Murder in the Dark by Betsy Reavley: This look at murder’s aftermath feels as authentic as a True Crime book

Murder in the DarkMurder in the Dark

by Betsy Reavley

eARC, 245 pg.
Bloodhound Books, 2018

Read: December 10, 2018


One fateful day, Tilly, a veterinary student in Cambridge goes to the bookshop she works at to open for the day. Inside, she finds the owner of the shop, her boss, hanging and clearly dead. She calls the police, who (unlike Tilly) realize that this was not suicide and begin their investigation right away.

While the investigation goes on, we spend a lot more time with Tilly and her coworkers as well as the family of Dennis Wade than you do in most Crime Fiction. Tilly is haunted (practically literally) by what she found. Her other coworkers are focused on trying to act appropriately in this situation, or worried about their jobs. Wade’s widow, her sister, and the Wade’s son all react in very different ways. His poor widow’s life is shattered, her pain and lost-ness is palpable — just great work on Beavley’s part, although watching what Tilly goes through may be more devastating.

Meanwhile, DCI Barrett, DI Palmer and their team start their procedure — knowing full well they need to close the case early for the good of the city, the Wade family — and because no one wants to spend Christmas (which is just around the corner) finding out why a body was left hanging. When other bodies start to be discovered, the pressure builds (internally and externally) and yet the procedure has to continue. Even when the procedure involves things like thoroughly vetting Wade’s son (with a criminal record) and spending a good deal of time pursuing other dead ends.

Beavley’s work showing the way the police have to tick off every box, have to turn over stone — even when they are virtually certain that no answers will be found by doing so — just to move on to another stone. There’s no maverick cop saving the day here. No detective relying on instinct. Just dedicated professionals doing their jobs the way they’re supposed to do them to get the result they need. It’s really kind of striking that in the ocean of “police procedurals” out there, just how few actually rely on the procedure.

When the answers come — they come from going through all the steps and no one is more surprised than the detectives who uncover it. It feels as authentic as you could want. The depravity uncovered by these detectives is the kind that makes you glad this is fiction, so you can pretend that such things only happen in books. And you will keep turning the pages until you get to the bottom of everything.

You get a much better sense of Tilly, a couple of coworkers, and the Wade family than you do the detectives investigating the case — which isn’t to say they’re strangers to the reader. But by and large, these are primarily people doing a job – with the emphases on the job, not the person.

I’d have appreciated more time with the family and friends of some of the later victims — just to see Reavley get to show off a little. We get a little taste with the second victim’s family — just not as much. But their reactions are so different from Wade’s family and friends, it’d be great to get more time seeing that.

One tangent — I’m counting on readers to comment on this — there’s a golf club mentioned a couple of times in the book, “The Gog Magog Golf Club” to be specific. Now, when I read that name I think of the figures and places mentioned in Ezekiel and Revelation. Neither of which is suggestive of a stroll along the greenways or putting around. Is this the kind of names used in England? In the US, courses are named after hills, valleys — that kind of thing. Not names steeped in apocalyptic visions. It’s a minor point, but it really threw me.

This is (I believe) the second book to feature DCI Barrett and DI Palmer and their team — I’m curious about how they work together both before this case (also book related) and in the future. But this works well as a stand-alone, too. You don’t have to sign up for the long haul to get anything from this. A solid mystery, one of the best procedurals I’ve read in ages, and a depiction of the aftermath of violent crime that you won’t easily forget. A Murder in the Dark will stick with you.

—–

3 Stars


My thanks to Bloodhound Books for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided. The opinions expressed are all mine, however.

Advertisements

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Murder in the Dark by Betsy Reavley

Today I welcome the Book Tour for the aptly named Murder in the Dark by Betsy Reavley. Along with this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit.

Book Details:

Book Title: Murder in the Dark by Betsy Reavley
Publisher: https://www.bloodhoundbooks.com/
Release date: December 12, 2018
Format: Paperback/ebook
Length: 245 pages

Book Blurb:

Without a motive, how do you identify the killer?

Imagine a quaint little bookshop. Outside the snow is falling. Inside the shelves are stacked with books by authors waiting to be discovered. What could be better?

