Her Last Move by John Marrs: This Thriller Left Me Feeling Gobsmacked and Awestruck

(that’s too tiny to read, sorry, click here to embiggen. There are a lot of great writers here — you’re going to want to check out those other posts.)

Her Last MoveHer Last Move

by John Marrs

eARC, 352 pg.
Thomas & Mercer, 2018
Read: November 8 – 12, 2018

           The very fact people were talking about him and taking him seriously was proof he was on the right path. But branding him a serial killer was lazy. Serial killers and psychopaths murder out of compulsion, he reminded himself. They do it because they have no choice. He killed with purpose. And eventually, everyone would understand why.

This is one of those books that I’m not going to do justice to. I know that now, and if not for the deadline of posting in a few hours, I’d probably walk away now and come back daily for until next Tuesday and post something I don’t like. But I do have that deadline, so I have to post something I’m not satisfied with in a few hours. I just like this one so much; and have so much that I want to say, but won’t because it would ruin your experience, that I know I’ll want a couple of mulligans to this post.

This starts off with one of those chapters we’ve all read too many times — a budding serial killer is preparing to make his first kill and is indulging in some interior monologue beforehand. This is where we start to get an understanding of the character, why he thinks he needs to be killing, why he’s so wonderful/special/different. But this chapter isn’t quite that — and by the time you realize this isn’t following the standard template, Marrs has his hooks in you — and this book is off to a startling and bloody start.

DS Becca Vincent is a young detective just trying to get somewhere in her career — it seems that her superiors, including (infuriatingly enough) women, are holding her back because of her devotion to her daughter. Not that her mother considers her that devoted as she’s doing most of the hands-on care while Becca is at work. She’s in the crowd when the first killing happens and is the first police presence at the scene. She also is the first to tie that victim to another murder victim. She leverages this into a spot on the investigation team, where she hopes she can make enough of a difference to lead to more responsibility in the future.

The first thing she’s assigned to do is to go over the CCTV tapes with a “super-recogniser.” I don’t know if this is a real thing or not, and don’t care. It works really well in this book — these are a select team of people with near-eidetic memories for faces who spend every shift pouring through security footage for faces — either to track down suspects or identify people who are near too many crime scenes to chalk up to coincidence. We meet DS Joe Russell as he recognizes a suspect on the street while riding a bus and chases him down. Becca meets him in less exciting circumstances — a dirty squadroom in a less-than-impressive looking building. She doesn’t buy the concept originally, but Joe wins her over pretty quickly.

The investigation doesn’t move quickly, there’s a lot of manpower put into it (more and more all the time), but progress is slow. A friendship develops (not without a few bumps) between Joe and Becca much more quickly, and they clearly work together well.

The killer’s spree does move quickly on the other hand. He has a plan, he’s been developing it, nurturing it, and getting it ready to carry out for a very long time. He’s spent years setting up these dominoes and when he knocks the first over, the rest fall quickly. As we watch him do that, we learn what shaped him throughout his life into the monster he’s become. Nothing that happens to him justifies what he’s doing — nothing could — but it helps the reader understand him, and empathize with him to a degree (until he gets to a certain point and you can’t empathize with him anymore).

The book is full of sincere and devoted professionals trying to get the job done in the best way to protect lives and stop the killer — we focus on a couple of them, but they’re clearly all over the place. Unlike the people on TV, these professionals have family, friends, medical issues, children, pasts, problems and joys outside the job who will distract from and inform their performance on the job. Watching Becca and Joe unsuccessfully balance these parts of their life (particularly given the pressures as the number of bodies rises) is just one of the things that Marrs does right. Come to think of it, you can say the same thing about our killer (for most of the book anyway). I’m really impressed at how much genuine tension and drama Marrs is able to mine from this.

Each death is increasingly horrific — seriously, these are some of the most gruesome murders I’ve read. Each reveals more about the killer and what’s driving him. The reader (as we have more information than the police) will put the pieces together before the Becca and Joe do. But when things start to click for the police, they’re able to figure things out quickly. It’s a very satisfying moment — the question is, do they figure things out in time to save anyone on the killer’s list?

