Thursday, October 29, 2020

Darkest Night by Jenny O'Brien


Christine De Bertrand is a divorced  woman and stays in most nights.  She’s a teacher and homebody but on her birthday her friends manage to drag her out for a fun evening of celebration. She has a very uncharacteristic evening of excessive drinking, partying and brings home a stranger for the night.

This is a first for her and when she awakens to the seemingly sleeping body next to her, she flees the bed to get meds for the massive headache and makes coffee. She’s in for a surprise when she returns to the bedroom, hoping to gently roust the dark haired man from her pub night.  There will be at least one homicide in the DC Gabriella Darin series so you can probably guess Christine will be a suspect for murder. Then the other characters are introduced and the pool of suspects gets a little larger.

We are taken to Wales via Jenny O’Brien’s latest book in the Gabriella Darin series.  I am enjoying this series and happy to know there are more books planned.  This is book 2 and we are following DC Gaby Darin in her personal life and career path with a Welsh police agency.

“North Wales was stunning with its stretches of golden beaches, incomparbale lush fields abd hills coated in green.”

A character I am hoping will be developed is Medical Examiner Rusty Mullholland.  She’s gruff and yet appealing.

The Missing Years by Lexie Elliott

 

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An old Manse in the Scottish countryside. The mystery of a father missing for 27 years, along with a cache of diamonds from the jeweler he worked for, some “other worldly” dynamics from the house and tales of it’s haunting.  All of that grabbed me from the first chapter.

Ailsa Calder has inherited the old Manse after her mother dies.  It’s her early childhood home before her father disappeared and her mother moved them away.  The catch is Ailsa only inherited half the property.  Her missing father has the other half and she has no way to sell it without his consent.  In all the years he has been gone her mother never made time to have him declared legally dead.  She can live in it and that’s what she does for the short term.

Before each chapter there is a short story about where Ailsa’s father is living and the circumstances.  Each story is different and you realize it’s Ailsa’s theories on where her absent father ended up. She doesn’t know, no one does.

Ailsa invites her half sister Carrie to move into the old house with her while she sorts the legal process of selling it or renting it.  Ailsa is never comfortable in the house and you come to see why near the end. It’s spooky. Or corny, depending on your point of view.

There are many characters and the writing is well done, using dinna and other Outlander-type language so you feel the Scottish accents flowing in conversation.  There are many characters I liked and I honestly didn’t peg the villain character, not even when it was presented.  I would read more by Lexie Elliott.  Loved her first book The French Girl and am looking forward to more in the future.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Force of Nature by Jane Harper


“When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path.

But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened.”(From the book jacket)
The men and women are separated and they are meant to come of the wilderness at the same meet up point. This is supposed to be a team-building event with the Bailey’s company and I can say for sure, I’m certainly glad I have never been forced to participate in such an exercise. The women are so very different from one another, some with secrets and some vying for the alpha role once they are lost.

Later, the four remaining women could fully agree on only two things. One: No one saw the bushland swallow up Alice Russell. And two: Alice had a mean streak so sharp it could cut you.”

Alice was a real can of worms. I did not have this figured out early at all so this was quite a good read for me.  On their own in the bushland it’s easy to panic. “It’s the panic that gets you. Makes it hard to trust what you’re seeing.

The weather plays a big part in this story. It’s freezing cold, it rains, it makes it miserable for search parties looking for Alice. The isolation the women feel is clearly conveyed as you read about their part of the story.

Jill sometimes thought that in another time and place, she and Alice might have been friends. At other times, she thought not. Being around Alice was like owning an aggressive breed of dog. Loyal when it suited, but you had to stay on your toes.”

Food and wine weren’t mentioned much but there was this:
Beef stew made by the campfire. “A kookaburra perched nearby, watching Beth with her black eyes. Beth picked up a strip of beef from one of the abandoned packets and tossed it toward the bird, who scooped it up with the tip of her beak.”
I didn’t know they ate meat!

Aaron made dinner for Carmen. Spaghetti Bolognese and red wine. Sauce was from scratch too. So I had thought of making the spaghetti dish but we had Linguine Pompeii so, that’s the representative dish.

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This is the second book in the series starring Federal Agent Aaron Falk and I sincerely hope there will be many more stories to follow. He’s a law enforcement with the specialty in financial crimes.

He used to be SWAT, a bad ass cop who busted in and arrested the bad guys. One time his team went in and a malnourished old man was sitting in a tattered chair. There was graffiti on his walls, there was a drug kitchen set up and thugs living in his home. The man thought one of the criminals was his grandson. Dementia was setting in and these guys took full advantage of it.  Aaron realized later all this could have been caught with a look at his financial records, bank statements and charges.

