Fallen by Benedict Jacka: Alex finds power and incredible loss as Jacka ramps up the seriousness of the series.

Fallen

Fallen

by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #10

Mass Market Paperback, 296 pg.
Ace, 2019

Read: November 7-8, 2019

Wars between mages are very different from wars between countries. When countries fight, if they want to attack into enemy territory, they have to go through the other army to do it. Mages don’t. Gate magic let’s strike teams appear anywhere at anytime, attacking and then disappearing back to the other side of the world. You never see mages fighting to take control of a bridge or a mountain pass, because holding those kinds of places doesn’t accomplish anything. When mages engage in combat, it’s for one of two reasons: either they’re fighting over something valuable, or one side is attacking the others base of operations. Otherwise, if one side doesn’t want to fight, they can just leave.

That really sets the tone for this novel—we’re talking all-out war here—the Council vs. Richard Drakh et al. Naturally, because no one really trusts Alex, there are many who still aren’t sure what side of this conflict Alex comes down on.

For the last few books, I’ve been (mistakenly) thinking, “Ah, he’s hit rock bottom now, it’s time for things to get better.” Fallen is, at the very least, Exhibit A for how little I understood things. I was joking the other day with a friend about a theory that Jacka really doesn’t like Alex Verus and is enjoying destroying him bit by bit.

You could make the case that he’s chipping away at Alex’s shell so that he can access who he is at his core. Below how Alex thinks he should act, below how he wants to act—to get to the actual Alex Verus.

That’s probably closer to the truth, but I like my theory a little better.

Early on, Alex tells his readers:

You know things are bad when waking up feels worse than the nightmares.

And that works pretty well as a thesis statement for Fallen. Jacka finds new ways to ruin Verus’ life—up to and including one of the freakiest, strangest and most disturbing magic-induced injuries I can think of.

We’re at the point in this saga where I can’t really say anything about the plot without ruining most of it. So let me summarize it with this: we’re watching that prophecy the Dragon gave Alex work out in his life, he’s figuring out how it’s going to be fulfilled and is working to that end.

Which involves some of the riskiest moves he’s made. Some of which pay off in ways even he couldn’t foresee (some of them don’t work out so well). It’s hard to point to a book when things go as well for our favorite diviner. But as I said before, things go really, really, bad for him, too.

There are two scenes specifically (but, they’re not the only two) that will devastate readers as much as they did Alex. One of which gave us a result I’ve figured was coming (but I figured it would be in book 12, no earlier than 11—again, Jacka shows me how little I know).

While Jacka’s systematically destroying Alex, he weaves in plotlines and characters that you won’t expect, including at least one major magic artifact that you probably assumed we’d never see again. Seeing how Jacka’s using Alex’s past in the way he is was a real plus for me.

You know this was going to be a bad novel for our friends—you don’t call a novel Fallen to fill it with ponies, rainbows and slapstick moments. But man, this was just rough. Hard to read—but totally worth it.

I cannot state this strongly enough—this should not be the first book in the series you read. Horribly entry point, but such a wonderful ride for those who know Alex and his world and struggles. But if you’re a long-time reader, and haven’t had the chance to read this yet—fix that. Pronto.


4 1/2 Stars

Maxine Unleashes Doomsday by Nick Kolakowski: Kolakowski Gets His Crime Fiction Chocolate in this SF Peanut Butter

This is one of those books that I’m uber-excited about, yet I don’t think I do a good enough job at explaining why I am. It’s just good.

 Maxine Unleashes Doomsday

Maxine Unleashes Doomsday

by Nick Kolakowski

eARC, 274 pg.
Down & Out Books, 2019

Read: October 29-31, 2019

“You know the trick to surviving? The one thing you got to do?”

“What’s that?” Maxine asked.

“You got to treat every day like an adventure. Like it’s fun, or a challenge, even when everything’s crappy. Especially when it’s crappy. Because otherwise, it’s all going to crush you.”

“I feel like I spent my whole life being crushed.”

“Well, that’s your fault. A normal job, trying to live a normal life, it’s just inviting people to stomp you. And they do.”

