The New Neighbors by Simon Lelic

 

I’d never heard of Simon Lelic before i got this book, although I now  know he has written some other thrillers. But his latest book The New Neighbors got a positive blurb on the cover from Tana French, and I figured if it’s good enough for Tana, it’s good enough for me.

The story revolves around a young couple named Jack and Syd who have recently been able to (at long last) buy a house in London. It came with all furnishings, including some weird stuff, but they felt terribly lucky to have been picked by the seller to be the buyers of his house, especially as they didn’t have enough money to afford such a big place.

Before long, they start to clear out some of the detritus left by the former owner, when Jack makes an unsettling discovery in the attic. Around the same time, Syd befriends a young girl from the neighborhood – a girl who is apparently being abused by her father – a fact that hits very close to home for Syd. Neither Jack nor Syd shares either of these factoids (the attic find and the abuse) with the other.

The story is told in alternating points of view, as Jack and Syd each write about what happened. There are twists and turns, and suspense as the book moves toward the big reveal – which I (as usual) did not see coming. This has “MOVIE” written all over it – not necessarily a bad thing. For fans of Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, or The Couple Next Door. Escapist entertainment. Well done, and even though  I doubt I will remember it in another month,  four stars (and thanks to Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for this honest review).

And I will probably pick up one or more of Mr. Lelic’s earlier books – pure entertainment!

The Bad Daughter by Joy Fielding

 

With all the crap going on in the world, I have been ready for some good fun escapist entertainment. Hoping for something to take over my brain for a few hours, I began reading Joy Fielding’s The Bad Daughter (thanks to Random House-Ballantine and NetGalley who provided a copy in return for my honest review).

Right off, I loved the vulnerability of the protagonist, Robin, who at the very beginning of the story starst to have a panic attack when she picks up a voice mail message from her sister Melanie. They haven’t spoken in two years, and have been estranged ever since their father married Tara, who was Robin’s best friend growing up. Oh, and by the way, Tara was engaged at the time to the Robin and Melanie’s brother when she ran off with their Dad. Got that? In any case, Melanie calls to tell Robin that their father, Tara, and Tara’s young daughter have been brutally attacked in their home in Red Bluff, CA. The kid was shot, the wife/mom is dead, and dad is in the hospital clinging to life.

When Tara married her father, Robin left Red Bluff and went to Berkeley where she got her master’s in psychology, became a therapist, and got on with her life. She’s now living in L.A., engaged to an apparently perfect guy – or is he??—and she feels like the “…panic attacks she used to experience on an almost daily basis were part of her past. “

So Robin heads back to Red Bluff. As she looks into the situation, she begins to wonder if this might have been something more than a home invasion/botched burglary attempt. It seems that everyone—her sister Melanie, her autistic therefore less-than-communicative nephew, her absent brother, and even Tara, her father’s wife—had something to hide.

For those who don’t know, the setting is interesting: “Approximately 14,000 people lived in Red Bluff, most of them white and straining toward middle class. The town’s motto was “A Great Place to Live,” although Robin had always thought “A Great Place to Leave” would probably be a more suitable slogan.” Personally, I’ve always been a bit creeped out by Red Bluff ever since I read Perfect Victim, the book about the “girl in a box.” It’s the true story about a young woman (Colleen Stan) who was kidnapped and held by a mill worker named (I’m not kidding here) Cameron Hooker and kept in a box for SEVEN YEARS. Oh and the neighbors, who knew she was there, with Hooker AND HIS WIFE AND KIDS, never thought there was anything weird. It’s a long story, but it left a lasting impression on my view of Red Bluff. Plus, it’s hotter than hell and it seems people get weird in that kind of relentless heat…

Anyway, figuring out who exactly is The Bad Daughter totally entertained me for several hours. A tiny bit of willing suspension of disbelief required her and there, but nothing too blatant. Not great literature, but doesn’t pretend to be. For what it is, four stars.

