You Die Next by Stephanie Marland: The latest Starke & Bell thriller is a tale of obsession that may leave the reader feeling a little obsessed, too.

If you have not read Stephanie Marland’s My Little Eye, you shouldn’t read this post, because I don’t know how much I might let slip, and while you probably can enjoy this book without having read it — you won’t appreciate it the way you should. Also, you should reconsider your life choices from the last year or so, because My Little Eye was one of the best things that was published in 2018.

You Die NextYou Die Next

by Stephanie Marland
Series: Starke & Bell, #2

Kindle Edition, 336 pg.
Hachette Book Group, 2019
Read: April 18 – 22, 2019

The tunnel would be pitch-black without the safety lights, but even with them Dom, Parekh and Timber have to tread carefully, using their torch beams to scan the rails for signs of blood. Back on platform five, the CSIs are working their magic. Once Dom’s established the route taken by Thomas Lee, they’ll start work on the tunnel as well. They need to move fast, find leads as to what the hell happened here. This has to be one of the most bizarre crime scenes that Dom’s attended.

Given the crime scenes we know Dom’s seen? That’s saying something.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure how Marland was going to proceed with Starke and Bell. Sure, teaming up the amateur and the Police Detective once is believable, but how do you do it again without it coming across as contrived? It’s not as if DI Bell can call her up, “Say, Clementine…I’ve got this real puzzler of a case that’s got me stumped, you think you and your pals can take a crack at it?” without violating so many rules and regulations that he wouldn’t have a job long enough to arrest anyone. Marland makes the smart choice — she put them in each other’s rearview mirrors.

Starke’s off on her next research project, lamenting the notoriety that she earned (and enjoyed) after the events of My Little Eye, dealing with university politics, deadlines, and continuing to research her father’s death with the True Crime online group. She’s currently studying thrill-seekers and voyeurs, the genesis of their obsession and what feeds it. A fan of her work (for lack of a better term), keeps trying to get her to look into Urban Explorers. She finally gives in, just to get him off her case about it (she hopes), and watches a video he insists she watch. While doing so she sees two things — first, that he’s probably right, they’d make good subjects for her research; and second, she’s pretty sure she sees a murder. Which settles things — Clementine Stark dives into the world of Urban Explorers in general and those on the video in particular.

Bell’s working various cases, trying to decide what to do with his DS post-My Little Eye, and worried about the internal investigation about that case that went so wrong before the last book that still wreaks havoc on almost every relationship in his life. He’s called out to the scene of a car striking and killing a pedestrian — not really his kind of case, if not for the fact that the pedestrian probably would’ve been killed by the stab wounds all over him if the car hadn’t sped his death along. Meanwhile, as I said, the look into Operation Atlantis continues and the strain on his relationship with his sister is such that it’s at the breaking point, and Bell’s ex is pushing him for information on the investigation into the operation. Bell’s close to putting things together, and when he does, this ugly situation is probably only going to look worse for everyone.

It’s on the back-of-the-book blurb, so I feel I can say this without giving away too much — Bell’s pedestrian is one of the Urban Explorers that Starke’s looking into. So again, they’re working the same case, but don’t know it — and are approaching it from very different angles. But Starke also observes some of the people involved in that Operation Atlantis raid that went so horribly wrong, clearly plotting and planning about what to do about Bell — how to exploit him at the very least. Whatever went wrong between them, Starke’s not going to let anything happen to Bell if she can help it. So, again, the two are working the same case from different angles. There’s another thing they will have in common, too — but I’m not going to get into it beyond saying it exists. But let’s just say there are really three mysteries being investigated in this book, and both Starke and Bell have a stake in all three, but aren’t really working together on any of them.

That sounds confusing, maybe like a little narrative overkill, too. But it’s not, Marland weaves these six storylines together perfectly — actually, there are more than six, but they can be boiled down to six without losing much, if I tried to diagram it exactly, I’d end up with something looking like one of those cork-boards covered in newspaper clippings, note cards and photos tied together with strings between connections that were so popular on TV a few years ago. (and that Starke has in her apartment, come to think of it). I lost my point there — Marland artfully weaves/juggles the various stories into a cohesive whole in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the reader and keeps the reader engaged with all the various mysteries, plot advances, character moments, etc. It’s a real feat that she pulls off with aplomb.

I’m going to be haunted by the conclusion for a while. It reminds me of something I read in December 2017, and frankly, haven’t shaken yet (I’ll not mention the title, because doing so might tell you more about the conclusion than I want to). It’s the only way this book really could end — and I’m not complaining about it at all — but it’s going to linger longer than most do in the back of my mind.