“Yeah.”

“But at least in my line of work, sometimes you get to stomp back…”

In case the author’s name looks familiar to you, yeah, you’ve seen me use it a few times this year—3 novellas, 1 short fiction collection, and now this novel, Maxine Unleashes Doomsday. It occurs to me now, that he was the first author I read this year, and he did a pretty good job setting the tone for 2019’s reading. This book is his first step out of Crime Fiction and into Science Fiction—dystopian SF, to be precise (that really should be obvious to anyone familiar with him, I don’t think he’s got a utopian novel in him).

That said, there’s enough of a Crime Fiction flavor to this SF novel, that fans of either genre will have enough of their drug of choice to be satisfied.

This is set in the near-future, at various points along the fall of the US/Western Civilization. While there are plenty of other characters to keep an eye on, our focus throughout is on Maxine. After a rocky start to life with a drug-addicted mother, and an unsuccessful academic career (although she tried for a little bit), she tries to follow her uncle’s example and become a criminal. She has some success in that, but a large failure resulted in life-threatening injuries to a friend and the loss of one of her arms. Following that, she tries to live a non-criminal life, she gets a job, settles down with a guy and has a kid. But her heart’s not in it, and she ends up dabbling in thievery. At some point, she abandons that life and sets her eyes on a criminal career.

Maxine is one of my favorite characters this year—she’s flawed (not as flawed as she thinks), she’s a fighter (not as good as she thinks), self-destructive, optimistic, and driven. She takes a lot of (metaphorical and literal) punches, and while she may not get up right away after them, she doesn’t stop moving forward. Ever. I love reading characters like that.

Her uncle, who goes by Preacher, is one of the most significant criminals in the New York area—and has some cops dedicated to taking him down, and any number of civilians supporting him. Off and on throughout her childhood, Preacher tried to get Maxine’s mother to leave her addictions behind to provide for and care for her kids. Between his power and influence on the one hand, and being just about the only adult to look out for her and her brother, it’s no wonder that Maxine will want to be part of his life. Readers of Kolakowski’s Main Bad Guy will enjoy playing a compare/contrast game with Preacher and Walker.

There are a number of other characters that greatly influence Maxine’s life and desires, but none so much as her uncle. And to get into them would just push this post beyond the length I want (and would end up spoiling stuff to really talk about).

By and large, this is the story of Maxine’s journey from a struggling public school student to being a wanted criminal (and beyond). But that’s not everything that’s going on. For the first chapter, you get the impression you’ll be reading a book about rival groups fighting for supplies in mid-apocalyptic New York. But then you’ll realize that’s not it at all, it’s a story about how Maxine became the tenacious gun-fighter and would-be criminal mastermind that she is. Eventually you discover that yeah, both of those are true, but Kolakowski’s really writing a different story—and boy howdy, you feel pretty clever when you suss it out, and it’s such a brilliant way of telling this story that you don’t mind being wrong about what the book is trying to accomplish. But even then, you won’t really understand everything until the last line of the book (I’m not sure I actually pumped my fist when I read it, but I probably thought about it pretty hard).

Yes, it’s a pretty violent book (this too, should really be obvious to anyone familiar with Kolakowsi), but most of the truly horrible stuff happens “off-screen,” making it a lot easier to take. The prose moves quickly and assuredly, the writing is sone with a strong sense of style and savoir faire. Frankly, it’s too lively and enjoyable to keep the most readers who aren’t into gunfights, etc. from being turned off by the violence.

It’s a well-realized dystopia, one that’s easier to imagine happening than say, Panem. Kolakowski does a wonderful job of littering this book with little details that tell you so much about the world his characters live in and entertain the reader. Hitting both of those notes regularly is a difficult task. For example:

“Someday I want to go to California,” Michelle told Maxine. “Did you know it used to be a state?”

and

This far north, the concept of local government grew teeth and claws. If you stuck to the highway, you would cross into territory controlled largely by the New York Giants, which had expanded beyond its origin as one of the nation’s most consistently mediocre sports teams to control a big swath of towns northeast of Buffalo.

