All These Perfect Strangers by Aoife Clifford

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All These Perfect Strangers by Aoife Clifford grabbed me for two reasons: first there was the teaser I read: “This is about three deaths. Actually more, if you go back far enough. I say deaths, but perhaps all of them were murders. It’s a grey area. Murder, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. So let’s just call them deaths and say I was involved. This story could be told a hundred different ways.” And second, the author’s name (one which in my ignorance I had never ever heard or see before, and I had no clue how to pronounce it, and I just HAD to know…sort of like T. Coraghessan Boyle, you know?)

This is one of what seems like a dozen books I have read recently that involve a young woman, a mysterious death/disappearance, a slowly revealed history of said character/town/whatever (in this case, University), and a possibly unreliable narrator. In this one, we have Penelope (Pen) Sheppard, who goes away to University, where she hopes to begin a new life. Within six months, three of her new friends are dead. She goes back home, and we learn she is the victim of a violent trauma and is once again a pariah in her hometown (as she felt she was before she left for school). She goes to her shrink to get his signature or whatever it takes to approve funds (I think; I am a bit unclear on why she was unburdening herself in this way, but was too caught up in the story to go back and try to understand motivations – I wanted to know what was going to HAPPEN!) She has to tell her story to her shrink and to the police, and it is revealed in both narrative and diary form.

We learn both about her backstory (why was she such a pariah in her hometown? What happened back there, anyway?) and about a prowler on campus attacking students and rival drug-dealing students. And there are the requisite (in a story set largely at a University) naive young people determined to do whatever it takes to fit in (I had just re-read Donna Tartt’s Secret History, and saw some similarities). Yikes! Parentheses gone wild!

The plotting is complex, and there are some fascinating characters. But Pen was the best: although she may or may not be unreliable as a narrator, she was honest in her diary…I think. Possibly not so much with those to whom she was telling her story. Mystery!

Like the aforementioned Secret History, this book dives into questions of morality and justice, with foggy lines between right and wrong. I didn’t see the end coming, and I don’t really know how I feel about it. As noted by others, the story feels a bit unfinished. If Clifford is planning a sequel, I think many readers would be happy to read it. Oh, and BTW, her name is pronounced “eee-fuh”! Thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy of All These Perfect Strangers, four stars!

 

Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger

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Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger was high on my TBR list, but for some reason I kept not really getting into it. It had a couple of things that I don’t really “get” – namely, visions and tattoos. Both of these are fine for others, but just don’t do it for me…in my fiction reading or in my personal life.

So, here we have a 20-year old young woman, Finley Montgomery, who goes to live with her grandmother, Eloise Montgomery, who is a famous psychic living in a town in New York known as The Hollows. Finley has all the trendy trappings to attract a demographic of which I am not a member: the aforementioned tattoos, a motorcycle, a bad boy boyfriend…and the visions. They are freaking her out so she turns to Eloise for help.

Jones Cooper is a detective in The Hollows who has been hired by Merri Gleason, a woman who has spent the past ten months searching for her missing daughter, Abbey.  Cooper has worked with Eloise in the past, and while Merri isn’t a believer in Eloise’s “gifts,” she is desperate.

Finley and Eloise are drawn into the investigation, which proves much more complicated than a simple mission persons case about a local girl.   Finley digs deeper into the secrets in The Hollows…and that’s about all I can say without spoiling some of the twists and turns in the plot.

I am a fan of Lisa Unger, and I think this may be the start of a series featuring Finley and Eloise…and, of course, The Hollows, which is in some ways a character itself. I appreciate having an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for my review. I think fans of horror will love it, and thriller readers (more my genre) will enjoy it. It gets four stars from me!

 

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

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I’ve been a fan of Mary Kubica’s densely plotted novels, including Pretty Baby and The Good Girl (a big hit with  a book club I belong to) – so was looking forward to her latest effort, Don’t You Cry.

