Closer Than You Know by Brad Park

I’m afraid this comes across as a collection of backhanded compliments — I hope I’m wrong about that. If so, I didn’t mean it.

Closer Than You KnowCloser Than You Know

by Brad Parks

eARC, 416 pg.
Dutton Books, 2017

Read: December 6 – 8, 2017


When you read a book about a dog — from Marley & Me to Where the Red Fern Grows — you’ve got a pretty good idea what’s going to happen near the end. Same goes for a Nora Ephron movie. Or a Horror flick. But you still read or watch them, and you cry, or laugh and “awww”, or jump in your seat when you’re supposed to. Even on repeat reads/viewings. But when done right, those things just work. Similarly, think of a roller coaster — you may stand outside the fence watching the thing go around the track while standing in line (some lines give you plenty of opportunity to study), and armed with that study, as well as the your own eyes, you know that track is going to drop from in front of you in a couple of seconds — or the coaster is about to hit the loop — that doesn’t stop your stomach from lurching when it does.

Why do I bother with that? It’s a thought that kept running through the back of my mind while reading Closer Than You Know. By the time I hit the 10% mark, if you’d made me write down what I expected to happen — the reveals, the twists, the story beats, etc. — I’d have gotten an A. I’m not saying I’m smarter than the average bear or anything, anyone who’s read/watched a handful of thrillers would’ve been able to, too. And it worked. It absolutely worked. How Parks pulls it off, I do not know, but he does. He’s just that good.

And all the stuff that I didn’t guess? Oh, man, it was just so sweet when Parks delivered it, there were a couple of scenes that just left me stunned. And, I should rush to note, the way Parks made a couple of reveals that I’d seen coming from the start were so well done, it was like I hadn’t called the shot.

In his previous stand-alone, Parks said that he wanted to write about the thing that scares him the most — his children being kidnapped. Closer Than You Know taps into a very similar fear — Child Protective Services taking your child from you, leaving you to the mercies of the machine where you’re presumed guilty. This time instead of “the bad guys,” faceless criminals, taking someone’s kids, this time it’s the forces of justice, of law and order, taking the child — they’re celebrated for it, they’re doing it “for the best interests of the child.”

What’s worse is that no one will tell Melanie Barrick why her infant son had been taken from his daycare. Melanie spent most of her childhood in the Foster Child system, and most of that time in the worse situations that system has to offer. This isn’t the stuff of nightmares for Melanie, mostly because I don’t think she has enough imagination for her subconscious to cook this up. And then she’s arrested for possession of cocaine and paraphernalia suggesting distribution — a felony that will guarantee she’s about to lose her little Alex for good.

Melanie is a “good person” — she’s one of the success stories that we don’t see as often as we’d like from the Foster Child system. She worked to put herself through college; has a great, supportive husband; a lousy job (but with benefits) — but one that will help her family get somewhere; and is a devoted, doting, loving mother. The kind of person we all want to think we’re surrounded by, but fear we probably aren’t.

From this point on, it’s a cyclone for despair as every part of her life — her job, her husband, her brother, her friends, her finances, her sense of privacy and security — is affected, is under siege during this ordeal. Can Melanie maintain her hope, maintain her innocence, maintain her conviction that she’ll hold her baby boy again?

In charge of prosecuting “Coke Mom” (the press is always so quick with these nicknames), is Amy Kaye. Amy Kaye could easily be the protagonist in any legal thriller, she’s just the kind of character you want to read in that kind of thing. She’s smart, dedicated and driven — at the moment, she’s primarily concerned with a serial rape investigation that she’s doing pretty much on her own. Amy starts to make progress for the first time in years when she’s put on this prosecution (largely for political reasons) — which she’s more than willing to do, but she hates to take away time and attention from the rape investigation. What really makes this difficult for Kaye is that Melanie is one of the most recent victims in this investigation.