It goes way beyond that too – follow the money trail and you find more than small drug operations. Prostitution, pornography, large scale drug operations. Follow the money. Falk was following up on contracts Alice was meant to get from the company.

I liked The Dry better than this one but I will happily read another starring Federal Agent Falk.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Tuesday's Gone by Nicci French

 

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Tuesday’s Gone by Nicci French:   This second book in the Frieda Klein series was better than Blue Monday (#1) in my opinion.  More character development and the mystery was more intriguing to me. The London based psychotherapist, Frieda Klein, reminds me loosely of the Jessica Fletcher character from TV series Murder, She Wrote.  Loosely, as I said, because when our main character is involved, a murder is going to take center stage.

I like Frieda even though she isn’t what one would describe as a warm personality.  Perhaps you have to be completely in control and compartmentalize your life if your profession is psychotherapist. Yet there are qualities about her personality that I admire.

We have a rousing start with unbalanced woman named Michelle serving tea and buns to a decaying corpse she has propped up on her sofa.  The police, specifically Inspector Mal Karlsson,  involve Frieda as the woman in question may be a murderer or know something about the murder of the man in her home as she dragged him home from an alleyway.  There isn’t any identification to be found but, in a series of improbable events, Frieda Klein is set on the path to discovering his identity.  Early on in the story we learn the man’s name is Robert Poole.  More mystery about that later but to mention it would reveal a spoiler so, enough said on that now.  “Robert” is indeed a fascinating character.

Robert Poole made people “feel attended to” which is something most of us want.  We like when someone listens to us, seems to care about what we are saying, our concerns and our interests.

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Characters from the previous book show up and as I mentioned, more character development in this book.  I have now read 3 of the 8 books in the series and look forward to the final installment when it’s published.  I think that’s called Day of the Dead.

Food is mentioned here and there.

Two whiskies and two packets of crisps.  He took a seat at the table and opened both packages. “I got salt and vinegar and cheese and onion.  I didn’t know which you liked.”
“Neither, really,” said Frieda.
“You probably don’t like pubs either,” said Karlsson.
“It’s better than the police station.”

  • Frieda and Reuben talking over the phone.  She asks him to put potatoes in the oven for baking so they can have those for dinner.  But he hadn’t put potatoes in the oven, he’d made a greasy, rich lasagna, garlic bread and a green salad.

Frieda on a date with Harry at a Pop-up restaurant:

“I am Inga,” said the woman, “And I am from Denmark. My husband Paul is from Morocco.  We cook together.  I will bring you wine and food and there is no choice. No allergies, no fads?”

They were served a plate of pickled fish with sour cream, smoked meats, yogurts, savory pastries and wine.

Evidently a pop-up restaurant serves a handful of people and they pop up in various locations, serve dinners and one day they relocate.

  • Josef bakes a honey cake with cinnamon and ginger.
  • A dinner party at Oliva’s place – Salmon fillets cooked in pastry, meringues for dessert, lots of wine.
  • Yvette hands out packets of sandwiches, ‘Cheese and celery for you, tuna and cucumber for you and chicken for me.”
  • Frieda and Chloe eat at a Tapas restaurant – They ordered squid, roasted bell peppers, a Spanish omelet and a plate of spring greens.

I had quite a bit of choice for my food inspiration and almost made lasagna, because it sounded so good. But I went with Tapas.

Chicken and Guacamole Tostadas for Tapas

Ingredients
1 ripe peeled avocado
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons finely chopped tomato
3 tablespoons minced fresh onion
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon salt
1 clove of garlic minced
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
2 cups shredded skinless rotisserie chicken
¼ cups smoked paprika
8 (6 inch) tostada shells

Place avocado in small bowl; mash with a fork. Stir in 2 TB tomato, 1 TB onion, 1 TB juice, ¼ teaspoon salt and garlic.

Combine remaining 1 cup tomato, 2 TB onion, 1 TB lime juice, ¼ teaspoon salt and cilantro. Toss well.

Combine chicken, remaining TB juice and paprika; toss well to combine. Spread about 1 TB guacamole over each tostada shell. Top with chicken mixture and about 2 TB salsa.

The Silence by Susan Allott

 

You will experience the severe stifling heat of Australia and a bit of damp, cloudy England in this novel.

The characters are very real, the dialogue rings true with marital problems, tensions of a horrible job, unrealistic expectations and secrets.  Sounds like a bummer but you will love and hate on the characters and want to know what happened in their lives.