 

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Kristin Hannah’s books are beloved by millions (think The Nightingale), partly for their vivid descriptions of both place and people. They also evoke strong emotional responses to situations and relationship[s that may not be part of the reader’s everyday experience, but yet seem completely familiar because of the author’s skillful writing. So I was particularly happy to receive a copy of The Great Alone (to be released in early 2018) from St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley in return for this honest review.

First, let’s get this out of the way: one of my stranger quirks is that I have a hard time reading novels set in cold climates (I HATE being cold). So I read at least half of this snuggled under a down comforter even though today (Thanksgiving) it’s in the mid-70s here on the Central Coast of California. That made me less likely to love this book, but I am glad I persisted.

Set in the 1970s, The Great Alone revolves around the family of Vietnam vet, ex-POW, and PTSD sufferer Ernt Allbright, who has tried to get his life together after returning from Vietnam a completely changed man. He is enduring sleepless nights, flashbacks, nightmares and bursts of anger. He’s not the only one suffering: his wife Cora and their 13-year-old daughter Leni are deeply affected by Ernt’s struggles. Things are rocky in the Allbright family as Ernt has trouble holding a job, they move regularly, and the parents frequently fight – all of which are very troubling for Leni, who longs for stability. So when Ernt inherits a cabin and land in Alaska from a dead soldier, he takes his family north with the idea that they will live off the land and be free of the stress they have been experiencing. A new start! They buy a VW van (very 70s!) and set out, completely unprepared for the harsh wilderness they encounter in Kenaq, Alaska.

The descriptions of the dilapidated shack called a “cabin” (no electricity or running water) were (literally) chilling. Despite the family’s hard work (assisted by some interesting community members) and effort to make a go of things, Ernt’s condition worsens as his battles with alcohols increase. Leni and Cora have a close relationship, and Leni learns to find comfort in books, something I imagine many readers can relate to.

Over time, Leni develops friendships and she and Cora find support in the community. The alcoholism, domestic violence, and harsh conditions are terribly challenging. The mother-daughter relationship is fascinating, although I wonder how many readers will find themselves wishing for such a bond and similar support in their own challenging family situations.

The bottom line is there is much to love about this book, especially seeing Leni searching for her identity and some stability at the same time, and her search for identity and roots. At the same time, it’s instructive about both the effect of war on both military members and their families – and instructive about the reality of trying to live off the land vs. the dream shared by many. Another winner for Hannah. Five stars.

 

Look For Me by Lisa Gardner

 I am a big fan of mysteries, and each year I read what seems like a ton of them – especially those featuring a “plucky heroine.” So I was pretty sure I had read Lisa Gardner before, but looking through goodreads and my blog, I see a bunch of Lisas (See, Wingate, Jewell) – but nothing by Lisa Gardner. So I am clearly a bit late to the party here, but thanks to Dutton and NetGalley, I just read Look for Me, Lisa’s latest (published 2018), AND  I just learned this is the TENTH novel featuring Detective D.D. Warren of the Boston Police Department. (Like I said, late to the party).

This latest in the series  all takes place in a dizzying span of a couple of days, and begins when Detective Warren is called to a homicide scene, where four members of a family have been savagely murdered. The fifth member of the family, a sixteen-year-old girl named Roxanna (or Roxy) is missing, along with the two family dogs.

Roxy is a likely suspect, or possibly she was out walking the dogs and narrowly escaped being the fifth victim, D.D. isn’t sure which. An Amber Alert goes out, and she and her team start an intense search for Roxy (and the dogs). They are joined in the hunt by Flora Dane, who was a crime victim featured in Gardner’s Find Her (#8 in the D.D. Warren series), and now is on a mission to avenge crimes (including burning a rapist to death) and provide support for survivors.

 Some of the chapters are told in the first person by Flora, gradually revealing her backstory and explaining the reason she is so hot to find Roxy (no real spoiler here, but Roxy has recently joined Flora’s online chat group, which is by invitation only – Sarah, who is one of Flora’s rescued victims and another member of the group, has befriended Roxy and invited her to join, so Flora has some insider info that D.D. needs). D.D. and Flora both are looking for justice, but it might come in different forms… 

There are also chapters that are essays written by Roxy’s little sister Lola, one of the murder victims. She wrote them as a series for a school assignment, and they gradually reveal some of the horror endured by the sisters during their time in foster care.

