Tag Archives: crime

Review: Dead If You Don’t

Recap: It was supposed to be a fun Saturday soccer (football) game. Everyone and their mother seemed to be going — or father as the case may be. But the day quickly turned as stadium officials received threats of a terrorist attack at the game, threatening to kill and injure hundreds of fans. But that was just the beginning. Before the game even began, Kipp Brown realized his son, Mungo, was missing. They’d been fighting earlier, but surely his teenage son wouldn’t leave the biggest game of the year over a fight with his father.

The police are slammed, facing both a potential terror attack and kidnapping. The kidnapping is no big surprise considering who Mungo’s father is; Kipp is a well-known and successful business. Anyone would go after him for his money, but they’d be sadly surprised to learn that Brown also has a massive gambling problem and little to no money to his name.

The ransom calls start coming in, and soon Detective Superintendent Roy Grace must step in to deter the terror attack and find Kipp’s son. The investigation leads him to a group of dangerous Albanian men who have made a life for themselves in England by killing anyone who gets in the way of their greedy quest for money, wealth and power. But where is Mungo? And will they get to him in time before he becomes another victim?

Analysis: A straight-up crime detective novel, Dead If You Don’t pulls no punches, getting right to the many tropes that make a crime novel a good one: lots of characters, winding and intertwined storylines, good guys and bad guys, unforeseen turns and short chapters with little cliffhangers that help move the story along quickly.

It didn’t, however, necessarily feel like Roy Grace was the main character of the story. I was more invested in Kipp Brown, his family and his financial stupidity — hoping and praying that he’d learn his lesson when it comes to money. To be fair, of all the officers, Roy Grace was the one whose name I knew the best; he was clearly the star of the unit and the man in charge, but his story was less compelling than some of the other characters in the book. Basic in its structure, but effective in its plotting, Dead If You Don’t was the perfect read if you’re in the mood for a quick and easy crime novel.

MVP: Roy Grace, for the sole reason that he saves the day and Kipp Brown never quite lives up to his full potential.

Get Dead If You Don’t in paperback now for $14.35.

Or on your Kindle for $7.99.

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Review: Soul Witness

51lsnw9ki8l-_sx331_bo1204203200_Recap: It’s Black Friday in New York City and another terrorist attack has killed and hurt many. Then the State Capitol of Pennsylvania blows up. Many, many more are killed and hurt. Then a Russian plane headed for New York crashes in northern New Jersey. The number of terrorist attacks has increased. More people are dying and authorities still have no answers. Investigations are started, but seemingly never finished. No terrorists are charged or tried.

But then one of the investigators makes an astonishing discovery. Photos from each of these attacks, as well as the 9/11 terror attacks in New York City and the London bombings from 2007, have one thing in common: the same man’s face. They each show the same man looking as smoke, fire, and chaos ensues. He is never caught in the act with a gun, bomb, or other weapon. He never appears malicious. He just appears to be staring, watching it all happen. Finally at the most recent attack, he is taken into custody, but he will not speak. Authorities don’t even have a way of identifying him.

Ultimately the case moves to trial. Lawyers are determined to crucify the man, assuming that he had something to do with each and every one of the biggest terror attacks in recent history. But even his defense attorneys are unsure what will happen when he demands to take the stand. Who is this man? And how will all this play out?

Analysis: Though Soul Witness was published several years ago now, its story carries through in relevance and relatability since terrorism in real life, just as in the novel, only seems to get more severe and heartbreaking as time goes on. Whether it’s a terror attack or a person who unleashes in a public space in a mass shooting, we, as Americans, are all too familiar with these stories. While the Black Friday attack, Pennsylvania State Capitol attack and plane crash are all fictional plot points in Witness, they feel all too real. Foreshadowing makes it clear this creepy man is not necessarily going to give lawyers and investigators what they want, but author Bill Costopolous does a great job of building suspense as we, like the characters in the book, also wonder how this will all play out.

As a reporter who lives and works in Pennsylvania’s Capital City of Harrisburg, I also couldn’t help but be entertained by the local references woven throughout the novel. (The trial takes place in Harrisburg, PA a few blocks away from the Capitol building.) With his law background, Costopolous is the perfect writer for a story like this — making the case and trial all too believable.

MVP: The No Named Man. His testimony is unexpected and absurd, and yet exactly what you’d hope for in a twisty quick read like this.