The story shifts from 1967 to 1997, back and forth.  The main narrator is Isla Green.  She is 6 years old in 1967 and loves living in her Australian home.  She adores her father. She thought everyone had a house with a backyard stretching to the ocean. Her parents are Joe and Louisa Green, both English but have moved to Australia to start a new life.  Trouble is,  Louisa doesn’t love it.  She misses England and hates the heat but I suspect her biggest problem is an alcoholic husband.

Next door are Mandy and Steve Mallory.  Isla spends quite a bit of time with Mandy and loves her.  Steve wants Mandy to get pregnant but both parties have different ideas about their future together. Steve has a horrible job as a policeman who removes aboriginal children from their families, placing them at The Home where they will be fostered and eventully learn a trade.

In 1967 women didn’t have joint accounts at the bank and have access to their husband’s  earnings. It was a different world and this makes it harder for Louisa and Mandy to make life altering decisions.

The genre is mystery, thriller, suspense and crime drama. Please read the author’s note at the end of the book. She details how the novel came about as well as her educational reading about Britain’s relationship with Australia and the colonial past.

Thinking of Steve Mallory’s police duties I would suggest watching the film Rabbit Proof Fence. It’s worthwhile.  It details a dark time when Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families to be trained and educated, placed in horific foster care and made servants.  But in Rabbit Proof Fence two sisters escape.

Be prepared to read this one straight through. Would I buy more by this author?  Oh, absolutely.  This is Allott’s first novel and I will preorder her next publication as soon as it’s an option.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Dry by Jane Harper


 The Dry.  It starts with a funeral and a mystery of how Aaron Falk is connected to the deceased.  Three coffins are displayed in the front of the church.  Lying dead is Aaron’s friend Luke along with Luke’s wife and young son, Karen and Billy.   Luke and his family were murdered and it looks like it was murder-suicide.  Luke was found with half his head blown off, his shotgun next to him in his truck.  His wife and son were also shot but the baby, Charlotte, was left untouched. Is this situation what it appears or is there another explanation and motive?

As Aaron Falk stands against the wall in the church, some of the close knit community give him hard looks and I’m immediately hooked to know the backstory. Aaron is now a federal police officer, one who investigates financial crimes.  Aaron and his father were basically run out of the community almost 20 years ago as it was suspected one (or both) had something to do with a young woman’s death.

Aaron didn’t come back just to pay respects to his friend but because Luke’s father summoned him with a message. “Luke lied. You lied.” This is in reference to their alibi the day Ellie Deacon was found dead.

So you see, there are two stories intertwined in this mystery.  Luke and his family and young Ellie Deacon.  Aaron Falk was meant to stay only 24 hours, enough time to see his friend buried and head back to Melbourne but Luke’s father implores him to look into his son’s suicide and murder. Even though 20 years have passed since Ellie was found dead it seems as if it happened only a week ago, as far as some townspeople are concerned.  These mysteries dovetail into a satisfying end, in my opinion.  I’m a big fan of series so I will add this to the series I plan to immerse myself into this coming year.

The writing was very detailed, I could immerse myself into the story and see what was being described.  The author painted a picture of the harsh environment and climate, the relationships both warm and those tense.  So many passages I liked in this book.

“City people wanted to move to the country but weren’t prepared to look out and not see another soul between them and the horizon.”

“He could understand them seeking out the idyllic country life style; a lot of people did.  The idea had an enticing wholesome glow when it was considered from the back of a traffic jam or while crowed into a gardenless apartment.  They all had the same visions of breathing fresh., clean air and knowing their neighbors. The kids would eat homegrown veggies and learn the value of an honest day’s work.

But on arrival, as the empty moving truck disappears, they gazed around and were always taken aback by the crushing vastness of the open land.  The space was the thing that hit them first, there was so much of it.”

One of my favorite authors and I will buy anything Jane Harper publishes.

MIssing in Wales by Jenny O'Brien

 

DC Gariella Darin is a new officer in the police department having recently transfered from Swansea.

She is assigned to work with DI Rhys Walker who was the lead in the case for a missing man and baby five years prior. Izzy Grant could never let go or move on after her boyfriend Charlie and their 1 month old daughter Alys disappeared.  Charlie was taking Alys out to give Izzy a rest.

Izzy wakes from her nap and realizes they hadn’t returned.  The opening chapter drops you into Izzy’s mind as she experiences the terror of looking through the empty house, calling Charlie’s cell and getting no answer.  No sign of them or the car was ever found – this is in the begining. Then the cold case gets reopened.