As a former foster parent, the stories of the children in foster care (and the system that “cares” for them) hit me pretty hard. And the suspense was terrific. I was seriously tempted to turn to the end to find out WTH had gone on, but I persisted J and am glad I stuck with it.

Good characterization, and the whole thing was chilling.  I’m still not sure how I have missed this series, and am also not sure if the others can stand alone or should have been read in order to fully appreciate them, but I am about to find out! And I will definitely look for future novels by Ms. Gardner. Anyone who likes a good suspenseful mystery/thriller without TOO much graphic violence and especially fans of plucky heroines and police procedurals (in this case, both!) will enjoy this. Five stars

 

Killing Pace by Douglas Schofield

Back in 2015, I read and reviewed Time of Departure by Douglas Schofield, so when (thanks to St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books  and NetGalley) I had the opportunity to read Schofield’s new novel, Killing Pace, in return for my honest review, I leapt at it.

Like Time of Departure, Killing Pace also features a female protagonist facing some crime-related challenges. Time of Departure was set in Florida, and while Killing Pace begins in Florida, it then moves back and forth between Sicily and Florida.

The first chapter is straightforward, and provided me with a good hook, as it described a woman named Lisa Green crawling bleeding and barefoot out of a car accident, completely confused. Not only does she not know where she is or how she got there, she doesn’t even remember who she is. In the next chapter, the woman begins to regain memory with flashes of remembrance related to Flight 103 (crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland), conversations with an older woman, and eating Nutella. She beats the crap out of the man who had been holding her captive and reports herself missing to the police. The next section, titled Sarah, describes the activities of a female Customs and Border Protection Office named Sarah Lockhart, and just as I was wondering if she was the woman in the car accident (despite the different name), the next section was back to Lisa. Because my reading was interrupted by a couple of weeks of personal chaos, I was a bit disoriented by the shifts among Lisa, Sarah, and yet another female character, Laura Pace – but in looking back over the book, I realize this was just me – Schofield did a great job weaving the sections together, and it all made sense.

The story becomes an international chase, involving not just Sarah’s efforts in Italy and Miami on behalf of the US Border Control, but expanding to include the Sicilian mafia, human trafficking (infants taken from Syrian refugees and made available for adoption to wealthy American couples, also known as “baby laundering”), and smuggling. There is also a tiny bit of romantic interest, which I would expect will be explored in the next Laura Pace novel (and I hope there will be one!). And I JUST realized the title is a play on words!!

There are several issues explored, including questions of trust, ethical behavior of government officials, and loyalty. Like Time of Departure, this novel requires some willing suspension of disbelief, but I read with the attitude of “just go along for the ride,” and I am glad I did. Following the two-week hiatus between when I started this book and yesterday when I picked it up again, I was hooked and spent the majority of the day yesterday reading it. I love mystery-thrillers than take over my whole day, and give this one four stars. I look forward to reading more from Mr. Schofield, whose experience as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney contributes to his ability to tell a story that hooks the reader.

 

 

Need to Know by Karen Cleveland

SPOILER ALERT: The basic premise (which is a surprise at several points) of Karen Cleveland’s Need to Know is laid out here; so if you want total surprise, stop reading! But I’m not giving away the BFD ending which is designed to be a real shocker, so if you don’t mind reading a plot outline, have at it!

I had read some of the hype about this book (optioned as a film with Charlize Theron, so my image of protagonist Vivian Miller was of Charlize), so I was pleased to get an advance copy of this book from Random House/Ballantine and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. As the story begins, we meet Vivian Miller (Charlize), a super-dedicated CIA counterintelligence analyst who has been working for years on a project that, if successful, will uncover the identities of people living in the U.S. as members of Russian sleeper cells. She has developed this system to identify the people who appear to be normal residents of the U.S., but who are actually working as Russian agents.