One of the conceits of the book is that the material is a result of an academic study about Maxine. It’s one of the best moves that Kolakowski makes in this book (and it’s full of great moves). Don’t skim over these notes, you’ll be rewarded for your attention.

Oh, I should warn you: This book might put you off popcorn for a while. I’m just saying…

Rob Hart wrote one of the endorsements for this: “Take one of Richard Stark’s Parker novels and throw it in the blender with DVDs of Mad Max and The Warriors. Guess what? You just broke your blender. Find solace in this book, which is what you should have done in the first place.” I repeat that for a couple of reasons—1. I love the last two sentences. 2. He’s right, and says everything in 4 sentences that I tried to above. You should listen to one of us. Kolakowski has outdone himself with this one, it was a pleasure from end to end. You really need to read it.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this novel by the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. My opinions are my own, and weren’t influenced by this.


4 1/2 Stars
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Shattered Bonds by Faith Hunter: Jane Yellowrock’s latest just might leave you shattered, too


I’m going to have to spoil a little about Dark Queen, and a little bit of earlier books, too. Read at your own risk.

Shattered Bonds

Shattered Bonds

by Faith Hunter
Series: Jane Yellowrock, #13

eARC, 400 pg.
Ace, 2019

Read: October 24-28, 2019


It didn’t take me too long after starting to read this thirteenth installment in the Jane Yellowrock series to start asking myself: How am I going to possibly write anything about this? I kept asking myself that right up until I finished it this afternoon. Now, an hour past my self-imposed deadline for finishing this post, I’m still no closer to coming up with an answer.

There is simply no substitute for reading Shattered Bonds—no summary, no recap, no review can adequately hint at what the reader will experience. That’s almost always true of any book, but it’s sometimes more true than usual.

Remember Joseph Santana—also known as Joses Bar-Judas, or Yosace Bar-Ioudas. One of Judas Iscariot’s two sons, one of the original vampires? We never saw him at his full-strength, just weak, hungry, and chained up—that is, until he became Brute-chow. He was dangerous and frightening then. It turns out that Sabina was right when she said that Joses was the least-dangerous member of this family. What his brother, Shimon Bar-Judas, does to Jane’s allies and friends before she’s aware that he’s a factor in her life is devastating. What he does once he’s on her radar? Well, it’d take a novel to describe—and hey, that’s what we have here.

Last we saw Jane, she’d basically given up between the grief after the Sangre Duello and cancer caused by using her timeshifting magic and headed off to die. Intervention by Eli, Alex, and Bruiser have brought her back from the edge, but they’re only helping her manage the symptoms (and arguably not doing that much for them). But seeing what Shimon has done, is doing, and what it looks like he will do to her people galvanizes her into action. Sure, she might be dying, but she’s not going to stop fighting—especially if it comes down to protecting those that are near and dear to her, or those that she owes something to.

It occurs to me as I wrote that last sentence—this might be the most I’ve ever admired Jane.

Not only is Jane newly-inspired to keep on living after dealing with Shimon, some of the things she does so she can be/appear strong enough to challenge him gets her thinking of new (and hopefully more effective) ways to fight her cancer. Jane learns new and more ways to use her magic all the time, which has put her in this situation. Now it’s time to see if she can do something to get her out of it.

An unhinged, power-mad, brilliant and cruel predator on the one hand, and seemingly incurable cancer on the other. Yeah, Jane’s got her work cut out for her.

I was musing on things somewhere around the 60% mark, and I started wondering about the title—yeah, sure there were a couple of things early on that you could apply the title to. But I didn’t think Hunter was going to let us get away with anything so simple. So what could she be referring to? And then when I thought about who and what could get shattered? What ties, bonds, or connections could be irreparably damaged in the last 35-40% of the book?