When Tilly Edgely lands a position working at Ashton’s bookshop in Cambridge she thinks she’s found her perfect job. But one winter’s morning, when she arrives to open up, she discovers the body of her boss suspended from the ceiling, hanging by a rope around his neck.

DCI Barrett and DI Palmer are called to the scene and quickly find themselves searching for a twisted killer whose identity and motive are nearly impossible to trace.

But just when they think they have the murderer in their sights, another body shows up throwing the case wide open…

Who is behind the killings and why?

The police have their work cut out and key to unlocking the gruesome mystery might be found right under their nose.

But one thing is for certain, this killer will leave you hanging…

About Betsy Reavley:

Betsy ReavleyAuthor of The Quiet Ones, The Optician’s Wife, Murder at the Book Club, Frailty, Carrion, Beneath the Watery Moon and the poetry collection The Worm in the Bottle. Betsy was born in Hammersmith, London.

As a child she moved around frequently with her family, spending time in London, Provence, Tuscany, Gloucestershire and Cambridgeshire.

She showed a flair for literature and writing from a young age and had a particular interest in poetry, of which she was a prolific consumer and producer.

In her early twenties she moved to Oxford where she would eventually meet her husband. During her time in Oxford her interests turned from poetry to novels and she began to develop her own unique style of psychological thriller.

Betsy says “I believe people are at their most fascinating when they are faced by the dark side of life. This is what I like to write about.”

Betsy Reavley currently lives in Cambridge with her husband, 2 children, dog and quail.

Betsy Reavley’s Social Media:

Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Amazon ~ Goodreads


My thanks to Bloodhound Books for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

The Complaints by Ian Rankin: Introducing the anti-Rebus, Malcolm Fox

The ComplaintsThe Complaints

by Ian Rankin

Series: Malcolm Fox, #1

Hardcover, 438 pg.
Little, Brown and Co., 2011

Read: November 20 – 22, 2018

I left the last Rankin book thinking, “If I didn’t know that there were more Rebus books coming, I’d be really depressed.” There are advantages to being this far behind a series. Thanks to a podcast interview I heard with Rankin around the time I started to plan my Rebus reading (I think it was this A Stab in the Dark episode), I knew that at some point, he pushed “Pause” on Rebus to introduce a new character — initially, I think, to replace Rebus. But it didn’t work out that way. Still, I wanted to read them in chronological order, so I could appreciate it when the new guy was merged into the Rebus books.

And that’s where we are now, with the introduction of The New Guy: Malcolm Fox, of the Complaints and Conduct division (aka “The Complaints”) — essentially, Internal Affairs (aka “The Rat Squad”). It’s almost like Rankin came up with a list of Rebus’ characteristics and put a “not-” in front of every one of them to create him. He doesn’t drink (because he’ll end up like Rebus does, or worse), he follows the rules (generally speaking), he gets along with and respects/trusts his superiors, he’s close with his family . . . et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. He’s a lot more likeable than Rebus, too — as a person and as a fictional character. He’s not as well-developed — this is his first book and Rebus had 17 at that point, so that makes sense. Although, typically, IAB/Complaints type characters are usually dramatic obstacles to the series protagonists and are therefore little-liked, so that was strange.

The novel starts with Fox riding high — he’s just closed a major investigation, and is doing clean up on that when he’s given a new assignment. He’ll be helping out another division — I suddenly forgot their name, but essentially, they’re the equivalent of the Special Victims Unit. So right away you know this is not going to be a fun book — a detective who polices the police investigating sex crimes. There’s just no way to paint a “fun-loving romp” face on that premise.

But before we can get too far down that road, a pretty big complication arises. (Minor Spoiler warning) The abusive boyfriend of Fox’s sister is found murdered. And guess who is the first suspect? That’s right. Better yet: guess who is one of the investigating officers? If you guessed the target of Fox’s new investigation, give yourself a pat on the back.

So Fox has to investigate a detective without him knowing about it, while being investigated by that same detective — and to keep it from looking like payback. Which is a pretty cool setup for a novel, you’ve got to admit. Better yet, it’s Rankin behind the wheel, so you know he can (and does) deliver on the setup.