Vivian’s life has gotten complicated as she and her husband Matt and their four children live the lifestyle of a middle-class couple, complete with a big mortgage and some medical problems for one of their kids that guarantee they can’t just walk away from her job on a whim. One day, while she is online accessing the computer of someone she thinks may be a Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret file that contains information about deep-cover agents in the U.S. As she scrolls through the photos of the agents assigned to the suspected handler, she is stunned to see her husband Matt’s photo. She is torn about what to do – if she turns him in, her job will be over, her kids will be devastated, and everything that matters to her will be gone. Should she confront Matt? Maybe tell her boss? Or tell her trusted friend who works with her on the special project, FBI Agent Omar?

She seems to be faced with impossible choices. She starts looking back at her entire relationship with Matt – how they “met cute,” fell in love, got married, had kids, lived together for a decade – is it possible she is wrong, her life’s work of developing a method to identify the sleeper agents a failure?

I really enjoyed the process of reading this, and it was pretty much all-engrossing. But it required a bit of willing suspension of disbelief, because this genius woman seemed to keep making some dumb decisions. But then, I’d think, “Who knows what I’d do in her situation?”

Good plotting, good character development, good escapist entertainment. More than a bit unsettling, TBH. Just like you sometimes find out the seemingly normal guy down the block is a serial killer, you might have a member of a sleeper cell in the neighborhood, coaching your kid’s soccer team. Four stars.

Murder in the Courthouse by Nancy Grace

OK, I admit to watching Nancy Grace years ago before she was quite as…Nancy Grace as she is now. Recently I’ve just thought of her as the woman-in-danger-true-crime obsessed blonde who is quick to label males suspects as guilty (admittedly, she is often right).

Apparently, she has written other novels, including two others featuring the protagonist Hailey Dean, the prosecutor who has never lost a case. In this third in the series, Hailey goes to Savannah, GA to testify as an expert witness and, while there, she gets embroiled in other murders…so far, so good. But the details of a man murdering his pregnant wife and then hers and the baby’s (fetus’s?) bodies washing up after being dumped in a body of water…it made me wish Nancy had written a more original plot. It isn’t like she was writing a roman a clef — too many differences. In any case, that kept getting in the way of my being able to just go with the story and assess this book fairly.

I do think that this might be perfect for the people who want something light with a mystery and some twists to read while sitting on the beach. Nothing that makes you think too much, you know? But it just wasn’t my thing.

Thanks to BenBella Books and NetGalley for a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review. Two stars.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan’s new book Manhattan Beach is a puzzle. I enjoyed reading it, and then felt less than positive about it…but now, a few weeks later, I realize I keep thinking about certain aspects of it, so I think that adds at least one star! The story begins in Brooklyn during the Depression, when we meet Anna Kerrigan. She is almost twelve years old and loves accompanying her father as he “does business.” It’s clear both her father and her mother are extremely influential in her view of the world: “Never part with a fact unless you’ve no choice. Her father’s voice in her ears.” And “Working with your hands meant taking orders—in her mother’s case, from Pearl Gratzky…” While accompanying her father on a particular visit, she views an interaction that leads her to understand there is some secret pact between her father and a man named Dexter Styles. Not long after, her father disappears, leaving Anna alone with her mother and sister.

Two major events as Anna is growing up: her father disappears and the country goes to war. She needs to work as she is the sole support of her mother and her beautiful sister (who is totally disabled). She begins working at the Navy Yard in Brooklyn where, suddenly, women are being allowed to do work that had always been men’s jobs. Egan does a great job using that environment to convey a great deal about her characters using descriptive language: ” Dunellen gave a drooping, corroded impression, like a freighter bone to rust after being too long at anchor.” Egan also shows the reader Anna’s unique personality and quirkiness: “She’d never been good at banter; it was like a skipping rope whose rhythm she couldn’t master enough to jump in with confidence.” But she DOES have the confidence to jump into being the first female diver, an incredibly dangerous job, repairing the ships that are critical to the War effort.