Suddenly, I strongly considered following Joey Tribbiani’s lead and storing this in my freezer. Unlike Joey’s paperback, that would’ve ruined my Kindle, so I really had no choice but to keep reading. I started to compose a list of characters who I’d worried about surviving this novel (up to and including Jane)—and then I abandoned that. Instead, I composed a list of characters in this book (including some who don’t see, just get a second-hand report about), and I came up with one name. Just one. That’s a lot to worry about. I worried less about people making it through Dark Queen—which featured a series of literal duels with some of the most dangerous characters Hunter has created.

Spoiler: Rest easy, Alex Younger fans, nothing to worry about. If your favorite is anyone else? Sorry.

This is actually one of Hunter’s richer titles—you can mine a lot from this one. I don’t want to spend too much time on this point, because Eli does a more effective job than I will (so does Alex, come to think of it), but there’s something striking about the idea that Jane has bonds to shatter. Back in Skinwalker when we met her, she was a lone wolf (sorry, Brute) type of figure—yeah, she liked/loved others (see: Molly) and enjoyed the company of people. But she didn’t need anyone but our favorite witch. She only sought allies when the numbers against her were overwhelming, and even then, she didn’t rely on them much for the important matters. She’s still learning how to. Slowly but surely, Jane has been expanding her social, professional and familial circles—she cares for people, feels responsible for them, and is aided by them.

Ten books ago, there weren’t bonds to be shattered. But now, there’s a wide net of connections branching out from Jane. This makes her more vulnerable, but—when she remembers this—it’s also a source of strength and security. This character development/growth is one of my favorites in ongoing series. Not just because I like seeing Jane grow, but primarily because Hunter’s doing such a good job in depicting it.

I could do a few paragraphs on other bonds, too—think of imprisonment, slavery, history (cultural or personal). But you get the idea.

On a lighter note—only in the Carolinas do you get vamps talking this much about barbecue. It made me smile. Still does.

Last thought—Nell Ingram’s dealing with a lot of changes already, but some of Shattered Bonds is going to spill over into her world and I’m eager to see how that works itself out.

I’ve apparently found some things to talk about—hopefully this whets your appetite enough to grab this (although, I can’t imagine anyone reading this series who needs convincing). A fantastic entry in this fantastic series—action, danger, love, loss, highs, lows, barbecue, and the best hunter—Shattered Bonds has it all.


4 1/2 Stars
My thanks to Let’s Talk! Promotions for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book via NetGalley) they provided.

Pub Day Repost: Dachshund Through the Snow by David Rosenfelt: Andy Carpenter gets a Cold Case for Christmas

Dachshund Through the Snow

Dachshund Through the Snow

by David Rosenfelt
Series: Andy Carpenter, #20

eARC, 352 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2019

Read: September 3, 2019


It felt a little weird for the second book I read in September to be a Christmas-centered novel. Sure, it’s an Advanced Reader Copy, but still, it feels ridiculous. However, one thing we learn right off the bat is that Andy’s wife, Laurie, wants to extend the Christmas season into February (I’m sure there’s a touch of hyperbole there)—so I can totally see her not blinking at a Christmas book right after Labor Day.

There’s another case that kicks the book off—Andy sues the Paterson Police Department on behalf of a canine officer whose handler is retiring and wants to bring the dog with him into early retirement due to hip problems. It’s a pleasant way to kick off the book, and Rosenfelt makes it pay off for events later in the book and into the future, too.

But the main event is tied into Laurie’s Christmas spirit. She goes to various local places (like a pet store) and takes the wish lists/letters to Santa left there and fulfills them. This year she gets a letter from a little boy who wants a coat for his mom and a sweater for his dachshund, but before you can say “Awww, how cute,” he also asks for Santa to find his dad and bring him home. A job for Laurie, the P.I., not Santa.

Before Laurie can find him, however, the Paterson police do—he’s arrested for a fourteen-year-old murder. Noah Traynor’s sister had done one of those 23andMe/Ancestry-type things and the police tied her DNA to blood left underneath the fingernails of an unsolved murder (this is such a good idea, and I hope other writers use a similar idea just to prompt discussion about these things). Now we’re talking a job that’s not for Santa or Laurie, it’s Andy’s turn.