The story unfolds along two tracks: the first involves the mysterious disappearance of Quinn Collins’s roommate Esther. Quinn awakens one morning to the sound of Esther’s alarm, and then finds Esther’s window onto the fire escape open and no Esther. She later is startled to hear Esther’s phone ringing…clearly wherever Esther has gone, she has left her phone behind. Quinn begins to seek answers, but at first only questions emerge, as she finds out that Esther has a new name, has advertised for a new roommate, and has asked their super to change the locks on their shared apartment. The second track involves Alex Gallo, a smart kid who has been left behind in a town on Lake Michigan when everyone else left for college. He has a sucky job in a restaurant and a worse home life. He sees a woman come into the restaurant, and later he watches as she takes off most of her clothes and walks into the icy lake.At which point, I suspect most readers had thoughts similar to mine: “WTF?”

I love the way Kubica reveals her plot points, making her readers ponder the actions of her characters, with their motivations generally only revealed near the conclusion…in her books, things are NOT what they seem, and it is a fun ride to see how everything will come together, with disparate stories and people converging.

While this one is entertaining, for me it didn’t come up to the level of her prior books. Likely my expectations were a bit high, and I think her fans will enjoy it, and she will likely gain some new fans. I appreciate the opportunity to read an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for my review…and I wish I could say more about the story itself, but I HATE it when a review spoils the story, so I won’t go there! Four stars.

Watching Edie by Camilla Way

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This is another one of those CREEPY psychological thrillers involving young women who were friends as teenagers, then they lose contact, and years later they reconnect with more or less unpleasant results.

In this one, Heather and Edie are the two main characters. The novel is definitely creepy and it all leads to a horrifying conclusion. I have to say, I admire the skill of the author, but I just didn’t care about either of the two main characters while I was reading…and yet, I found myself thinking about the way we all have baggage from earlier selves, and either from our own or others’ actions. The way our younger selves and experiences of our earlier years inform our situations and choices as adults is usually interesting and worthy of a closer look.

I will read this author’s future books, because she is skilled at plot development and I love a good psychological thriller…I just hope I care more about at least one of the characters in her next book. Thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy of this in exchange for my honest three-star review.

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

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I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley mystery series, often described as “literary mysteries.” So when a new (to me) author’s book is described as a literary mystery, I’m in! I was eager to read Susie Steiner’s Missing, Presumed, knowing nothing about her work or ability to deliver the kind of story I was craving: something with enough of a mystery to hold my interest, so I could settle in and lose myself in something written with skill and creativity.

For starters, I have to say that Steiner’s protagonist, Manon Bradshaw, reminded me a bit of George’s Barbara Havers of the Lynley series. Like Barbara, she is a no-longer young woman who has an interesting and successful career – but she is dissatisfied with her situation, and she REALLY wants to be in a relationship. She is 39, and trying to get her life in order, “Manon would determinedly fill the fridge, resolve to paint the cupboards…while the washing machine churned, resolve too to eat beetroot more and take up Zumba, only to have it all disappear in the suck and tow of the next tide.” I loved Manon’s keen observations: for example, on journalist Keeley Davis, she notes the woman “will no doubt be off to the Mail any day now, with her tight suit and that retro Nissan she drives, the automotive equivalent of a Prada handbag.” Manon’s luck at Internet dating hasn’t been great. She meets Alan Prenderghast, with whom she finds conversation comes easily…perhaps too much so, as when Manon blurts out to Alan “I sometimes think I don’t actually like anyone that much. That all I ever want is to be on my own. And then I can’t cope with it – with myself, just myself all the time, and it’s like I become the worst company of all – and there’s this awful realization that I need people, and it’s almost humiliating.” That’s some serious self-awareness!

The point is, Steiner is GREAT at developing her characters. Manon finds herself on a case that is bound to be high profile: Edith, the beautiful young daughter of a physician whose clients include nobility and royalty, has gone missing. The girl’s parents, Ian and Miriam, and her brother Rollo are desperate for a resolution to the mysterious disappearance.

