A D.B. Cooper Thriller

Cooper's LootCooper’s Loot by Rick E. George
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Synopsis: “It’s 1972, but the Neanderthal editors of reporter Bev Wikowski’s newspaper don’t have a clue. They’ve assigned her to the Women’s Pages and put her desk near the door so she can greet newsroom visitors. It’s a wonder they haven’t asked her to make coffee. Then Bev meets a buddy of the infamous hijacker DB Cooper. Cooper has sent him to gather a posse to find and dig up the loot he buried in the Cascade Mountains. Would Bev like to join the group? Suddenly, Bev’s looking at the possibility of a front-page story on every newspaper in the nation—and maybe a Pulitzer Prize. A young widow whose husband died in Vietnam, she leaves her four-year-old daughter with her parents, hides her work identity, and joins the group. But it doesn’t take long before an even bigger challenge demands every ounce of her strength: Survival.”

This was a fantastically paced thriller. An interesting idea of what may have happened during and after a famous unsolved mystery in the late 20th century. The author’s use of setting and weather made the story ring true and dangerous. The character development could have been better executed, but overall a captivating read.

I know a little bit about D.B. Cooper’s crime. It happened before I was born, so I was decades removed from the crime before I heard about it. I am surprised I haven’t come across more fictional ideas about what may have happened. This crime and perpetrator feel fraught with options.

I thoroughly enjoyed the 1970s setting in the Pacific Northwest. While my time in the Pacific Northwest was in Seattle, in the 2000s, the attitudes and landscape felt real on every page. I certainly enjoy reading books set before the Internet took over everything. No cell phones, I will enjoy this story. The forests and the mountains of Washington were carefully crafted. I could see the scene. The end of the Vietnam War was also prevalent in the story; it added to the desperation of the characters and a feel for the time.

Unfortunately, I found most of the characters were not well-fleshed out. I had a hard time keeping track of who was who. I read several times Will was the best of the lot, but honestly I couldn’t remember anything distinct about the man. The women were fighting back and forth and other than Bev, I had no idea which woman was which. It took a bit away from the story for me, but Bev gave me enough of an anchor to continue enjoying the ride.

Finally, the author presented a wonderful use of weather. The unpredictability of the snow and the wind added to the overall sense of foreboding. I am pretty sure my toes froze while reading several scenes in this book.

There was a lot of strong points in this novel, and I will look to reading additional titles by this author.

Thank you to BookSirens and the publisher for a free review copy. This review has been posted voluntarily, and the opinion is my own.

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Another Debut Mystery

The LoopThe Loop by Nicholas Holloway
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Synopsis: “In the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountains, a freezing snowdrift blankets the June Lake Loop. For months, aspiring novelist Gallagher Finch has not written a single word. To pass the time awaiting inspiration, Gal satiates his boredom with Adderall, Evan Williams, and one call girl too many. On the eve of his twenty-sixth birthday, he indulges in all three…

And when he awakens, he discovers a bloody secret tangled in his bedsheets.

Still grieving from a tragic murder in the family thirteen years earlier, Gal wonders if old enemies are drawing near once again. He begins to process his nightmares, anxiety, and fear the only way he knows how – he writes. Quickly realizing his own story could be the best-seller he has been dying to publish, Gal weaves together the truth of who killed Daphne Castro, but in the process, he discovers the story that could launch his career may very well be his own deadly ending.

Family becomes foe, dark secrets resurface, and blood can be found on more than one pair of hands.”

Nicholas Holloway’s The Loop is a clever roller coaster of a book. I found this story to have strong characterization, an ideal setting, lots of unexpected twists, and a sense of word play I haven’t seen much of lately. I wasn’t sure I liked this book when I finished it, but upon reflection, I know that I did, and I liked it a lot.

We meet the Finch family in the midst of their newest crisis (and this family has had several). The siblings have survived a troubled history and now each have a collection of secrets themselves. Holloway has done a fantastic job breathing lives into each of this characters, no matter how broken.