So basically, things are not going well for these two women. There are occasional moments where there is hope, where there is a hint of humor, or life for them and it’s just enough to get you to let your guard down before the gears turn again and life gets bad. Melanie seems to be a living embodiment of Murphy’s Law — things just never go her way in this book. As she notes herself, addicts talk about hitting rock bottom — she isn’t like them, she keeps finding new bottoms. It’s during this part of the book, where the gears keep grinding away, where the Justice System seems most like a machine, and least like a method for determining (not presupposing) guilt, that things will really get to you. That stomach lurching I mentioned earlier? That image came from somewhere. It feels so real, it feels like this is something that actually happened to someone that Parks spent hours interviewing. I don’t know how you read these parts of the book and not get demoralized — but unable to put the book down, because you just have to, have to know what happens next.

As I’ve said before, I’ve been a Brad Parks fan since the first time I read his debut novel — and I miss Carter Ross, the star of his series. The bad thing for me reading Say Nothing and Closer Than You Know is that these are so good, he’s going to spend years doing books like this and I don’t know if he’ll be able to get back to Carter. On the other hand, I can’t complain really if he’s putting out reading that’s this compelling. Yeah, I said the book was largely predictable — and you’ll likely find it the same. But you will be wrong about some things and you won’t know how he’ll show you that you’re right. Think of a NASCAR race — we all know that it’s basically a series of guys going fast and turning left — but it’s how they go fast and turn left that makes all the difference. Parks delivers the goods — the word riveting doesn’t do this book justice. It’s compelling, riveting, gripping, exciting, and will make you rethink so much of what you may believe of the Criminal Justice and Child Protective systems. You will laugh, you will be stunned (in good and bad ways), you will give up hope for this poor mother.

And you will hate when the book ends — as much as you breathe a sigh of relief as you know you have some degree of closure.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Dutton Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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4 1/2 Stars

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Briefly Maiden by Jacqueline Chadwick

I’d fully intended on getting this up earlier in the week, but it provoked enough thought that I had to sit on it a bit. Hopefully that comes through.

Briefly Maiden
Briefly Maiden

by Jacqueline Chadwick
Series: Ali Dalglish, #2

Kindle Edition, 317 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2017

Read: November 30 – December 1, 2017


Vancouver Island’s Integrated Major Incident Squad has been called out again, and Ali Dalglish is brought along to consult — she’s official now, after the success of the case in In the Still, she got her credentials transferred to her new country. So she can help Inspector Rey Cuzzocrea with his profile of the murderer and get paid for it (which is probably useful after the recent disintegration of her marriage).

There’s a series of murders (not a serial killer, technically) in the perfectly pleasant little city of Cedar River (at least for most of the residents). They’re gruesome, clearly motivated by anger, with a sexual component. Ali and Cuzzocrea quickly note evidence of a pedophilia ring associated with the deaths. Which adds a level of complexity and tragedy to the crime — and makes it difficult to care much about the victims. While no one on the VIIMIS wants to help the killer with their campaign, they want to catch her(?) to help her recover from what they think must’ve happened to her(?). The obstacles standing in their way are not the typical or expected kind, and make this difficult case even more difficult.

As before, Ali is brilliant — not just when it comes to criminology, she’s just smart — she’s witty, she’s a font of trivia, and has a vocabulary that you just want to bask in (and borrow!). [Note: I’m not referring to her “blue”/”adult”/”4-letter” vocabulary, which is enough to put off some readers] Her emotional life is a mess, she’s in a slightly better place after the breakup of her marriage, but not that much. There’s some decent character growth at work here, too. She’s just such a great character I don’t think I can do her justice here.

It would have been very easy to make this a story about Ali, the brilliant psychologist helping out a bunch of cops who are fairly clueless (yet high-ranking and successful). But Chadwick doesn’t do that. The members of the Squad are capable — more than capable — and while they needed the perspective and expertise brought by Ali, there’s a good chance they’d have eventually put a lot of the pieces together on their own. For example, Superintendent Shaw would be easy to depict as a stuffed-shirt, unimaginative, by-the-book, and blind to anything that isn’t obvious — and most writers would depict him that way (I can’t help but think of Irwin Maurice Fletcher’s editor, Frank Jaffe, frequently when Shaw shows up) — but at one point he actually puts things together that no one else on the Squad did (most readers will be faster than him, but we have better information). Ali’s not blind to this either — yeah, she has an ego about her own expertise, but she is ready (if not always eager) to acknowledge when her teammates do good to work.