Like Manon, Miriam is a strong woman whose unhappiness is revealed in a variety of ways, nearly always in relation to others. “Any confidence Miriam ever had in herself as a mother has been eroded, and what is that confidence built on anyway, she thinks now – the luck of one’s children? The DNA lottery? If they’re bright and successful, you congratulate yourself. If they fall by the wayside, the world judges you.”

The relationship with Ian is revealed gradually. Thinking of her husband, Miriam muses that he “has that curious inability that the upper classes have to wear casual clothes convincingly. She wonders if he emerged from his mother’s vagina in a sports jacket. “

She notes that the two of them “both prone to … thinking their way out of their predicaments, as if sheer force of intellect could control the random world.” Reflecting on their marriage, Miriam says, “It is a slog, marriage. How could she tell her daughter that without making it sound worse than it is? Built on hard work and tolerance, not some idea of perfection as Edith might have it.” Edith has a boyfriend, Will Carter, and “Miriam has had the thought in the past that Will Carters handsomeness is an emblem of Edith’s belief in perfection – or at least her belief in appearance. She hasn’t realized yet that looks count for nothing, that how things appear is nothing next to how they feel.”

As Manon investigates Edith’s disappearance, the story is revealed from multiple points of view, particularly those of Manon and Miriam. While it is somewhat a police procedural, the real strength of this book is in its writing style and character development. While it’s not up there with Elizabeth George’s better efforts, it is certainly well worth reading, especially for those who appreciate well developed female characters and an interesting plot without excessive violence and gore. I will definitely read whatever Susie Steiner comes up with next. Gratitude to NetGalley for an advance copy of Missing, Presumed in exchange for my honest review. Four stars!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Clearing by Robert Dugoni

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My Sister’s Grave, the first book in Robert Dugoni’s Tracy Crosswhite series, came out in late 2014. I loved it. I thought Tracy was a smart, strong woman with fierce determination (evidenced by her dogged pursuit of her sister’s murderer). In fall of 2015, the second book in the series, Her Final Breath, made me realize that Robert Dugoni has a real talent for crime fiction and – not to be sexist—for getting the somewhat rare male mystery author who really and truly gets his female characters RIGHT. So I was extremely happy to have the opportunity to review the third title in this series, In the Clearing (thanks, NetGalley!)

Once again, Tracy Crosswhite, a Seattle police detective, gets involved in a case outside her own jurisdiction when a former police academy classmate asks for a favor. Following their time in the academy, Jenny Almond’s law enforcement career took her back to Klickitat County, Washington, where she followed in the footsteps of her late father, who had retired as sheriff in that county. Forty years ago, he was a new deputy investigating the death of Native American female high school student, Kimi Kanasket. Kimi was a star student and a hard worker whose body was found in the Salmon River after one night when she never made it home from the diner where she worked evenings. The case was ruled a suicide, but Jenny’s father never really believed the story. He had investigated the death as a new investigating deputy but was told by a higher-up in the Sheriff’s office to leave it alone. He kept records which led Jenny to think this cold case is worth looking into, and she asks Tracy for help.

Along the way, Tracy uncovers some deeply buried secrets involving both the ruling elite of the small town and members of the local Native American community, including Kimi’s parents. It’s impossible to say much more without giving away secrets that would spoil the terrific plot, but suffice it to say that Dugoni has proven again that he can develop multiple characters well enough that the reader feels they KNOW them, both male and female, young and old. Additionally, he manages complex plotting seamlessly – not an easy task but one where he continues to shine.

While it isn’t necessary to read the prior books in the series, as this one can stand alone, but I highly recommend the entire series (and there are some things about Tracy that are revealed in the earlier books that are more fully developed in this latest one).

I give it five stars: it held my interest, kept me guessing, was well written, and offered some unique perspectives on tribal life and culture. Looking forward to the next in the series!