last 50 pages or so – the author, a debut, clearly has some really great ideas. Unfortunately, they didn’t come together in this book, though I’d try another book by this author pending favorable reviews.

TLDR: Readers who loved The Red Queen and Divergent will probably enjoy this one as well. I couldn’t get past the weak characters and worldbuilding, but I think a lot of readers will likely devour this one nonetheless. For me, it was just ok. 2 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and G. Putnam’s Sons for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Four Dead Queens will be released on 26 February.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Paragon Hotel
Faye, Lyndsay
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

1922. Alice James finds herself on a westbound train with two bullets in her stomach and $50,000 worth of counterfeit cash. On the run from the mob, she befriends a black porter who saves her life by taking her to his doctor friend in the only black hotel in Portland, Oregon. When a mixed race child goes missing from the hotel, the residents panic as KKK activity in Portland has been escalating. This excellent novel switches back and forth from the events leading up to Alice’s shooting and then her experiences at the hotel after arriving.

Alice James is one of my favorite characters in recent memory – she’s flawed, but self-aware, whip-smart and most importantly compassionate. Her empathy gets her into the trouble and she knows it, but she’s the sort who is willing to sacrifice herself for the greater cause. The supporting characters, especially Blossom, are equally flawed but lovable, especially as their truths slowly come to light. I’m a sucker for a 20s setting, and we get a lot of the good stuff here, especially linguistically. Our Alice has quite the endearing way of explaining herself in 20s style aphorisms.

In addition to being a charming read, the book covers some really important issues around race, gender and sexuality. The author has a deft enough hand at covering these issues that she manages to make the commentary work for the 20s as well as present day. If you decide to read this book, you’ll laught, cry and rage along with the characters at the injustices handed to them based on their gender, race or sexuality. My one complaint is that the middle sagged a bit – this is book that’s largely focused on character development and the mystery really just served to get Alice to learn things about her new friends.

I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but the promise of mob-excitement, mystery and racial commentary brought me to this book, and I’m so glad it did. Richly drawn characters and a fascinating setting pretty much guarantee that most fiction (historical or otherwise) readers will enjoy this one, and I’ll be pre-ordering a copy for my mother. 5 stars – I adored it.

Thanks to Netgalley and G.P. Putnam’s Sons for the advance copy, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Paragon Hotel goes on sale on 08 January, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Clockmaker's Daughter
Morton, Kate
2 stars = Meh
Review:

This story centers around an impassioned artist and his dreams, a mysterious murder, an enchanting English manor and all that went on their throughout its many years, a ghost that stands outside of time witness to it all, a vanished girl, an archivist and her discovery of a priceless artifacts, and how what went on there all those years ago effects who she is today.

In the past, the 1860’s to be exact, this story begins with a talented artist Edward Radcliffe and a group of artists that spend a summer at the house of his dreams Birchwood Manor. But shortly after arriving a mysterious murder is committed, a priceless artifact disappears and one of the women vanishes. A hundred years later in the present an archivist, named Elodie, finds a satchel which contains an unrelated photograph and a sketchbook that contains a drawing of Birchwood Manor. As she digs deeper into the mystery she is pulled into a story that has her questioning her past and who she truly is. This beautiful atmospheric mystery spans the length of time, and is told by the many voices and people all living within and around the Manor’s walls.

Before I go any further, first, let me say this. Kate Morton is the master of atmospheric beautiful Gothic mysteries and I am a big fan of hers and have loved every one of her past books. Her intricate and deeply rooted stories her beautiful prose, and her enchanting settings are the reasons why she is simply one of the best in her genre. That being said, this work, was a bit of a disappointment. While all the elements of what I love about Kate Morton’s books were there; an intricate story steeped in history, an old vast English manor with a secret or two to hide within its walls, old families with long pedigrees, a family mystery, an enchanting setting, this book fell short for me mainly because of its intricacy and complexity. I also believe the ending was a bit weak. I really wanted to love it, I just couldn’t.

Morton, I believe, really attempted to tell a challenging story, but simply had to many voices trying to tell it. While I like a good dual timeline novel, this one, with at least four voices and timelines was simply too much. There were times that, because of how she bounced around among the numerous timelines, when I got completely lost in which timeline I was following. This combined with how many characters and voices there were throughout the novel, made the story overall a whole lot less enjoyable. I’ll admit, this story took me a good while to get through and I do recommend, if reading this, keeping a list of who everyone is and which timeline goes where. It’s definitely a book you have to think through. That being said the story itself was beautiful and it makes me wonder, if it wouldn’t be better as an audio book where each of the voices are sounded out. Overall a 2.5-3 star read for me. However, if you are a Kate Morton fan and if you love atmospheric Gothic mysteries, I couldn’t count this one out, I would still give this one a go, just maybe as an audio book. Place your copy on hold today!

Thank you to Netgalley, Atria books, and Simon and Schuster for a DRC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Turton, Stuart
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Finished this book at 2 a.m. (thanks a lot Mr. Turton!). Freaking amazing! I don't even quite know how to classify it - and I don't want to give anything away so I won't even try. Let's just say that it is like reading a REALLY good murder mystery through a kaleidoscope, shifting perspectives constantly to allow everything to eventually come together. I would suggest just letting the first half of the book just wash over you without trying too much to figure it out - otherwise it would get frustrating. And keep track of the characters - that is very important (and there are a lot of them!). Wow, just wow.

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Genres:
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Turton, Stuart
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Every day at 11pm, Evelyn Hardcastle is murdered at Blackheath, her family’s estate and her childhood home. Aiden Bishop has eight days to solve her murder. Eight of the same days. The day repeats on a loop, but each day for eight days, Aiden occupies a different body. His only escape from the never ending loop is to solve her murder.

Wow. This was a fantastic, kind of trippy thrill ride. The only thing I can really think to compare it to is The Magus by John Fowler, and that’s only in the sense that both you the reader and the main character really have absolutely no clue what is going on. Unlike The Magus, though, (almost) everything is revealed by the end of the book and it comes to a mostly satisfying conclusion.

Even if it were just a closed door murder mystery, it would still be good. The mystery itself was twisty enough to keep the reader constantly on their feet. I guessed one thing, but most of the elements of the mystery were a total surprise when they were revealed. It’s deliciously complex. The addition of the eight different perspectives along with the fact that everyone is unreliable really added to the story. Add to that the fact that someone is killing off Aiden’s hosts, and the book becomes nearly impossible to put down. I actually had to stop reading it before bed because I was staying up too late (just one more chapter!). There were a few world building things that were left frustratingly vague, but I think that was by intention, so I can’t complain.

This genre bending book will screw with your head in the best way possible. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I really loved the reading experience. I think a lot of people will enjoy it – mystery lovers, those that enjoy high concepts and general fiction readers are going to love this one. I certainly did! 5 stars.

Thanks to Sourcebooks Landmark and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received for review consideration. The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle will be available for purchase in the US on 18 September 2018. You can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Awards:

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