There were a few mis-steps, but when you’re doing so much right, you can afford a few of those. The one that I don’t understand is how little her friend/neighbor, Marlene, was used. Yes, her contribution was essential, but if Marlene had stayed home, Chadwick could’ve found another way to get those results. If you’re going to bring her along — use her. Her brief appearances were fun or pivotal, but there just weren’t enough.

I’ve spent some time over the last week trying to describe Chadwick’s writing style, because it’s so specific and so original. At one point, I decided that “aggressive” was the best adjective — it’s in-your-face, it grabs you by the scruff of your neck and shoves your nose into the text, daring you to even consider your Real Life responsibilities (family, eating, work, etc.) so it can smack the back of your head like Leroy Gibbs. But it’s also inviting, enticing, so you’re sucked in and love it — you want to wallow in the experience, desperate to find out what happens while not wanting to walk away from reading book for the foreseeable future. She’s entertaining and fun while writing about some of the most depraved and horrible things you’ve ever read — while never making the depravity or horror into anything other than evil and wrong.

Briefly Maiden is not a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts — but when the sum of its parts is so great, it can seem to be. If it was just Ali’s acerbic brilliance and skewed (skewering?) sensibilities pushing this story, it’d be something I’d tell you to read. Chadwick’s style is something to behold, no matter the subject. If it was just the heart-breaking and horrifying crime story, I’d give this a high commendation. If it was just for the inevitable but shocking conclusion, I’d say this was well worth your time and money. If it was just Ali’s vocabulary, you’d be smarter for having read it (I learned a few terms/words, and I bet you will, too). You put all that together, plus a few other points I should’ve made and didn’t (for whatever reason), and Briefly Maiden is one of the most effective (and affective) novels I’ve read this year. Stop reading this and go grab it — and In the Still, if you haven’t read that yet.

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5 Stars

Red Dog by Jason Miller

Red DogRed Dog

by Jason Miller
Series: Slim in Little Egypt, #2

Paperback, 316 pg.
Harper Paperbacks, 2016

Read: November 25 – 27, 2017

“And for sixty-flve dollars, too.”

Anci rolled her eyes. “Oh, I know. Usually, you get kicked in the head for free. Why not try it for money this time? Besides, this is your chance to do a good deed, pile up some karma.”

“You can’t eat karma, darlin’..”

“No, but it can eat you.”

I really can’t decide what part of these books I like best — Slim’s dogged determinism when it comes to finishing what he’s started, Jeep’s almost-superhuman capabilities (he’s Hawk + Joe Pike, with a better romantic life while not as tied to reality), or Anci. Okay, that’s a lie. It’s Anci — she’s smart, she’s insightful, she’s sweet, she’s got an attitude that just won’t quit.

In this book, Anci takes time out from critiquing The Hound of the Baskervilles to convince Slim to take a case for a couple of odd strangers that show up on their doorstep. They want him to find their dog for him. They’re pretty sure where the dog is, but they don’t think they could retrieve her.

Slim takes the case, and within hours he’s cut off part of a man’s body, had several threats made against him, and discovers a dead body. Oh, he finds the dog, too. But that doesn’t matter, because he’s arrested before he can return the dog.

Things go haywire from there — Slim’s still bound and determined to find the dog while he clears his name (or vice versa). The hunt for the dog and the real killer takes him to all sorts of places he probably shouldn’t go — many of which make the coal mining he left behind seem like a safe alternative to his current job. I hate to say this, but it’s in the publisher’s description (and on the cover image), but one of the places that Slim shouldn’t go is to dog fights. His reaction to them is visceral, and you almost feel it as much as he did as you read.

The characterizations are as deep and wonderful as before (including a couple of characters that’d make Flannery O’Connor balk), the evil that Slim confronts is very dark and twisted, and Slim’s voice is deadly serious one minute, and seamlessly laugh-out-loud funny without giving the reader a sense of whiplash. There’s some violence — brutal stuff — yet it’s Slim’s brain that does most of the work. Basically, it’s the whole package.