One night, she is at a nightclub and meets Dexter Styles, the man she visited with her father before he vanished. Anna’s life away from work leads her to begin to understand the reality of her father’s life and the reasons he might have been murdered (which is surely what happened, otherwise why would he have just gone away and she would never have heard from him?).

The story is historical fiction and also sort of a “noir thriller.” There is a ton of information about organized crime, the merchant marine and the clash of classes in New York, Thinking about it after the fact, I realize it was the ending/resolution that made me think I didn’t care for it. (Also perhaps my extremely high expectations based on all the hype). But the story of a young woman fighting to make it in a man’s world at a time of social turmoil is fascinating, and Egan does have an outstanding gift for character development. I’m grateful to Scribner and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of Manhattan Beach in exchange for my honest review. I first thought four stars, then it slipped to two and a half, but after a couple of weeks’ reflection, it is back to a solid four stars.

 

The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose

I read about The Readymade Thief, the debut novel from Augustus Rose, and was really excited: an “addictive literary puzzle” with a female teenage protagonist and a “secret society with a dark agenda” – sounded like just my thing. So when I received a copy from Penguin Group/Viking and NetGalley, I could hardly wait to dive in.

I am convinced that sometimes a book that seemingly everyone else on the planet thinks is GREAT gets a resounding “meh” from me because of my mental state. And that may be the case with The Readymade Thief. It just wasn’t the thing for me right now.

I did love the beginning! Lee’s angst and desire for acceptance were so well written, I just totally wanted her to find what she needed/wanted. But I never really cared about any of the other characters, particularly the teenagers/young adults, so it was hard for me to get into the literary puzzle. I just wanted to get through it. And I wasn’t enthralled by the whole “secret society” aspect. Maybe there were just too many things going on? Anyway, I will definitely read the next book from Augustus Rose, because this debut author can WRITE!. Three stars (two for the book, one for the author’s obvious talent.

Amanda Wakes Up by Alisyn Camerota

 

Ms. Camerota worked for Fox (or as it is known in my home “Faux”) News (their slogan: “Fair and Balanced”). She then went to work for CNN. Her protagonist in Amanda Wakes Up works for FAIR, whose motto is “True and Equal.” Write what you know, right?

Alisyn has had a busy career and has covered several Presidential campaigns. Amanda is an ambitious newswoman who has her share of adventures, particularly covering the Presidential aspirations and eventual campaign of a brash TV star-turned-politician who basically has no shame. Her network is in the tank for him, and their reporters generally pander to him, giving lots of coverage because his over the top personality gets ratings. (Hmmm, sounds familiar, although Ms. Camerota assures her readers that the character is an amalgam of several personalities. Oh- kay, whatever you say!).

Amanda works for a boss who may or may not represent someone at Fox, CNN or other networks. In her own career, Ms. Worked for Roger Ailes, and has reported that when she asked him about her career, as she was looking for more and better opportunities at the network, he told her: “Well, I would have to work with you — I would have to work with you really closely — and it may require us getting to know each other better, and that might have to happen away from here. And it might have to happen at a hotel. Do you know what I am saying?” All together now: EEEWWW.

To be honest, I was not familiar with her but heard her interviewed on the radio, talking about the book, and thought it might be a fun read. It is! For lovers of satire and news junkies in particular! Four stars.

 

UNSUB by Meg Gardiner

UNSUB by Meg Gardiner has gotten GREAT reviews, so when I started it and found my mind wandering, I put it aside for a couple of weeks and picked it up again.

I knew going in that the story involved a serial killer in the Bay Area with a catchy nickname, reminiscent of “The Zodiac Killer.” This time, the name is “The Prophet,” and this book is a dark, twisted thriller revolving around the apparent reappearance of a criminal who terrorized the Bay Area before disappearing a couple of decades ago.

Back in the initial hunt for The Prophet, Mack Hendrix was the lead police detective in the effort to stop the crime wave. His failure to do so has haunted him ever since. Now, his daughter Caitlin is also a police officer, whose focus has been narcotics. She looks to her father for help as she takes up the work of catching the killer whose victims bear the characteristics of The Prophet’s victims.