I’ve never read Marrs before — but I will again. There’s not a wasted word in these 352 pages, not a throwaway line, useless exchange. My notes are filled with “Is he going somewhere with ____?” and “There’d better be a pay off to ___” Every time, without fail, I could’ve gone back and added the page/line that demonstrated he was going somewhere with that idea or paid off that observation. Even in my favorite reads of 2018, there are moments we probably don’t need — most of which I’m happy to have — lines, ideas, scenes that could be cut without hurting things. That’s not the case here — anything you read here is important, even if (maybe especially if) it doesn’t seem so.

I’m not sure how this would hold up to repeated reading — a lot of thrillers don’t. And I haven’t had time to try this one, but I think it’d hold up pretty well, if you’re not distracted by wondering what Marrs (or his characters) are up to, or what’s going to happen next, etc. you can focus on all the subtle little things he’s doing to create the anticipation and tension, and appreciate the skill involved in grabbing the reader and putting them through the paces.

This will suck you in, keep you entertained through the paces of the investigation, and lull you into thinking you know how things are going just long enough for you to get complacent so he can drop the floor out from underneath you. Marrs makes bold choices and will catch you off-guard at least once — I can practically guarantee that. This is one of those books that will lead you to shirk responsibilities at home and work; postpone things like eating and sleeping; and momentarily resent your family for interacting with you — particularly the last thirty percent or so (although you might have to might have to take a quick break to absorb what you just read or catch your breath). One of the best I’ve read this year — I hope you give this a shot and I bet you’ll agree.

—–

5 Stars

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided — as well as Thomas & Mercer and the fine folks at Netgalley for the eARC.

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BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Her Last Move by John Marrs

Today I welcome the Book Tour for the fantastic Her Last Move by John Marrs. Along with this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit (assuming I can come up with something more coherent to say about it than “kermit flail.gif GORUNOUTANDGETTHISRIGHTNOW!!!!”).
(that’s too tiny to read, sorry, click here to embiggen. There are a lot of great writers here — you’re going to want to check out those other posts.)

Book Details:

Book Title: Her Last Move by John Marrs
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Release date: November 8, 2018
Format: Paperback/ebook/audiobook
Length: 352 pages

Book Blurb:

She’s chasing a killer. He’s watching her every move.

He hides in the shadows, waiting for the perfect moment. Each kill is calculated, planned and executed like clockwork.

Struggling to balance her personal and professional life, young DS Becca Vincent has landed the biggest case of her career—and she knows that it will make or break her. But she can’t catch the culprit alone. Together with facial recognition expert Joe Russell, she strives to get a lead on the elusive murderer, who is always one step ahead of them.

Time is not on their side. The body count is rising, and the attacks are striking closer and closer to home. Can Becca and Joe uncover the connection between the murders before the killer strikes the last name from his list?

About John Marrs:

John MarrsJohn Marrs is the author of #1 bestsellers The One (soon to be made into a film with Urban Myth Films), The Good Samaritan (shortlisted for the Dead Good Reader Awards 2018), When You Disappeared, and Welcome to Wherever You Are. After working as a journalist for 25-years interviewing celebrities from the world of television, film and music for national newspapers and magazines, he is now a full-time writer.

Her Last Move is dedicated to John’s late father, Charlie, who was a police officer for 25 years.

Follow him on Twitter @johnmarrs1 Facebook: @johnmarrsauthor Instagram: @johnmarrs.author website: johnmarrsauthor.co.uk

Social Media:

Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Website ~ Instagram ~ Amazon Author Page

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK ~ Amazon US ~ Waterstones ~ BookDepository


My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided — as well as Thomas & Mercer and the fine folks at Netgalley for the eARC.