The Bonus Story About Those Danged Chickens, “Hardboiled Eggs,” was a hoot — not strong enough to work as a part of the novel, but it tied in well (and best read after the book) and was nice example of Anci and Slim working together.

I hope there’s more to come in this series, because I just can’t get enough. Miller’s style is great — the prose is smooth and fluid, so much so that you don’t realize just how dark and twisted the events are until it’s too late because you’re having too much fun reading. Take some time to visit Little Egypt and you’ll see what I mean.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

The Squirrel on the Train (Audiobook) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels

The Squirrel on the Train (Audiobook) The Purloined Poodle (Audiobook)

by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels (Narrator)
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles/Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 2 hrs, 54 min.
Kevin Hearne, 2017
Read: December 2, 2016


I posted about the text version about a month ago (and reposted last week), but wanted to say a little more about the audiobook — so for the sake of those who just clicked on the Audiobook post, I’ll just repeat everything I said before, but tag on something at the end about Luke Daniels’ work. Can the magic of The Purloined Poodle be recaptured? Yes — maybe even topped. For many, that should be all I need to write. If that’s the case, you’re fine — go ahead and close this, no need to finish this.

If you’re still here, I’ll write a little more — While on a trip to Portland to go sight-seeing, er, sight-smelling, Oberon, Orlaith and Starbuck get away from Atticus (er, I mean, Connor Molloy) while chasing after a suspicious-looking squirrel. That’s a tautology, I realize, if you ask the hounds, but this was a really sketchy-looking squirrel. Anyway, this brought the group into the path of Detective Ibarra. She happens to be at the train station investigating the odd murder of a man who looks just like Atticus.

Naturally, that gets him interested and investigating things as best as he can. Thanks in no small part to the noses of the hounds, Atticus and an old friend are able to uncover what’s going on to help Atticus’ new friend make an arrest.

It’s a whole story in Oberon’s voice, I don’t know what else I can say about the writing/voice/feel of the book. That says pretty much everything. From Oberon’s opening comparison of the diabolical natures of Squirrels vs. Clowns to Orlaith’s judgment that “death by physics” “sounds like justice” to the harrowing adventure at the end of the novella, this is a fine adventure for “the Hounds of the Willamette and their pet Druid!”

No surprise to anyone who’s heard the audiobook for any of Oberon’s other appearances in short stories/novellas/novels, but Luke Daniels killed it here. From the overall characterization and narration he does as Oberon on down to the little details, like Oberon’s particular pronunciation of “Port-LAND,” I just love it. Frankly, how anyone can listen to his rendition of Starbuck’s first steps with words like, “Yes food!” and not giggle like Ron Swanson is beyond me. He gets the serious moments, the anger, the awe, the silliness just right. I just can’t say enough good things about this audio presentation.

There’s a nice tie-in to some of the darker developments in the Iron Druid Chronicles — that won’t matter at all if you haven’t read that far, or if you can’t remember the connection. This was a good sequel that called back to the previous book, and told the same kind of story in a similar way — but didn’t just repeat things. Just like a sequel’s supposed to be, for another tautology. I smiled pretty much the whole time I read it (as far as I could tell, it’s not like I filmed myself). I don’t know if we get a third in this series given the end of the IDC next year. If we do, I’ll be happy — if not, this is a great duology.

—–

4.5 Stars

Death is Not the End by Ian Rankin

Death is Not the EndDeath is Not the End

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #10.5

Hardcover, 73 pg.
St. Martin’s Minotaur, 1998

Read: December 4, 2017


I used Goodreads’ ordering of the Rebus series to determine when I read this novella — other sites might have led me to read this before Dead Souls, as it was published. I might have gotten more out of this book if I’d read it in that order, but it might have hurt the novel. I’m not sure.