The bulk of the novel is about Fox doing his best to find the killer — for his sister’s sake (primarily) — and keep himself out of the cross-hairs of the investigators. This will lead him to some very not-regulation investigative techniques, some of which might remind people of the Rankin creation that Fox isn’t. The mystery itself and the way it’s told is classic-Rankin. Lots of twists, a couple of good turns, very satisfying throughout.

Meanwhile, we get a pretty good character study/introduction to this new character through this — and through a friendship he develops with another detective during this. I really enjoyed the novel, and Rankin gave his new character a serious challenge to start with, a very cleverly constructed mystery to untangle. Fox is a worthy entry into the world of Rebus and Rankin.

I’ll leave with this — if after 2007’s Exit Music I’d have been nervous about what was to come next, I’d have been relieved after 2009’s The Complaints. Now, I’m just eager to see the two detectives on the same page.

—–

4 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

Mr. Pizza by J. F. Pandolfi: A Winsome Tale of a Rookie Teacher

(WordPress is doing that thing again where it messes up the html in my post header. I think I’ve fixed it, but if the beginning of the post looks ugly, sorry, I’m doing my best)

Mr. Pizza
Mr. Pizza

by J. F. Pandolfi


ePUB, 298 pg.
L&A Publications, 2018

Read: December 4 – 5, 2018

On the verge of graduating from college, Tony Piza (long “I”, and yes, he’s heard all the jokes), decides he’s not ready to head to law school and would like to take a year off. Inspired by a suggestion from his roommate, he applies to teach at a Roman Catholic school near his home. He figures that it’ll be pretty easy — spout some facts and figures from the text-book, assign some homework, do a little grading, catch up on his reading. All while living rent-free with his parents and sister. Despite never having taken an education class, nor showing any previous interest in education, and some iffy interview questions, he’s hired.

Early on, he performs his duties just as he planned — and it’s as successful as you imagine. But before long, he starts to see his students as individuals, not some faceless mass. It’s just a few steps from there to caring about their education and trying to do something about it. Tony also makes some friends with fellow teachers — two other lay teachers (including the other male staff member), and one nun. They start to rub off on him — and even inspire him.

But that doesn’t mean he turns into Professor Charles W. Kingsfield Jr or George Feeny, he’s more like a version of Gabe Kotter or Charlie Moore. Unconventional, off-kilter, and comical — yet challenging. Both his lectures and his assignments bring out the strengths and weaknesses his students (and their parents) were unaware they possessed. They also get Tony in trouble with parents, school administrators and school board members.

Essentially, the novel is a bildungsroman, watching Tony’s development from someone who sees teaching as a vacation from his real life to someone truly invested in it. I don’t want to say that it’s a smooth transition or that he flips the switch and becomes the World’s Greatest 6th Grade Teacher ™. That would make for a very dull novel.

Pandolfi writes in a very smooth, assured style. There’s not a lot of artistic flourishes — that’s not a critique, just an observation. It is charming, frequently amusing, and pretty earnest. I was a little afraid after reading the description that this would be a satire that tried too hard, one of those books where you can see the writer trying to be funny (which almost never works) — but I’m pleased to say that it wasn’t. Tony seemed to try too hard, but not Pandolfi — a character doing that is annoying, but it’s a character trait; a writer doing that is frequently a a deal breaker.

Tony’s antics and judgement are a mixed bag, as I mentioned. Early on, some of his jokes/behavior didn’t seem like fun, they seemed capricious and even mean — but so did M*A*S*H‘s Hawkeye and Duke Forrest (the book and movie versions, anyway). From the get-go the 1973 setting and sensibility put me in that frame of mind, so that’s where my mind went. And sure, part of the book is to show his growth from that, but it’s pretty off-putting. Similarly, I had trouble swallowing how tone-deaf he was when it came to jokes about Roman Catholics (even after being warned), yet he was reflexively sensitive to other people/problems (frequently in a way that seemed at least somewhat anachronistic).