The setting of this book is beautiful; almost a character in its own right. Such beauty hiding so much pain and danger. Northern California is a beautiful place, and the author clearly knows the region and loves it. The lakes make a nice contrast to the terrible things that are occurring throughout the area.

There were many twists and turns in this story. I rarely settled into a suspect before there was another plot twist. The layers uncovered on each page remind us all that there are shades of gray and good and bad in everyone. Anyone could be the guilty party. And the motive was always shifting.

There was a playful note throughout this book. Each chapter was given a colorful title. I thought the playful-ness may be too gimmicky, but I found myself appreciating it and at some times, even loving it. The over-arching color theme connected the threads within each chapter.

The penultimate chapter of this book almost lost me, but after having sat with the conclusion of this story for a couple of days, I have found I appreciate it even more. It was a logical twist, necessary for the ultimate conclusion.

This book appears to be a debut, but I have seen rumors of both a sequel to this one and a new stand alone by this author. I look forward to reading both.
I received a free review copy of this book from Book Sirens and am leaving this review voluntarily.

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Locked Door Mystery

Ever ToldEver Told by Benjamin Bremasi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Synopsis: “When New Hampshire detective Jill Jennson is called to the scene of a double homicide that took place during a wealthy family’s annual vacation, she immediately realizes that this case will be unlike any other. The victims were brutally killed in their locked bedroom with seemingly no way for the killer to enter or leave undetected. The list of suspects is endless. And the possible motives are even more disturbing.
As the case evolves, the investigation becomes even more complex as secrets are revealed and betrayals come to light. Aided by her partner Caiden and her bedridden father Tony, Jill continues to unearth clue after clue as she desperately tries to solve the mystery and identify the killer. But the more she digs, the more she comes to realize that someone is out to get her as well. Is her unknown assailant connected to the investigation, or does the answer lie much closer to home? Once she discovers that the case may even have personal connections to a horrific event in her own sordid past, Jill will stop at nothing to complete the puzzle and finally put to rest the multiple acts of deception that have all converged into one unforgettable nightmare.”

Ever Told is a debut novel that tried to do a lot of things in fewer than 200 pages. Many aspects of this book fell short of ideal for me, but twist at the end and the promising story-telling made me more of a fan than not.

A locked door mystery set in one of my favorite locations. Locked door mysteries seem to be less popular at the moment, but they are classic for a reason. Limiting the number of characters allows the author and the reader to get to know the characters and their secrets better. This book started to do much of this. Each of the characters had a secret, some of which were juicy. But the characterization available for more than half a dozen characters, in 200 pages is not great. While I have never been there, I thoroughly enjoy books set in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. This one is set in New Hampshire and, unfortunately, did not take great advantage of the beautiful setting.

A novel that feels like a cozy mystery, even though the sleuths are professional police officers. A debut novel. A cozy mystery typically has an amateur sleuth, is set in a small community, and has limited violence and sex. This book ticked all of these boxes, except the police were the sleuths. This was not a police procedural and there was little mention of the forensic professionals I would have expected from a more official investigation.

This story is told in back and forth story lines. We see the family before and after the murder in alternating chapters (for the most part). I found this handled very well. The parts that take place immediately before the murders each add a new piece of the puzzle and throw further suspicion on different characters. After the murders, the investigation and the side stories were engaging.

The ending offers a twist that I suspected and discarded early, but upon reflection, makes perfect sense.

While I thought there were some imperfections in this book, I would be interested in reading future titles by this author.

Thank you to BookSirens and the publisher for an e-copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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A Debut Mystery from Charleston

The Holy City Murders (Duke Dempsey Mystery)The Holy City Murders by Ron Plante Jr.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Duke Dempsey is a private investigator in 1938 Charleston, SC. Thrust into the case of a lifetime when the Vatican comes calling and hires Duke to find an invaluable relic. Charleston is also hit with the mysterious murders of a prominent priest of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and a local cop. Duke is forced into a partnership with the presiding detective, Johnny Stampkin, to find the relic and solve the murders. The case takes a multitude of twists and turns as they navigate through Roman Catholic puzzles, Civil War secrets, and a Nazi Assassin.”