Basically, this is one of the subplots of Dead Souls — Rebus’ looking for the missing son of a people he knew in school — in its original form. It’d be modified, expanded, and given a different ending in the novel. There’s a subplot, mildly related, involving organized crime and gambling — in much the same way that other crimes were associated with the missing person’s case in Dead Souls.

It is interesting to see how Rankin wrote something, and then came back a couple of years later and repurposed it. But that’s about all I have to say for this. It was interesting — but the version in the novel is better. The subplot didn’t do much for me, either. It was okay, but it really didn’t seem necessary.

The completist in me is glad I read it, but I think I’d have been okay with missing it, too.

—–

3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

In Medias Res: Briefly Maiden by Jacqueline Chadwick

as the title implies, I’m in the middle of this book, so this is not a review, just some thoughts mid-way through.

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Briefly Maiden
Briefly Maiden

by Jacqueline Chadwick

Ali Dalglish, the best criminal profiler this side of Will Graham or Tony Hill, with a Tarantino twist is back. She’s not an amateur like she was in In the Still, and has a couple of more cases under her belt.

Then she’s called in to help with what seems like a lay-up of a case. Which is the biggest signal to a reader that this will be horrible — and boy howdy, this is. I’m at 49% and this is already one of the darkest, most twisted books I’ve ever read. And somehow, don’t ask me how, Chadwick has me loving this — I’m not getting a kick out of the depravity, mind you — but Ali and her interaction with her team and everyone else, I just can’t get enough of. But man . . . this book will eradicate any lingering suspicions you might have had about the reality and force of human depravity.

Actually, that reminds me: I could use a lot more of Marlene (Ali’s friend/assistant/Watson-y figure).

At this point, I’m sort of rooting for the killer — at least who Chadwick is making us think is the killer. The victims/intended victims thus far could be the primary antagonists in a book from just about every other crime series. I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out one of the mysteries — I’m fully prepared to be proven wrong, though.

Anyway, I’ll finish this tomorrow, so you can expect to see a full post early next week. But you should really read this book — and its predecessor, if you haven’t yet. I practically guarantee that you’ll love it.

Pub Day Repost: The Squirrel on the Train by Kevin Hearne

The Squirrel on the TrainThe Squirrel on the Train

by Kevin Hearne
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles/Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries, #2eARC, 120 pg.
Subterranean Press, 2017
Read: November 2, 2017

Can the magic of The Purloined Poodle be recaptured? Yes — maybe even topped. For many, that should be all I need to write. If that’s the case, you’re fine — go ahead and close this, no need to finish this.

If you’re still here, I’ll write a little more — While on a trip to Portland to go sight-seeing, er, sight-smelling, Oberon, Orlaith and Starbuck get away from Atticus (er, I mean, Connor Molloy) while chasing after a suspicious-looking squirrel. That’s a tautology, I realize, if you ask the hounds, but this was a really sketchy-looking squirrel. Anyway, this brought the group into the path of Detective Ibarra. She happens to be at the train station investigating the odd murder of a man who looks just like Atticus.

Naturally, that gets him interested and investigating things as best as he can. Thanks in no small part to the noses of the hounds, Atticus and an old friend are able to uncover what’s going on to help Atticus’ new friend make an arrest.

It’s a whole story in Oberon’s voice, I don’t know what else I can say about the writing/voice/feel of the book. That says pretty much everything. From Oberon’s opening comparison of the diabolical natures of Squirrels vs. Clowns to Orlaith’s judgment that “death by physics” “sounds like justice” to the harrowing adventure at the end of the novella, this is a fine adventure for “the Hounds of the Willamette and their pet Druid!”

There’s a nice tie-in to some of the darker developments in the Iron Druid Chronicles — that won’t matter at all if you haven’t read that far, or if you can’t remember the connection. This was a good sequel that called back to the previous book, and told the same kind of story in a similar way — but didn’t just repeat things. Just like a sequel’s supposed to be, for another tautology. I smiled pretty much the whole time I read it (as far as I could tell, it’s not like I filmed myself). I don’t know if we get a third in this series given the end of the IDC next year. If we do, I’ll be happy — if not, this is a great duology.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Subterranean Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 Stars