I want to talk about some of the supporting characters — and Bell’s DS and DC, in particular, really deserve more attention than I’m paying them. But I’m going to skip that this time. I just don’t have enough time to do them justice. While Starke and Bell are fascinating, complex characters that any reader will enjoy digging into, the same is true for the people around them. They’re pretty well fleshed out, and you can easily imagine that Marland has plans for their future use. Any of the secondary or tertiary characters in this series could become very important in future events and should probably be paid attention to by readers (which is easy, because even the one who might as well be named Lecherous Scumbag is a character you can enjoy reading).

I’ve managed to only use the word “obsession” once so far — which is surprising. Not only is it the focus of Starke’s research, obsession can be used in some way to talk about every story, every idea, every character in You Die Next.. The person hunting down Urban Explorers is clearly obsessed with whatever their motivation is. Bell’s obsession over whatever investigation he’s pursuing has damaged romantic relationships, his relationship with his sister, and even his career. Starke’s obsessions with her work, Bell, her father’s death, this possible murder she saw, and . . . well, really — what isn’t she obsessed with? This book is permeated with notions of, examples of, and the repercussions of obsession.

In both concept and execution, Marland tried to accomplish a lot in My Little Eye and succeeded. You Died Next strikes me as more ambitious than its predecessor, making it harder to pull off — the bar was set pretty high and she moved it up. I’m not sure Marland was as successful with this novel as she was with My Little Eye, but I can’t point at any part of this book and say “this could be better here.” I think my hesitancy about this book comes from so much of the conclusion of this novel pointing to the third installment. My Little Eye told a story, with the potential for more. You Die Next told a story, but kept the resolution to much of it dangling. If we didn’t get You Die Next, for whatever reason, My Little Eye could stand on its own. Without Starke & Bell #3, You Die Next is the novel equivalent of “Shave and a Haircut”/Tum-ti-ti-tum-tum without the “Two Bits”/Tum-tum.

And by not as successful, I think I’m saying this is more of a 4.25-4.35 than a clear 4.5.

I may not be the biggest fan of every choice that Marland made for these two in this book, but they were honest choices entirely consistent with the characters — and will lead to a whole lot of exciting narrative possibilities in Starke & Bell #3 (and beyond, if there is a beyond). Either of these characters could anchor a pretty decent series on their own, together they make a special kind of magic. Their continued interaction may not do them a lot of good, but it will prove destructive to more than one criminal in London — and a whole lot of fun for readers. You Die Next brings the two characters together in a way that highlights their strengths (and weaknesses), pitting them against a cold and clever killer and a criminal conspiracy (or two) more widespread and powerful than they yet realize. I haven’t read a whole lot this year that I’d call a must, but this is. Stop wasting your time on my stuff and get this in front of your eyes.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

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My Favorite Crime/Mystery/Detective/Thriller Fiction of 2018

Once I settled on dividing this chunk of my reading out for its own list, I knew instantly half of the books that’d make it before I looked at just what I’d read in 2018. After going through that list, I had 15 more candidates for the other 5 spots. Whittling those down was hard, but I’m pretty comfortable with this list. That doesn’t mean the other 90 or so books I read in this family of genres were bad — most were great (I can think of maybe 5 I could’ve missed). But these are the crème de la crème.

Man, I wanted to write the crème de la crime there. But I’m better than that.

Not all of these were published in 2018 — but my first exposure to them was. As always, I don’t count re-reads, or almost no one could stand up to Stout, early Parker, etc. and my year-end lists would get old fast.

Now that I’m done with this, I can focus on 2019.

(in alphabetical order by author)

The Puppet ShowThe Puppet Show

by M. W. Craven

My original post
A book with some of the darkest moments I came across last year — and some of the brightest, too. The mystery was great, the character moments (not just between the protagonists) were better — great rounded, human, characters. Even after I saw where Craven was going with things, I refused to believe it — and only gave up when I had no other choice. Two (at least) fantastic reveals in this book, very compelling writing and fantastic characters. What more do you want? Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw are two of my favorite new characters and I can’t wait to see where they go next.

5 Stars

Needle SongNeedle Song

by Russell Day

My original post
I could pretty much copy and paste that above paragraph for this one. It never gets as dark as The Puppet Show, but the depravity displayed is bad enough to unsettle any reader. What makes this story compelling isn’t really the crime, it’s the way the crime impacts the people near it — those who lost a family member (I don’t want to say loved one) and those who are close to the suspects. Yakky and Doc Slidesmith are characters I hope to see again soon, and I want to bask in Day’s prose even more.

5 Stars

She Rides ShotgunShe Rides Shotgun

by Jordan Harper

My original post
The story of a little girl being surrounded by death and destruction, with both looming and threatening her all the time, and her discovering how to be brave. The story of a man trying to be a good father — or just a father. The story of survival. A story of revenge. A story about all kinds of violence. Wonderfully told.