The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh by Jenn Stroud Rossmann: A Great Read about the Less-Glamorous, Less-Successful Side of Silicon Valley

The Place You're Supposed to LaughThe Place You’re Supposed to Laugh

by Jenn Stroud Rossmann

eARC, 330 pg.
7.13 Books, 2018

Read: November 5 – 7, 2018

Those inclined to irony might find it in the Palo Alto Farmers Market assembled on asphalt, where there had once been an apricot orchard. Each weekend from May through December, the workweek parking lot filled with vendor stands and umbrellas protecting bins of trucked-in garlic cloves, avocados, tomatillos, et al. The University down the street was known as “The Farm,” though it hadn’t been one since the Stanfords donated their country estate and chartered a college in the 1880s. Stanford grads and especially its dropouts had been transforming the Valley ever since; the fruit came from further and further away.

It’s really hard to grab a representative quotation from this novel — but this comes close. There’s a hint of the humor, the capturing of a moment in time, societal observation, a hint of wistfulness, and even a modicum of critique.

It’s 2002, in many parts of the country the shadow of 9/11 looms large. It’s present in Palo Alto, but not to the degree it is other places — what looms larger is the bursting of the dot-com bubble, everyone around them has been impacted in some way by it — most people have been impacted in significant ways, although the ripples are still going out from them and affecting the lives of everyone in their community in some way.

Our focus in this novel is on the life of Chad Loudermilk and those who are near him. Chad’s 14 and is enduring his first year in high school. His best friend since . . . well, forever, Walter Chen attended there briefly, but was pulled out by his parents to attend the Roman Catholic academy nearby — for a greater focus on academics, and fewer active shooter drills. Life’s hard without Walter around. Chad’s mother works with “at risk” youth, on making wise decisions, while she’s still reeling from her mother’s death a few months earlier. Chad’s father, Ray, is dealing with ripples of the burst — the advertising agency he’s part of his dealing with a shift in clientele. There’s Scot, Chad’s next-door neighbor, the creator of Latte (wink, wink) — the Macromedia tool — a big brother figure, dispensing non-parental advice and playing video games (his wife really doesn’t have any time for Chad). There’s a new girl in school that Chad can’t stop talking about, and a couple of guys from the proverbial other side of the tracks that he met at a record store and is spending time with. The major focus of the plot is following Chad’s interactions with them over the course of a few months — we get chapters focusing on his parents and what’s going on in their lives, but on the whole, the rest of the characters are seen filtered through Chad’s experience.

The other major thread follows Chad’s maternal aunt, Diana, a physics professor we meet as she registers for a conference in Barcelona. She’s trying to re-establish her career after pressing pause on things to have a child with her best friend. It’s not easy for her to get back into the swing of things, but she’s close. As Chad’s aunt, there’s a lot of opportunity for the plotlines to intersect and overlap — but the sisters aren’t that close, so it’s not as frequent as it could’ve been. By the end of the novel, events have transpired enough that Diana’s as large a fixture in Chad’s life as Scot (maybe larger), so it’s easy to intermingle the story lines. But for the first 1/2-2/3 or so, there a clear distinction between the two — and it’s not clear why we’re getting both stories.

Another thing that’s not clear is what exactly is Chad’s story. This is close to a Bildungsroman, but we only really see the beginning of Chad’s development — it’s like the first Act of Chad’s Bildungsroman. Which isn’t to say that it’s an incomplete story, it’s not. It’s just about Chad starting adolescence. You don’t want to get the details from me, you want to get them from the book, but a lot of stuff happens. Nothing major like a school shooting, a terrorist attack, or anything. Just life, the ebbs and flows of people’s lives. I could actually sum up the major events of the novel in 2 sentences. One of them might be long-ish, but just two sentences.

Don’t get me wrong — there’s a plot to this book. But really, you don’t see it (well, I didn’t see it) until toward the end — maybe even after the end. This is not a bad thing, it just means you have to think about things a lot. My notes are filled with comments along the lines of “I really don’t see where this is going” or “I’m not sure what the point of all this is” — and they’re always followed with, “Don’t care, great stuff.” I really didn’t care where Rossmann was going, I was too busy enjoying the ride — the voice, the characters, the atmosphere, the little bits like the Farmers Market (above), were enough to keep me engaged, entertained and turning the pages.