Ultimately, I was able to get past that — and it’s possible that without me putting something about that in my notes, I’d have forgotten to mention it. Because of his growth, by that last third or so of the book, you see almost no signs of this (except when his past comes back to haunt him). So, I guess I’m saying, if you’re put off by some of his early behavior, give him a chance.

His sister, Patty, has Down’s Syndrome. I really appreciated the way that Pandolfi treated her. She’s simply a character — there’s no After-School Special moment with her, she’s not an object of pity — she’s simply Tony’s little sister. There are funny moments with her, some sweet moments with her — just like there are with Tony’s mother and father.

Tony’s students, fittingly, come close to stealing the novel from Tony. As is the case with the Bad News Bears, the Sweathogs, Fillmore High’s IHP class, etc., you have to want to see the kids do well to care about their teacher. They’re a diverse group, each having some distinctive characteristics and/or problems. They come to believe in their “Mr. Pizza” long before the staff, or even Tony — and stay his biggest supporters through the ups and downs that ensue. If you don’t like at least most of the students, there’s something wrong with you and you should seek professional help. Or just re-read the book, because you probably missed something.

The rest of the cast of characters are well-drawn and believable. There are a few that I’m glad we didn’t get much time with (Tony’s extended family, for example). His friends, fellow teachers and principal are strong characters, a couple of them are better developed. But that’s simply due to time spent with them. Pandolfi has a gift for good characters, which is half the battle in a novel.

Mr. Pizza is a charming tale of a young man maturing at a turning point in his life. There’s some good laughs, some uncomfortable moments, and some earnest emotional beats. The book is a pleasure to read and it — and it’s protagonist — will win you over and get you rooting for them both.

Disclaimer: I received this book from RABT Book Tours in exchange for this post and my participation in the book tour.

—–

3.5 Stars

✔ Read a book with your favorite food in the title.

RABT Book Tours & PR

BOOK SPOTLIGHT & GIVEAWAY: Mr. Pizza by J. F. Pandolfi

I’m very happy to host a Book Tour stop for J. F. Pandolfi’s Mr. Pizza (and not just because it satisfies a category for the 2018 While You Were Reading Challenge). Be sure to click the link below for the Rafflecopter giveaway — but do read the book/author info, too –and then come back later this morning for my thoughts about the book.

 photo Mr Pizza cover 10-9-18_zpslvuumrse.jpg

Mainstream Fiction
Date Published: August 3, 2018
Publisher: L&A Publications
 
 photo add-to-goodreads-button_zpsc7b3c634.png
Most people make at least one really harebrained decision in their life. Just ask Tony Piza. Deciding he needs a “paid vacation” for a year after college, Tony lands a job teaching at a Catholic elementary school. Talk about the Moby Dick of miscalculations. His pathetic effort is making him look bad, crimping his love life, and leaving him feeling guilty. A new approach, fueled by his irreverent humor, makes him a hit with his students. But it riles the powers that be. A showdown seems inevitable. Whether he can survive it—well, that’s something else.
About the Author

 photo Joe author photo - close cropped 8-13-18_zpsscfrcfkf.jpg

J. F. Pandolfi went to Fordham University as an undergrad, then taught at a Catholic elementary school before attending Fordham Law School.

Practicing law certainly had its moments, but to call it “utter euphoria”—well, that was a stretch. Plus, the voices that had taken up residency in his head (rent-free, the deadbeats) kept insisting that he share his writing with the world. An award for his flash fiction piece, “Psychology for Dummies”, convinced him that the voices might be on to something. And so he called upon his fond memories as a teacher, which served as a backdrop to his debut novel, “Mr. Pizza”.

J. F. also briefly believed he had won the New York City Marathon. Alas, it turned out to be a dream, apparently brought on by an acute case of restless leg syndrome.

A staunch supporter of the fight to eradicate adult illiteracy, J. F. was accorded a Special Recognition in Literacy Award for his efforts.