4 Stars

WreckedWrecked

by Joe Ide

My original post
Not as entertaining as IQ, but it works as a novel in ways the previous two didn’t. I don’t know if I could put my finger on it, but it’s there. Wrecked is a clear step in evolution for Isaiah, Dodson, and probably Ide. It definitely demonstrates that the three are here to stay as long as Ide wants, and that these characters aren’t satisfied with being inner-city Sherlock/Watson, but they’re going places beyond that. Some good laughs, some good scares, some real “I can’t believe Ide ‘let’ them do that to Isaiah” moments — a great read.

5 Stars

A Mint Condition CorpseA Mint Condition Corpse

by Duncan MacMaster

My original post
I put off reading this for reasons I really don’t understand and haven’t forgiven myself for yet. But the important thing is that I read it — it took me a chapter or two to really get into it, but once I did, I was in hook, like and sinker. In my original post I said this is “a joy to read; full of characters you’ll want to spend days with, that you’ll want to have over for Thanksgiving dinner just to lighten things up and distract you from Aunt Martha’s overcooked yams and dry turkey; a completely fun time that’s very likely most I’ve enjoyed a book in 2018. It is escapist. It is silly. It is clever.” I also said, “Probably the 5-Star-est 5-Stars I’ve given this year.” There are a couple of books that could compete for that line, but I’m not sure they’d win.

5 Stars

My Little EyeMy Little Eye

by Stephanie Marland

My original post
Fantastic, fantastic premise. Great hook. Another great pair of protagonists (although most of their work is independent of each other). A True Crime blogger and a DI racing to uncover a serial killer, while battling dark secrets, dark pasts, and outside pressures that threaten to derail them at every turn. Marland surprised me more often and in more ways than just about any author this year. I was floored by some of them, too. A great puzzle, a great mish-mash of amateur detective and police procedural.

4 1/2 Stars

Her Last MoveHer Last Move

by John Marrs

My original post
I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into when I said yes to this Book Tour request. I’m not sure I could have — no offense to Mr. Marrs, but I don’t think I’d heard of him before. He’s definitely on my radar now. This was brutal, devastating, shocking, and just about every other adjective reviewers (professional and otherwise) overuse when describing a thriller. Marrs did so many things I didn’t think he would do. He didn’t do a lot that I thought he would (and seemed to mock the idea that he’d so some of what I wanted him to do). I spent a lot of time while reading this book not liking him very much, but so grateful I was getting to read the book. I’m still upset by some of it, but in awe of the experience.

5 Stars

Stoned LoveStoned Love

by Ian Patrick

My original post
Sam Batford, undercover cop, is back in a sequel that shows real growth from a very impressive debut. Batford is in incredibly murky ethical and legal waters — and that’s not counting what his undercover op is. Any misstep could ruin his career, end his life, land him in prison — or all three. Actually, those options hold true even if he doesn’t make any missteps. There are so many balls in the air with this one that it’d be easy to lose track of one or more. But Patrick doesn’t seem to struggle with that at all — and he writes in such a way that a reader doesn’t either. That’s a gift not to be overlooked. I liked the overall story more than it’s predecessor and think that Patrick’s writing was better here. This is a series — and a character — that you really need to get to know.

4 1/2 Stars (I remember liking it more than that…I’m sure I had a reason at the time)

Exit MusicExit Music

by Ian Rankin

My original post
I’ve spent enough time with John Rebus over the last couple of years that I knew one of the books had to end p here, I just wasn’t sure which one. Exit Music ended up on the Top 10 not so much for the main mysteries (although they put the book in contention), but for all rest of the things that the novel was about — Rebus’ moving on (not knowing how to or to where), Siobhan moving on (and not sure she wants to), and the dozen or so little things surrounding the two of them and their work. Even Big Ger was kind of moving on here — and that’s just strange to read about. Exit Music would’ve been a great way to say farewell to John Rebus, I’m just glad it wasn’t that.

5 Stars

Trouble is a Friend of MineTrouble is a Friend of Mine

by Stephanie Tromly, Kathleen McInerney (Narrator)

My original post
If not for Kirby Baxter (above), I could say this was the most fun I had with a Mystery novel this year (not to take anything away from the sequels on that front). This is just the right mix of high school hijinks, teen drama, quirky characters and writing with panache. Zoe and Digby are a great combo of smarts, recklessness and responsibility as they work their way through puzzles surrounding missing kids, drug dealing doctors, and some strange cult-like group. You can feel the chemistry between them — like Remington Steele and Laura Holt, David Addison and Maddy Hays, Cumberbatch’s Sherlock and Freeman’s Watson. Throw in their friends and frenemies and you’ve got a recipe for fun and suspense. I listened to this on audiobook (and bought the paperback for my daughter before I got to the end, I should add) and McInerney’s narration was perfect — she captured the spirit of the book and made the characters come alive.

4 Stars

Deep Dirty Truth by Steph Broadribb: Once Again, the Lori’s (almost) in Over her Head

Deep Dirty TruthDeep Dirty Truth

by Steph Broadribb
Series: Lori Anderson, #3

Kindle Edition, 320 pg.
Orenda Books, 2018

Read: December 5, 2018


After all the drama and trauma of her recent past, Lori is taking only easy assignments — her life needs to coast for a bit. Naturally, that’s not going to work too well (why would we read about that? Also, why would Broadribb be nice to her now?) — she’d kidnapped by the Miami Mob and we readers have to be braced for all sorts of nasty things to happen to her. And while it is nasty — no one is prepared for what happens to her.

They want her to do a job for them. If she succeeds, they offer to wipe the slate clean. If she fails (or refuses), she, Dakota and JT are dead. Honestly, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll die no matter what, but there’s a chance with the former. All she has to do is retrieve the “numbers man” for the family, currently under FBI protection before he testifies against the family in a couple of days. It’s pretty cool to see how good Lori does at this until things go horribly, horribly wrong (not much of a spoiler, really — the book isn’t going be too suspenseful if she has an easy time of it).

Meanwhile, JT and Dakota run to safety — which goes only slightly worse than Lori’s assignment. JT isn’t anywhere near as healthy as he should be to handle this kind of thing — but he doesn’t have much of a choice. It’s his little girl, what else can he do? It’s great to see JT in action like this. But at some point, at the rate things are going for her, Dakota’s going to end up catatonic or like the little girl in Logan. My money’s on the latter.

So we’ve got the Mob on one hand, the FBI on the other, and a distinct lack of options for this family — it’s all about survival. The longer you’re alive the more opportunities will present themselves to extricate yourself from this Catch-22. As much as Lori (and JT and Dakota) is tough and resilient, it’s her ability to improvise, to think quickly and to pounce on the chances that life gives her that makes her an action hero to pay attention to.

A female bounty hunter with skills and the kind of grit you want to see in an action hero, Lori is a great character. The physical toll on her in this novel is up there with the psychological toll previous adventures have taken on her — not that she gets out of this one emotionally/mentally unscathed (nor did she get out of the previous adventures without a physical injury or 8). She’s smart, determined and prepared to dish it out as well as take it.

I walked away from book 2, Deep Blue Trouble with a pretty strong idea about what book 3 was going to be about. I was wrong, but I’m pretty confident that I know what book 4 will be about (at least initially). I’m very glad to be wrong, actually — because this was a lot of fun, and sets things up to be a more satisfying version of the story I imagined Broadribb would be telling. I’m eager to find out how wrong I am about book 4 (because I will be).

I’ve spent about a month working on this post in fits and starts, because I’m having a hard time saying something about this book that I didn’t say about the other two. Broadribb started off strong — a veteran from the get-go, and the other two have been of the same quality. Consistency is great when you’re a reader — but it’s hard to write about. So I give up — I’m not going to have anything insightful to say or any dazzling or penetrating analysis to offer. I’ll keep it basic — Deep Dirty Truth is a good, fast-paced, white-knuckle ride written by someone who knows what she’s doing. Go read it.

—–

4 Stars

My Little Eye by Stephanie Marland

My Little EyeMy Little Eye

by Stephanie Marland
Series: Starke & Bell, #1

eARC, 351 pg.
Trapeze Books, 2018

Read: March 9 – 12, 2018

They say I was dead for three thousand and six seconds. They say that when I woke I was different, but I don’t know if that’s true. What I do know is that my world became a different place once every one of those precious seconds had expired.

No matter how gripping the prologue might have been, when those’re the first words you get from a character’s POV, you sit up and pay attention.

The Lover is a serial killer just beginning to plague London, and a semi-distracted DI Dominic Bell with his team are making little progress in apprehending him (he’s trying his level best not to be distracted by the press and the brass won’t let him leave his last operation in the dust). Given that the Lover’s technique is improving as the time between kills is decreasing, the pressure is mounting for Bell and the police. One group dissatisfied with their achievements are the members of True Crime London — a group of True Crime aficionados from (duh) London. Some of them have decided to take matters into their own hands so they’ll investigate these crimes themselves — some for the thrill, some to show up the Police, some to draw attention to the fact that the Police are understaffed and underfunded. Clementine has her own reasons — she’s spent some time studying these people as part of her doctoral work in psychology; she hopes to get a better understanding of online communities through this group and she has a theory about “crowd-sourcing justice” she’d like to establish.