By this point, we all know what comes next: Sam hacks into things he should and finds out a lot; Marcus mumbles, intimidates some criminals and does something violent; Laurie cajoles and supports Andy; Hike predicts calamity; Andy watches some sports and thinks while walking Tara and Sebastian; (and works a little). The trial arrives and Andy annoys the judge and prosecutor, amuses the reader and finally gets somewhere with his investigation. Just because we all know it’s coming, that doesn’t mean it’s any less entertaining—in fact, there’s the fun in finding out how Rosenfelt will juggle the standard options; e.g. “what superhuman thing will Marcus do this time?”, “will Sam get to go into the field?”, “how many potential witnesses will Andy alienate before the trial? There’s also a lot that happens this time that the reader isn’t used to seeing during trial prep or the trial itself.

During the trial, something so shocking happened that Andy swore when he learned about it—which didn’t scandalize me, I just don’t remember him doing it that often. I was just as shocked as he was and almost followed suit. I know Rosenfelt has tricked me and caught me off guard before, but I don’t remember anything like this one. At twenty books in, for him to leave me nigh-flabbergasted is an accomplishment. Early on, I’d come up with a theory for both the identity of the killer and the motive—and Rosenfelt had convinced me I was on the wrong track. But it turns out that the events that left me as gobsmacked as our favorite indolent defense lawyer paved the way for me to be proven right. I’m not bringing this up to talk about how clever I was but to say that Rosenfelt was so convincing that he talked me out of being right on both fronts. Few mystery writers succeed there, and that never fails to make me happy to read it.

The book also works as a launching point for the spin-off series expected next year, focusing on Laurie’s new Detective Agency. I’ve been looking forward to it since I saw it announced, but now I’m a bit more interested having a bit more information. But more on that in a few months.

I went without sleep—2 days before seeing my sleep specialist, who saw the data, I should add—to stay up and finish this. It was totally worth the scathing look she gave me because I just had to know how it ended. After a book or two that made me wonder if Rosenfelt was running out of steam, the last few of these books have restored all my faith in him—Dachshund Through the Snow is one of the best in the series. A couple of authentic laughs, a lot of smiles, some warm fuzzies. a very clever mystery, and some good quality time with old friends—it’s a genuinely good time.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post and my honest opinion—thanks to both for this early Christmas gift (so to speak), but the opinions expressed were not influenced by that, only by the fun read.


4 1/2 Stars

Land of Wolves by Craig Johnson: Longmire’s back home and hunting for killers (human and animal alike)

Land of Wolves

Land of Wolves

by Craig Johnson
Series: Walt Longmire, #15

Hardcover, 336 pg.
Viking, 2019

Read: September 24-25, 2019

It’s hard to think of a place in Wyoming where the wind doesn’t reign supreme; where the sovereignty of sound doesn’t break through the parks of the Bighorns with a hoarse-throated howl. I sometimes wonder if the trees miss the wind in the infrequent moments when it dies down, when the air is still and the skies are a threadbare blue, thin and stretching above the mountains. Needled courtesans—the lodgepole pines, Douglas firs, and Engelmann spruce—stand at the edge of the great park like wallflowers awaiting the beseeching hand of the wind to invite them to the dance floor. And I can’t help but wonder that when the sway passes and the trees are still, do they pine for that wind; do they grieve?

Ahhh…it’s good to be back in Absaroka County.

Walt starts off investigating the death of a sheep—probably at the hands, er, teeth of a wolf. This wolf is likely from Yellowstone and kicked out of his pack. Now that he’s probably/possibly killed a sheep, it certainly appears to be open season for him soon. Oddly, there’s no sign of a shepherd for this dead sheep, which gets Walt and Vic to go looking.

Sadly, they find the shepherd hanging from a tree—possibly the loneliness of the Wyoming wilderness got to him, or maybe he was killed. Neither case looks easy to wrap up, which means that it’s time for Walt to get back to focus more on the job and less on recovery from the horrible injuries (physical and mental) sustained in Mexico.

Walt is largely ready for this kind of thing, he needs something to focus on. He has to first deal with a labor and wildlife advocate who knew both the wolf and shepherd, and she doesn’t trust Walt’s approach to either. There’s also the shepherd’s employer—a member of the same family that left then-Sheriff Lucian Connally without a leg. There’s a populace worried about the presence of wolves in the area (ignoring the fact that there’s only one that’s been seen). Also, Henry adds the possibility that this wolf is actually a messenger from the spirits with a vision for Walt. Lastly, the entire Sheriff’s department wonders how long it’ll be until Walt does something to endanger his life—and just how bad that’ll be.

Most dramatically, a computer is installed on Walt’s desk, “the slippery slope to a cell phone.” Despite this intrusion of the 1990’s into his life, Walt perseveres.

This brings Walt back to Absaroka, he hasn’t spent a novel here since 2015’s Dry Bones (it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long), and the citizens are aware he’s spending a lot of time away. We see the old regulars, which should make long-time fans happy. But best of all, the story is classic Longmire—an exploration of Wyoming’s past and future just as much as it is the past and future of the characters (regulars and new to the series).

Early on, Walt’s on an unexpected hike and it’s taking it’s toll:

I pushed off the tree and started back at a slow pace, wondering if I ’d ever pick up the step I’d lost in Mexico. Maybe that was the way of things; sometimes you paid a price and never get to make another deposit into your account and eventually you are overdrawn. Lately, I’d been feeling like I was standing at the counter, the cashier always closing the window in my face.

That neatly summed up my fears about the series in general, particularly how it’d work after Mexico. If the series was going to continue in the vein of Depth of Winter, I’d have a hard time sticking around. But I’m happy to say that while the effects of Mexico linger, and will continue to be felt for some time, I’m not going anywhere. There were repeated signals throughout this novel that the status quo shouldn’t be taken for granted when it comes to any of these characters (except maybe Henry, he’ll only change when he wants to), but the same things that have been drawing readers to Walt Longmire for 15 books are still at the character’s and series’ core.

Leaving the state of the series aside, this was one of my favorite installments in the series (sure, I might be extra generous given my fears after Depth of Winter). The characters shone—it’s one of Sancho’s best outings, and Vic was just great. The story was compelling, a great mix of a drama and comedic moments, and the mystery was satisfying (maybe a little easy to suss out for the reader, but Johnson hit every beat correctly). I’m already counting the days until #16.


4 1/2 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

The Chain by Adrian McKinty: Move Over, Stanley Milgram, The Chain is here

The Chain

The Chain

by Adrian McKinty

Hardcover, 357 pg.
Mulholland Books, 2019

Read: July 17-18, 2019

The house is musty and empty. A thin layer of dust coats the kitchen surfaces. No one has been in here since early September. She closes the kitchen door behind her and explores the home.

Three uninteresting levels and a very interesting basement with brick walls and a concrete floor and nothing in it but a washing machine, a dryer, and a boiler. The house is held up by a series of concrete pillars and she could, she thinks in disgust, chain someone to one of those pillars. She checks out the little window above the dryer. She’ll cover that with a board she’ll get from the hardware store in town.

Rachel shivers With a mixture of fascination and revulsion. How can she think about this sort of thing so glibly? Is that what trauma does to you?

Yes.

It reminds her again of the chemo days. The numbness. The feeling of plunging into the abyss and falling, falling, falling forever.

How do I add anything to the discussion about The Chain? How do I say something that hasn’t been said by (seemingly) everyone this side of the English Channel? Honestly, how do I say anything about this book that left me speechless, reeling, and nigh-despairing multiple times? How can I say anything meaningful about this book without giving anything away?

In order: Probably can’t. Forget that. Good question—very carefully and with a focus on brevity, I guess. Here goes.

A lot of this first paragraph is well-known, this book has been talked a lot about. But even knowing this, I wasn’t prepared for the first few chapters as McKinty put flesh on the premise.