Contact Links

Purchase Link

RABT Book Tours & PR

The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin: Likeable Characters, Strong Mystery, & Geeky Fun Combine for a Winning Debut

The Frame-UpThe Frame-Up

by Meghan Scott Molin
Series: The Golden Arrow Mysteries, #1

eARC, 304 pg.
47North, 2018
Read: November 28 – 29, 2018

There are some posts I’m not sure how to start. Introductions are probably the hardest part for me (I say this today, tomorrow I’ll be struggling with a conclusion). I thought about starting this post this way:

    If you liked . . .

  • the Dahlia Moss books, but want something less sit-com and more dramedy
  • the Kirby Baxter books, but wish that Molly was the star?
  • Seanan McGuire’s Antimony Price, but wish you didn’t have to put up with the cryptozoology?
    and/or
  • the Castle pilot episode
  • …then this is the book for you!

But that just seemed frivolous. So I abandoned it.

A chance encounter in a slow-moving coffee shop line and an overheard offhand remark leads to LAPD Narcotics Detective Matteo Kildaire consulting comic book writer Michael-Grace (call her “MG”) Martin about an unusual crime. A couple of drug dealers had been tied together and left for the police, a photo printed in the newspaper (or at least an online version of it) reminded MG of one of her favorite comic book panels when she saw it — a panel from a comic in the Eighties. It turns out that there are additional reasons to tie the crime scene to that particular comic, and the detective could use some help. He’s clueless about this kind of thing and is desperate to get any kind of line on the vigilante responsible.

Matteo is concerned for various and sundry reasons that MG and her coworkers at Genius Comics might be a target for trouble (and/or responsible for it). MG is intrigued by the entire thing (and the fact that an incredibly hunky detective is talking to her about it doesn’t hurt, even if he is the Muggle-ist Muggle around) — actual crimes being committed around town by someone very inspired by the comics that shaped her early geekness?

Now, Matteo doesn’t want word to get out about a. MG consulting for him; b. the close eye Genius Comics employees are being watched with; c. really anything about the vigilante. So he poses as someone MG’s dating, without really consulting her on it. Spending time with her in social settings allows him to investigate her coworkers and friends — although he really seems interested in getting to know her better.

MG’s dealing with several things in her own life — she’s up for a big promotion at work; her side project of designing costumes (for cosplay, and her friend Lawrence’s drag queen act) is dangerously close to turning into something more than a hobby; and somehow she has to work in a fake relationship (without tipping off the true nature of things to her roommate or Lawrence).

The chemistry between the two main characters is fantastic — Matteo comes across as a very nice guy, the kind of person you’d like to think every detective is — driven, honest, kind. MG’s the kind of person I’d like to hang out with — creative, funny, geeky (although her LOTR views means we won’t be best friends). When you put the two of them together they work really well — on a detective/consultant basis, or as a couple. It’s obvious from at least Chapter 2 that the sparks are there, so I don’t feel too bad talking about this — but they do keep it pretty professional. Mostly. Whether they’re being professional, or they’re in one of their more personal moments, these two are a great pair.

Now while the pair are getting to know each other, the crimes associated with the comics continue to pile up, get more serious and start to involve significant damage and danger to human life. Other than Matteo, the police and the FBI aren’t that convinced that MG can really help them. And at least one of her friends becomes a person of interest in the investigation. These two things spur MG to do some independent investigating in addition to her consulting. Which goes about as well as you might think for a comic book writer/would-be fashion designer starring in a comedic novel.

And it is funny. MG is a great narrator — honest about herself and her foibles; snarky about the foibles (and strengths) of those around her; clever, witty and her narration is chock-full of geek-culture references. Molin tends to over-explain some of MG’s references. You don’t need to tell me that “Winter is coming,” is a Jon Snow line. You can just say it and everyone will know you’re talking about Game of Thrones (or Death and Boobies, as MG prefers). I don’t remember noticing that later on, I either got used to it or Molin course-corrected. Either way, it’s not a major problem.

The story is strong, the culture around Genius Comics is interesting (and rings true), the secondary and tertiary characters are fun — it’s a very satisfying debut novel. I do think that MG’s roommate and coworkers could’ve been developed a bit more. At least we could’ve spent more time with them, not much, just a little (except the roommate, we could’ve had more time with him — but that seemed intentional). But that’s about my strongest criticism, come to think of it. There are some scenes that are just fantastic — Matteo watching the original Star Wars trilogy with MG and her coworkers for the first time is magic. There’s a moment in the last chapter that’s a little better, too (but I won’t spoil anything). Molin can tell a good story and capture small elements well.