We meet both groups (through Dom’s POV and Catherine’s) as they begin to look into the third victim of The Lover. The race is on (even if only one group realizes there’s a race) to find and put a stop to The Lover. I wouldn’t mind more time getting to know the individuals in the respective teams as this goes along — we do get to know some of the people involved in the investigation a bit, but this book focuses on Dom, Clementine and their hunts — everyone else doesn’t matter as much. I could talk a little more about the context for Dom, Clementine and the hunt for the killer — but you don’t want to know more until you get into this book.

The killer? We learn exactly as much as we need to in order that we know that the right guy has been taken care. He is not the most interesting character in the novel — I guess he might be, but Marland didn’t give us enough detail. This is such a great change from serial killer novels that dwell on the obsessions/fetishes/compulsions/methods of the killer, that seem to relish the opportunity to revel in the depravity. Marland shows us enough to be disturbed and utterly sickened by him, to believe that he’s capable of the heinous acts he’s guilty of — and no more. I’m not saying everyone has to write a serial killer this way, but I love that approach.

The protagonists are far more interesting — possibly more damaged even — than the killer. They are wonderfully flawed characters and repeatedly — and I do mean repeatedly — do things that readers will not want them to — because it’s unwise, stupid, dangerous, unethical, immoral, or all of the above. And as much as I was saying “No, no, don’t do that,” I was relishing them do that because it meant great things for the book. At times it’s almost like Marland wants you to not like Dom or Clementine, maybe even actively dislike them. Set that aside, because you will like them, because they are the protagonists hunting for a serial killer; because despite themselves they are likeable characters; and because they’re so well written, with so many layers, and nuances that it’s impossible for Marland to fully explore them and you want to know more. Both are in the middle of professional and personal crises as the book opens — and all of those crises are going to get worse before we leave them (yeah, Dom’s professional life is in worse shape than Clementine’s and Clementine’s been in crisis since just before those 3,006 seconds, so they’re not exactly parallel).

Sometimes the police investigation and the True Crime London’s investigation dig up the same information at about the same time, but on the whole the two follow very different approaches — one more methodical, careful and predictable. The other is haphazard, reckless and (at times) criminal. But both get results, and for the reader, we get a full-orbed view of the investigation which is almost as engrossing as the protagonists carrying it out.

The book is able to say a lot about online communities, True Crime (and some of those who love it as a genre), public acts of grief, criminal investigations and the media — and even a little about memory. All while telling a great story.

While I enjoyed the whole thing, the last quarter of the book was full of surprises that kept me leaning forward in my chair and completely glued to my screen as the plot raced from shock to shock to reveal to [redacted]. There’s a reveal that took me utterly by surprise, but made sense when you stopped and thought about it. There’s another reveal at the end that seemed fitting but wasn’t what you expected — and it followed an event that I never would’ve predicted. Oh, and that last sentence? I can’t tell you how many times I swiped my Kindle screen trying to get what comes next, unwilling to believe that was it.

I was a fan (almost instantaneously) of Marland’s alter ego’s Lori Anderson and that series. My Little Eye has made me a fan of the author — Broadribb, Marland, whatever names she’s publishing under, it’s an instabuy. This book got its hooks into me straightaway and didn’t let go, I resented work and family as they distracted me (however good or pressing the reason) from Clementine and Dom’s quests. I can confidently say that I’ve not read a mystery novel like this one — and that’s not easy this many decades into my love of the genre. I have no idea how Marland’s going to follow this one up — there’s no way that book 2 is a repeat of My Little Eye, but beyond that? No clue what she’ll be able to do. I don’t care — I just want to read it soon.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Orion Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

My Favorite Fiction of 2017

Is he ever going to stop with these 2017 Wrap Up posts? I know, I know…I’m sick of them. But I’ve already done most of the work on this one, I might as well finish…Also, it was supposed to go up Friday, but formatting problems . . .

Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1. Also, none of these are re-reads, I can’t have everyone losing to my re-reading books that I’ve loved for 2 decades.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½-Star books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

(in alphabetical order by author)

In The StillIn The Still

by Jacqueline Chadwick
My original post

Chadwick’s first novel is probably the most entertaining serial killer novel I’ve ever read. Without sacrificing creepiness, suspense, horror, blood, guts, general nastiness, and so on — she gives us a story with heart, humor and humanity. The second novel, Briefly Maiden is arguably better, but I liked this one a teensy bit more — and I’m genuinely nervous about what’s going to happen in book 3 (not that I won’t read it as soon as I possibly can).