I suspect my lack of enthusiasm for this book is based on my own weird experiences. Living in Solano County in the Bay Area during the time of the Zodiac spree, I knew a man who was creepy. I saw a large flashlight in his car with clear red wrapping paper over the lens, held on with a rubber band. The Zodiac supposedly used a flashlight as he approached victims’ vehicles, possibly a large red flashlight to make people believe it was a police vehicle approaching. And as if that wasn’t enough, someone had tracked this guy’s schedule and he was always out sick or otherwise unaccounted for on the dates of the killings. I distanced myself from this creepy guy, but he contacted me by email in the year 2000 to tell me he had been “following” me online. So, yes, anything about the Zodiac brings up some less than positive feelings!

But, I digress. Lisa Gardiner has done a masterful job of plotting and character development showing both Caitlin’s strengths as a police officer and her softer, more human side. I expect we will see a string of stories featuring this feisty young woman. The ending was a bit abrupt, so that knocked off a star. The creepy factor almost knocked off another one, but the “it’s not you, it’s me” thing isn’t something I like to bring into my reviews. Thanks to Penguin Group/Dutton and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for my review. Three and a half stars, will show up as four.

The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain

I started a neighborhood book club a little over two years ago, not sure it would work out. The first book we read was Diane Chamberlain’s Necessary Lies, and it was a great choice: it was set in a small Southern town fifty or so years ago, it included social issues (mental illness, forced sterilizations, the “appropriate” role of women in marriage) and it was filled with characters who stayed with the reader long after the last page was read. It also had the added EEEK! factor that occurs when you find out a novel is based on reality: in this case, forced sterilizations and racism. It made for some good discussions! So, with all that, I was happy to receive a copy of Ms. Chamberlain’s new book  The Stolen Marriage, from St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

This new book is also set primarily in a small town in the South, 50+ years ago. The protagonist, Tess DeMello, ends her engagement to a man she loves dearly, quickly marries a stranger, and moves to Hickory, North Carolina. Hickory is a small town struggling with racial tension and the hardships imposed by World War II. Tess finds out her new husband, an extremely successful furniture manufacturer, is quite mysterious: he often stays out all night, hides money, and is totally uninterested in any physical contact with his new wife. Although her new husband tries to give her everything she might want, Tess feels trapped and desperately wants out of the unhappy situation: “I hadn’t been happy in so long, I doubted a new house was going to fix what was wrong with me.”

The people of Hickory love and respect her husband, and see her as an outsider. When Tess is blamed for the death of a prominent citizen in an accident, she is treated with scorn and derision. She begins to feel like she is being followed, and becomes more and more unhappy. The town is a classic racist town, and even the “nice people” have stereotypical views of the times, reflected in Tess’s feeling that “…it was crazy that any state in the country allowed colored and white to get married in the first place. It only created problems for everyone.”

When a sudden polio epidemic strikes the town, the townspeople band together and build a polio hospital in just a few days (!). Tess begins to work at the hospital, finding a rewarding sense of identity in caring for the young victims. But the whole mess with her husband and his horrific mother and sister continues to make her life as a married woman completely NOT what she had dreamed of. It has suspense, drama, and a surprise ending that I loved.

This will be a good choice for book clubs, with the issues of women’s rights and roles in their marriages, interracial marriage, medical ethics (as an epidemic breaks out among people of all races and religions), honesty and trust. It is an easy read, but has a lot of depth. I read it a week ago, and keep thinking about the town, the people, the situation…so it’s an easy five stars for me…and a good future choice for our book club, still going strong.

BTW, the true story of a town that built a hospital from the ground up in just a few days in order to deal with the polio epidemic is awesome!