I started this by joking around about the kind of people that’ll like this book — but seriously, there’s something about this that’ll appeal to most. Just thinking of friends/family/workplace proximity associates who read novels — I can’t think of one who wouldn’t find something in this to enjoy. My mother would like the interplay between the characters (particularly between MG and Lawrence) and the story, even if she didn’t get most of the fandom references; my buddy Paul would like MG’s spirit, the mystery, and Matteo; Nicole would dig the mystery, MG, and the fandoms (even if she doesn’t share them, she’ll get it), MG’s design work, too; I’ve got another friend who’d like the mystery but would roll his eyes at some of the relationship stuff; Rosie would get a kick out of it all, especially MG’s voice — and so on. Okay, to be honest, I can think of one reader I know who wouldn’t like it — between the subject matter, the voice, the crime story — it’d be beneath her (unless Molin gets interviewed by NPR, then she’d be a big fan). My point is — there’s at least a little something here for everyone to get into, if you don’t let any of the particulars of the setting or character get in the way.

Sure, I liked Dahlia Moss/Kirby Baxter/Antimony Price/Castle without any of the conditions that I started things off with — so this was definitely in my wheelhouse. But more importantly, it was a fun story well told, with charming characters that you want to spend time with. If I’m reading Molin’s tweets correctly, we’re looking at at least a trilogy with these people — I’m all in for that, I’m very interested to see where she takes the story and the characters. I fully expect that I’m not going to be alone in my appreciation for The Frame Up.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from 47North via Little Bird Publicity and NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to all for this great read.

—–

4 Stars

They Promised Me the Gun Wasn’t Loaded by James Alan Gardner: The Newest Canadian Super-Heroes are Back in Action

 They Promised Me the Gun Wasn't Loaded They Promised Me the Gun Wasn’t Loaded

by James Alan Gardner
Series: The Dark vs. Spark, #2

Paperback, 350 pg.
Tor Books, 2018

Read: November 26 – 27, 2018

When I read the first book in the series, All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault, back in January, I said “the sequel can’t get here fast enough.” I didn’t quite expect to be reading it 11 months later, but I’m okay with that.

It’s just a couple of weeks after the events of the previous book, and the newly formed team of superheroes has gone home for Christmas break. Now with just a few days before classes start up again, the team is coming back. In the last book we focused on Kim/Zircon, this time our protagonist is her roommate/teammate Jools/Ninety Nine.

Jools doesn’t even make it out of the airport before she’s dealing with the police and a powerful Darkling — and maybe a powerful Spark artifact.

(Quick reminder: In this world there are two super-powered groups: the Darks/Darklings and the Sparks. The Darks are all the supernatural-types you can think of (and some you can’t): vampires, weres, etc. The Sparks are Super-Heroes and the like (although some have gone astray))

Jools, with a little help from her friends, gets out of that mess — only to find herself signed up for more.

Soon, in an effort to keep this artifact from falling into the wrong hands — Jools finds herself cut off from her friends and in the secret-hideout with a very maverick group of Sparks — a modern-day Robin Hood and his Merry Men. This gives her an opportunity to watch other Sparks in action, to see how they live and think — and come up with some ways to evaluate her new lifestyle. Also, there’s a lot of fighting and nifty tech to read about.

I wasn’t crazy about how little time we got with the rest of the team because of this, but I think in the long run, it’ll work for the strength of the series. And when we get the team together again, it’s even better to see than it was before.

Again, I had a blast with this book. Gardner’s world is ripe with story-telling possibilities and I’m enjoying watching him develop these characters and this world. Jools is a great character — a solid combination of vulnerable and snarky, unwise and ridiculously intelligent — you’ll probably end up with her as your favorite character in the series (at least until book 3). Go grab this (and the other one, too) now.

—–

4 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge