Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly by Adrian McKinty

police

 

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly by Adrian McKinty is the sixth novel to feature Detective Sean Duffy. Set in Ireland during the time of the Troubles, these novels a strong reflection of the hypocrisy and the danger of living in those times and the realization, that it may not have changed all that much.

Sean Duffy is on vacation with his girlfriend and new baby at his parents home going a little stir crazy when he receives a call from his police station. A man has been found dead, shot with a crossbow in front of his own home. Duffy rushes back to Belfast to work on the murder, but what he uncovers instead is a cold case murder mystery that may reach into the higher levels of the Police and the IRA.

Duffy finds himself under suspicion from Internal Affairs and within his own department. The IRA would rather see him dead and he cannot go long without angering his girl and losing his daughter. In all of this is the dead body of a drug dealer with an arrow sticking out of him. More so, this is not the first drug dealer shot this way. Is someone trying to set up a new territory and if so, why not kill with a gun? Or is this having to do with something far more sinister. Duffy will need to get to the bottom of this before he ends up losing his job, his family and his life.

Sean Duffy is a likable character. A good detective with quick wit. But there is a good part of this one where his consistent banter draws away from a good story. Or perhaps is covering up the holes of what could have been a better story. It is as if Star Wars only had Han Solo in it and we all saw how that went over. The supporting cast is very week in this one and that is too bad because McKinty has a terrific little mystery going here.

A weak addition to a good series.

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A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab

A Gathering of Shadows Final
A Gathering of Shadows, book #2 in the Shades of Magic series by V. E Schwab, carries forward the story of Sorcerer Kell and Delilah Bard after their they saved Red London from the Dane twins, who ruled White London. In doing so, they also banished the sorcerer Holland, sending his dying body into the wasteland that is Black London. But the cost was very high and now Kell finds his life and soul linked to his brother Prince Rhy. Now whatever Rhy feels, Kell feels and whatever happens to one happens to the other. Even pain. Even death.

Four months have passed since those events and Kell, instead of being the conquering hero, finds himself more and more a prisoner of the kingdom he has sworn to protect. Mistrusted by the King and Queen and many of the people who blame him for the deaths of their friends and loved ones during the battle with the Danes. Even Prince Rhy, who he brought back from death’s door seems to resent him. Kell finds himself needing to account for his every movement. Where before he had thought of himself as part of the royal family, he sees now that he never can be. He is their sorcerer. Their property.

Delilah Bard has left Red London to pursue her dream of becoming a pirate. A master thief, she finds herself now marooned in this world and never able to return to her own. But in her time on the high seas she also finds herself learning that she is more than a thief. That there is a powerful magic that courses through her as well.

Prince Rhy, sensing the unhappiness and desperation that are driving Kell, and himself through their linked senses, mad; knows that there is only one thing he can do to save them both. It is the time of the Element games in Red London. When all the provinces send master magicians to the city to compete. Kell, being a sorcerer of the royal family, cannot compete in the games. but Rhy has an idea and like so many of the Prince’s ideas, break all the rules.

Now the city prepares itself for the festivities and with a distracted master sorcerer, they have no idea of the danger that lurks in the shadows. A great evil has been awoken and the darkness has spread between the Londons. Kell has no idea what awaits him and even with Delilah Bard returning to the city, he may be no match for the dark power that has already destroyed one world.

The driving force behind this second tale is the conflict in the heart and mind of Kell the sorcerer of Red London. The realization that the city and the royal family he has dedicated himself to views him as less than a true person destroys the very heart of him. He is trapped to serve them but had always thought of himself as an adopted son. A brother to Rhy and a son to the King and Queen. But now he sees the truth. Though Rhy loves him as a brother, Kell comes to the understanding that in truth he is a tool. A force to keep the kingdom’s enemies in check. When he is imprisoned by the King he feels the full weight of reality fall upon him. He is no one.

Delilah Bard is becoming one of the better written and powerful female characters to be found in fantasy or any other genre. Her growth from book one from the alley thief to the assassin and master thief, to pirate and then to master magician is something to behold. Though often reckless, she never loses sight of her goals and her loyalty ( a sense that is new to her) makes her a character whose adventures don’t need any of the other characters.

Finally we come to the one character who puts this entire tale into motion. Prince Rhy. Entitled, impish, and foolish to the point of putting himself in harm’s way. Rhy will risk everything without thought to consequences because he believes that Kell will always be there to bail him out. But even Kell will find himself put to the test here.

A Gathering of Shadows is one of those tales that does a brilliant job of carrying on the story of the first book while laying the groundwork for looks to be a thrilling ending to the trilogy in book three. I am looking forward to it. If you love fantasy, you need to pick up this series. If you don’t, this one will convert you.

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

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The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn is a another in the seemingly endless run of current novels to feature a lone, discarded woman who stumbles on a mystery and sees herself as the only person who knows the truth and can solve the crime. Think the Woman on the Train and the Woman in Cabin 10. I am expecting, soon enough, to come upon The Woman on the Toilet or the Woman Who Called Uber and so on. What separates The Woman in the Window from the common herd (was that sexist?) is the damn good writing by Finn.

Anna Fox lives alone in her New York City home. A recluse who is unable to step outside of her home. She spends her time watching old black and white movies, lost in her memories and wine and spying out her window at the neighbors. Her husband and child have moved away after the accident, but she speaks to them on the phone and they talk of the time when they can all be together again. Once Anna gets better.

Across the street, a new family has moved in. A father, a mother, and their teenage son. They seem perfect and happy like Anna once was. That is until the night she spies something horrible through her window. The mother being murdered.

What follows are twists and turns as Anna tries to convince the police that a crime has occurred. But to do so she has to open up her own life to the world and that is something she cannot do. Because Anna has horrible secrets of her own. The drinking and the pills and the memories and the lies. And even more when the family across the street produce the mother alive and well. Only, she is not the woman who Anna first witnessed. She is not the mother who was killed, so who is she?

This is old time, Rear Window, crime noir. A thriller that begins slowly and moves forward at a pace that the reader may struggle to keep up with. Finn borrows, or steals, from those old black and white crime movies shamelessly. The twists that come are many and even though the reader will see some coming, there are plenty to go around.

What makes this novel good is the same thing that makes it not so good. This is Woman on the Train without the moving locomotive. This is Rear Window but without the broken leg. This is a really good story that is failed by its timing. There are just too many like this right now and it will get lost in the pack. Is Finn’s writing enough to separate from all the others? Only time will tell. But this much I know, I will be looking for Finn’s next novel for sure.

The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll

favorite sister

 

The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll is a brutal and honest tale of celebrity and friendship and the lie that is the loyalty of modern sisterhood. It is, in short, a terrific cruel read.

“…Even though I know we are not and never will be ‘friends’, the word sends a warm spike through my middle. To be a part of Jesse’s orbit is a fantastic thing. I’m sorry this is the way it had to happen-of course I am, I’m not a monster-but I shouldn’t have to feel guilty about it either. I deserve to be here, more than Brett ever did.
‘I think of it like this, Jesse,’ I answer. ‘That if what had happened to my sister had happened to me, I wouldn’t want the truth censored…”

Goal Diggers is a reality show centered around five super successful young women living in New York City. Initially it was created to become a beacon of feminism and as an example of what women can achieve. But what it became was something very different as it began to fall into the cesspool of catfights and bad behaviour that reality television survived upon.

“…The thing you must understand about the show is that it is heroin. Fame changed our brains at a cellular level. Quit it cold turkey and you might as well toll the knell…”

Brett is the fan favorite. Tattooed, twenty-seven and a lesbian, her spin studios and meteoric success made her the envy of her castmates. What they don’t know is that her success depends on her sister Kelly, who has always been the golden child and the direct opposite of her wild child sister, Brett. But Kelly knows the secrets that would also bring Brett down. Now, Kelly is the new member of Goal Diggers.

Stephanie is the oldest member of the cast and the first black person. She is a bestselling author of erotic novels but it is her latest novel, about surviving domestic abuse that is getting the most fame. More so because it is being marketed as autobiographical.

“…It wasn’t until I admitted to my own place in the cycle that people gave me the respect I always knew I deserved. And now that I have it, I can’t stop wondering why it is that for a woman’s work to be taken seriously, she has to bleed first? And why I was so quick to open a vein…”

The other cast members, Lauren and Jen, successful in their own way, are more like satellites that float around the rivalry that is becoming vicious between Brett and Stephanie. It is into this madness of fake reality that Kelly steps in and what she cannot expect, what none of them can expect, that it would end in murder.

Jessica Knoll is a powerful new voice in the thriller genre. There will be the usual comparisons between other popular female lead novels but make no mistake. There is nothing in the marketplace quite like her novels. The Favorite Sister is a murder mystery where the truth is something that is not only hid from the readers but that the characters hide from themselves. The worst thing that seems to happen is that the truth actually comes out. About anything. The novel is not only about the lies we tell one another, but the multitude we tell ourselves. The facade about who we really are versus the secrets we keep. The setting of reality television is perfect her. We watch Kelly as the innocent lamb led to the slaughter amongst the she wolves that will pretend to be her friends but eventually only want to destroy her. Even her own sister. Even to the point of selling out her own child to further her cause. These are the popular girls from high school on steroids.

The men in this novel only serve as fall guys. Figures to be blamed for whatever emotional trauma the women are going through. That is not to say that they are innocent in any way, it’s just in comparison to what the women do, they are rank amateurs. There is nothing these women will not sell out to hold on to their little piece of fame. Their past. Their children. Their own family. Their marriages. None of it is as real as the next tv spot and certainly not as valuable.

I thought it brave of Knoll to make the women the real evil in this book and not the men as most of her contemporaries are doing. The female hero overcoming the evil domineering man. But perhaps this is just the next step in evolution for a female character. The female villain willing and capable of using anyone and doing anything to get what she wants. With the self-centered narcissism and ambition to actually believe she has done nothing wrong.

A hell of a good read.

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

the girls in the picture
The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin is a historical novel of the very early years of Hollywood. It begins during the silent picture era and chronicles the careers and loves of Mary Pickford and Frances Marion as they attempt to transition into the talking motion picture era. Filled with the bigger than life people who ushered in the motion picture industry of America, it is more so about the friendship between these two women that lasted a lifetime. It is sad and tragic and at times cruelly intimate. But it is also a tale of love and triumph and loyalty.

“…Of course, I’d always attended when invited-or, rather, summoned-but I wasn’t fond of those formal evenings, when Mary and Doug sat side by side at an enormous table groaning with finger bowls and several different forks. Try as I might-and risking Doug’s wrath-I never could hide my amusement at these actors and actresses elevated to deities simply because of their looks, troupers with whom I’d once shared stale cheese sandwiches and glasses of beer who suddenly wrinkled their elegant noses if a servant happened to spill a drop of champagne. ‘The help’ they’d whisper scornfully, these gods and goddesses who had once been maids or gardeners themselves, and we all knew that it was only because of a fluke, a genetic lottery won or a benevolent mogul slept with, that they now wore tiaras and aped the regal characters they played on the screen. The characters I wrote for them…”

In 1914, fresh off her second failed marriage, Frances Marion finds herself in Hollywood. Having worked in the theatre, she is fascinated by the new fledgling artform of motion pictures. She quickly becomes friends with rising star Mary Pickford and together, the two women become a driving force in an industry controlled by men. Mary becomes the first actor to have her name on a movie marque and is quickly known as ‘America’s sweetheart’ and Frances gains fame with her screenplays. Together they are unstoppable but what Frances is slow to realize, is that it is never an even relationship. Celebrity becomes Mary’s weakness and with her second husband, Douglas Fairbanks, they become America’s first Royal couple. Mobbed by fans everywhere and holding lavish parties at their famed estate Pickfair. Frances finds herself thought of at times as no more than the help.

But the true test of their friendship would come when Mary’s star began to fade and Frances’ became more and more acclaimed for her work. The shift in their careers was more than the fragile ego of the actor could stand.

“…Once I was with them on the beach-of course, not just the beach, not with Doug and Mary. They’d set arranged for enormous tents to be set up, and a catered dinner on the Pickfair china. Remember the days when we used to go out to Santa Monica or Laguna? With only a blanket and a picnic basket, and we’d come home covered in sand? And think we were the luckiest people alive to live where we lived, and do the work that we did?’
‘We were. We are.’
‘Well, anyway, we were on the beach and on the drive back, Doug saw a sign for a dance marathon down on one of the piers and he wanted to go. But Mary said-I still can’t quite believe it, but she said in that way she has with him, ‘Oh, Douglas! You know we can’t be seen in those kind of places!’
‘Oh, Fran!’
‘I know. And so, I wonder. Even when-back when we were-‘ And I struggle to give voice to what I was really thinking.
Back when Mary and I were friends…”

Mary Pickford, in the early 1900s, was perhaps, arguably the most powerful woman in Hollywood. She actually, alongside Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin, started United Artists studio. Her motion pictures laid the groundwork for what was to become the industry of motion pictures in the United States. But she was also groomed by her mother to be the child actress and star she became. She was taught to not make friends or relationships and that they were simply tools to further her career.

Frances goes from starry eyed kid with little to no prospects to becoming a screenwriting legend and it all began with her relationship with Mary Pickford. A friendship, that though very many times one sided, provided her with opportunities she never would have ever had. It is only when Frances decides that she can no longer be blamed for Mary’s failings or put her life aside whenever Mary calls that their relationships begins to falter.

This is a novel about Hollywood and friendship between two powerful women. But in the end it is a novel about celebrity and the false reality of it. Also America’s obsessive compulsive need to have celebrities to see and fill our lives with. No matter how fake.

Melanie Benjamin novels are hit and miss for me. I did not really like or finish her last novel, The Swans of Fifth Avenue. But absolutely adore The Aviator’s Wife and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb. For me, The Girls in the Picture is an absolute hit.

Dark Asylum by E. S. Thomson

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Dark Asylum by E. S. Thomson is the second book in the Jem Flockhart series and has me thinking that I really need to hunt down book one. Because if its even half as good as this one is, then it is definitely well worth the read. The hero of our book, Jem, is a woman passing herself off as a man in Victorian England in the year 1851, when the gruesome murder of a prominent doctor in his own insane asylum brings her face to face with a horrifying killer.

“…The first time I saw the devil I was six years old. The vicious thoughts that filled his head were etched upon his face in every line and shadow. I saw greed and malice in his grinning shrivelled lips, lust and death in his black, empty eyes. He gave me nightmares, and the others laughed at me for being so fearful. After all, it was only a crude woodcut on the back of one the boys’ penny bloods. Only Goblin understood. He didn’t laugh. He said that I should put the image form my mind and that I would soon forget. But I never did. And when I saw the devil again, many years later, I knew exactly who he was…”

In 1851, in the dark rooms of Angel Meadow Asylum, the chief physician to the insane lay murdered. Dr. Rutherford, his head bashed in, his ears cut off and his lips and eyes sewn shut in a black pool of his own blood. Inside his mouth, they would find his ears. The police quickly arrest one of the inmates for this horrible crime but to Jem Flockhart, the apothecary and his friend Will Quartermain the truth is something far more complex. The vicious attention to detail and calculation used to do this deed seems beyond the abilities of the inmates of the asylum. No, to Flockhart and Quartermain, there seems a far more devious and evil mind at work. When a second body is found, another doctor at the asylum, the duo realize there is far more to these murders than what is revealing itself.

“…I crouched at Will’s side and put my arms about him. He had buried his face in his hands, unable to look at what lay before us. But I could not allow my emotions to overwhelm me. I had to think clearly, to try to understand what had happened. I forced myself to look at Dr. Golspie, at the blood that pooled about his head, at the way his features had been obliterated, turned into a hideous mockery of a face by a clumsy and cold-blooded hand. Like Dr. Rutherford, he had been stabbed through the head with a medical instrument-in this case I recognized the ebony handle of a curved double-edged amputation knife. Why would Dr. Golspie have such a thing? He was not a surgeon. I looked closer. Was it engraved? Some of the more egotistical surgeons like to stamp their presence on their equipment. I pulled out my handkerchief and wiped the handle. Three letters. R.J.G…”

Now Jem and Will must hunt the killer by delving into the secrets of not only the inmates of the asylum but the very doctors themselves. How far had these men gone in their singular pursuit of science. Untouchable, as they were, had they themselves committed atrocities in the name of science upon the less fortunate who had no voice? And could Jem and Will bring their acts into the light and upon the courts of justice or will they too, be held under the control of the Dark Asylum?

Though slow in some points, Dark Asylum is a terrific tale of class and madness. The phrase, the inmates are running the asylum, may never have been better said. The Doctors, though convincing themselves that they are doing what they do for the betterment of humanity are too often less human than the patients left in their care. The hubris is something very close to that of Victor Frankenstein and if you have ever read the book, you would easily realize that Victor was the monster and not the creature he created.

Dark Asylum is a tale of madness. A madness from years of abuse and degradation and of the society that held men of privilege unaccountable for their actions. It is also a tale of a woman, raised since childhood to hide herself so that she may claim her place in this very society. It is also the tale of others who never had the chance and whose suffering is a sign of madness and not of those whose lives have been destroyed by a darker purpose.

A terrific book that should not be missed.

The Bone Seeker by M. J. McGrath

bone seeker
The Bone Seeker by M. J. McGrath is book three in the Edie Kiglatuk series of mysteries based in the Canadian wilderness among the Inuit people. Edie is a powerful character, one foot in her traditions and another in the changing world around her. Yet never truly part of one or the other.

Edie works as a summer school teacher when one of her students goes missing. She enlists the help of Sergeant Derek Palliser and together they find the body of the young girl, brutally murdered. Drugged, stabbed and left to bleed out. Edie joins Palliser in pursuit of the truth of what happened to the young girl. But the truth is hidden among the many shades of what is real and what is superstition. Hidden among the past and the waiting future of her own future and the Government they must depend on to care for them. A Government with secrets of its own to keep.

Sonia Gutierrez is a lawyer investigating the toxic levels of Lake Turngaluk where the girl’s body was found. She begins to believe that there may be a connection between the murdered girl and the use of the military station by the lake. A connection between the rate of illness and miscarriages from the native people. A connection no one wants her to make.

Now the trio are on the run with no one to turn to. Not the Government, not the military and not the very people they are trying to protect. But for the truth to remain buried, they know, that they cannot be allowed to survive.

The Bone Seeker is a crime thriller that weaves between the Inuit traditions and folklore to very modern and terrifying aspects of the residue of the cold war. In the arctic wilderness that surrounds the community, there is enough isolation and mistrust to create a vacuum of rationality. It is in this world that Edie takes on the challenge of working the case of her murdered student. Allowing herself to be deputized and taking on both the girl’s family and the military who seem to have far more knowledge of what had happened than they are letting on. When the suspects turn out to be two young soldiers then the racial divide between the military and the Inuit takes a dangerous turn. But for Edie the truth is not that simple. It is not the long held belief that the Inuit are good and all outsiders are bad and for her, the facts just don’t line up so easily.

In the end, the Bone Seeker becomes about much more than a murdered girl. It is about truth and holding accountable those people who would hide it from the light of day. It is about tradition and a fast moving modern world that has little or no respect for traditions. It is about the value of human life, whether in pursuit of a killer or pursuit of science.

It is in short, a damn good read.