Dead Gone by Luca Veste

Dead GoneDead Gone

by Luca Veste
Series: Murphy and Rossi, #1

Paperback, 404 pg.
Avon, 2014

Read: February 13, 2017

They say you get used to it. One victim becomes another. An endless array of body parts lit up, wounds, scars blood. If you deal with death all the time, you develop a gallows humour, dark jokes passed around.

Murphy knew differently. When it was bad as this, there was no levity to be found. You got on with the job, and hoped to catch whoever did it before it happened again.

In most series, we’d meet DS Laura Rossi as she joins the detectives, probably partners up with DI David Murphy (who we might have known for a book o more already), we get to know her as she gets to know the job and Murphy. Murphy’s a good detective with some interesting choices in his personal life, she’s an eager (and educated) rookie tied to her family in ways she wouldn’t prefer. Then in the next book, we see a mix of tragedy, crime and bad timing wreak havoc on Murphy’s personal life and it spills over to his career. Now, in Dead Gone, he’s trying to put his life back on track, recovering from whatever career setbacks he’s stumbled into with the help of his sometimes partner and boss.

But Veste jumps us right into book 3 without the foundation work — we get hints (and eventually more than hints) to put it all together — especially as it Murphy’s life becomes fodder for the killer’s taunting of the police. Honestly, I liked that approach. Other writers might not be as successful with it, but Veste pulled it off. You get the idea that Murphy was a really good detective, and if he can get his head back in the game, he will be one again. Rossi is well on the way to being a good one — but she might have hitched her wagon to the wrong mentor.

Oh, yeah, the killer — bodies are starting to show up in Liverpool. Death by multiple means, but left in similar conditions — and with letters attached making references to classic psychology studies — many of which couldn’t be replicated today with contemporary ethical standards. But the killer seems to be taking them further than the original studies. And, well, he’s a serial killer, so ethical research methods aren’t at the height of his concern.

I could’ve used a bit more of Rossi, I liked her as a character, but I enjoyed what we got. I understand that Murphy’s the star of the show, but hopefully she gets a bit more of the focus later on. The rest of the squad is pretty much what you get in any police procedural — I’d be happy if I don’t have to see Det. Bannon ever again, but hopefully he gets what’s coming to him — or a healthy dose of character growth — soon.

Murphy is dealing with a whole mess of personal issues as he’s leading the investigation — but it doesn’t really distract from his work, maybe it even helps it. This is tightly plotted, moves at a good pace — Veste doesn’t waste anything, there’s no fluff, no fat to this prose. Probably because I know there’s another 3 books so far in the series, I didn’t worry about the danger posed to our heroes at any point, but the tension was real. The terror visited upon the victims was more than real — Veste does an outstanding job of getting into the heads of some of the victims without getting exploitative. Too often in serial killer novels the victims are just corpses (or something that’ll be a corpse soon), so no need to really care about them. Not here — and what a nice change of pace that is — they’re people, not props.

This really isn’t a whodunit kind of novel — Veste pretty much gives it away pretty early on. Not that this stops him from dragging a large red herring across the reader’s path. Yeah, it’s pretty obviously a red herring — but he uses it well as such — and then . . . well, let’s just leave it as I didn’t see what he’d do with that particular forage fish after it was clear that the killer they’re hunting for is someone else.

I literally lost sleep staying up to finish this one — dragged myself through the next day at work, leaning on coffee just to seem passably competent. And it was worth it. I will be grabbing the next installment, The Dying Place, very soon.

—–

4 Stars

The Shanghai Moon by S. J. Rozan

The Shanghai MoonThe Shanghai Moon

by S. J. Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #9

Hardcover, 373 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2010

Read: February 16 – 18, 2016


Oh, man . . . things got away from me and I haven’t been able to reconnect with Lydia or Bill for too long now (14 months between books I think) — I missed them. Thankfully, it took no time at all to get back in the groove.