There are some books where you peg who’s the killers or there are multiple suspects you can narrow down.  Nope, not this one.  There were a few times when it was slow moving but that doesn’t last long,  I never saw it coming, the villian was a surprise to me.

I liked DC Gaby Darin as soon as she was introduced and was delighted there is a second book upcoming and hopefully it’s a series. Oh, it should be mentioned this book is titled Silent Cry in the UK editions.  I say that so you don’t buy the same book twice.

I love the cover and this is how I armchair traveled to Wales.  Would that I could take Harry Potter’s Floo Powder and pop in near Swansea or Cardiff.  Alas……..

Friday, October 23, 2020

One By One by Ruth Ware

For those of us who read mystery novels you can usually figure out who the murderer is midway in the book.  I did and while I was hoping for a good twist near the end (which I did not get) it was still a decent mystery.  You have a group of people stranded in a French chalet and there is a murder.  One of those people is obviously the murderer.

This reminded me so much of the plot in The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley although the Foley book is set in Scotland and Ware's is set in the France.  In both books you have a male and female "host" (read that as employees) of the lodge/chalet.  The guest party consists of well educated snobby city folk who arrive at an isolated vacation locale.  Weather locks them in but the lockdown doesn't occur until a death is discovered.  In The Hunting Party it's heavy snowfall keeping them from the outside world.  In One by One it's also snow with an included avalanche.

The friends and coworkers in both books are immediately wary of one another as they know one of them is a murderer. The male employees in both books are handsome and in great shape (sexy) and the female employees from both books have secrets which will be revealed in time.

It's not a rip off book plot but there are great similaries.  For what it's worth I liked The Hunting Party more however I will read more by Ruth Ware.

Ruth Ware is a British psychological crime author living in England.  She has quite a few books published and I look forward to exploring more by this author.


Sharing with Joy for British Isles Friday.




Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Witch Elm by Tana French

 

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This is the second time I picked up Witcn Elm as I didn’t get very far into the story the first go round. Admittedly it was my frame of mind as I had been hoping Tana would continue with the Dublin Murder Squad. With my husband and I staying in so much these days we decided to have our own book club.  We ordered a few books from Thift Books and set to reading The Witch Elm together.  It was enjoyable keeping the same pace and discussing the plot.

As with any Tana French mystery the writing was excellent. I do wish the book description hadn’t given away so much of the story ahead of time.
It was already established one of our main characters, Toby Hennessey, was a successful handsome man who came from a good family and always seemed to be….lucky.  That is how he is described.

One evening he is awakened during a home invasion and is viciously assaulted, leaving him with devasting injuries.  He decides to spend time at Ivy House with his uncle Hugo as he recovers and also to help his uncle.  Hugo has his own medical issues so its an ideal situation for both parties. At some point during  a family visit a human skull is discovered in the 200 year old Witch elm in the garden.

All of the above is known from the book jacket.

Incidentally, Ivy House is the ancesteral home of Toby’s grandparents and now Hugo, a gathering place for all family members to visit and have Sunday lunch. A place Toby and his cousins Leon and Susanna spent summers growing up and having parties.
As always Tana French’s writing style has you fully involved.  I felt like I was in the shadows witnessing these conversations between the cousins Toby, Susanna and Leon and those with Hugo.

The small trivial parts of a conversation such as Susanna ragging on Leon for picking through a bowl of nuts. “Stop picking  through, other people like cashews too, and besides it’s disgusting. ” That sort of natural banter that makes the scene so real.

Was I surprised by the ending? Yes.  There was an incident with a detective and Toby near the end that didn’t ring true with me.

Tana French is an excellent author and I will preorder any book she’s about to have published.  I can’t say that about any other writers with the exception of Jane Harper and Robert Galbraith.

Now for a bit of fun!  The character desciptions were detailed enough that we had our own mental images and tried to imagine a cast to play them if this were a movie.  Below see the decsription of Toby – thick straight blonde hair, very blue eyes and an open boyish face.

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I’m picturing Emily Blunt as Susanna, Charlie Hunnam as Toby and Tom Hiddleston as Leon.

Anthony Hopkins as Hugo Hennessey, Saoirse Ronan as Melissa and David Tennant as Detective Rafferty.

Did you read the book? If so did you like it or wish Tana would go back to writing Dublin Murder Squad?

Normal People by Sally Rooney

  The beginning of the story unfolds in Carricklea, Sligo in western Ireland. Our main characters are Connell and Marianne and they are you...