4 1/2 Stars

The Hangman's Sonnet Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet

My original post

How do you possibly follow-up 2016’s Debt to Pay, especially with that ending, without dramatically altering the Jesse Stone flavor? I’m still not sure how Coleman did it, but he did — Jesse’s dealing with Debt to Pay in a typically self-destructive way, but is keeping his head mostly above water so he can get his job done, mostly by inertia rather than by force of will. Reflexes kick in however, and while haunted, Jesse can carry out his duties in a reasonable fashion until some friends and a case can push him into something more.

Coleman’s balancing of long-term story arcs and character development with the classic Jesse Stone-type story is what makes this novel a winner and puts this one on my list.

4 1/2 Stars

A Plague of GiantsA Plague of Giants

by Kevin Hearne

This sweeping — yet intimately told — epic fantasy about a continent/several civilizations being invaded by a race nobody knew existed is almost impossible to put into a few words. It’s about people stepping up to do more than they thought possible,more than they thought necessary, just so they and those they love can survive. It’s about heroes being heroic, leaders leading, non-heroes being more heroic, leaders conniving and failing, and regular people finding enough reason to keep going. It’s everything you want in an epic fantasy, and a bunch you didn’t realize you wanted, too (but probably should have).

5 Stars

Cold ReignCold Reign

by Faith Hunter

My original post
Hunter continues to raise the stakes (yeah, sorry, couldn’t resist) for Jane and her crew as the European Vamps’ visit/invasion gets closer. Am not sure what’s more intriguing, the evolution in Jane’s powers or the evolution of the character — eh, why bother choosing? Both are great. The growth in the Younger brothers might be more entertaining — I appreciate the way they’ve become nearly as central to the overall story as Jane. I’m not sure this is the book for new readers to the series, but there are plenty before it to hook someone.

5 Stars

Once Broken FaithOnce Broken Faith

by Seanan McGuire
My original post

Poor planning on my part (in 2016) resulted in me reading two Toby Daye books this year, both just excellent, but this one worked a little bit better for me. Oodles and oodles of Fae royalty and nobility in one spot to decide what they’re going to do with this elf-shot cure leading to a sort-of closed room mystery (it’s just a really big, magical room) with peril on all side for Toby and her found family.

5 Stars

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls

by Patrick Ness
My original post

There were so many ways this could’ve been hacky, overly-sentimentalized, brow-beating, or after-school special-y and Ness avoids them all to deliver a heart-wrenching story about grief, death, love, and the power of stories — at once horrifying, creepy and hopeful.

4 1/2 Stars

Black and BlueBlack and Blue

by Ian Rankin
My original post

Rankin kicked everything into a higher gear here — there are so many intricately intertwining stories here it’s hard to describe the book in brief. But you have Rebus running from himself into mystery after mystery, drink after drink, career-endangering move after career-endangering move. Unrelenting is the best word I can come up with for this book/character/plot — which makes for a terrific read.

5 Stars

SourdoughSourdough

by Robin Sloan
My original post

This delightful story of a programmer turned baker turned . . . who knows what, in a Bay Area Underground of creative, artisanal types who will reshape the world one day. Or not. It’s magical realism, but more like magical science. However you want to describe it, there’s something about Sloan’s prose that makes you want to live in his books.

Do not read if you’re on a low carb/carb-free diet. Stick with Sloan’s other novel in that case.

4 1/2 Stars

The Hate U Give (Audiobook)The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas, Bahni Turpin (Narrator)

My original post

This was a great audiobook –and I can’t imagine that the text version was as great, I just didn’t have time for it. It’s the story about the aftermath — socially, personally, locally, nationally — of a police shooting of an unarmed black male as seen through the eyes of a close friend who was inches away from him at the time.

I think I’d have read a book about Starr Carter at any point in her life, honestly, she’s a great character. Her family feels real — it’s not perfect, but it’s not the kind of dysfunctional that we normally see instead of perfect, it’s healthy and loving and as supportive as it can be. The book will make you smile, weep, chuckle and get angry. It’s political, and it’s not. It’s fun and horrifying. It’s . . . just read the thing. Whatever you might think of it based on what you’ve read (including what I’ve posted) isn’t the whole package, just read the thing (or, listen to it, Turpin’s a good narrator).

5 Stars

The ForceThe Force

by Don Winslow
My original post

There may be better Crime Fiction writers at the moment than Don Winslow, but that number is small, and I can’t think of anyone in it. In this fantastic book, Winslow tells the story of the last days of a corrupt, but effective (in their own corrupt and horrible way), NYPD Task Force. Denny Malone is a cop’s cop, on The Wire he’s be “real police” — but at some point he started cutting corners, lining his pockets (and justifying it to himself), eventually crossing the line so that he’s more “robber” than “cop.” Mostly. And though you know from page 1 that he’s dirty and going down, you can’t help get wrapped up in his story, hoping he finds redemption, and maybe even gets away with it.