Speaking of breaks, following the shattering events of Winter and Night, Bill Smith pretty much took a break from everything — including Lydia. She understood that but didn’t like it one bit. So when he does come back into he life early on in this book, she doesn’t exactly welcome him with open arms, and makes him jump through a few hoops to get back into her good graces (but not nearly as many hoops as she intended).

But before we get to that, a one-time mentor and occasional colleague, Joel Pilarsky asks Lydia to help with an investigation. Some jewels have recently been uncovered in China, stolen and theoretically brought to New York to be sold. The client wants Pilarsky to track them down — he suggests that he’ll cover the Jewish jewelry shops that might buy them, and hires Lydia to do the same with Chinese jewelers. What makes these jewels special is that they belonged to Jewish refugees in the 1930’s who fled to Shanghai, and were probably owned by the same person who owned a legendary piece of jewelry from that time — The Shanghai Moon. Not that the client, a lawyer focused the recovery of Holocaust items, bothers to mention The Shanghai Moon (she has a lame excuse for that oversight when Lydia brings it up later).

Yes, I did say Jewish refugees in Shanghai. I felt bad about not knowing anything about that until Lydia confessed it was news to her, too. She’s intrigued by this notion — and the story of the owner of these jewels, much of which is preserved in letters she wrote to her mother after fleeing from Europe and are now part of a collection of Holocaust documents. We get these letters to, and read them with Lydia and slowly we’re drawn in to the saga of this poor woman and the Chinese man she marries while Lydia and Joel search for her heirlooms.

The investigation soon focuses on The Shanghai Moon — and the murders that appear to be connected to this crime. Bill returns to Lydia’s life in time to help with this investigation. Before you know what’s happening, we’re immersed in a mystery that stretches over decades and involves Nazis, Communists, Japanese military, NYC Chinese gangs and much, much more. The threads that connect all these to the jewels and the family tied to them are so many in number and complex in nature, that I wouldn’t try to explain it even if it wouldn’t spoil the book.

I didn’t get as invested in the historical material as Lydia did — but i came close, and I think most readers will, too. If for no other reason than Bill and Lydia do. There’s a history professor that the pair interview for some more context that I’d love to meet again (I can’t imagine how that’d happen) — he’s a fun character that’s much better developed than most characters filling his role would be in detective novels.

I don’t know if I’ve liked Lydia’s mom as much as I did in this book before (or enjoyed her as much) — it took Lydia far too long to understand what her mother was doing throughout the novel, and the growth/change it represented, but I thought it was great. I’m actually looking forward to reading about her in the next novel (I’ve never disliked the character, just have never been that interested in her).

Best of all, as normal, was the banter and other types of conversation between Lydia and Bill. I’ve said it before, I’ll probably say it again, but I’d read a couple hundred pages of them just talking over tea and snacks. There was a lot unsaid between them about the months between the novels, but Rozan had them not say it in a great way — and what they said was as good as usual.

Throw in a juicy mystery, good characters and a missing treasure? You’ve got yourself a winner. No surprise that I liked the ninth novel in a series I’ve enjoyed the previous eight in — but that doesn’t make it any less good, it just means that Rozan’s consistently on target. I strongly recommended The Shanghai Moon along with its predecessors.

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Her EyesBehind Her Eyes

by Sarah Pinborough

Hardcover, 306 pg.
Flatiron Books, 2017

Read: February 21 – 22, 2017


David and Adele have just moved to London to try to get a fresh start — she’s a stay-at-home wife, gorgeous, and seemingly frail — most of all, she’s deeply devoted to her husband. David’s a psychiatrist who might be a bit too fond of his drink, and doesn’t seem to be as devoted to Adele as she is to him. From the get-go we know there’s a few things really wrong with their marriage, and you can tell that finding out just what they are (and if the drinking is really as bad as it seems) is going to be interesting, to say the least.

Louise is a single mom who needs something fun in her life — things are going well for her ex and his girlfriend, and her son is going away for a month with them. Louise doesn’t have a lot going on in here life other than her son — she has pretty much one friend, a part-time job, and a social life that mainly consists of Netflix, cigarettes and wine. She’s our point-of-entry character, the reason we care about anyone else in the book — she’s relatable, she’s fun, she’s real. On a rare night out, Louise meets and kisses a man (David) who later confesses to be married and leaves.

Naturally, the next day Louise meets her new boss — David. They pledge to forget that night and move on professionally. Soon afterwards, Adele runs into Louise and a friendship develops between them — Louise carefully never admitting that she knows Adele’s husband.

Yeah, up to this point, this could be the fodder for a comedy — something that Jennifer Weiner might write, but with a little more edge, and involving people in London. So maybe it’s a dark Helen Fielding feel. Anyhow, Louise’s relationships with each get deeper. And as that happens, the tone gets darker and darker — everyone involved has secrets, and at least two of the people in this triangle aren’t who we think they are. And before you know it, you’ve left Women’s Commercial Fiction and turned the genre corner into Crime Fiction. There is evil or madness — maybe both — at the core of this story, and it’s dark. But the book never goes as far as it could into the darkness — it’s careful about showing it. Just lets it out every now and then, so you know it’s lurking out there.

The story is told from Adele’s and Louise’s perspective — with flashbacks to earlier in Adele’s life. Adele clearly has some problems, but it’s unclear what they really are. It’s tough to know whose perspective on things is more realistic — particularly their competing ideas about David. Eventually, we start to see that one of these women is manipulating the other two in the triangle and their plans are pretty serious.

Pinborough does a masterful job of drawing you into the story, the characters, their destinies — you can’t help but care, and even before things become a psychological thriller, you’ll find yourself very invested into what’s going on with these people and what will happen. Once things become perilous . . . forget it, you won’t be able to tear yourself away from this book. I loved the tone, the character development — Louise is one of my favorite characters of 2017.

Now, for the first 290 pages I was enthralled and was about ready to call this the best thriller I’ve read in months — maybe years. You can understand the hype about this book — why Two Crime Writers and a Microphone devoted an episode to this book, etc. But the last 16 pages . . . I just don’t know. It’s impossible to really discuss these pages without defying my “no spoiler” policy. Let me put it this way, if you can swallow X — you’ll dig the last 16 pages, and your jaw just might drop in the final 6. Me? I choked on X, and was fed up with the last 6. Since I finished it, I can understand what Pinborough was trying to do — and can even make a decent argument defending it. But I don’t like it — and think that even the best argument in her defense is codswallop.

Behind Her Eyes is a really strong book that will grab you, keep you entertained and will give you a conclusion that you’ll talk about for days (at least).

What I want to give it after the last 16 pages:

—–

2 Stars

Buuuut. . . . I think it really deserves this:

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Jaeth’s Eye by K.S. Villoso

Jaeth's EyeJaeth’s Eye

by K.S. Villoso
Series: The Agartes Epilogues, #1

Kindle Edition, 372 pg.
World Tree Publishing, 2014

Read: February 9 – 11, 2017


There is no doubt in my mind that Villoso had a very clear idea what was going on in these pages — but as I read, I felt like I was constantly e-evaluating what was going on — guessing what I was supposed to understand, and what was supposed to be being revealed to me (either where I was or in the future).

Not only did I not understand where I was, I couldn’t really tell you until the end how everything tied together and what the overall story was. I didn’t get the various cultures/ethnicities, I couldn’t tell how the various moves by the characters — or by those they were talking about — meant anything.

Now, I liked the characters — I liked the interactions, and every time that the story moved on I hated it, because I’d have to reorient myself. The characters seem to change almost every time I encountered them.

Glancing around the internet I see that I’m alone in this — every other reviewer seems to have really dug the way Villoso told the story. Great — that’s a relief. I’d rather that I missed out on something good than the alternative — that Villoso didn’t put out something good.

Well, there’s one thing that you cannot convince me belongs in this fantasy world — dime novels. Nope, that just doesn’t fit.