I’m not going to drill down and talk about the various characters — or even just one. I could do a post just about Ray, or Scot, or a long one on Chad or Diane — I think I’d have to do a series on Chad’s mom. Instead I’ll talk about them as a collective whole — they’re people. There are things to like about them all, there’s plenty to dislike about them all (particularly the adults). A lot of what they do seem inconsistent with the characters as Rossmann has presented them, but that just makes them more human. There’s not one character in this book that isn’t a human — no one larger than life (Scot kind of is, but he’s larger than life in the way that we all know someone who seems to be that way). Any person in this book could easily be the person next to you in the bagel shop, sipping on their caffeinated beverage of choice. They’re delightful in that perceived realism, also in the way that Rossmann talks about them. Without approval of anything, you get the feeling that she has affection for every character in the book.

The clergymen who appeared — however briefly — in this book were a couple of the least objectionable depictions of clergy I can remember seeing lately. Not hypocritical, they actually seemed to believe in what they were saying, and were actually trying to help those they encountered. It’s not often you get to see that anymore, and it should be acknowledged when you see it.

I’ve been struggling for a few days — and I’m not sure I’m succeeding at the moment — to put into words the experience that is The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh. I think I was hooked by the end of chapter 1 — definitely by some point in the third chapter. I liked the book, I liked the characters, I liked the writing. It’s a pleasant, thoughtful experience. It’s what reading a book should be like — skillful writing, wonderfully drawn characters and prose you enjoy immersing yourself in.

The novel talks about a lot of things — one of the biggest themes is forgiveness. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the topic discussed in quite the same way in any format. I won’t suggest that Rossmann exhausted the idea, obviously, but she talked about it, depicted it, and had her characters think about it in ways I found refreshing and encouraging.

I’m not sure what else to say — The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh is a great read. It’s a strong novel that will make you think, will make you feel, and will leave you satisfied. Rossman writes with sensitivity, wit and skill. What else are you looking for?

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this novel by the author in exchange for my honest opinion, which is seen above.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

The Twisted Web by Rebecca Bradley: A Great Hook and Subtle Storytelling Make for a Compelling Read

The Twisted WebThe Twisted Web

by Rebecca Bradley
Series: DI Hannah Robbins, #4

Kindle Edition, 277 pg.
2018
Read: November 9 – 10, 2018

‘So, he talks about crime online and is murdered and left to be found in what is made to look like a crime scene?’ Ross asked, clarifying the situation in his own mind. A situation we all needed to get our heads around.

‘That appears to be the gist of it, Ross…’

I can’t come up with a plot summary as succinct as that, no matter how hard I try. As far as hooks go, they don’t come much better than that. This is my second Rebecca Bradley novel, and it’s the second one with a killer hook. In many ways, a killer hook — like knowing — is half the battle.

It’s up to DI Hannah Robbins and her team to find this murderer, and from the get-go, the cards are stacked against them. To begin with, social media was aware of the body before the police were (despite the number of CCTV cameras in the area the body was dumped), and Twitter was demanding action. Which means — like in so many aspects of society today — the pressure on those seeking to do the work in a professional, careful manner works against them. The online mob (and the politicians that fear getting on their wrong side) demand instant action, instant results and instant justice. Good police work rarely gives you instant anything.

Robbins’ team is in a little bit of flux at the moment — they have a relatively new DCI, who isn’t thrilled with the makeup of the team and doesn’t trust Robbins’ leadership (possibly not her ability at all — I’m not sure) as well as a newish DC who has started to prove herself (but is still trying to); they’re short a vital member due to a recent heart-attack; and Robbins herself is recovering from an injury and isn’t quite herself while being distracted by some family drama. But like any good team of professionals, they band together, adapt and get to work. I can easily see versions of this book where the internal problems distract the team from the investigation enough that the killer strikes again (which doesn’t mean that the killer doesn’t strike again here, but it’s not for this reason).