Rachel O’Neill, nearly a year into remission, is on her way to see her oncologist about some blood test results. It can’t be good news that he’s making her come in for, right? On her way, she gets a phone call that will change her life—her daughter has been kidnapped. To get her back, she has to do a few things: 1. Pay an almost impossibly high ransom (note the use of “almost”); 2. Kidnap some other child; and 3. Wait for that child’s parents to kidnap someone and then Kylie will be released unharmed. If Law Enforcement (of any kind) is involved or any of the three steps are violated, Kylie will die. If not, she’ll be free to go straightaway. It’s clearly understood, but not really stated (immediately, anyway)—once Kylie is home Rachel will do anything the Chain tells her to do in the future—or . . .

That’s pretty much the high point of the book for Rachel. The first part of the book concerns itself with this horrible scenario. What corners will she cut? What laws (actual written laws, or the understood conventions of society) will she bend and break? What lengths will she go to in order to save her daughter? In the end, she takes all the necessary steps to secure her daughter’s release, because what other choice does she have? And as she thinks as she stalks a potential kidnapping victim:

She looks at her watch. Not yet five o’clock. This morning when she woke up, she had been a completely different person. As J. G. Ballard pointed out, civilization is just a thin, fragile veneer over the law of the jungle: Better you than me. Better your kid than my kid.

(I should point out, she’s not being pretentious, nor is McKinty taking liberties to force allusions into the character. Rachel’s a philosophy instructor, that’s how she thinks—a brilliant bit of characterization because she can retreat to thoughtful insights as a way of dealing with the stark reality she finds herself in)

During this part, while Kylie is (rightly) terrified, I generally actually felt worse for Rachel than her daughter. Which I hope doesn’t say something horrible about me—I think it says more about where McKinty puts the reader: smack-dab in the middle of Rachel’s perspective while seeing Kylie from the outside.

The second part of the book picks up months later, showing us the fall-out of the encounter with The Chain in the lives of those we met in Part One. For good reasons as well as convention, this is something that Crime Fiction does too rarely. It’s not just a murder, it’s the shattered lives of those close to the victim that will not fully recover; it’s not just a burglary, it’s the loss of a feeling of personal security that takes people years to come to grips with; and so on. McKinty allows us to see the repercussions of all the choices made and actions taken by Rachel (and The Chain regarding her).

Which is just devastating, really. Again, the panic and terror that assaulted her in the first few minutes after receiving the phone call is the high point for this poor mother.

We also get a little—not exhaustively, but enough—backstory concerning those running The Chain in this part. McKinty doesn’t make any effort to glamorize them or explain away their evil. Yes, there might have been things in their pasts that shaped them, but they chose this atrocious path knowing full well what they were doing.

I don’t want to talk too much about the book or the characters—I’ll end up ruining something if I do. We get to know Rachel pretty well—she’s intelligent, caring, and tenacious. She’s also tired, emotionally worn out after the medical and personal events of the years immediately before this. You can usually say this about the victim of crime (in reality or in fiction), but she really didn’t deserve any of this. It’s easy to second guess what she does, the compromises she makes and what she abandons. But it’s impossible not to empathize with her.

On the cover, there’s a quotation from Don Winslow, calling this “Jaws for parents.” Before he wrote Say Nothing, someone gave Brad Parks some advice that he should write about what terrifies him the most. I don’t know if anyone gave McKinty that advice or something like it, but it sure reads that way. I can’t imagine there’s not a parent alive who can read this without worrying about their kids, and reconsidering how closely to track their movements and activities.

Before executing her kidnapping plan, Rachel says:

“But even if it all goes right, . . . it’ll still be absolutely terrible.”

For her, that’s true. For the reader? It’s absolutely false. The tension is dialed up to 11, the pacing is relentless, the stakes are high enough that the reader should make sure their blood pressure prescriptions are filled. The Chain is as compelling and engrossing as you could want. It’s a near-perfect thriller that doesn’t let up. If you haven’t read it yet, you need to fix that pronto.