I’m going to give this a three because the individual scenes, the character moments were great — I just couldn’t put the pieces together. Go read someone else’s take on the book, it’s bound to be better than mine.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for this post — sorry it worked out this way for you, K. S.

—–

3 Stars

Legal Asylum: A Comedy by Paul Goldstein

Legal Asylum: A ComedyLegal Asylum: A Comedy

by Paul Goldstein

ARC, 284 pg.
Ankerwycke, 2017

Read: February 14 – 16, 2017


Elspeth Flowers is a career-fixated, libidinous, and conniving Dean of a state college’s Law School. She’s been working for years to put herself and her school into the prime position to launch themselves into national prominence. The School is on the verge of breaking into the Top 5 of U.S. News & World Report‘s ranking of Law Schools — a first for any state school. When that happens, the prospects for the trailblazing leader that got them there are so bright they’d inspire a song by Timbuk3. While Elspeth wants the success for the School, what she wants more than that are for her post-academia plans for herself to come to fruition. But on the cusp of her anticipated victory there are a few things that stand in her way:

  • Cuckolded Assistant Dean Jimmy James Fleenor who keeps (initially inadvertently) blocking her cunning plans.
  • An Enterprising Mail Room clerk, Wendall Ward, who just might be the most influential person we meet in these pages — definitely the most on-the-ball Mail Room clerk since Brantley Foster.
  • A federal investigation into the business practices of the school’s biggest donor.
  • A handful of secrets that are enough to get the accreditation committee to look long and hard at everything around the school.

Did I forget to mention that the ABA’s Accreditation Committee shows up days before everything is going to fall into place for Elspeth? Not just that, but thanks to circumstances and Jimmy James’ fumbling machinations, the committee is full of people who aren’t going to march to the beat of Elspeth’s drum or respond to her wiles. Their arrival shows that Elspeth’s best laid plans may look impressive (especially to her), but in reality are merely a tower of Jenga blocks threatening to topple. The question is: can she keep things standing long enough to get her Top 5 ranking and seize the brass ring — or will she find herself standing in a pile of rubble?

I like to think I learned a lot about the state of legal education today from these pages — even if the details are exaggerated for the purposes of satire there’s enough truth at the heart of them to educate the reader. Competition can drive the most cut-throat amongst us to extremes — and when the rewards for winners are what they can be in this area of academia, there’s a lot of incentive for people to get very competitive.

This is Goldstein’s fifth novel (I believe), and it looks like this is the first that isn’t a straightforward legal thriller. The experience he gained from those other novels probably served him well as he attempts to stop into another, and far trickier, genre. His characters are well-developed and well-used, his pacing is good, and he reveals plot complication after plot complication like a pro. He doesn’t go for cheap laughs and doesn’t demean the targets of his satire — nor does he pull his punches. It’s not a laugh-out-loud funny book, but it’s amusing and he’ll elicit more than the occasional grin as you read it.

One thing I’ve noticed about satirical novels is that endings are the hardest part — I’ve stopped looking for strong endings in satirical novels, I just hope for not terrible endings. Plots just tend to get away from the authors — like Soap Box Derby cars with cheap brakes on steep hills. Things in Legal Asylum threatened to get away from Goldstein, but he largely managed a satisfactory ending. I’m not 100% convinced it wasn’t more by authorial fiat than by being true to the characters (particularly Elspeth), but it was close enough that I could swallow that last chapter without much difficulty.

Do I think I’d find this more amusing if I was in the legal profession, had some experience with Law School, or was closer to my time in higher education in general? You bet. Is all of the humor lost on me because none of the above apply? Nope — and the same is likely for other readers. This is a recommended read for those who like smart books — particularly those about smart people who don’t always act like they are. Strong writing, satire that’s on-target without being mean, good characters and an ending that’s pretty satisfying — it’s hard to ask for more

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author’s publicist in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.