Robbins seems to do a pretty solid job running things, using her personnel and herself efficiently and wisely — from this particular armchair, the procedural part of this novel is the way things are supposed to go. No maverick detective bucking the system, going their own way, or bending any rules of evidence. How many “police procedurals” can claim that? Through that careful, ticking every box kind of approach — the stuff that Rebus can’t be bothered with, Bosch only gives lip service to, and Peter Grant submits to (grumbling the entire way) — Robbins team gets the job done. Not that serendipity doesn’t play a role, but that happens.

While delivering on that front, Bradley gives us a lot of really good character moments and subtle emotional beats. The observations about witnesses trying to insert themselves into things, the effect that a crime can have on the family of a victim, what goes on in a postmortem, and so on — elevated this from merely a solid procedural. (not that there’s anything wrong with a solid procedural)

One death permanently changed the life of many people.

Those affected by a murder often felt as though their life had also been taken once a loved one had been snatched so ruthlessly. But a court, should a murder ever go to trial, only ever counted one life. The media only counted and reported on the one life. Investigating the murder, you soon came to realise it was a hell of a lot more than one life. You don’t live in a vacuum. You are more than yourself in the world.

There were a couple of times, however, that she ruined the moment (well, diminished it greatly) by following a nice bit of description and showing us what was going on by following it up with an unessential and clunky sentence telling us what she’d just shown. Displaying a little more trust in her readers would help things. But overall, I was really impressed with the way she described the thinking and emotions behind the actions of her characters — even the tertiary ones.

Her characters are fully-developed and well-rounded. Even many of those we meet for only a few paragraphs. I’m a newbie to this series, but by the end, I thought I had a pretty good handle on almost everyone in Robbins’ world, as well as the killer and their family. That’s not easy to accomplish in a book like this that really had a lot more going on than just the murder inquiry. I really want to find out how things progress with a few of these people, and would jump on book five in this series tomorrow if it were available for that reason alone (well, okay, December — but only because I’ve got the rest of this month tightly scheduled).

I spent most of the novel annoyed by how much time we were spending with the killer — typically, novelists don’t pull this part off well, or at least with enough value added to make it worth my while (and several novelists and novels that are my favorites have this problem). Getting his perspective on the reaction to his crimes and on the official investigation didn’t seem to add much to the book, and took time away from the more interesting characters and actions. Because, really, almost all of his reactions were what the reader would’ve guessed if Bradley hadn’t given us this. But, I have to admit by the end, Bradley made almost all of it worthwhile — it was some pretty clever plotting on her part and a subtle bit of character work — and turned what was a weak point (for me, not for others) into a strength.

I was impressed with Dead Blind when I read it a few months back — but this The Twisted Web is so much better. Maybe because she’s had more time to create this world and knows her characters better, maybe it’s just the world she’s created. Either way, this book has insured that I’m going to be on the lookout for whatever she’s doing next (and, time permitting, I’ll grab the first three in this series). The Twisted Web delivers it all — some reflection on the driving forces behind our contemporary culture (and a well-deserved critique!), a solid police procedural, a villain with a credible motivation, a crime spree one can actually imagine happening, a couple of legitimate surprises, and human characters (as opposed to cardboard cutouts or stereotypes) driving it all.

—–

4 Stars

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT (and unauthorized Giveaway): The Twisted Web by Rebecca Bradley — and

Today I welcome the Book Tour for the gripping and throught-provoking The Twisted Web by Rebecca Bradley. Along with this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit. At the end of this post, there’s a giveaway, too. But let’s start by learning a little about this here book, okay?

Book Details:

Book Title: The Twisted Web by Rebecca Bradley
Release date: September 17, 2018
Format: Paperback/ebook
Length: 401 pages

Book Blurb:

A social media shaming. A killer with a message. A deadly combination.