I have been a bit surprised by how much I enjoy historical mysteries. It is not something I actively avoided or sought out before declaring 2019 the year of mystery for myself, but I have certainly had a soft spot for historical mysteries; especially post World War I novels in both the UK and the New England region in the U.S. This one is set a little later (the 1930s) and in the U.S. South and I did not enjoy it as much as I have the others.

I thought this was a very interesting premise: two groups of people trying to find a religious relic in order to protect their own way of thinking. The bad guy kills several good guys, including the one who knows where the relic currently is. A police detective, private detective and a nun now need to find said relic (and yes, they may walk into a bar, too).

The author is clearly knowledgeable about Charleston and its history. There were some great nuggets of information strewn throughout this novel, wish there would have been a little more.

The narrative of this book was difficult for me. I like reading books with snippets of information from the antagonists’ point of view, but they need to be clearly distinguished from other points of view. Often, a chapter would begin with what the Nazi is doing or thinking and switch a paragraph or two later to the private detective’s story line. It was a bit muddled for me.

I think there was a lot of information pointing at this being a new author. He has some interesting ideas and a decent story here. With a little more practice and some character work, I think this may be a fun author to read in the future.

Thank you to Book Sirens and the publisher for giving me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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An Earlier Book by Jeff Bond

The Winner MakerThe Winner Maker by Jeff Bond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the Publisher: “Bob Fiske — the 74-year-old dinosaur who’s taught Honors English and coached varsity football for five decades — is missing.

To his Winners, class favorites Fiske designated over the years for their potential to “Live Big,” it’s heartbreaking. Fiske did more than inspire with soaring oratory; he supported their ambitions into adulthood. Four of his brightest former stars reunite to find him, putting high-octane careers on hold, slipping police barricades, racing into the wilds of Northern Michigan for clues about the fate of their legendary mentor.

Others don’t see a legend. They see an elitist whose time has passed.

When a current student — female — disappears just hours into the Winners’ search amid rumors of inappropriate meetings, the Great Man’s reputation is a shambles.

Feints, betrayal, explosive secrets from their own pasts: as facts emerge, each Winner must decide how far they’ll go for Fiske. Can the truth redeem him? Or has this cult of hyper-achievement spawned a thing so vile none of their lives will survive intact?”

I devoured this book in a single afternoon.

This book reminded me of the movie The Breakfast Club, but 10 years later. We have the jock, the Homecoming Queen, the nerd, and the mute one all brought together to search for one man who is missing and may be a criminal.

This group was not linked by detention, but maybe the opposite: an elite group of students tapped to be Winners by the teacher/coach. When he goes missing, they all come back to help find him and hopefully clear his name of wrongdoing.

I enjoyed the story. I did not think it fit neatly into one specific genre box, but chose to read it as it sounded mysterious. It could also be a contemporary story, a thriller, or a comment on society. The characters and their relationships played a strong role in the story, thus allowing it to cross many of the genre lines. There was friendship, marriage and parenting issues, unrequited love, loyalty, elitism, high school drama and much more included in these pages.

Unlike Bond’s other work (Blackquest 40), which I read earlier this year, this one was a slower story. There was time to get to know a little more about the characters and to ferret out what happened in the past and why it was germane to the mystery at hand.

I would not hesitate to recommend this book to others and will watch for future titles by this author.

Thank you to the author for a free copy in exchange for my honest thoughts about this book.

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A Legal Thriller

Law and AddictionLaw and Addiction by Mike Papantonio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the publisher: “One week before Jake Rutledge is scheduled to graduate from law school, he receives the devastating news of the death of his fraternal twin, Blake. What makes this death even more terrible for Jake is that his brother died of a drug overdose. Until hearing of his death, Jake had no idea his brother was even using drugs.