—–

3 Stars

Opening Lines – Dead Gone

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author — but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. Would it make you commit?

She hadn’t been afraid of the dark.

Not before.

Not before it entered her life without her knowing, enveloping her like a second skin, becoming a part of her.

She hadn’t been claustrophobic, petrified the walls were closing in around her. Crushed to death without knowing they’d even moved. Not scared of things that crawled around her toes. Wasn’t afraid to sit alone in a darkened room and wonder if something was touching her face, or if it was just her imagination.

Nope. She wasn’t scared before.

She was now.

It took time to become afraid of those things, and time was all she had, stretching out in front of her without end.

She blamed herself. Blamed her friends. Blamed him. She shouldn’t be there, and someone was to blame for that.

Had to be.

from Dead Gone by Luca Veste

This tells you so much about the victim, her life and what’s about to happen to her (and who’s behind what’s about to happen) — such a good opening.

Storm Clouds Gathering by Gibson Michaels

Storm Clouds GatheringStorm Clouds Gathering

by Gibson Michaels
Series: The Sentience Trilogy, #1

Kindle Edition, 366 pg.
Arc Flash Publishing, 2014

Read: January 28 – 30, 2017


There’s a sentient, autonomous AI running around the computers that run (essentially) the State and Defense Department for the United Stellar Alliance. It’s trying to learn how to act more like humans while carrying out its duties — both official and unofficial. The unofficial duties include caring for (and learning from) the descendant of its creator — someone who wouldn’t be allowed access to the AI by anyone other the AI. There are some officers in the Intelligence wings of the Fleet who think that there might be something going on with the AI running FALCON, and set out to find it (if such is a thing).

Meanwhile, long-term stresses and problems within the United Stellar Alliance are coming to a head and the planets that make up the alliance are on the verge of declaring war on each other. The moves that the various entities make — and the politics behind the moves — fed into my political and historical interests (and other readers will resonate with them, too, I expect).

But here’s the best part — as interesting as all these things are — it’s not the main story. The main story involves an alien race, the Raknii. The Raknii are a warrior/hunter society, one who conquers pretty much everything they encounter — without mercy, without pity, without consideration for anything other than victory. But many of the leaders of this race are questioning this — and fear that the culture has gone astray. About this time, they discover a new race in the galaxy — one that will prove to be the ultimate test for the Raknii, which may help their culture get back on track. That race, of course, is humanity.

Each storyline worked for me in just the right way — the Civil War story was good, the parallels to the US Civil War were maybe overplayed, but they were used well enough that I’m not going to complain too loudly. The story of the AI learning about human cultures was nothing but fun — ditto for the efforts of Fleet Intelligence to get to the bottom of things. All this going on with a large-scale alien invasion looming unbeknownst to any human was a great touch — any of these would keep me reading, mixing them the way that Gibson did was icing on the cake.

The cast of characters in this is so extensive that I can’t really comment on them all — let’s just say that I liked just about ever character — no matte how they threaten the fate of humanity. About the only people I didn’t like were those from the Consortium (a group of businessmen that have more of an impact on the USA’s government than anyone appreciates) — and there’s just nothing redeemable about them (or frightfully interesting outside of their role as antagonists).

Michaels writes with heart, humor, hope and a pretty good attention to detail. There are plenty of infodumps throughout — especially concerning the Raknii, but also getting the reader brought up to speed with humanity’s politics/technology — but these are almost always woven in well with character moments and the over all narrative. I just had a blast reading this.

This is the first entry of a trilogy, and is one of those that doesn’t come to any real resolution as such. It’s more of a pause in the action before jumping into the next volume. I’m not crazy about those kind of books, but I get the thinking — the point is to move on to the next two books. Besides, I enjoyed this enough that all I want to do is move on, I can live without that temporary resolution. I’m giving this a 3-Star Rating, but do so in the expectation that the following entries will be ranked higher.

Disclaimer: I received this novel from the author in exchange for this post — thanks Mr. Michaels.

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3 Stars