Get Soul Witness now in paperback for $19.99.

Or get it on your Kindle for just $3.99.

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Review: Walk Into Silence

517dhybyiol-_sx332_bo1204203200_Recap: When Detective Jo Larson moves from Dallas to a small town nearby, she expects she’ll be able to avoid major crime. But she soon learns that’s not necessarily how things work — not when it comes to hate, jealousy and betrayal. Patrick Dielman shows up at her office one day, explaining that his wife has gone missing, but clues in their conversation make it apparent to Jo that Patrick may have been a pretty controlling husband. There’s a good chance, she thinks, that he may have something to do with her disappearance. As she digs deeper into the missing woman, Jenny, she also learns that it’s a week shy of the three-year anniversary of the death of her young son — a death that affected her so deeply, she and her first husband divorced.

That’s when Jo finds Jenny’s body. At that point, Patrick is still a person of interest, but she and her partner also begin to consider that this could have been a suicide. Jenny was depressed about the death of her son and a near-anniversary would make a suicide likely.

So was it a suicide? Was it Jenny’s husband? What about her ex-husband? His new wife? Or Jenny’s odd neighbor who seems to have more than just a crush on Jenny’s late husband? There’s a lot to investigate and not much evidence to go off of. What’s worse is Jo learns Jenny was abused growing up — something to which Jo can relate. Suddenly, this case is hitting closer to home that Jo would like it to.

Analysis: In many respects Walk Into Silence follows many formulas for detective and crime novels. After all, the killer is not the most obvious suspect, and the detective herself is troubled in some way (actually, in this case a lot of ways). Both of these are common tropes in this style of book. The mystery was compelling initially, and the random pages of Jenny’s journal, which are included in the novel, gave the reader great omniscient background knowledge of Jenny. But the mystery seemed to lose steam as the novel continued. It became pretty clear who was likely involved in Jenny’s death earlier than I expected; it took a while before it was actually solved by Jo.

That said, Jo was an extremely compelling character. She got a lot of setup: her abusive childhood, her sick mother, her boyfriend, Adam, who left his wife to be with Jo. I liked that her story and background was so similar to that of the victim in her case. It made the case more difficult for her to solve in that it brought up a lot of other emotions.

MVP: Jo. I recognize that this is meant to be the first in a series of detective novels with Jo as the central character, and I would absolutely be willing to follow her just to see her developed even more.

Get Walk Into Silence in paperback for $6.99.

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Review: Baggage

91vkke5j99lRecap: Anna Ray has a secret. For years, she’s carried it around with her, and every on February 17th, she relives the same traumatic incident from her childhood that she can’t talk about. And then she relives the other traumatic incident from her adulthood — the day her husband killed himself. Those two deaths have permanently cursed February 17th for her, only to be made worse when yet another person she knows well dies on the very same date.

Her cousin, Jeannie, has already flown in to stay with her for the week that haunts Anna so much. Now the two of them together become wrapped up in a murder investigation a professor at the college where Anna works. He just so happened to have had a crush on Anna and used to date Jeannie. Investigators won’t leave them alone, even as one of Anna’s students becomes a prime suspect in the case. But the date and the baggage of February 17th also won’t leave Anna alone, and ultimately she has to come to terms with what this all means for her.

Analysis: Author S.G. Redling does a good job of showing us how torn Anna and Jeannie’s characters are and how much baggage they really have. But with all that baggage, it was frustrating to me that the reader doesn’t learn exactly what happened in Anna’s past until the very end. I think it would have made the story’s climax more climactic had we had more insight beforehand. The details about that traumatic childhood incident also could have been explained more plainly — I found that section a little confusing and had to re-read it several times.

That said, Redling builds great suspense as the end of the novel nears, and it has a very Gone Girl thriller feel. The twist at the end is great mystery writing and exactly the kind of twist any reader hopes for. The relationship between Anna and Jeannie is also great, though I found it hard to believe that growing up, Anna never told Jeannie exactly what happened on that February 17th of yesteryear.

MVP: Jeannie. She’s a bit of a hot mess, like Anna, but she’s there for her. She’s a good role model for Anna and completely nonjudgmental, which is exactly the kind of woman Anna needs in her life.

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Latest ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ Novel To Be Released Next Week

Yes, the original author of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two immediate sequels is dead, but his stories live on.