4 1/2 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Dachshund Through the Snow by David Rosenfelt: Andy Carpenter gets a Cold Case for Christmas

Dachshund Through the Snow

Dachshund Through the Snow

by David Rosenfelt
Series: Andy Carpenter, #20

eARC, 352 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2019

Read: September 3, 2019


It felt a little weird for the second book I read in September to be a Christmas-centered novel. Sure, it’s an Advanced Reader Copy, but still, it feels ridiculous. However, one thing we learn right off the bat is that Andy’s wife, Laurie, wants to extend the Christmas season into February (I’m sure there’s a touch of hyperbole there)—so I can totally see her not blinking at a Christmas book right after Labor Day.

There’s another case that kicks the book off—Andy sues the Paterson Police Department on behalf of a canine officer whose handler is retiring and wants to bring the dog with him into early retirement due to hip problems. It’s a pleasant way to kick off the book, and Rosenfelt makes it pay off for events later in the book and into the future, too.

But the main event is tied into Laurie’s Christmas spirit. She goes to various local places (like a pet store) and takes the wish lists/letters to Santa left there and fulfills them. This year she gets a letter from a little boy who wants a coat for his mom and a sweater for his dachshund, but before you can say “Awww, how cute,” he also asks for Santa to find his dad and bring him home. A job for Laurie, the P.I., not Santa.

Before Laurie can find him, however, the Paterson police do—he’s arrested for a fourteen-year-old murder. Noah Traynor’s sister had done one of those 23andMe/Ancestry-type things and the police tied her DNA to blood left underneath the fingernails of an unsolved murder (this is such a good idea, and I hope other writers use a similar idea just to prompt discussion about these things). Now we’re talking a job that’s not for Santa or Laurie, it’s Andy’s turn.

By this point, we all know what comes next: Sam hacks into things he should and finds out a lot; Marcus mumbles, intimidates some criminals and does something violent; Laurie cajoles and supports Andy; Hike predicts calamity; Andy watches some sports and thinks while walking Tara and Sebastian; (and works a little). The trial arrives and Andy annoys the judge and prosecutor, amuses the reader and finally gets somewhere with his investigation. Just because we all know it’s coming, that doesn’t mean it’s any less entertaining—in fact, there’s the fun in finding out how Rosenfelt will juggle the standard options; e.g. “what superhuman thing will Marcus do this time?”, “will Sam get to go into the field?”, “how many potential witnesses will Andy alienate before the trial? There’s also a lot that happens this time that the reader isn’t used to seeing during trial prep or the trial itself.

During the trial, something so shocking happened that Andy swore when he learned about it—which didn’t scandalize me, I just don’t remember him doing it that often. I was just as shocked as he was and almost followed suit. I know Rosenfelt has tricked me and caught me off guard before, but I don’t remember anything like this one. At twenty books in, for him to leave me nigh-flabbergasted is an accomplishment. Early on, I’d come up with a theory for both the identity of the killer and the motive—and Rosenfelt had convinced me I was on the wrong track. But it turns out that the events that left me as gobsmacked as our favorite indolent defense lawyer paved the way for me to be proven right. I’m not bringing this up to talk about how clever I was but to say that Rosenfelt was so convincing that he talked me out of being right on both fronts. Few mystery writers succeed there, and that never fails to make me happy to read it.

The book also works as a launching point for the spin-off series expected next year, focusing on Laurie’s new Detective Agency. I’ve been looking forward to it since I saw it announced, but now I’m a bit more interested having a bit more information. But more on that in a few months.

I went without sleep—2 days before seeing my sleep specialist, who saw the data, I should add—to stay up and finish this. It was totally worth the scathing look she gave me because I just had to know how it ended. After a book or two that made me wonder if Rosenfelt was running out of steam, the last few of these books have restored all my faith in him—Dachshund Through the Snow is one of the best in the series. A couple of authentic laughs, a lot of smiles, some warm fuzzies. a very clever mystery, and some good quality time with old friends—it’s a genuinely good time.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post and my honest opinion—thanks to both for this early Christmas gift (so to speak), but the opinions expressed were not influenced by that, only by the fun read.


4 1/2 Stars