But the book is more than that. In my original post I said: “This book feels like the love child of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities and Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy. You really feel like you understand how the city of New York is run — at least parts of it: the police, elements of the criminal world, and parts of the criminal justice system. Not how they’re supposed to run, but the way it really is. [Winslow] achieves this through a series of set pieces and didactic pericopes.”

A police story, a crime thriller, a book about New York — oh, yeah, possibly the best thing I read last year.

5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. But I stuck with the arbitrary 10 — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway, those tied for 11th place are: <

Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey (my original post), Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb (my original post), Briefly Maiden by Jacqueline Chadwick (yes, again) (my original post), The Twisted Path by Harry Connolly (my original post), Bound by Benedict Jacka (my original post), The Western Star by Craig Johnson (my original post), The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire (see? Another Toby Daye) (my original post), The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh (my original post), Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells(my original post).

My Favorite 2017 New (to me) Characters

A few weeks ago, I started to describe someone as one of the best characters I met this year. Which got me to thinking about and honing this list. I’m limiting myself to characters I met this year, otherwise I don’t think there’s be much room for anyone — Spenser, Hawk, Scout, Harry Dresden, Toby Daye, Ford Prefect etc. wouldn’t really allow anyone else to be talked about. These might not be my favorite people in their respective books (although most are), but they’re the best characters in terms of complexity, depth and story potential I doubt I’d like most of them in real life (and can’t imagine that any of them would enjoy me), but in novels? I can’t get enough of them.

(in alphabetical order by author)

  • Aimee de Laurent from Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey (my post about the book)– she’s smart, she’s driven, she’s compassionate, she’s powerful, she’s fallible. She also flies around in a spaceship and does magic.
  • Lori Anderson from Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb (my post about the book)– She’s more than Stephanie Plum without the Lucy Ricardo DNA. She’s a tough lady, a dedicated mom, and more. This bounty hunter will impress you with her guts, get your sympathy with her plight, and make you cheer as she bests her opponents (I should probably add “make you wince as she takes some brutal beatings).
  • Ali Dalglish from In the Still by Jacqueline Chadwick (my post about the book)– Ali is a certified (and possibly certifiable) genius. She’s a criminal profiler working in Vancouver, BC after nearly a couple of decades away to raise her kids. But when a serial killer’s victim is found near her home, she’s drug back into the professional world she left with the investigation. She has the most creative swearing this side of Malcom Tucker, a fantastic and fast mind, a jaded look at life, and a sense of humor that’s sure to please. Early in In the Still, she asks questions of a police officer in a public forum and pretty much ruins the poor guy — it’s one of the best scenes I read all year. If you can read that far in the book and not become a Ali fan at that point, there’s something wrong with you. If I was ranking these, I’m pretty sure she’d be #1.
  • Nick Mason from The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton (https://wp.me/p3z9AH-2NI)– A convicted non-violent criminal gets released early from an Illinois prison only to find himself in a different type of prison to work off his debt for being released, making him lose the “non-” in front of violent. He’s a great character, on the verge (always on the verge) of redemption and falling further.
  • Dervan du Alöbar from A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne (my post about the book is forthcoming) — I could’ve named about half of the point-of-view characters from this book, but Dervan eked out a win. He’s a widower in mourning. A former soldier, wounded in duty, turned scholar, turned . . . well — that’s a long story. There’s something about his coming to grips with the new reality, his new vocation, his self-awareness and growth in his personal life just really clicked with me. He’s basically an unqualified fantasy hero, forced to step up and play a role in saving civilization (which actually describes many people in this book, but that’s for another day).
  • Isaiah Quintabe from IQ by Joe Ide (my post about the book)– South-Central LA’s answer to Sherlock Holmes. We meet IQ early in his career and, via flashbacks, see him begin to develop the gifts that will make him the super-detective he’s destined to become. He’s such a great take on this character, I can’t believe no one beat Ide to the punch.
  • Anci from Down Don’t Bother Me by Jason Miller (my post about the book) — yeah, her dad, Slim, is the series start and protagonist. He’s the one that goes trough all the hardship, the beatings, the investigative moves, not his 12-year-old daughter (who isn’t a young Veronica Mars clone, or Rae Spellman). But Anci is the heart and soul of the books — she’s why Slim goes to work in this field, and why he comes back. She’s smarter and wittier than any 12-year-old has any right to be (but believably so), she’s Slim’s conscience, and his reason for doing what he does.
  • LeAnne Hogan from The Right Side by Spencer Quinn (my post about the book)– comes back from Afghanistan after near-fatal injuries, and isn’t fit for the civilian life she’s thrown back into. She begins to deal with her grief and anger while hunting for the child of a dead friend with the help of a stray dog. She’ll break your heart.
  • John Rebus from Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin (my post about the book)– Wow. How do I sum up Rebus? 2017 was the 30th anniversary of Rebus’ creation and the first year I read him. He’s a wonderful, complex character. He smokes too much, he drinks too much, he ignores the rules and regulations (and maybe even the laws) in his ongoing effort to forget about himself and his life by pouring himself into his work. Tenacious with a capital “T”, he may not be the smartest police detective you ever read, but he makes up for it through not giving up (although he’s pretty smart — especially when not drinking).
  • Hob Ravani from Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells (my post about the book)– Tough does not begin to describe this biker. She’s all about surviving on this planet that’s not at all conducive to survival — from the environment, to the economics, to the politics — there’s just nothing on the planet that wants her or her fellow Ghost Wolves to survive. But somehow she does.