As I reported earlier this year, the latest novel in the series was set to be released today. Now The Girl in the Spider’s Web is set to come out next week, September 1st. That’s the new official title for the book, written by David Lagercrantz.

While the book’s not out yet, several critics have reviewed it, and Entertainment Weekly has an excerpt. The latest novel follows Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist as they run from cybercriminals. The novel is getting good reviews, despite the controversy over the selection of who would finish writing it.

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Review: The Girl on the Train

Recap: Rachel rides the train two hours a day from home to her office in London. Much of that train ride is spent drinking, and most of it is spent thinking about, staring at, or creating a fake backstory for the people who live in a house she passes on her ride. Rachel has become obsessed with the attractive couple who lives there, not only because they’re along her train route, but also because they live down the street from her old house, where she once resided with her ex-husband.

Her ex, Tom, has since remarried and has a child with his new wife, Anna. But Rachel isn’t as estranged from Tom as he and Anna would like her to be. Rachel’s drunken days and nights have done nothing but lead to dozens of phone calls to Tom and countless embarrassing moments.

But one day, Rachel witnesses something while she’s on the train — a moment involving the woman with whom she’s obsessed. So when that woman goes missing the next day, Rachel realizes she might have a very important and useful clue. She reports it, and quickly finds herself completely wrapped up in the mystery. But with all her drinking and knowledge not more valuable than that of a girl on the train, investigators and those involved don’t know whether to trust her.

AnalysisThe Girl on the Train has been touted as “the next Gone Girl.” It’s a bestseller that has flown off the shelves in the last several months. It’s obvious why. Its similarities to Gone Girl are strong — chapters alternating between the perspectives of several different characters, unreliable narrators, and a suspenseful mystery, mixed with a fair amount of violence. But there are differences too. The end of the novel is sadder than Gone Girl, but better justified.

Ultimately, The Girl on the Train is a page-turner, even to the final pages. Just when I thought the story was over, it wasn’t. The book is full of twists and turns, and each character is more pathetic and crazy than the next. Even as we, as the reader, are inside the heads of several characters, they each have so many issues, it’s hard to tell what they’re actually thinking and where the story will actually go. Dark and twisty, The Girl on the Train is compelling and raises the question how well do you really know anybody?

MVP: Rachel. She is a hot mess. Most of the book, I cringed on her behalf, wondering why she couldn’t get it together. But I wanted her to be right, and despite her repeated failures and embarrassment, she’s never gave up, and resilience is commendable.

Get The Girl on the Train in hardcover for $16.17.

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Review: Amazon Burning

Recap: When a traumatic and potentially life-ruining legal matter threatens Emma Cohen’s shot at finishing college, she takes a sabbatical — which isn’t really much of a sabbatical at all — interning for the newspaper her father works for during a summer in Rio De Janeiro. It starts out fun, but quickly becomes dramatic when a famous environmentalist is suddenly murdered.

She flies with her father to the Amazon to cover Milton Silva’s suspicious death and funeral. Along the way, she meets a good-looking photographer, Jimmy, but because of her ongoing legal battle in New York, she must keep her hands off. Emma decides to focus on the story of Milton Silva and — together with Jimmy — begins to investigate.

But the deeper they dig, the more they come across crime and suspicious activity. Add to that the craziness and chaos of Amazonian weather and and you’ve got yourself a crazy thriller-adventure with a little romance mixed in.

AnalysisAmazon Burning starts off strong. There’s a mysterious murder. There’s a college girl, with a secret of her own, working to uncover all the details. There’s a sexy man, a sexy location and a sexy summer season. But the story itself doesn’t exactly live up to the hype.

As Emma and Jimmy get deeper and deeper into their investigation, they open up, and we finally learn what Emma’s secret is. But their investigation doesn’t go as far as they’d like. They get closer and closer, but ultimately reach several dead ends. As it turns out, the biggest plan they coordinate winds up screwing up a federal investigation that’s going on at the same time.

As much I wanted to root for them, their inability to solve the case made it hard. Then I got to thinking — why would they even try to solve it? As a journalist, I understand the job of a reporter, and of course, were one to come across a case that they thought they could solve, that’s great. But more likely than not, reporters are following cases and  reporting on them, not solving them themselves. That’s the job of an officer or detective. The journalist aspect story seemed far-fetched, especially by involving a college student. And when Emma and Jimmy wind up failing anyway, it makes the story that much more unfulfilling.

Get Amazon Burning in paperback for $9.74.

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