 

 

 

The Child by Fiona Barton

COVER Barton The Child

Fiona Barton’s prior book The Widow was a mystery told from the point of view of three characters, including crack reporter Kate Waters. I enjoyed it, and was pleased to receive an advance copy of Ms. Barton’s latest, The Child, from Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Similar in structure to The Widow,, The Child is told from the points of view of three main characters, this time all women:

  • Kate Waters is back as the intrepid journalist, looking for her next big story as she watches the newspaper business changing around her. “The tsunami of online news had washed her and those like her to a distant shore.”
  • Emma Simmonds is a young editor whose extreme anxiety about whether he past might catch up to her seems to be threatening the stability she has found in the married life she has created for herself. “He doesn’t know me really. I’ve made sure.”
  • Angela Irving has a mother’s intuition and her identity as a mother is shaded by the devastating loss she suffered 20+ years ago when her infant was stolen from the hospital right after its birth. “People say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…it doesn’t. It breaks your bones, leaving everything splintered and held together with grubby bandages and yellowing sticky tape…Fragile and exhausting to hold together. Sometimes you wish it had killed you.”

The plot centers around the grisly discovery of the skeleton of an infant, unearthed at a construction site. Each of the primary characters has a connection to the unfolding story of the “Building Site Baby,” and this propels the narrative.

The structure of the novel works well and the characters are well drawn. We learn so much about them as their individual searches for the meaning of this event occur. Emma, for example, has a husband who works at a University. Her view of his work environment? “University departments are like prides of lions, really. Lots of males preening and screwing around and hanging on to their superiority by their dewclaws.” (Having worked at a college, I LOVED this line!). Barton’s excellent descriptive skills are clear as Emma reminisces about a house where she lived as a child: “I can still smell that house; years of patchouli oil overlaid by grime, suffocating and musky like a hippie’s old afghan coat.”

 I’m one of those people who NEVER solves the mystery in advance, but even I could see this one coming, so it lost a star there. But that didn’t detract from the enjoyment I experienced as I read this book. I look forward to more from Ms. Barton. Four stars.

Lying Blind by Dianne Emley

cover-emley-lying-blind

I’m kind of partial to procedurals with “plucky” heroines (think Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, French’s Antoinette Conway or Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone. So, when I read that Dianne Emley had a new book, Lying Blind, featuring the recurring character Detective Nan Vining (a character I had never encountered) and that the new book was described as a “hard-edged thriller for fans of Patricia Cornwell, Tana French, and Lisa Gardner,” I was ready to meet Nan!

How have I missed this series? Emley’s previous Nan Vining books include The First Cut, Cut to the Quick, The Deepest Cut, Love Kills, and Killing Secrets. In this latest in the series, Pasadena, CA’s Homicide detective Nan Vining gets involved in a murder case and arrives at a mansion where a beautiful young woman is floating face down in the infinity pool. Nan is curious as to why her boyfriend, Sergeant Jim Kissick has arrived on the scene first. Why did the homeowner contact Jim first (via text), before placing the 911 call that brought Nan to the scene?

Jim’s explanation is that he is old friends with the homeowners, Teddy and Rebecca Sexton. Nan begins to investigate, and becomes certain that the three of them are all hiding something. Meanwhile, in Lake Nacimiento (near Paso Robles, CA) a body is discovered, and that investigation brings detectives from that jurisdiction south. Soon the two crimes are intertwined and Nan feels like her relationship with Jim is falling apart.

Nan is a great character, the story is well plotted, and I enjoyed it a great deal. While there are some references to past experiences for Nan and Jim, I didn’t feel like I should have read the previous books in order to follow this one (although I plan to read earlier books in this series and hope I won’t get the “oh crap, I should have read this one first! Now I know what happens to these people!” feeling). There was a slight convenience to the resolution, meaning a tiny bit less of a rating, but overall I really enjoyed this!

Other fans of plucky heroines will enjoy this, as will people who enjoyed T. Jefferson Parker’s earlier books set in Southern California. (Everyone who has lived in Orange County seems to enjoy Parker’s early novels). Both Parker and Emley do a great job capturing the feel of SoCal, and I look forward to reading more by this author. Four enthusiastic stars, and thanks to Random House/Alibi and NetGalley for providing an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.