When the body of a man is left in the city centre set up as a realistic police crime scene, DI Hannah Robbins is forced to enter a world that can break a person, a case and a reputation.

Social media platforms light up and Hannah is pitted against the raging online monster and a killer who has already lost everything.

Can she catch the killer and put him behind bars or will she become part of his sadistic game?

About Rebecca Bradley:

Rebecca BradleyRebecca is the author of four novels in the DI Hannah Robbins series, Shallow Waters, Made to be Broken, Fighting Monsters and The Twisted Web as well as a standalone thriller, Dead Blind.

She lives with her family in the UK with their two Cockapoos Alfie and Lola, who keep Rebecca company while she writes. Rebecca needs to drink copious amounts of tea to function throughout the day and if she could, she would survive on a diet of tea and cake while committing murder on a regular basis.

After 16 years service, Rebecca was medically retired from the police where she finished as a detective constable on a specialist unit.

Rebecca now runs a consulting service where she supports crime writers in making sure their fiction is authentic so they can get on with telling a great story. You can find details of that HERE.

Rebecca Bradley’s Social Media:

Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Website ~ Instagram ~ Amazon Author Page

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK ~ Amazon US

GIVEAWAY

At the last moment, I decided to add a Giveaway for this book. I’m not that creative, and I don’t want to bother with setting up a Rafflecopter or anything, so we’ll keep this simple. In the next 48 hours (check the post for the time — Mountain Daylight Time zone), leave a comment on this post — include the name of your favorite fictional police officer/detective, and make sure I can get in touch with you somehow. I’ll draw two names for an electronic copy of this book (format of your choosing).

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

Saturday Miscellany – 11/10/18

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • Past Tense by Lee Child — I stopped reading the blurb’s for Reacher books years ago, but I read this one for some reason — I’m already hooked, and I’m still 12 library patrons away from getting my hands on this one. Reacher tries to visit where his dad grew up and things go really bad from there.
  • They Promised Me The Gun Wasn’t Loaded by James Alan Gardner — the follow-up to the comedic-ish take on super-heroes, All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault picks up shortly after the first one and looks like it’ll continue the fun.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to The Godly Chic Diaries and littleliteraturekc for following the blog this week.

Be Brave, Little Puffy by Arline Cooper: A Cute Fish Tale

Be Brave, Little PuffyBe Brave, Little Puffy: Promoting Positive Body-Image and Self-Esteem

by Arline Cooper

Kindle Edition, 28 pg.
Ofek, 2018
Read: November 8, 2018

Puffy is a puffer fish with a little problem — he’s not terribly fond of his spines, if for no other reason than he’s frequently poking his friends with them. He leaves his fellow puffer fish to go on a journey to find other friends — maybe fish he won’t bother as much. Puffy encounters many other fish of various species in his effort to find a new group of friends he can live with. Eventually, naturally, he finds a way to win back his friends, and learn to accept his spines.

Each encounter is captured in a colorful drawing depicting the new species — attractive, fairly accurate and eye-catching.

It was a little wordier than most books for 4-8 year olds tend to be. Which isn’t a bad thing — just something I noticed. The thing that bothered me the most about this book was the pictures. I want to stress that this might just be a Kindle Version thing, and that other formats may not have the issue. But the pictures about each episode follow the encounter with the fish — so the visual aid comes too late. So you have to flip to the next screen before starting to read so you can see or show the fish in question, and then flip back to pick up the narration. Is this a problem? No, but it’s a pain — especially if your child/audience is impatient.

The pictures are also a little on the small side (yes, I know that can be changed for each picture as you go along, But it’d be nice if you didn’t have to do anything) — and they deserve a closer look than is easily possible.

Arline Cooper has the goods — story and pictures bother — to produce quality picture books, hopefully we see more. Quibbles aside, this is a fun book, a book I can see parents reading frequently — and kids demanding frequently. Nicely told, attractively illustrated, with a positive message — that’s a good combination.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion, as seen above.

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3 Stars