When Jake returns home to Oakley, West Virginia, he takes a hard look at the circumstances of his brother’s death. In the five years Jake has been away for his schooling, his hometown has drastically changed. Because of the opioid epidemic, and the blight it has brought, many now call Oakley Zombieland. Jake can see how his town’s demise parallels his brother’s.

Undeterred, the newly minted lawyer takes on the entrenched powers by filing two lawsuits. Jake quickly learns what happens when you upset a hornet’s nest. The young attorney might be wet behind the ears, but is sure there is no lawyer that could help him more than Nick Deke Deketomis and his law firm of Bergman/Deketomis. Deke is a legendary lawyer. When he was Jake’s age he was making his name fighting Big Tobacco. Against all odds, Jake gets Nick and his firm to sign on to his case before it’s too late.”

This is a timely legal thriller. Our country is facing a crisis in the our communities as we deal every day with new opiod overdoses. The cost is more than we should be willing to accept.

I had some complaints about this book, but after closing it, I realized my complaints were perhaps petty, but also a good strategy to sharing the more important message of this story.

We are given a perfect hero. He has had some challenges in his life, but he is a crusader and he’s smart and kind and able to get things done. He interacts with other perfect people who cherish their wives, work upstream, but still have plenty of money to fly around on private jets. Some of this was hard to swallow in the moment. However, what this group of really good people set out to accomplish and the battle they have on their hands may require really good people.

What Papantonio does very well in this novel is to shine a light and humanize the opiod crisis. We go into West Virginia and see all of the different mechanisms at work. As readers, we get to see the desolation and heartache the influx of drugs have caused. We get a taste of addicts, people in recovery, drug mules, and people who take advantage of the situation financially.

There was a lot of sitting around and discussing next steps as our dream team of lawyers plotted their next moves, but this never felt unneccessary or repetitive. During the course of the story there was also love, friendship, humor, grittiness, twists and turns.

The author is clearly well-versed in this type of law and in this growing crisis. This is a book people should read to help understand why the opiod crisis is not going away and why each of us should care.

I want to thank NetGalley, the publisher and the author for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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A Debut Thriller!

Come and Get MeCome and Get Me by August Norman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the publisher: “An intrepid journalist confronts a small town’s dark secrets in Come and Get Me, a breakneck thriller for fans of Tess Gerritsen and Julia Keller.

At Indiana University, someone’s been studying the female student body: their dating customs, nocturnal activities―and how long they can survive in captivity.

When award-winning journalist Caitlin Bergman is invited back to campus to receive an honorary degree, she finds an opportunity for a well-earned victory lap―and a chance to face the trauma that almost destroyed her as an undergrad. But her lap becomes an all-out race when a student begs her to probe an unsolved campus disappearance: Angela Chapman went out one Friday night and never came back.

To find the missing woman, Caitlin must join forces with a local police detective and the department that botched her own case so long ago. But while Caitlin follows the clues behind Angela’s disappearance, someone else is following her…”

This one took me far too long to read!

I started reading it and put it down after our main character announces to a room full of students that she was a rape victim. I was not sure if I wanted to continue down the path of a male author depicting any part of that. However, I am sorry it took me so long to get back to it. I ended up liking it quite a bit.

Caitlin was a fierce, strong character who I wanted to see win with minimal damage, preferably. Every other character was suspect. They were real and each took their turn to be on the hot seat. While I did not guess who the guilty party was, there were clues and bread crumbs throughout the book.

The pacing was perfect; I did not find a dull moment. The glimpses into the perpetrator’s world were well-spaced and while dark, a great addition to the hunt.

It appears this is the author’s first novel and that he is planning a series with Caitlin. I will watch for future titles by this author.

A big thanks to netgalley and the publisher for my advanced copy!

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