Deep Blue Trouble by Steph Broadribb

Deep Blue TroubleDeep Blue Trouble

by Steph Broadribb
Series: Lori Anderson, #2

Kindle Edition, 320 pg.
Orenda Books, 2017

Read: November 18 – 20, 2017


I really could just say, “You know that book that I (and just about everyone else) was so excited about a few months back? Well, the sequel is out now, and it’s just as good, if not better. Everything I wrote before still applies.” That’d be cheating, and not 100% accurate, but close enough I could do it with a clear conscience.

But let’s see if we can give it a bit more justice…

When we left Lori, she was agreeing to work with an FBI Agent to bring someone in, in exchange for this, he’ll help exonerate JT from the crimes he’s been accused of. Lori has brought this particular escaped con in before — Gibson “The Fish” Fletcher, a thief and convicted murderer — and Agent Monroe assumes that should give her a leg up. This hunt takes her from coast to coast (and coast to coast), and even across the border. I’d like to think that her career before these last two cases was a whole lot more benign, because what she goes through in the couple of weeks recorded in these two novels is probably more than most people go through in their lives.

Lori brings a PI she worked with before to track Fletcher in to help with some background, and Monroe hooks her up with a group of bounty hunters that he has experience with. Lori and her PI get along well, and work together even better. The bounty hunters, on the other hand, just don’t seem to want to work with Lori. The contrast between the people she’s allied with in this hunt is striking and helps the reader get a real grasp of Lori’s character. Every other character in this book deserves some discussion — well, most of them do — but I can’t do that without ruining the book. Let me just say that I’d be glad to see everyone that survives this book intact in the future — and maybe even some of those that don’t.

This case is primarily Lori using her brain (and her PI’s) to get her man — yeah, there’s some fisticuffs, some gunplay — but this is about Lori being smarter than anyone else in the case. Similarly, in Deep Down, Lori takes some real physical punishment, but this time the punishment is more mental and psychological — she doesn’t escape without some serious bruising (at least…), but primarily it’s the emotional stress and punishment she’s given while on the hunt for Fletcher that will take its toll.

In Deep Down the threat to Dakota was obvious and immanent — this time out, it’s more abstract, theoretical. Lori’s used a little money she just made to send her to camp. But if Lori can’t keep JT out of prison (or worse), getting him as a donor to help treat Dakota’s leukaemia is going to be near impossible. This is a nice change — you can’t have Dakota in constant peril, nor can you have Lori constantly distracted by her. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want her to disappear, or be conveniently occupied all the time, but the reader needs it occasionally.

As for JT? Well, being in prison in a state where one of the major crime lords has a hit out on you isn’t exactly easy. We don’t get the flashbacks to his training Lori as much, but Lori is constantly returning to his lessons for guidance — so his presence is felt throughout the book, even if he’s locked up the whole time. That training is what ultimately helps her — even if she has to ignore a good chunk of it, naturally, watching her decide when to ignore his training is painful, because she picks bad times and ways to do so. Lori is keeping something from JT — which is going to come back to bite her. I get why she’s doing it, and can sympathize — but I know she’s a fictional character and I know what usually happens to fictional characters who do this kind of thing. Am truly hoping that Broadribb is going ti zag here when we all expect her to zig — but even if she zigs, I expect the execution of it to be better than my imagination.

It may seem like a little thing, or at least a strange thing to comment on in a post like this — but I really appreciated the way that Broadribb worked in a recap of Deep Down Dead to the opening pages here. It’s a lost art anymore, and I just wanted to take a second and say way to go.

One minor criticism: it was much easier to tell that this was a book written by a Brit writing an American.

This was a fast thriller, with a story that propels you to keep reading — you’ll read more than you should per sitting, because you just can’t put it down. Broadribb writes like a seasoned pro, with panache and skill. Lori remains one of my favorite new characters for this year, and the rest of the cast of characters are just about as good. I can’t wait to see what Broadribb puts poor Lori, JT and Dakota through next.

—–

4 Stars