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 Literary Mystery

Lady in the LakeLady in the Lake by Laura Lippman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Synopsis: “In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know–everyone, that is, except Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she’s bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.

Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl–assistance that leads to a job at the city’s afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.

Cleo Sherwood was a young African-American woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie–and the dead woman herself. Maddie’s going to find the truth about Cleo’s life and death. Cleo’s ghost, privy to Maddie’s poking and prying, wants to be left alone.

Maddie’s investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life–a jewelery store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people–including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lippman’s latest novel. This was not my first novel by this author, nor will it be my last.

I think this would be considered a literary mystery. It is not a whodunnit really, although that is the crux of what keeps the novel moving forward.

This was a story that illuminates a time and place in history. There were discussions about race tensions, religious differences, laws, expectations and class differences. While I found the people in this book to be mostly superficial characters, the 1960s Baltimore setting was fully alive on every page. There were so many POVs including a ghost, a waitress, a nurse, and reporters. Each of these characters showed up for a very short period of time, offered their piece of the story and vanished. But I felt that was by design, people are temporary, the city and the culture last much longer.

The investigation into a murdered black woman was in the background throughout the book, but life continued and there were other things that needed doing. The life of a reporter at the time, especially an almost 40-year old cub reporter, could be difficult and degrading. The mystery had several twists and turns and intrigued me to the end.

The glimpse of a time I have never seen was more engaging then anything else. This may not be the perfect place for a new Lippman reader, but I enjoyed it enough to recommend it to others.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and the author for providing me with an advanced e-copy of the book.

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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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A Hospital Mystery

Not Quite DeadNot Quite Dead by Dawn Harris Sherling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Doctor Autumn Johnson is convinced that someone wants the promising young researcher, Jay Abrams, dead.

And as a newly minted medical intern, Autumn tries to outsmart death on behalf of her patients every day. But she just can’t seem to get it right. Not knowing the answers her residents expect her to, prescribing the wrong meds, and nearly passing out as a patient is wheeled into the ICU—is not how she had pictured herself as a physician.

Determined to do better, Autumn decides to prove someone tried to kill Jay. When the trail leads her to Jay’s mysterious notes, Autumn has little time to discover who wants Jay, and now her, dead. With the help of the only other intern she can call a friend and a self-destructive perfectionist for a supervising resident, Autumn will have to solve a mystery that reaches deep inside the medical establishment, threatening us all.”

In my year of mystery, I was certainly excited about reading a few medical mysteries. The medical field is great for mystery. Doctors must make decisions based on any number of clues and red herrings and that alone can make for interesting reading. A victim could just as easily be felled by a fellow human as he (or she) could be felled by a strange disease/bacteria/infection. While this looked like medical mystery, it was more of a murder mystery set in a hospital.

The focus of this book did not feel like the solving of a potential murder; rather it was the life of an intern and a resident and how hard their work is. There were many references to 30-hour on call shifts, little time for rest, no time to eat, and demands on new doctors’s time. I get that it’s hard to be a doctor (thank goodness), but I felt like these ladies may have been too focused on what they were missing (i.e. sleep, food, social life). Much of this information became repetitve throughout the book.

One of the other things I struggled with in this book was the medical jargon. I don’t have a lot of medical experience (like none?), but I do recognize some medical names and some diagnoses from life experience. Early in the book there was talk of patients who could not survive without pressors, I did not know what those were and it took me out of the story. That was an example that stuck with me, but there were several others littered around in this book.

I did not think the multiple POVs were necessary, not particularly distinct. It was a way to give the reader as much information as was available, but without chapter headings, I would not have easily recognized whose story I was reading.

I may be at a point where I have read and paid close enough attention to a variety of mysteries this year, the guilty party was not a surprise to me. I did not question it for a moment.

This was not my favorite book of the year, and it could use a little more editing, but it was a fine read for a couple hours of entertainment.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a free digital copy 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 Halloween Cozy

Burned to a Crisp (Gingerbread Hag Mystery #1)Burned to a Crisp by K.A. Miltimore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the publisher: “Hedy Leckenmaul runs a strange little bakery in the sleepy town of Enumclaw, Washington. Her bakery may be bizarre but it is the non-human guests who stay at her home, along with her resident ghost, and her menagerie of talking animals that truly is strange. Hedy hosts a waystation for supernatural travelers and while hosting two such travelers, the town is rocked by an arsonist who is kidnapping women, and pitting the residents of Enumclaw against each other. Hedy and her friends must solve the mystery when one of their own vanishes, leaving them racing to find out who is behind it all before it is too late.”

I read this during the spring, but I saved my review until October. While reading this paranormal, cozy mystery, I found myself constantly thinking what a great Halloween read it would be. I may try to fit the second book from this series into my own autumn reading plan.

Paranormal anything is not my usual cup of tea, but in my quest to try on a variety of different mysteries this year, it is only natural that I would want to explore places I would not usually go. I am glad I ventured down this path, and relieved to find it was not as uncomfortable as I would have thought.

Hedy runs a bakery and occasionally has special visitors stay with her in a bed and breakfast. Her special visitors are interesting characters. There are also talking animals and a ghost in Hedy’s home. While hosting two of these visitors, a strange series of crimes occurs in her small town, and one of her guests could very easily be the perpetrator.

I enjoyed the setting of this book. Having lived for several years in the Pacific Northwest, I am familiar with Enumclaw and found the visit back there (through my reading) refreshing. Enumclaw is a smaller community and would certainly be both a good place for hiding some unusual business and a place that would be devastated and quick to respond to these crimes.

The fairy tales Hedy shares with Mel were interesting and kept me engaged. As did the stories from both of the guests and the history of the items Hedy keeps in her bakery. While this was a short-ish book, there were a lot of different story lines and they were well-maintained and kept together nicely.

At the end of the day, this was a cozy mystery with some paranormal aspects and a fun read! Like I said, I may fit the next one in this month, but as it is a Christmas story, maybe I will hold on and read it after Thanksgiving.

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